Growing up in a church where admission of guilt was
mandatory, I was always trying to feel guilty about something or
other. The idea was that if I didn't feel guilt, that would be the
most monstrous sin of all because it would be a denial of a very
important church doctrine: In Adam's fall we sinned alland we're
all headed for Hades unless we get up in front of our brethren and
titillate them by confessing our sin.
So we would do that, sometimes very red-faced and full of
self-loathing, sometimes feeling virtuous as all get out because we
were making a public confession that would crack open the door to
I no longer attend the church I'm supposed to have grown up
in and I no longer have to invent sins to ask forgiveness for.
I have remnants of guilt that occasionally burp up to the
surface. The most recent burp has to do with my time in the U.S. Army
back in 1954-56. I was in the infantry and took my basic training at
Ft. Bliss, Texas, just across the Rio Grande from Juarez, Mexico, and
at Ft. Ord, California, about 10 miles from the Pacific. Both were
eye openers for a kid from Kansas. After basic, I served my time
Why, you may be wondering, would I feel guilty about that?
OK. I'm going to be brutally honest: I had a great time
after basic training. I got shipped off to Europe.
The only bad thing about it was that I got seasick aboard
the troop ship and barfed all over the place, and then got seriously
claustrophobic in the bowels of the ship where for seven nights we
tried to sleep in fold-down bunk beds where we had about eight inches
between our noses and the bottom of the bunk on top of us.
No medals given for that kind of suffering.
But everything cleared up when we arrived in Germany (ten
years after WWII had ended). I felt all better after about two days
I was stationed in Ulm, a lovely cathedral town on the
Danube River. I never shot at anybody and nobody ever shot at me, and
we got weekend passes to go nearly anywhere in Europe so long as it
was on our side of the Iron Curtain.
Get this: On weekends and a couple of ten-day leaves, I
visited London, Paris, the French Riviera, Rome, Frankfurt, Munich,
Naples, Florence, and Zurich. I traveled by low-cost trains or
no-cost U.S. military planes whose pilots would let us gofree of
charge if they had roomto wherever they were going.
It was great fun.
I ate wonderful food, drank wonderful beer, explored
wonderful art galleries and wonderful centuries-old cathedrals.
And I got an honorable discharge two months before my
two-year commitment was officially over. They let me out early so
that I could go back to college at the beginning of a summer session.
The Truth, Mainly
Thereafter I got G.I. Bill monthly chunks of money to help
me pay for my books and tuition and housing while I was a college
And get this: The U.S. wasn't fighting any wars while I
was in the army. I was in after the fighting in Korea ended and
before the fighting in Vietnam began.
I had a great time.
So that's why I feel guilty every time I read about our
current war in Iraq. Our guys getting blown up. Our guys following
orders to blow up the bad guysand having to live with the guilt of
accidentally blowing up good guys who dress and speak and look a lot
like bad guys.
And being led to believe that the guys they're blowing up
are somehow the same guys who are responsible for the 9/11 atrocity.
On top of that, there's this difference: I was discharged
two months early so I could be a summer-school student. A large chunk
of our current GIs in Iraq have just had their military obligation
there bumped up from twelve months to fifteen-by presidential decree.
They do what they're told to do for a year and then the
year gets redefined as 15 months. No evidence that the poor guys who
got their Iraq time extended were ever given any chance to choose
between what they had agreed to and what our government decreed.
This at the hands of a president who ended his own military
service several months before his time was up.
Every time I read about what's happening in Iraq, I
contrast it to my time in the service and I feel guilty.
I hope the president does too. My childhood church
experience insisted that acknowledging guilt is good for the soul. If
that's so, surely our president is preparing his mea culpa statement.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail