Friday, September 18, 2009

A Bigger Bowl Of Rice

Max was a strange fellow. I met him in Germany in the early 70’s.

He wore stripes on his sleeves, Staff Sergeant Stripes, and had earned them through time and service in the armored cavalry in Viet Nam. He somehow managed to make an MOS change when he found himself stationed in Germany and secured a transfer into the Military Police.

I liked Max. A lot. Despite the fact that his several tours of combat had affected him direly. It had turned him into one of those people who, if war could go on forever, would have been at home in the middle of it. Now that it was over, he was like a fish out of water. At least in the MP’s he was afforded the occasional opportunity for a little hand-to-hand, even if it was against fellow Americans, G.I. fights and brawls usually occasioned by too much imbibing at the EM Club or in the civilian establishments in town.

Despite the psychological damage caused by several tours of combat, Max had a genuine humanness about him. It was this, not his war stories, stories that came out only when he was plenty lubricated, that I remember most about him.

I remember him talking about a conversation that he had with some of the impoverished old Vietnamese folks over there. He had asked them their opinion of the war. The response of the old people was really quite profound in its simplicity. Their response was, “If the North wins, we eat rice. If the South wins, we still eat rice.”

Today’s economic-political theatre, at least where the life that I live is concerned, isn’t so far removed from the S.E. Asia theatre and Max’s old folks a half decade ago. It simply doesn’t matter who’s at the top of the pile. It doesn’t matter what political insignia they wear. Honestly, the way I see and understand them, neither big business or politics have my best interest in mind. Both make promises of a bigger bowl of rice. But, when it comes down to it, I’m still the one sweating in the muddy water.