Why I Was in Vietnam

For all the confusion that engulfed me as soon as I arrived in Vietnam, I had come with clear conviction. I was opposed to the taking of human life. I was opposed to all war and, in particular, opposed to this war. It seems odd to me now that I could have developed such notions in the late fifties and early sixties, especially growing up as I did in a rough housing project rife with violence. My childhood memories include a ten-year-old girl running by my back porch with a dart in her back; a boy that other boys had hoisted off his feet by a rope noosed around his neck and slung over an oak limb; a girl whose forehead was gashed by her brother’s machete; children beaten by their alcoholic parents; a playmate who had cracked his drunken father’s ribs with a hammer; a ten-year-old buddy shooting me in the stomach with a hunting arrow; a boy down the street struck dead by an O’Boyle’s ice-cream truck; and a man getting hauled off by the cops because he was starting fistfights in a line outside a house where he was wailing, “I ought to be next. I’m her husband!”

Skinny, asthmatic, given to talking with imaginary creatures, as a child I cringed at this violence while admiring intensely my older brother who learned to survive within it: at seventeen, he sometimes toted a nickel-plated .32 revolver; his last day in school was when he punched a teacher down the school steps. Yet, somehow, all that violence propelled me in the opposite direction.

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