MacNamara’s Memoirs

I live in a small town, where,

In my backyard, grackles attack

Squirrels along the telephone wire,

Guarding their nests.  Elsewhere,

MacNamara’s released his reflections.

In this town, three or four men,

Whose eyes never seem to see,

Live, too, always on Market Street.

Viet Nam veterans.  No jobs for them,

Who once saw or did too much.

They wander past the shops or lounge

Against the drugstore, silent,

Listless, half-lost.  Some days one

Wheels a bicycle, never rides it.

The bombs all dropped, what can one say

To Robert MacNamara this spring

Except: come visit our town,

The grackles might interest you.

Karl Patten

From Touch: Poems


There is very little to say about this poem.  Many will remember that when Robert MacNamara published his Memoirs, he, who had such a major role as Secretary of Defense in promoting the war in Viet Nam, had very little to say about the consequences of that disastrous war, not merely about the millions of dead and wounded Vietnamese, but of the massive number of American casualties, including the thousands of American soldiers who survived but returned home broken in body and spirit.

I was angered by MacNamara’s book, but it took the very low-key tone of a few local images to express my anger, and, in fact, rather graciously extending a visit to our small town to him.  He never came, as far as I know.

P.S. Is it simply another example of American hypocrisy in high places that we denominate our war office the Department of Defense?  Surely it should be called the Department of Offence, for it only offends other people – and us.  Long ago, it was know as the War Department, surely more honest a moniker.


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