Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk
VIRGINIA BEACH ― Memorial Day holiday crowds soak up the surf and sun while sailors and marines train for war in distant countries about which they know very little.
A young Marine, bored with the routine at one of the dozen or so facilities between this sprawling oceanside community and the huge naval base up the interstate at Norfolk, says in an idle moment he’d like to see what combat is like.
Reminded that he might not feel that way if cast in harm’s way, he’s not dissuaded. “I want to go,” he insists as weekend visitors stroll by and the sounds of music reverberate from nearby clubs.
In an unreal world, it’s hard to imagine visions of combat intruding into the lives of anyone here, including thousands of military people enjoying the perks of comfortable lifestyles and steady work. You have to return to Washington to realize the danger of stumbling into war beyond the brush fires that flare up periodically just about anywhere.
Not that you really believe Armageddon is at hand. The debate is abstract, the levels of danger, the imminence of anything really happening, mingle in the cacophony of politics. In the nation’s capital, fears of real war are secondary, judging from the headlines, to talk and double-talk about President Trump, his tax returns, his contacts, his conflicts of interest.
Any offense deemed worthy of raising his record to an impeachable level is sure to make the front pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Post’s distaste for Trump knows no bounds. Writers vie for who can come up with the best lines in a raft of commentaries in the first paper I happen to see after one weekend. “Trump reaps the seeds he sows,” screams one column. “President Trump serves up a daily smorgasbord of offenses,” begins another. “He lies with almost every breath.”
Clearly, the guardians of the Post editorial pages take it as an article of faith that there’s no legitimate argument in defense of anything Trump says or does. If the paper has ever published a word in his defense, much less his favor, other than some quotation in a news article, I’ve yet to see it.
You have to wonder what would happen if some poor soul on the paper had the temerity to put in a good word for him. The punishment would no doubt be severe. Banishment, purgatory, 100 lashes? Not that the anti-Trump tirades in the Post and Times are all that influential. Basically, these people are preaching to a choir of anti-Trumpkins prepared to hate him no matter what.
What does seem undeniable, though, is how the posturing, pontificating and quibbling in Washington obscures the prospect of war, real war, breaking out somewhere on earth. You do hear a lot of political yakking about who has the power to declare war, Congress or the president, and the significance of the War Powers Act, which is supposed to keep the president from going to war without the approval of Congress, but no one knows what would happen if Trump defied the letter of the law and did as he pleased.
Actually, Trump may not be as warlike as he has sometimes seemed. Korea is a case in point. He may not want to go along with everything his friend Kim Jong-Un is demanding, including removal of sanctions and signing of some silly “peace declaration,” but he certainly is loath to risk a second Korean War. Ditto Iran. He has said he doesn’t want a war there either, appearances to the contrary.
Wars, though, have been known to break out by accident. Extremists, whether Hamas or ISIS or the Taliban or Al Qaida, are itching to destroy their enemies if given a chance. For that matter, you can’t trust the North Koreans, under Kim Jong-Un or some general or war-minded bureaucrat beneath him, not to foment incidents if they don’t get their way through dialogue.
The Marines one meets here in Virginia Beach, looking forward to the Memorial Day holiday memorializing service men and women who’ve died in the nation’s wars, don’t think much about who exactly is the enemy. They’re ready for anyone as fighter planes do takeoffs and landings from nearby U.S. Naval Air Station Oceana, a few minutes’ drive from the beach.
Some citizens may protest the noise, but the planes roar in and out oblivious to complaints. “We’re used to it,” says the marine. “We hear it every night. That’s why we’re here.”
Donald Kirk has been covering war and peace, mostly in Asia for decades.