Distance is a funny thing. I’ve come to learn over the course of my life that sometimes we’re just too close to something to truly comprehend it. That stepping back for a longer view – by letting significant time pass – can enhance the clarity of our inner vision and help crystallize our understanding of a significant event or individual in our lives.
During 1991, the average cost of a gallon of gas in the US was $1.12, the New York Giants beat the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl, the USSR came to a formal end and the Hubble Telescope was launched. For me, though, I remember the year for two specific things: Julie Gold winning a Grammy for the Song of the Year with “From a Distance” and the commencement of the first Persian Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. At that time, twenty years had gone by since my husband Larry was killed in the Vietnam conflict. “From a Distance” truly resonated with me, as I sat glued to the radio and television listening to news about another war in a faraway place that few of us knew much about.
In the school district where I was superintendent, some of my teachers served in the army reserves and were immediately called up for active duty. I was concerned about them, their families and their students. We all prayed and hoped for their safety.
I was torn between feeling proud of those who served and fearful that one of our school families might face the loss of a mother, father, son, daughter, teacher or colleague. Luckily, our community was fortunate. All of our patriots returned.
By that time, I had begun to view war differently, compared with when Larry went to Vietnam. In the Vietnam experience, the life of Larry, our family’s most precious treasure, was placed at risk. Our beloved Larry flew bravely into the fray, like so many others and, like millions of others, our lives were never the same after his death.
In 1991, I had learned from experience that, if an enlisted man or woman from our community were to be killed in the Gulf War, there would be celebrations of their lives and beautiful homilies expressed at their funerals. Once the formality of it all passed, however, life would go on in the community. The grieving parents, children and spouses, though, would be forever transformed like me and our daughter, Laura, had been. We all go on, but are changed. I mourned, because I understood that pain.
Over those two decades, my perspective had changed and I was beginning to question our country’s use of military power, unlike when I was a young wife of a pilot serving in Vietnam. I come from a long line of military patriots. My grandfather, uncles and my father all had served in World War I or World War II. Growing up as a child, I often heard about brave and honorable sacrifices they made to protect our nation, and shared in the pride we all felt.
These days, I continue to value our men and women in armed service, but I’m more prone to question the decision to place them in harm’s way without a clear explanation to the American people about the reason for the action and the strategy for prevailing. Part of that feeling comes from the reports that were made public years after the Vietnam War ended, revealing some of the questionable decisions made during that time, as well as the ambiguous outcomes we’ve witnessed in more recent conflicts at tremendous cost in treasure and blood.
Throughout the years, as I’ve listened to “From a Distance,” I’ve come to accept that, paradoxically, sometimes it takes a great expanse in either time or space for us to understand context, both in the history of nation and in our own personal journey. Looking back “from a distance,” I’ve arrived at a place where my soul is more at peace with the past and losing Larry in the war.
Ronald Reagan once sagely used the phrase, “trust, but verify,” when discussing nuclear disarmament with the former Soviet Union. Now, during this period of militaristic bluster and calls for a national military parade in Washington to rival that of France, I think we should all follow Reagan’s wise advice carefully on issues of national security and the decision to use armed forces. Rather than expend money for a military parade, I’d prefer to see that money go to veterans and their families coping with PTSD or who require rehabilitation due to physical injuries. Our veterans deserve the best possible treatment and support re-entering our American family after serving our country.
© Tyra Manning 2018