Larry had a newspaper in his lap as he rolled his wheelchair up to where Barry was dozing on the porch. He backed in next to the rocking chair, set his brake and set to reading.
Maybe it was the rustling of paper in wrestling the pages, or maybe it was the rumbling in his grumbling about what he was reading, but Barry stirred in the chair, it creaked, and rocked him awake. But he only opened one eye and rolled it toward Larry who sputtered some low grade profanities in response to what purported to be the news.
“What’s wrong now,” Barry asked, opening both eyes.
“More war crap. Makes me sick,” Larry announced. “The specific vaguaries are a lie.
Barry paused, stretched a bit and looked at his watch, “What’s that s’posed to mean?”
“Buried at the end of a little nothing story on page four, they finally give some numbers about the financial cost and American body count in the last decade of bloodshed, and the Pentagon wants more, more money, more kids. And they’re probably gonna get it,” Larry said.
Barry paused again, stopped rocking, and said, “Don’t you want to be safe sitting here on the porch? Like they say, ‘Freedom isn’t Free.'”
“Bullpucky,” Larry spit. It’s a scam, a racket – to quote a Marine Corps General who knew – the rich get richer, and schmucks like us pay, and pay with our children. Don’t you see that after all these years?”
“It’s voluntary now. Those kids want to go. But even when there was a draft, military service is a good thing. It teaches ’em discipline, love of country, and maybe it’s just a necessary evil in a hostile world,” Barry replied. “I wasn’t old enough for Korea like you, but I did my time in the National Guard and I’m proud of it.”
“Pride schmride. More balderstash,” Larry said. “Did I ever tell you what my Uncle Howard said about war, about all American wars?”
“Nope, but don’t make a career out of it, lunch is in 20 minutes,” said Barry.
“These were your kind of people, straight shootin’ Pennsylvania farmers, proud Americans, muy conservative!” Larry paused. “In fact, maybe it’s being a farmer that gives you the long view. In any case, one time when I was back east, Howard told me that the United States should not have fought in any war. Not one. He referred to Canada, they didn’t fight for independence, but they eventually got it, without a Revolutionary War. If we had still been part of the UK, slavery would have been banished and we would not have had to fight the Civil War.”
Barry just nodded.
“World War I was a mess, and if we hadn’t gotten into it, Europe would not have had the taste for Hitler 20 years later. It’s never good to fight other people’s battles,” Larry said.
Now shaking his head, Barry said, “I don’t know about that. Hitler might have been inevitable.”
“Not if we provided moral leadership. Or followed the leadership offered, like Wilson and his fourteenth point. Hitler might have been restrained by a League of Nations. Then Korea, Vietnam, both police actions, both losses…”
Barry cut in, “Korea wasn’t a loss.”
“It mighta been proof that quitting is a good thing. ‘Nam, definitely a loss. People finally recognise that. It was a schtoit schtorm on schteroids.”
“You can get involved in other peoples business, but it doesn’t have to be violent. People respond to incentives, they can be bribed. Unfortunately we’re bribing them to fight back. ‘Course, I’m not necessarily a pacifist. Sometimes ya gotta kick some ass, but it’s usually only one ass. Sock the bully in the face, and everyone takes a deep breath. But that’s not the American way, that’s not the military-industrial-complex-way.” Larry coughed. “War is a business, war is a racket, and just killing one guy is not enough for the old profit margin. They require an economy of scale.”
Barry jumped in, “Sometimes war is inevitable. The history of the world is all about combat.”
Larry paused, took a deep breath, and changing his tone he said, “Maybe you’re right. Civilization must have its discontents. People are violent, and more articulate with their fists. Kids fight, and sometimes heroically. My beef is the business part. The innocence lost so corporations can make money. Doesn’t that bother you?”
“I’m a proud American and the business of America is business.” Barry paused, hearing what he had said. They both stared into a blurring distance. “But that could be a bunch of bovine manure, I don’t know.”
“Smells like victory to me.” Larry’s frown morphed into a smile. “Time to eat your lunch.”