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Anybody's Son Will Do
By Steve Geiger (reviewer)
Anybody's Son Will Do
directed by Paul Cowan
written by Gwynne Dyer
(National Film Board of Canada, 1983)
Anybody's Son Will Do was written by Gwynne Dyer. Thank you Professor Dyer for your body of work analyzing how we have incorporated war and its production into our social fabric.
My story is not new. It is much like Ron Kovic's or any number of the thousands and millions worldwide who felt the need to serve their country. I grew up in the 50s; the Selective Service and the draft were always looking down on us. But even though I was shunted into a Military Science class at Ohio State in the fall of 1964 as an elective, I really was fulfilling the mores that caused me to stand at attention in our knotty pine paneled TV room whenever the National Anthem was on TV. My mother would introduce me to that concept of respect for the flag in the mid-50s and later tearfully she and my father bid me off to Mather AFB for nav training in January of '69. We took vacations in the 50s, which were usually not more than 500 miles, but in '57 we traveled as far west as Salt Lake City, in our '54 Olds before turning back.
In the fall of '64, I enrolled in a state school (Ohio State) mostly because it was close and tuition was cheap. Orientation at OSU involved a decision whether to take Military Science or another math requirement. Land Grant colleges set up under Lincoln had to provide training for military service. I don't remember if that requirement meant officer training, but not being a math whiz, I chose ROTC. Frankly they did not have to try very hard to attract me as all the advertising money spent on the Thunder Birds appearing at Port Columbus worked on me; I collected some baseball cards, but the ones that really stuck in my psyche were the pictures of fighter aircraft: The Hellcat and the F86 and some I can't recall after all these years. Those cards amounted to another seduction of my psyche. I can still picture them as I rode the bus to school in the early 50s. I also was an avid viewer of Navy Log; I can still see the opening credits with the external camera mounted on the belly of the plane and the take-off roll with the gear coming up. It seemed dramatic at the time. Big effing deal. And like an old love letter, I still have a Steve Canyon comic book preserved in a box somewhere. I burned my defunct draft card on stage in a college production of Hair after exiting the Air Force, but I still have that comic book. Maybe the Steve Canyon is collectible? But burning that card was divine.
So there I was on the drill field in 1964-5, and in the dorm learning the finer points of polishing shoes by setting the polish on fire and melting a gob to speed the transfer of polish to shoe. Not really what I thought higher education would hold for me. But I was "anyman's son" and there was a war that needed me to become part of it.
There were demonstrations against the appearance of Herbert Aptheker (a Commie) on campus and sit-ins opposing the war at Denny Hall, but I went the other way. I had doubts about the war, but the fear of social rejection at home was too great. My parents were not happy that I wanted to sign up, they feared for my safety, but they also feared what it would mean to avoid the service and how did anyone do that anyway? Go to Canada? Not this farm boy. The path of least resistance was to avoid the Army and hope for the best, a path taken by many if they had that option. Also in the mix was the desire to see more of the world than central Ohio had to offer. Did those "Join the Navy and See the World" ads spill over into my choosing AF ROTC? "YES." Did I consider the big picture and how evident it was that I'd be dropping bombs on Vietnamese citizens? Yes, but it didn't seem real; and I have regretted it every day since.
Senior year I read what I could and took a history of Vietnam course which left me to conclude that this was a civil war. Still the social forces at work were too strong. January 3, 1969 I set out for California and drove right into a snowstorm the next day. It just got worse. On the 2nd day in Oklahoma heading to Tinker AFB on I-70, in a driving snow squall, I passed a lumbering semi, and I watched the wind force that semi to jackknife into the center median. He was upright, I drove on. I made it to Mather AFB late on the 4th day; I was in the pipeline to Vietnam; I spent the next four years, eight months and 7 days participating in the lies and carrying out the mission.
How I wish there had been a role model, an authority figure to guide me. There were many dissenters at OSU, but I just wasn't ready to receive the information.
Gwynne Dyer had not completed his documentary, Anybody's Son Will Do, on how our governments conscript our youth to play their war games until 1983. I saw it first in the 90s on PBS. It exists now as a 6-part, nearly 6 hour work relegated to YouTube. The message is too volatile for network TV, at least I haven't seen it there since. He includes other country's military conscription and mores in his analysis, but the message is much the same in other countries: "The Beat Goes On"; War is a fact of life and always will be.
Every person interested in how this process plays out should watch it. With $750 billion budgeted each year to our "Defense" everyone should be interested. Every social studies teacher should spend at least a week on the topic of war, which Dyer covers in other docs, not the battles, but the "Why". But the world we live in has not deemed this a worthy topic. I doubt less than 1% of high school seniors considering military service have given any thought to the subject. The power structure has the flashy toys and the money to pay for slick advertising to seduce the youth. And then there is the patriotism card. And the job market. It is too academic for the average high school kid, so that is how they get you. I've gone with other VVAW speakers to a school in Manhattan that has a sympathetic teacher and given our POV to six classes once a year; some of the kids sleep through, others have already signed a commitment with a recruiter, but I take heart in the five or ten that get it when we try to teach a little truth. I speak once a year at the SUNY Maritime College. I get nods of approval from ex-military there. There are many more opportunities to reach out, but all told we touch less than a handful of the thousands of seniors each year in the NYC area. The task is daunting, but we must do more.
A long-time VVAW member, Steve Geiger flew Nav on 225 missions in a B-52D, from Andersen AFB, Guam and U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Base, Thailand. He is now retired and lives on Long Island.