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
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
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
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
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