The young man took his seat directly in front of me on the airplane and the middle-aged man next to him began the conversation with, “I was hoping you’d be some pretty young thing.”
The young man replied, “I was hoping the same.”
A young thing was seated next to me flipping through a celebrity magazine.
Through the banter I learned that the middle-aged man was a real estate investor on his way to his daughter’s graduation from Spelman College. The young man was a West Point cadet from Kentucky entering his senior year.
Once that information was revealed the middle-aged man asked, “What do you think of this war?”
The young man replied, “My duty is to serve my country.”
He had a book opened on his lap, but it was too late: The middle-aged man seemed to be possessed by Wolf Blitzer, who in turn has been channeling Walter Cronkite.
The voice played as if on tape:
Middle-aged man (MM): Well, if our government is going to send our young men into harm’s way we should make sure that they have what they need. You know, that’s the problem with this war. It wasn’t thought out. We had no strategy!
Young man (YM): (politely) Yes, we have challenges. And whoever wins the White House next is going to have challenges.
MM: There were no weapons of mass destruction. Most Americans want us to get out.
YM: There are many different opinions. Right now it’s a media war.
MM: We went in to get Osama bin Laden but we got Saddam Hussein. When you make a mistake you have to admit it!
YM: There are many shades of gray.
MM: Bush had no business saying we won. This is another Vietnam.
YM: We could have won in Vietnam, but the will of the people wasn’t there (a view supported by historian Mark Moyar in Triumph Forsaken).
MM: Yes, it’s another quagmire like Vietnam.
Satisfied, the middle-aged man turned the topic to real estate investing, then sports. They also discussed parachuting, but only the young man had knowledge of that subject.
On my way to baggage claim, as I arrived at the top of the escalator, I saw that the USO had set up a little red-white-and-blue booth with volunteers who led a cheer every time a soldier entered. I remembered a soldier waiting to board my plane with his teary wife clinging to him.