I Tried … But I Don't
I Tried … But I Don't
I tried ... but I don’t,
To believe and I won’t,
Vague reasons I’ve heard and since read;
Perhaps guilt in each mind,
’Cause they stayed behind?
Someone else took their place instead!
There was the Korean War?
That’s the one that passed us all by!
Few then seemed upset,
Still a Communist threat,
And yet nobody stopped to ask: “Why?”
Indochina ’twas the same,
With a disguised new name,
A sad lesson for us we were taught;
From those ‘fields of fire’,
Napalm and barbed wire,
Came images eroding support.
Yet, not even a word,
Nothing was heard,
When many thousands were slaughtered at Hue;
Silence stayed loud,
News of the boat-people crowd,
Risking their lives to escape every day.
Age of social contests,
On issues that weren’t very clear;
Aboriginal land rights,
Sacred tribal camp sites,
Others stirred by someone named Greer.
With women’s liberation,
And their extrication,
‘Female eunuchs’ were ‘seeing the light’;
Joining these in the pot,
Was the gay lobby lot,
And each migrant who wasn’t born white.
Still, at the centre core,
Was this Vietnam War,
And conscription reserved for a few;
The papers reported,
Most people supported,
Yet, real truth was what nobody knew.
In spite of their prudence,
This included the students,
Facts hidden from all prying eyes;
’Twas not wisdom ... but hindsight!
So just who was then right,
Both sides of the debate shared the lies.
This leading loud group,
A brewed mixed angry soup,
Discontented with their own status quo;
Parents’ toil put them there,
Ample time then to spare,
‘Shirkers’ joined radicals and those ‘in the know’.
Can’t help but have doubt,
Why they then stayed out,
Rhetorical slogans, though constantly aired;
Was this protesting sound,
Just high moral ground,
Or a cover for their running scared?
Yet, once past the age,
They became quiet on stage,
Army deprived of these potential recruits;
Degrees in their hands,
Graduates down off their stands,
Marched off in their grey pin-striped suits.
And so how was it done,
By those boys on the run,
Side-stepping when their numbers were rolled?
The power they used,
In a system abused,
Let us hear how their story is told.
With religious ‘salvation’,
Or sexual re-orientation,
Medical records, some falsified;
And some took on a wife,
Created a new life,
In desperation they cheated and lied.
Others in our selection,
Second line of protection,
Appointed to where they preferred;
A place found in a corps,
Not going to war,
Suddenly, conveniently transferred.
As the dominoes fell,
Creating a communist hell,
Who aided the rise of Pol Pot?
Who takes any blame,
Hold their heads down in shame?
Are they proud of their own role, or what?
An about-faced support,
To their past, some weren’t very loyal;
Their hip-pocket nerve,
Way of life to preserve,
The Gulf War was all about oil.
I sure hope today,
Now that they’re old and grey,
They see the world is not black and white;
And that one day they’ll face,
Those boys in their place,
Yet I wonder if they sleep well at night?
Yes, I tried ... but I don’t,
To believe and I won’t,
Why they avoided their country’s last call;
And that barrier built,
From hypocrisy and guilt,
Means between us, stands a giant brick wall !
The theme of this poem centres around a disillusioned veteran’s attempt to come to terms with the circumstances that surrounded the social schisms in Australia during the Vietnam War era. Try as he might, the veteran is unable to reconcile the justification for those who allowed others to take their place in the conscription lines, by employing one of the various means to avoid call-up. Then there were those others who, once in the services, regular or conscript, manoeuvred to safer positions or units.
“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The ugliest is that man
who thinks nothing is worth fighting and dying for and lets men better and
braver than himself protect him.”
- Ronald Reagan, (Speech) 1983.
“I dreams of war, an’ what is paid,
By blokes that went and blokes that stayed.”
- C.J. Denis (1918).
“Keep askin’ man; no matter how long …
On the war in V-iet-nam, I sing dis song …
I ain’t got no quarrel ... with the Vi-et Cong!”
- Cassius Clay (on the Draft), 1966.
“Oh well! Think of what we’ll pass on to the poor fellow who comes after me!”
- John Kennedy, quoted from a NSC meeting in 1963.
“I hated the idea of sending other people’s sons off to fight in a war so haphazardly planned.
I despised the class distinction that had determined who had gone to Vietnam and who had not. I can’t forgive a leadership that said in effect: These young men (poorer, less educated, less privileged) are expendable but the rest are too good to risk!”
- General Colin Powell in War in a Time of Peace by David Halberstram, 2001.