War and Peace: No Connection

By Henry G Miller

ou don’t know what you’re talking about. A lot of nineteen-year-old kids are going to die.”

 

“That’s better than losing a whole generation of nineteen-year-olds because we didn’t have the guts to stop a tin-horn dictator.”

 

Needless to say, the usual clichés about stopping Hitler before Munich filled the air along with the predictable opposing cries about giving us another Vietnam.

 

A bitter debate and ironic because they both had the President’s ear.

 

Tom Adams, a Bronze Star winner, rose from the ranks to become a four-star general. He said “no” to the war.

 

John Bradley, the President’s closest adviser, who never served in the military, famously seeking four deferments at the time of Vietnam, said “yes” to war.

 

And they both said it loudly.

 

The President listened to both of them. They were part of the President’s team from the beginning. When Ben Clark first thought of running for President, they were there. He wouldn’t have made it without them. They both were damn smart. That’s what made this one so hard for the President.

 

He encouraged their arguments. Their debates within the national security team were legendary and often got quite personal.

 

Bradley, in one heated exchange, accused General Adams, of all people, of losing his nerve. “If we don’t attack this two-bit loudmouthed dictator, we’ll be known as the wimps of the western world.”

 

Adams was not to be outdone. He actually retorted by bringing up the unmentionable: “Talking of wimps, how come you never made it to Vietnam? You know what they say, ‘Nobody loves a war better than a noncombatant.’ That’s a polite word for a chicken hawk.”

 

Bradley wouldn’t talk to Adams after that. But Bradley, the civilian, had the last laugh. The President ordered a military strike.

 

Bradley had been very persuasive. “It’ll be a cakewalk. No war is easy, but this will be an easy one. We have immense power. They have a ragtag army of rebellious conscripts and reluctant regulars. The dictator in charge is a pip-squeak who has been sounding off personally against you, Mr. President. He needs a lesson. It’ll straighten him out and the rest of the region while we’re at it. There’s little downside to this war.”

 

While the President ordered the attack after most of the military leaders supported the decision, he still valued General Adams’ contrary opinion. The President wanted both, Bradley and Adams, to go to the war zone and give him a personal progress report. The President knew of their personal animosity but thought their rivalry, if anything, would produce a clearer picture of what was actually happening. He told both of them, “Bury the hatchet, you two. I need you both.”

 

They went with their staffs and they went together as the President requested. The plane ride was cool but correct.

 

On their arrival, they went to the safe zone where the embassy was located. There was a small welcome dinner. But then over after-dinner drinks, General Adams took Bradley aside. “Once upon a time we worked together to get Ben elected President. And you’re one of the smartest guys who ever lived, a university president and all that. I don’t want to be fighting with you.”

 

“Tom, you’re one of the best generals we’ve ever had and I’m honored to be working with you.”

 

After that, it went well. Bradley, a man who doesn’t do much drinking, did some drinking and loosened up. “Tom, if I may call you Tom, General.”

 

“You always did until last year.”

 

“Tom, I’m sorry I told the President that I think you’re losing your nerve; it was just the heat of debate—more heat than light.”

 

“Well, John, if we’re going to bury the hatchet, somewhere other than in each other’s head, I’ll also confess. I never should have called you a chicken hawk. That was below the belt.”

 

“Well, I got to admit that one hurt.” Bradley smiled and poured himself another drink—that great liberator of the tongue. “I know I didn’t go to Vietnam, but who the hell with half a brain went to Vietnam if they could get a deferment? You couldn’t figure out who was on whose side. They all wore the same pajamas and who wanted to go down into the hell of watching your best friend’s head blown off into your lap if there was a way out of it?”

 

“But, John, didn’t you support the Vietnam War and denounce the college kids protesting against it?”

 

“I supported the war in a general way, but we fought a dumb war and the kids in the street were a disgrace—what did they want, anarchy?”

 

The general flushed a little but bit his tongue because he was about to say: “You like to fight wars with other people’s children, don’t you?” But he didn’t and they got past it.

 

Bradley was never more pleasant. “General, let’s have another one for the road. Tomorrow’s our first day and I’m looking forward to working with you.” The evening ended pleasantly.

 

They were in the war zone a week and had spoken to almost all the generals and local leaders. On their last day, they decided to tour the area where the enemy insurgents had been most active. Tom Adams, the general, and John Bradley, the civilian, had been getting on fine. No more sharp words.

 

In fact, the general made a special effort to be nice to Bradley. “John, I just want to warn you. We could come under fire tomorrow. They’ve taken all precautions but you’ve got to expect that things could go bad.”

 

“Tom, thank you, but don’t worry about me. I’ve had to put up with Washington infighting, media ‘gotcha’ interviews, and page-four journalists all my adult life. I’m used to combat.”

 

They both smiled at that one.

 

The next day, they arrived safely in the local headquarters. There was plenty of security.

 

But the enemy attack was very cleverly planned. First, bombs went off. Then when the security forces went to investigate, snipers, who were well placed, hit many of them. Then bombs placed secretly in the headquarters were detonated. And there was a charge by the insurgents into the headquarters. It was obviously a very well-designed plan to capture the two presidential envoys. What a bargaining chip they would make.

 

Then it happened. John Bradley, who had never been under fire before, stood up and started to run, “Let me out of here. Let me out.” His voice had in it the desperate fear of a little child who can’t find its mother and is on the verge of crying.

 

But the general was able to tackle him and bring him down. “Be quiet. Lay down. You’ll get yourself killed.”

 

The moment passed. The security forces overwhelmed the insurgents, drove them out of the headquarters, and then from the entire area.

 

That night, they returned to the embassy. The general never mentioned the incident and John Bradley retired early that night.

 

On the flight home, they worked together on their joint report. They were candid and professional but the warmth they developed on their arrival never quite returned.

 

The President thanked them for their report. “I knew you two could work together. Your report was very helpful. It was good to have the two views.”

 

The President had both of them attend a dinner the next night with his national security advisers. Both men were well received and complimented for their report.

 

On the fundamental issue, however, they remained apart. The general: “I still oppose our effort there and believe we should push for an early and graceful exit.” Bradley: “This war is not a mistake. I believe history will show we changed the direction of the entire region.”

 

The next night the general had a surprise visitor. “Tom, may I come in? I thought maybe you’d offer me a drink.”

 

“Come in, John. This is a surprise.”

 

As they sat alone in Tom’s living room sipping drinks and finally getting past the small talk and awkward silences, John Bradley blurted it out. “I want to thank you for never mentioning to anyone that incident over there when I lost my composure.”

 

“Forget it. It happened to many of us the first time we were under fire.”

 

“You’re a gentleman, Tom.”

 

“The one thing I can’t understand, John, is why that incident didn’t soften your support for going into this war as a first option.”

 

“Oh, Tom, that’s easy. I failed as a person. I lost my composure, but I believe I was still right about the war. There’s no connection between my conduct and that war.”

 

“No connection, John?”

 

“None whatsoever, General. No connection.”

 

They had another drink and when John left, it was all very pleasant.

 

They still see each other on the DC cocktail circuit. They’re always polite but distant. And every time when General Tom Adams sees John Bradley, even though it’s rare, he thinks about the future with vague forebodings. “No connection, indeed.”

 

 

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I have had short stories accepted for publication in literary magazines such as The Chrysalis Reader, The Griffin, Karamu, The Owen Wister Review, Eureka Literary Magazine, Westview, The Distillery, The Writers Post Journal, and RiverSedge.  My play, Lawyers, was performed at the Emelin Theater and Westport Country Playhouse. My one-man play, All Too Human, was performed at the 46th Street Theatre in New York as well as the White Plains Performing Arts Center. My play, Alger – A Story, had a reading in New York with Fritz Weaver and Kevin Conway. A review praised my novel, More, stating, “A lesser writer could not paint with the subtle hues…Miller uses.”


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