I lost a friend last week.
(It’s distressingly easy to lose friends these days, but this had nothing to do with Donald Trump.)
Mike Guess and I weren’t high school chums – he was a graduate of Kilgore High school and I from Jacksonville. We didn’t learn to drink beer, chase girls and cruise through town together on Friday nights. We only met perhaps 30 years ago.
I was in the newspaper and printing business, Mike sold graphic arts supplies for a number of vendors. I saw him more often after I came to Kilgore in 2001. Mike’s mom lived here so he could accomplish a satisfactory two-fer... visit Mom and make a sale-and-gossip call at the News Herald. He was our go-to guy for printing technology questions, we kept him abreast of who was doing what in the East Texas newspaper industry.
Mike’s health deteriorated through the last decade or so. He suffered from peripheral neuropathy and diabetes, needed a cane to get around, he had cancer. And he smoked, but he ascribed most of his health problems to his exposure to Agent Orange. The Monsanto-manufactured defoliant was sprayed across the vegetative canopy in Vietnam – it made it easier to see the enemy. U.S. soldiers like Mike, a Marine during that conflict, were exposed early and often.
Those of us with high draft numbers, college deferments or bone spurs, only know about Agent Orange from news reports and from seeing its effects on friends and family members. We were mercifully spared the more direct physical effects.
That war left other wounds, though – notably Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“shell shock” in earlier wars) and a divided society.
Today’s soldiers aren’t exposed to Agent Orange, and because field medicine has advanced so rapidly, seriously wounded men and women get top-notch battlefield treatment. They survive wounds which killed combatants in earlier engagements; they come home alive, missing limbs or eyes. Today’s Agent Orange corollary is the Improvised Explosive Device. Survivors are fitted with prosthetic limbs but counseling for PTSD is tragically inadequate, a fact borne out by the number of suicides among our military veterans.
Meanwhile, we continue at war. Politicians “know more than the generals” and denigrate the intelligence community. We huff and puff toward Iran and boast we could take Afghanistan off the map. We pretend we’re moving toward a peaceful accommodation with North Korea, but voters know that’s merely electioneering here and breast-beating there.
Wars, we’re told, win elections... we’d like to believe otherwise but perhaps we’re naive.
What war really does is kill and maim, leaving gaping wounds in entire communities.
We’re not foolish enough to believe we’ll ever obviate armed conflict. As long as there are bad people, good (or at least better, depending on one’s perspective) people will try to eliminate them. Sadly, it’s the way we are.
And we’ll continue to lose our friends.