Living in the Past: The reader needs to know that I am not a violent man. I have had only one fight in my life. I avoid physical confrontations because of some difficulties I have with my anger. In the fight I did have, I was surprised how well I did and concerned at how much anger I felt at the time. This bent towards non-violence became problematic when I joined the Army. I joined, not out of choice but because I was about to be drafted and wanted some say as to where I ended up.
So, there I was in the late 1960’s taking basic training at Fort Knox where we had bayonet training. This consisted in mounting a knife on the end of an M-14 rifle and thrusting it through a tire mounted on a post. The idea was for us to get familiar with the feeling of killing an enemy soldier. The only feeling I had was revulsion. I was still stationed at Fort Knox the day Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. The word came down we were to be ready to move out on a moment’s notice. We were told we probably would be heading to Chicago to restore peace there.
As I often did at that time in my life, I went for a walk and tried to sort out my feelings. The thought of killing someone or even standing there with a rifle pointed menacingly was not a pleasant thought. I don’t guess it is for anyone. I couldn’t understand all the racial hatred. And the violent reaction to King’s death came on top of the violent anti-war protests. It seemed like the extremists on both side of the debates were putting us soldiers in the middle. And we soldiers had taken an oath not to be political but just to follow orders. We were not even allowed to place political bumper stickers on our cars. It was the closest I ever came to experiencing a kind of civil war: American versus American with American soldiers in the middle.
Fortunately, the orders never came down. We never left Fort Knox and I was spared having to stand up for my principles in the face of military and civilian pressure.
This was only an isolated decision by one soldier during a time of loud debate and violent protests fueled by angry rhetoric. Rhetoric can create heart-wrenching confusion in the hearts of those tasked with either keeping the peace or going to war. And those superiors are only following the dictates of the political leaders be they from the left or the right. Having been in the place of soldier, I just pray that all those making decisions affecting our military take the time to count the human cost beyond equipment, troop strength and casualty numbers.