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Memorial Day

8:18 AM PDT on May 28, 2007

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"Eleven years later. Numbers have dehumanized us. Over breakfast coffee we read of 40,000 Americans dead in Vietnam. Instead of vomiting, we reach for the toast. Our morning rush through crowded streets is not to cry murder but to hit that trough before somebody else gobbles our share.

An equation: 40,000 dead young men = 3,000 tons of bone and flesh, 124,000 pounds of brain matter, 50,000 gallons of blood, 1,840,000 years of life that will never be lived, 100,000 children who will never be born. (The last we can afford: there are too many starving children in the world already.)

Do we scream in the night when it touches our dreams? No. We don't dream about it because we don't think about it; we don't think about it because we don't care about it. We are much more interested in law and order, so that American streets may be made safe while we transform those of Vietnam into flowing sewers of blood which we replenish each year by forcing our sons to choose between a prison cell here or a coffin there. 'Every time I look at the flag, my eyes fill with tears.' Mine too.

If the dead mean nothing to us (except on Memorial Day weekend when the national freeway is clotted with surfers, swimmers, skiers, picnickers, campers, hunters, fishers, footballers, beer-busters), what of our 3000,000 wounded?

Does anyone know where they are? How they feel? How many arms, legs, ears, noses, mouths, faces, penises they've lost? How many are deaf or dumb or blind or all three? How many are single or double or triple or quadruple amputees? How many will remain immobile for the rest of their days? How many hang on as decerebrated vegetables quietly breathing their lives away in small, dark, secret rooms?

Write the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Army and Navy Hospitals, the Director of Medical Sciences at the National Library of Medicine, the Veterans Administration, the Office of the Surgeon General - and be surprised by what you don't learn. One agency reports 726 admissions "for amputation services" since January, 1965. Another reports 3,011 amputees since the beginning of the fiscal year 1968. The rest is silence.

The Annual Report of the Surgeon General: Medical Statistics of the United States Army ceased publication in 1954. The Library of Congress reports that the Army Office of the Surgeon General for Medical Statistics 'does not have figures on single or multiple amputees.' Either the government doesn't think them important or, in the words of a researcher for one of the national television networks, 'the military itself, while sure of how many tons of bombs it has dropped, is unsure of how many legs and arms its men have lost.'

If there are no concrete figures, at least we are beginning to get comparative ones. Proportionately, Vietnam has given us eight times as many paralytics as World War II, three times as many totally disabled, 35% more amputees. Senator Cranston of California concludes that out of every hundred army veterans receiving compensation for wounds received in action in Vietnam, 12.4% are totally disabled. Totally.

But exactly how many hundreds or thousands of the dead-while-living does that give us? We don't know. We don't ask. We turn away from them; we avert the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, face. 'Why should I look, it wasn't my fault, was it?' It was, of course, but no matter. Time presses. Death waits even for us. We have a dream to pursue, the whitest white hope of them all, and we must follow and find it before the light fails.

So long, losers. God bless. Take care. We'll be seeing you."

~ Dalton Trumbo, 1970 Addendum to 1939's Johnny Got His Gun

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