My brother’s name is Spencer. He is named after our grandfather, 1st Lt. Melvin Spencer of the United States Air Force. Melvin was my mother’s father; he hated his first name, so when my mom had her son, there was no thought whatsoever of naming him “Melvin.” It was always “Spencer,” the name you see on the patch of the uniform in the old pictures of the first lieutenant.

I know from pictures that I inherited Melvin Spencer’s round cheeks and pudgy chin. We know from stories that he had a beautiful singing voice, which I sadly did not inherit. And we know from my grandmother’s college degree that in the early 1960s, he fought for his wife to be able to complete her college education when her school tried to kick her out for being pregnant her senior year. But we don’t know much else about him. He died when he was 28.

Melvin Spencer, first lieutenant in the United States Air Force, died Jan. 16, 1962, along with three other men, when the B-47 bomber he was co-piloting crashed into Wright’s Peak in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. It was a training mission; the exact cause of the crash remains unknown. My mother, his only child, was 6 months old. She didn’t get a father until my grandmother married Grampy when my mom was a teenager. That is a cost of war.

My Uncle Tim fought in Vietnam. He had nightmares for the rest of his life. He never talked about them. That is a cost of war.

My brother wasn’t home when my dad died. He had weekend leave the week before, to spend some time with him, but the Navy doesn’t let their sailors just go home and wait. He had to report back to base, so when they came and took away my father’s body, his son wasn’t there. I had to have a neighbor drive me to pick up his ashes. That is a cost of war.

I lean toward being a hippie peacenik liberal. This is because my family has paid the cost of war. And war is expensive.

I don’t believe that military force should be used until absolutely every other option has been exhausted. I definitely don’t think we should be destroying Iranian cultural sites. Tensions in the Middle East are rising, which is what tensions in the Middle East seem to do most frequently, but we don’t need to escalate. That’s one thing you learn from being a big sister – when your little brother punches you in the arm, what matters is your response, not his provocation. When you clonk him over the head with your Barbie, you’ll be the one getting in trouble because, as the oldest, you are supposed to be the responsible one, the one capable of exercising self-control.

OK, I may be projecting a little bit there. But I’m scared. Not just for my family, and my little brother (if he dies overseas, I’ll kill him) but for other people’s families, too. The people who will suffer most if America decides to stomp the boot will be children. American children, growing up without a parent; Iranian children, suffering through bombings; and, knowing war’s tendency to spread, Iraqi and Syrian children as well.

We have about 1.3 million active-duty service members, with more in reserves. That’s a lot of troops. But the population of our country is about 329 million. So active-duty military members comprise about one-half of 1 percent of America. And even if every active member of the military has, say, five immediate family members who would miss that person like they would miss their own right arm, and who would be permanently traumatized by their death, that’s still only 2 percent of the population.

Those sacrifices might seem acceptable to the United States Congress; the damages and death among Iranian civilians regrettable but necessary.

I disagree with every bone in my body.

My parents taught me that people matter more than profit, and money, and things; they taught me that every soul carries equal weight. General Dynamics, owner of Bath Iron Works, has seen its stock price jump in anticipation of a war. Maine might profit if our country needs more ships to carry missiles. But we shouldn’t.

One of my favorite songs is “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot. I have had one lyric stuck in my head for the past few days as the world seems to close in and grow darker. It’s about a shipwreck with no survivors, of course, but it’s also about what happens after the deaths, after the parades and flags and funerals.

“And all that remains is the faces and the names/of the wives and the sons and the daughters.”

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemillennial

 

 


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