Cousin Eddie was a Vietnam Vet who came home and went hunting alone. Kara Krauze writes about the cousin she never knew, explaining war to her 7 year old son, and our common need for Heroes.
The other night at dinner my stepdad told us about cousin Eddie* and how he’d gone off to Vietnam, drafted, served his year and a day, and came back different. My seven-year-old, who likes to play war and hear about war and know what’s happened, returned to the table, ears open. Each time we have one of these conversations about war, my mother makes sure to tell him that war brings damage; we shouldn’t go to war, better to avoid it. “But what if we have to go to war?” my son asks. Usually we’re talking about the distant past, about Pearl Harbor, about the Battle of Britain, about decisions already made.
What I tell him isn’t so much different from his grandmother’s admonitions, but part of me is thinking about how much simpler it can be to have an enemy, a cause, to know the difference between good and bad—the way we can look at World War II, not the murkiness that followed in Vietnam—and, no matter what, it can feel good to have comrades, to have instructions and rules, to know which things matter. These are realities, in his seven-year-old world, he may understand better than I do: in his world one way, with his toy soldiers and make-believe, and in ours another, with blood and grief and the difference so vast between life and death, yet traversable in a blink. There is the way adrenaline makes you strong and sure—and you become accustomed to adrenaline, and certainty. And the way, in the midst of all this, with certainty and chance and chaos so tightly wed, we need heroes. But sometimes, in a hero, we need different things.