David took my place in Vietnam, and, if I could, I would ask him why he did. “Ten years ago,” I said in a debate with myself, “we were just a couple of cockeyed kids and dismissed the troubles of the world with a flick of a wrist. It was at the start of the war, and we were more interested in girls.” Some of us worried about graduating, I continued, but within a year most of us had wandered out of town.
”Was David super patriotic and a gung-ho type then, or was he drafted?”
Volunteered, I supposed, I said, adding, “I’m thinking he had a problem with women.” I went on to say that we lost contact after high school; no real reason; it just happened. He wasted a full year of college by flunking out and the exact reason for that, according to his mother, came down to his applications of a few “rules” such as “never go to bed sober,” “partying instead of studying,” and “never turn down a piece.” Even living this kind of life, when it would’ve been hard on anyone else never seemed to have worn David down, a buddy of ours said, “though apparently it ruined his college career.” David didn’t last very long, because his whole approached to life was contingent on a piss-poor attitude, and, in any case, by and large he didn’t give a damn. People could wag a finger at him, but Uncle Sam didn’t care. Many other young men went down that path. This was perhaps what separated David and me, I think, and don’t overlook the fact that I studied my buns off to make up for never studying in high school, so (with results) I didn’t flunk out…avoided comma spices and stayed awake during chemistry. ”Even on the battle field, down to his last breath, I suppose he was drunk or high on something, so my guess was that he didn’t feel a thing.” I repeated again what I had heard over and over again about alcohol and drug use in Nam. I went on, “As for the war, I hate it.” I should thank David for going in my place, Nixon for trying to get us out of it, and all of those who are pushing it right now. Thus, it looks pretty dismal with the peace talks going nowhere.
A relative of the former president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dihn Diem, went to my college, and we always argued in a polite way. I spent the time listening to her talk about her uncle. She spent the time telling me how her uncle fought the Communist. Logic over there was simple, if you were against Diem you were Communist; you either were or you weren’t. But it was really difficult to tell in 1964 and 1965 when Monks and nuns were against Diem. He cracked down and arrested thousands. “Thousands,” I said, “instead of focusing on the real enemy, the real Communists, the Communists from the north.” I just made her angry. Unlike David, who knew firsthand, I reached conclusions without really knowing the facts, or I knew just enough facts to make someone, such as Diem’s relative, angry. This enabled me to appear interested…that we’d expect an educated person to know a little bit about what was going on in Vietnam, which included a few facts and a few errors about Diem. Though my level of interest never rose high enough for me to take a stand, I did feel sympathy for Diem’s relative when the former president was assassinated. I said that because I considered myself to be a sensitive person…which meant I felt great sympathy for the people of Vietnam. I remembered how dejected Diem’s relative seemed, and how she mourned and wore black after that. In my view then, we needed to stop the Communist; in other words, support anyone who would fight them. It was hard because they weren’t all good people, and in some places our allies didn’t make us many friends. This was true of Diem, but I didn’t dare say that to his relative. Besides it didn’t matter that much to me. But everyone was entitled to his or her opinion, and the fact that Diem’s relative was a relative meant that she was biased. If we weren’t biased, we wouldn’t be human. This rational was true for everyone. That made it all right for me to disagree with David over his decision to go Vietnam. I respected him for it. He made a private decision, but it meant that someone else wouldn’t have to go, and why couldn’t it be me? Except now, since he was killed, I feel lousy. Nevertheless, I like to think he took my place.