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Alternatives To War: A Simple Test
Published on Sunday, March 21, 2004 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Alternatives To War: A Simple Test
by Bill Larsen

As a disabled combat veteran who frequents a coffee shop near my home, I hear more angry debate over the Iraq War than I will ever need. In such conversations, unless asked, I usually say nothing at all.

Caught in a time warp of sorrow and loss separating me from the others at the cafe table, there seems no point. At times, however -- probably because of my history -- I am asked to comment on some aspect of this war, or war in general. When I am foolish enough to take the bait, what I say usually goes something like this:

Fundamentally, the decision to go to war is of the body, not the mind. In this regard, my perspective is that of the grunt, rather than the politician. In judging the validity of this (or any) war therefore, it is my experience that the political leaders who send out warriors into combat virtually never consider the true value of human suffering. This is not because politicians are evil, but because they simply lack experience with the specific horror into which they send our people. Consequently, as in the Iraq War, our combatants are too often ordered into battle by congressional members who have never experienced combat (and whose children are rarely called to serve), under a president also lacking this personal experience and risk to his loved ones.

I'm no pacifist, but I do have a rigorous standard for sending human beings to war. I call it the "Mike MacParlane Taste Test."

While serving as a combat medic in Vietnam, I had a best buddy with whom I connected on a heartfelt level unimaginable in any other setting. We covered each other's backs and shared each other's deepest fears. Yes, his name was Michael MacParlane.

One day, a squad was ambushed while crossing a small clearing. Everyone got out of the clearing except two guys, one shot in the head, one shot several times throughout his extremities. Called to the scene, I crawled out to make a "house call."

Actually, the only thing I could do was slap on a few bandages and return fire in the hopes of keeping our wounded from being wiped out. This worked for a couple of minutes, and then - BANG - a bullet struck my chin, breaking my jaw in half and leaving me face down in a pool of blood.

A lifetime later, I awoke to the sound of someone calling my name.

Focusing on this sound, I saw Mike crawling toward me with a rifle in one hand and a field dressing in the other. The North Vietnamese soldiers also saw him, and opened the gates of hell unleashing all their dragons; but somehow Mike made it to my side. He released his rifle, and was reaching out with the field dressing to bandage my wound when - BANG - a bullet tore through his left eye, squirting blood and bodily fluids across my face and into the gory cavernous hole that used to be my mouth. For the next hour or so, I watched my friend die, suffocating on his vomit, as I tasted his blood and eye tissue on my lips.

That's it, the "Mike MacParlane Taste Test."

It is applied every time a mother gazes into the face of her dead son; whenever an orphaned child cries for his stricken father; at every instance a "grunt" watches his buddy mutilated; in every moment of pain, sorrow and post- traumatic suffering that follows soldiers home after the war. If "the cause" isn't clearly serious enough to justify this ultimate sacrifice -- and is not absolutely the last alternative to our own destruction -- it fails this standard.

If you can't fully imagine your loved one splattered like dog meat on foreign soil, and can still say, "yes, this particular 'cause' is worth the cost," it very likely isn't.

Please consider this standard, rather than the empty words of politicians, when asking our loved ones to make the ultimate sacrifice. Our own fanatics will tell you otherwise, but giving full value to the lives of our warriors is the first -- and most sacred -- obligation we face in fulfilling our age- old duty to "support the troops."

Bill Larsen, is a combat vet who lives in Nevada City (Nevada County). He is working on a book of essays telling the story of both his war experience and his trip back to Vietnam in 1996.

©2004 San Francisco Chronicle


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