OUR FIRST CHILD, a son, is a week old as I sit to write this. He came into the world as Caesar did, not pushed but pulled from his mother's womb. "Untimely ripped" is the phrase Shakespeare used for the Caesarean birth of another great general, Macduff. Ripped seems the right word for my son's delivery: He came up bloody, but screaming and flailing his legs -- healthy, thank God -- and weighing nearly 10 pounds.
Untimely may be the right word for his birth, too, for both public and private reasons. He has been born at a time when the nation, or at least its politicians and its professional analyzers, seems to be itching for a fight. And he was born on the 11th anniversary of the grimmest day of my life, the day we buried my older brother, who was killed in Vietnam war. So now when my son's birthday rolls around year by year, I will remember the best and worst events of my life simultaneously.
That seems right to me, because the two events are linked in my mind in another, more important way. Because of my brother's death, I have not moved so easily out of the post-Vietnam period as the country at large is said to have. My grief remains fresh, my anger at that stupid war strong, my unwillingness for us to show the flag unchanged. And although I see on television and read in the newspapers what we Americans are supposed to be feeling now, I doubt that I am alone. By simple multiplication -- more than 50,000 Americans dead in Vietnam times however many people were deeply and irrevocably hurt by each death -- I know there must be hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Americans who feel as I do.
These strong feelings have been mixed in my mind all week with other, equally strong, feelings about my new son: pride, of course; amazement at the presence of a new life; joy for his health and strength, and expectation -- what will this boy grow to be and do? -- linked with a deep, deep fear. What will we do if anything happens to our child, who has already made life for us without him seem unthinkable?
By chance I was reading before my son's birth from the autobiography ("Best Father Ever Invented") of the novelist Mark Harris, who had this to say about one of the intentions of his life's work: "Years later I would become aware of the persistence of my theme, and its oppressive reiteration of the primary issue and the primary outrage of our time or any other: the phenomenon of mothers and fathers who, having raised their sons with such devotion, then permit their government to carry them to war."
That sentence stopped me when I read it, and has not been far from my thoughts since. I comes to mind most strongly when my son and I are locked into one of those stares that must mean as much to him as it does to me, or when I read what is being said about Iran and Afghanistan, about the draft, or about the prospects of war. My son already has my utter devotion; how can I help thinking, as Mark Harris does, that it would be an outrage to send him, in 18 years, off to war? It will not be for me to permit or to forbid him from fighting whatever war we have found to fight in 1998, but he will taught, from this day until then, that his life is not a tool of American foreign policy. to be squandered or not as the politics of the day dictates.
If the war of 1998 is not a Vietnam, and not a war for oil -- can you imagine, spilling rich, red blood for thick, black oil -- if it is a war of present danger to our liberty, then we all will fight, I at 46 as well as he at 18 -- old men, young men, and women, too. I don't believe there will ever be another war such as that; if it does come to that, he and I and all of us will die in a flash.
Both my son's grandfathers are retired career military officers. It will be kids' play for them to point out the naivete of my views. Against their logic -- and the logic of politicians, negotiators and generals, for as long as man has lived in society -- I can offer only the logic of the heart: Look into my son's eyes; see how clear they are, how unbelligerent, how vulnerable. His life is worth more to me than all your logic.