My mothers' brother died today. He lived in Colorado for most of his life, and was an avid hunter, fisherman, and built blackpowder rifles. That is what he really did. He kept food on the table with work at computer firms and at UPS. He has one grown daughter, my cousin Kris, who lives in Michigan, and two grandkids.
He was a Vietnam Vet, and came back angry and distrustful of all government, but he seemed to hate the Republican party a little bit less than the Democrats. He also fought alcoholism. His was not the shiny happy life.
I wish I could have gotten to be in a better relationship with him, but he was so angry, and his politics were so different than mine, and he lived so far away. We both tried at various times. He once took me to a good wine shop in Denver at Thanksgiving, when I was in my winemaker phase, even though he was an alcoholic. I read Philip Caputo's Rumor of War to try to understand him a little bit. There was just very little in common to build upon.
I think his life could have been defined in terms of "before" and "after" Vietnam. A lot of the people he hung out with were people who were "safe;" people who had also been to Vietnam, other conservative libertarians. People who knew, who he didn't have to try to explain himself to, didn't have to feel judged by. Unfortunately, probably people like me.
He was an example of the people who come home from every war, damaged. They are the part of the cost of all wars. I am pretty sure that the people who get us into wars don't have people like my Uncle Tom around in their lives. They are not counted as cost, because they are still alive. But it is their choices that cause men like my uncle Tom to lose something in their lives, and live unneccesarily difficult lives after they return.
I've been thinking about some half-remembered poetry, and the name Wilfred Owen came out of the mist. So I Googled him, and it came up with the poem Dulce et Decorum Est. Here is the last portion. Though it is written in the context of Owen's experience of the First World War, the end is true of all wars.
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
So long, uncle Tom.