THE BLOG
08/08/2013 01:45 pm ET Updated Oct 08, 2013

War Crimes

"War criminal!"

Was I hearing this right? Nah, couldn't be...

"War criminal!"

Was this guy calling out for "War" by Edwin Starr, a Vietnam-era pop standard?

No, my ears were not deceiving me. The UW-Madison audience participant in question, listening to my presentation about the healing power of music for Vietnam veterans, was indeed calling me a war criminal.

For being drafted.

For serving my country.

For going to Vietnam.

Trying hard to suppress my reflex anger, I listened in silence to his tirade. And as my heart calmed down and my blood pressure subsided, all I could think of was how long and hard I'd struggled with being drafted, answering the call, swearing the oath, and setting foot in Vietnam. Agonized. For days and weeks and months and years.

Did I take the easy way out? Did I have other/better options like Canada or conscientious objector status or jail, even if it meant having some sorry schmuck take my place?

And I thought about how some of us Vietnam GIs resisted within the military, pushing back in ways big and small, trying to make it not so easy for the powers-that-be to wage unjust war...

And I thought about our taking to the streets as Vietnam Veterans Against the War even while our ranks were heavily infiltrated by provocateurs and FBI informants...

And I thought about all the "fortunate sons," the Bushes and the Cheyneys and their ilk who didn't set a damn foot on Vietnamese soil...

And I thought of McNamara and his Iraq twin Rumsfeld and all the others who planned the wars, sacrificed our kids, and committed real war crimes...

And I thought of the names on The Wall, and the ones on lonesome graves in communities across America...

I was thinking all that and more as the finger-pointing audience member finished incriminating me. And all I could say, to him and to the 70 or so others in that room here in Madison, is that Vietnam still divides us, still separate us, still defines us. Either we're all responsible, all criminals, or we stop this brutality once and for all.

Maybe Edwin Starr was right -- "War," he growled in his 1970 hit, "what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!"