A Hawk-Dove Conundrum

Part three of my anti-war series arises from another real life encounter that made me think about how we express our opinions on what is clearly an emotional subject for many.

I was in the Oakland airport doing a pick-up for an old friend. I was early, the flight was late, so I pulled my "killing time" book out of the trunk. I was sitting in the large pre-screening ticketing area when I heard an airport bell captain speaking in a loud, commanding voice for all to hear. I don't have the exact words but he was pointing out the six camouflaged, beret-wearing soldiers. I did catch: "On their way to serve their country." There was more than a smattering of applause, travelers at the doorstep of the escalator gave way to the soldiers with several pats on the shoulder. I don't use airports much these days but a few calls to friends who are frequent flyers told me that this was not an isolated occurrence.

What got my attention was a middle-aged man a few seats away from me. He was in the line of sight between my seat and the soldiers. He was not happy with the scene unfolding in front of us. Moments later he folded his newspaper and headed for a nearby bar, I followed him and took a seat just around the bend in the bar so he and I were close but not on top of each other. We both ordered drinks and I opened my book again. He hit his beer quickly and after a short time I put down the book and he asked if it was any good. The book just happened to be a poker biography (Doyle Brunson's) and it took me about three sentences to bring up the Matusow book and we were conversational buddies.

Halfway through his second Miller Lite, I took the plunge.

"I noticed that you were less than happy with the acknowledgment those soldiers were given."

The same dark face returned and he took a long drag on his beer. Then it spilled out:

"You remember Vietnam?"

"I do indeed."

"Well I was there. I was there at the end. We knew for months that we were going home, if we managed to stay alive until our orders came through. When I got back home there wasn't any of that baby-killer crap or being spit on or nothing like that. I think most of those stories are urban myths anyway."

He took another tug on the long-neck.

"I just hate it that those young fellows get some applause in an airport but we don't give them the training or equipment to be safe where we are sending them. Hell, I don't even know if I'm for or against these wars; if I try to read about them at all it takes me back to a place I just don't want to go."

Just then, as in all these airport vignettes, his flight got a PA boarding call.

"Damn, they said another hour, I gotta run."

As he shuffled for money with no bartender in sight I offered:

"Let me get that one, you gotta plane to catch."

"Thanks" he said. A couple a paces away he turned back and asked: "You weren't there, were you?"

"No, I was one of the long-hairs back here trying to stop it."

He thought for a moment and said: "Thanks for that too."

What an amazing difference forty years can make.