The Man Who Saw Too Much

Wise words to the young

By Brian Doyle | May 10, 2013


One of the first dignitaries I met when I came to work for the university where I still work 20 years later was a man who had been not only governor of a state but a senator from that state; but what he wanted to talk to our students about was not politics (he was a liberal Republican), or religion (he was a Baptist), or himself (interesting and many-faceted as he was), but war and peace. On these matters he knew what he was talking about: he had been in the Navy during the Second World War, and had landed at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and was one of the first Americans to walk through what had been the city of Hiroshima, and “wasn’t, anymore,” as he said to a standing-room-only politics class. “It wasn’t where it used to be. I have seen terrible things with my own eyes. I have seen utter destruction. I have seen what war does to men—to boys. We were just boys. And then to see an entire city vanished like that—not a soul, not a building, not a bird, nothing. There’s no reason that should ever happen again. I never voted for war the rest of my life. I voted against the war in Vietnam. I voted against nuclear weapons. I voted against a bigger military. A bigger military doesn’t make the nation more secure. Smart, healthy, educated, creative, motivated citizens make a nation secure. I was in the military. I saw what armies and bombs do. Once you’ve seen death and horror like that, you stop thinking that war is necessary. It isn’t. It’s stupid. We’re smarter than that. I’m an old man now and my voice is getting faint, but you young people ought to shout against wars. Don’t let yourself be fooled by people who insist on war. Those people were never in wars, and they don’t know what they are talking about. Wars are the worst conceivable ways to solve problems. Use your brains and your hearts to find other ways. Insist on peace as a right every bit as valuable and necessary to our country as voting and free speech.”

Right about then his aide made a gesture, and Senator Mark Hatfield laughed and said as usual he was slightly late and had to go to his next appointment, but he hoped with all his heart that we would remember what he said, which I did.

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