I was planning to go to Idaho today, but I didn't. Instead I decided to stay
home and put to work making one of my "signature" cheese and banana
omelettes. After it came off the stove I sat down at the coffee table in
front of the television. The omelette had turned out well. Perhaps a few
too many banana slices, but it tasted fine. While I ate I watched the tail
end of Ice Station Zebra with Rock Hudson and Ernest Borgnine.
Ice Station Zebra, which came out in 1968, was one of many movies
put out by Hollywood back then that tried to remind us of how ridiculous
the Cold War was, of how nobody could ever win and of how we needed to
change our way of thinking. I was young then, with practically no history
in my head, and I remember how such movies always made me feel a little
better about things, as if humanity could somehow come to its senses.
Little did I know then that when the Cold War did end that it would have
much more to do with 50-year-old broken-down tractors on the farms of
the Soviet Union than with any change in the hearts of men. It's either
fire or bread — and in the late 80s it was bread.
Several months ago I was sitting having a drink with my BFF Julie at The
Elk Tavern. We had just recently started seeing each other again after a
long interval, and as things sometimes do the conversation drifted a
bit. Somehow the subject of war came up, and I happened to mention some
research that I had done a few days prior on the Vietnam War. In 1968,
the year Ice Station Zebra was in the theaters, U.S. troop strength
in-country in Vietnam was over 500,000. The year was also a year of great
dissent here in the States, with many protests against the war all across
the nation. The following year the numbers dropped slightly to just below
500,000, and there were more protests. But in spite of the casualty numbers
given on the news on a daily basis — "another 17 Americans killed in Vietnam"
— and in spite of all the peace signs being carried, troop strength didn't
decrease substantially until 1972 when Nixon instituted his "Vietnamization"
plan. And even then the thing continued on until, finally, we were literally
driven off the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon in 1975.
It seems to me that wars are sort of like those small, wind-up mantle
clocks. A process of events winds the clock up with a key and it begins
to tick. People stand around and talk about the clock and people note
the position of the hands on the clock, but it continues to just tick
and tick and tick. Until at last the internal mechanism which is driving
it becomes exhausted. And then, almost imperceptibly, there is silence.
Unto everything is a time, it was said in Ecclesiastes. No one knows this
better than me these days, as I listen to my heart ticking away with the
help of its little mechanical scarab. Since 1968 I have learned that Rock
Hudson in Ice Station Zebra was gay, that Nixon was a liar, and that the
Berlin wall was seemingly built only to be torn apart. As for Vietnam, it is
now a thriving economy with a new generation of wired-in, high-tech youth.
Everything changes, nothing changes. And the clock is ticking away again,
I hear it ticking in the back of my brain…somewhere…everywhere…