copyright © 2003 Joshua James


I come from a long line of rednecks, hard-hat wearing, big truck driving proud working class guys that drink Budweiser out of a can. That’s where I come from. I’m from Iowa.

My grandfather served in the military during World War II. One of my uncles served in Vietnam. My father desperately wanted to serve in Vietnam, but he was deemed physically unfit due to an injury he had gotten as a child, so he could not. It stung him that he could not enlist, as his father had in his day, and my dad watched bitterly as his friends got to go off and fight in the war. I don’t know if he ever got over it. He wanted to serve.

This was in the sixties, as everyone knows, and hundreds and thousands of people were also protesting the Vietnam War. Almost as many people protested the war as were drafted for it, and the protesters were, as we all know, treated very badly, beaten, arrested, some were even shot and killed. They were told, again and again, if you don’t like America then leave. Love it or leave it! Commentators on television and in the newspapers condemned them for not supporting our armed servicemen fighting for our freedom.

My grandpa often talked with pride about his days in the service during WWII. My uncle never talked about the war. We got the idea that it was tough over there, the family was proud that he served, but my uncle never talked about his service, not that I remember.

Growing up, I was deep into the martial arts. One of my very first martial arts instructors was a Vietnam Vet. Mr. Lewis, a really cool, really tough motherfucker. I admired him very much. I had planned to join the army once I graduated college, there was a war coming and I was hot to serve and protect, like my grandfather did, like Mr. Lewis did, like my father wanted to. I wanted to go off and have the war adventures just like in all the war movies I watched constantly. Mr. Lewis found out I was going to join the military and approached me about it. "You don’t want to work for that organization, trust me," he said. I was a bit surprised that he said this.

"But you did, you fought," I said.

"I didn’t have a choice, I was drafted. If I had a chance to do it over again, when they tried to draft me I wouldn’t go, I would go to jail or Canada before I let them do that to me again. I would."

I was shocked when he said this. I was blown away and shocked. Mr. Lewis was one of the most honorable men I knew, old school black belt who’s word was considered his bond. He was as far from a coward as anyone I knew. It must have shown on my face, my surprise, because he grinned and said, "Let’s go get a drink."

Mr. Lewis, very much like my uncle, never talked about what happened to him over there in the war, even though I was insanely curious about it, he always avoided the subject. That night, while we both got stinking drunk, he told me everything and more that I would ever want to know about Vietnam. Stories I’ve never seen in any fucking movie, stories so horrible that they had to have been true. Stories that I promised him I would never repeat, a promise that is easy to keep.

"I still don’t know, to this day, what we were doing over there," he said, "We weren’t protecting America from anything, that much we all knew. Other than that, our reason for being there was killing and dying, we served no other purpose than that. You really want to serve and fight for your country?"

"Yes," I said.

"Then the best way to do it is by doing good and doing what you know to be right. You’re a smart kid. Don’t die because someone a lot dumber than you sent you somewhere to do something you shouldn’t be doing in the first place. Do right and do good and if you have to fight, then fight for what you know is right, not what someone else tells you is right. That’s the best way to serve. Fight for what’s right."

I didn’t enlist and I did not go to first Gulf War. My father didn’t understand but I’m pretty sure my uncle did. I went to graduate school instead. A couple of guys I went to school with did serve in the Gulf. They don’t talk about it much either, and I don’t press them about it. "At least it was over quick," is the most they’ll say. One of them even met Timothy McViegh over there.

I don’t know of anyone these days who thinks that our country’s involvement in Vietnam was a good idea. During that war many politicians of course convinced us we had to do it, but no one today can reasonably justify the loss of life for what we gained from that conflict. You could even make the argument that the Vietnam War hurt our country and its citizens a lot more than it helped us.

Looking back, that means the peace protesters of the sixties were right in opposing that war. Which means that those protesters served their country as well as the servicemen did.

We’re currently at war now. What can we do?

Think for a moment. How this is all going to be viewed, years and years from now? Are people will look on it with pride like World War II, or embarrassment like Vietnam? Will our President turn out to be a Roosevelt and a Truman, or a Johnson and a Nixon? Which do you think it’s going to be?

What can you do to serve?

Ask yourself, is this war about freeing the Iraqi people or freeing the Iraqi oil wells? Is our President a genius with an uncanny view of the future, or a fool with too much power? Which do you think he is?

I’ve made up my mind. I know how I can serve.

I am going to do what I can to oppose this war, protesting and marching and making as much noise as possible, because that’s the best way of serving the best interests of my country. The best way of supporting our people in uniform to get them out of an unnecessary war and home as quickly as possible. And I’m definitely not going to vote for this fool that’s sitting in the White House, come 2004.

I believe this current war is immoral, illegal and wrong. That’s what I believe.

Dissent with what we believe to be wrong is what makes us American. That’s America, love it or leave it. If you don’t like dissent, I’d suggest you move to China.

Disagreeing with and fighting against what you know to be wrong is the best way to serve your country.

Serve your country.

Be American.

Serve America.

Black out.


"To Serve" debuted March 21, 2003, performed by Joshua James.

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