ON JAN. 15, 22 years ago, I went into labor, and on the 16th, my son was born. In that year, 1969, all my energies were focused on my baby, and though the Vietnam War was dragging on with no end in sight, my little family was safe -- they were not yet drafting young fathers -- and for us the present was innocent and the future full of hope.
And now we are hurtling toward another Jan. 15. If Saddam Hussein doesn't get out of Kuwait by then, he will (says our president in an eloquent turn of phrase) "get his ass kicked."
So on my son's 22nd birthday, the ass-kickers who run things may be sending our boys to their deaths.
For five months we have listened as our government has changed reasons for going to war, changed them quicker than a teen-ager switching channels. We have been bombarded by the jingoist hype from the network media stars who seem itching for battle. (What better press than a war?) We have been fed a diet of holiday dispatches from "our boys in the desert" and reports from airhead correspondents in designer camouflage gear who jTC prowl among the troops, asking things like, "Do you have nightmares?" and, "How's the food over here?" and, "What would you like to say to Saddam Hussein?" We've seen footage of young men jumping in and out of trenches, trudging thro ugh the sand, plowing through the shiftting dunes in tanks. They are kids playing soldiers. And we hear them saying how bored they are, how they want either to go home or to start shooting. To young people who know they are immortal, anything is preferable to boredom.
When I was in college, this country and the Soviet Union squared off over the missiles in Cuba. President Kennedy issued Nikita Khrushchev an ultimatum: get those missiles out of there at once and don't send any more, or we're going to go to war with you.
What I remember about those tense days was the quietness, the sobriety of people as the world stared into the maw of hell, glimpsing its own destruction. The mood was so different from the carnival-like, surreal atmosphere of these past five months.
People have been asking whether we have learned anything from Vietnam. Must we send every generation of young men to slaughter? Why do we allow a handful of men to decide the fate of thousands? And is humankind incapable of getting beyond war, incapable of seeing every war as civil, as brothers killing brothers in the family of humans?
And yet, there is something different abroad in the land. On college campuses, kids are worried about the draft. They say, "I don't want to die, and I don't want to kill anybody." Every mother I've talked to is fed up with whatever it is about men that gets us into these messes.
One, usually a flag-waving conservative, talks matter-of-factly of helping her son flee to Canada, if necessary, to avoid the draft. Among themselves, women joke about tossing the warmongers together and letting them thrash it out. I have even heard sly whisperings about "Lysistrata," the comedy by Aristophanes in which the women withhold sexual favors until their men stop their foolish warring.
I know a woman who has a son in Saudi Arabia -- a West Point graduate, a career officer in the 82nd Airborne. For Christmas she wanted to send something that would be meaningful to him, far from his childhood home in the Midwest, far from his young family in the South. She was thinking of sending a snow globe, one of those liquid-filled things with a figure inside that you shake to stir up "snow." Unable to say what was really troubling her (a mother of a West Point boy is, after all, expected to keep a stiff upper lip), she said, "But if something should happen to him, the globe will be lost over there in the desert."
That would be the least of it.
Jane Wingate writes from Columbia.