In Berkeley, a veteran reflects
By Leah Garchik
Country Joe McDonald was just getting back from a trip to the store when
The Chronicle ("TIC" seems inappropriately trivial) called to ask what he
thought about the U.S. action against Afghanistan. He hadn't yet heard the
news; for a few seconds, he was speechless.
"I was just reading the Sunday paper," he said a bit later. "I read the
word 'imminent.' That's the word they like to use, those commanders in
chief. When Dick Cheney was running for the vice presidency, he was asked
why he hadn't served in Vietnam. " 'I had other priorities,' he said.
Well, I had other priorities today rather than turning on the TV."
McDonald's "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die" rag was the anti-war anthem
during the Vietnam era. He served in the Navy before the Vietnam War was
in full flame, and since the end of that war has been an advocate for
veterans' rights and special needs.
"I can tell you I'm just one of 10 million Vietnam-era military veterans
that exist. And no one asked us a thing before." If The Chronicle wants to
find out something, "I think you should ask your neighbors who are
veterans, your brothers, your sisters, your mothers and fathers and uncles
and cousins, all the people who have been ignored up to this moment. No
one has wanted to talk to military veterans up to this point."
McDonald said Osama bin Laden and George Bush have something in common.
"They are both civilian commanders in chief who were raised in millionaire
families. They wear civilian dress. And they give orders down the chain of
command. They never will die in battle."
He said he has been e-mailing people and talking to friends, asking why
coverage hasn't given so much as a nod to the military veterans'
community, "which is another thing quite different from what we have been
seeing, and the reason I don't want to watch the TV. What I have been
seeing is white men in suits and ties talking about military things.
Almost all of them have never been in the military. . . . If you want to
find out what's going to happen to those people who are fighting for us,
if you want to do something that will help you cope besides waving your
flag and singing 'God Bless America,' find a war veteran who wants to talk
Yesterday's bombing was shocking to McDonald, but he'd obviously been
pondering the issues. "It occurred to me yesterday that people never
change churches just for a day. That's a stupid idea, isn't it? People
spend years and years and years learning to do the right ceremonies and
things, but they never change. . . .
"I can honestly say this is the scariest moment of my life, and I don't
think I'm going to turn on the TV. I just bought my son some new shoes for
his skateboard. Now, we'll learn something that I learned from Vietnam
veterans: Life goes on."
Country Joe's Web site features a page of new lyric suggestions submitted
by correspondents; "Afghanistan" fits neatly into the rhyme scheme where
"Vietnam" used to be.