Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Musical Monday: Still Fighting the War

Heard this on NPR’s folk program last night.

When I was kid, if I heard someone refer to ‘The War’, it meant WWII. Twenty-five, thirty years after the end of that conflict, WWII still shaped so much of the world, and my perceptions of it. We had the Cold War as a direct result of it, for one thing, plus I knew people who had fought in it. My grandfather, several uncles, fathers of a couple of my friends. They were still making movies about it and doing TV shows about it (and this was long before The Hitler History Channel provided us with fodder like, Sex and The Third Reich), and books, books, books.

It wasn’t until later that Vietnam came into sharper focus for me. I was a little too young (and I suspect my parents shielded me from the more grisly images of body bags and burned out villages that were shown on TV) to really remember or pay much attention to Vietnam; it wasn’t until Vietnam began entering popular culture through films like The Deer Hunter that I started paying attention. At the same time, more and more Vietnam veterans began fighting for their rights, and more and more of them began revealing major physical and psychological damage as a result of their experiences. Sadly, the crazed Vietnam vet who was “still fighting the war” became a cliche used to drive all kinds of TV programs and movies. World War II veterans seemed to make a seamless transition back to civilian life (and I know this isn’t true, but that’s the perception); Vietnam veterans, by contrast, had a far more difficult time. “Still fighting the war” was a phrase much more frequently attributed to them than to veterans of other conflicts.

When I heard the title of this song, and the opening verse, I immediately thought it was a Vietnam song. Funny how you get conditioned, isn’t it? It wasn’t until the line, “Flashback to Fallujah” that I realized Cleaves is talking about the Iraq war, the war that is still going on. Perspective is a strange thing.

5 Responses

  1. Perspective really is. My folks grew up in Scotland during WWII so that one often comes to mind for me as well as I've heard so many stories of it. Every generation probably will have their own idea of 'the' war. Interesting stuff!

  2. I remember falling in love with the song 'Khe Sanh' by Cold Chisel after my dad showed me a few years back, while I was learning about the Vietnam War in high school. But it is strange how your perspective on things like a song you hear can be changed by what you know… I know that the song 'One' by Metallica is based on a book in which a soldier is serving in World War 1, but I always think of the current conflict in Iraq because that's what I knew was going on when I first heard it.

    Neat post, JeffO 🙂

  3. Thanks, Bonnee. It would be nice if we didn't have wars as the 'defining moments' of this generation or that generation. Maybe we can get there some day.

  4. It's like the same story being played out over and over again with slight variations. History repeating itself. For me it seems like we've been at war almost my entire life. Actually that might be true.

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