an After abortion

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Tuesday, March 18, 2003

"In thy faint slumbers I by thee have watch'd
And heard thee murmur tales of iron wars..." Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I

Philip Caputo was a Marine in Vietnam in '65 and '66.

The first paragraph of his book, "A Rumor of War", reads:

"This book does not pretend to be history. It has nothing to do with politics, power, strategy, influence, national interests, or foreign policy; nor is it an indictment of the great men who led us into Indochina and whose mistakes were paid for with the blood of some quite ordinary men. In a general sense, it is simply a story about war, about the things men do in war and the things war does to them. More strictly, it is a soldier's account of our longest conflict, the only one we have ever lost, as well as the record of a long and sometimes painful personal experience."

I like this book. As you might imagine, in addition to sending my heart with the greatest sympathy and prayers to the soldiers amassed on the border of Iraq, it reminds me of abortion.

When women walk into the clinic, they have walked into a war zone. Caputo, who later became an anti-war activist, does well in describing the moments and days of euphoria.

This is how I felt when I went to the clinic:

"So, when we marched into the rice paddies on that damp March afternoon, we carried, along with our packs and rifles, the implicit convictions that the Viet Cong would be quickly beaten and that we were doing something altogether noble and good. We kept the packs and rifles; the convictions, we lost."

I thought my baby was a parasite and an intruder. I thought I was striking a blow for the emancipation of women. I believed in abortion as part of a utopia in which conceptions and pregnancies could be erased as if they had never happened. A mulligan. A do over. An act with no consequences; an act to be celebrated.

"Beyond adding a few more corpses to the weekly body count, none of these encounters achieved anything; none will ever appear in military histories or be studied by cadets at West Point. Still, they changed us and taught us, the men who fought in them; in those obscure skirmishes we learned the old lessons about fear, cowardice, courage, suffering, cruelty, and comradeship. Most of all, we learned about death at an age when it is common to think of oneself as immortal. Everyone loses that illusion eventually, but in civilian life it is lost in installments over the years. We lost it all at once and, in the span of months, passed from boyhood through manhood to a premature middle age. The knowledge of death, of the implacable limits placed on a man's existence, severed us from our youth as irrevocably as a surgeon's scissors had once severed us from the womb. And yet, few of us were past twenty-five. We left Vietnam peculiar creatures, with young shoulders that bore rather old heads."


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