“War is good for the economy”, are words I heard spoken the other day on a financial news program by a so-called “pundit”. The first time I encountered that phrase was 43 years ago when I was an idealistic young student volunteer on the disastrous Presidential campaign of George McGovern.
McGovern’s campaign headquarters was a 3 story building on K Street in Washington. It was crowded day and night with eager young people who truly believed he actually had a chance to win. McGovern had made pronouncements on many subjects, but the reason all the students wanted him to win was because he was the candidate who was going to end the war in Vietnam.
This was long before the days of e-mail, so all communications came in via regular “snail-mail”. Thousands of letters for and against McGovern flooded the headquarters each day. We volunteers sat at a long table and sorted through the mail. Like the other volunteers my job was to read as many letters as I could, and see which ones required a response and which ones did not.
It was pure chance that one of the most moving letters I have ever read in my life happened to be opened by me. It was written by a military wife. Her husband was an Army Major who had recently been killed in Vietnam.
The woman had enclosed in her letter a newspaper clipping. It was an opinion piece someone had written explaining how the war in Vietnam was “good for the economy.” Even worse, the opinion piece pointed out that the Vietnam War was really not very costly in terms of lives, since more Americans died in automobile accidents each year than in Vietnam. The opinion piece concluded that this was a small cost compared to the benefit that the war gave to the economy in terns of the defense industry jobs it created.
The Major’s widow wrote that as the wife of a career military man she had always known that her husband might someday die in battle. She said she had accepted long ago that he might die defending his country, or protecting the freedom of others, or to save his fellow soldiers.
However, she said she could never accept that her beloved husband had died simply because it was “good for the economy.” She went on to say that she and her husband had been married for almost 20 years and that she had loved him very much. I just knew that she must have been crying when she wrote those words.
I don’t know what became of the letter. I don’t know if it ever got to Senator McGovern or if anyone ever wrote her a response. It is one of the great regrets of my life that I did not respond to the Major’s wife personally. I should have written and told her how moved I was by her story. I wish that I had thanked her for the sacrifice she and her husband had made. But I never contacted her. I passed along the letter to someone higher up, and assumed it would be taken care of. Now that I am much much older, I realize that there are some things you just need to do yourself.
The U.S. has had many wars since Vietnam. We are at war right now. There is a lot of political debate about where and when and if the U.S. should go to war. I will not try to influence the political opinions of my readers.
There are many valid reasons why a nation may engage in combat. But never forget that the soldiers on the battlefield are real people with families that love them very much. If we are going to risk those precious lives, it needs to be for a better reason than it is “good for the economy.”