It Is Hard to Believe Anyone Could Ever Forget

Letter from Paul Greenberg to Esther Greenberg, Sept. 23, 1951 (excerpt)Letter from Paul Greenberg to Esther Greenberg, Sept. 23, 1951 (excerpt)

After close to a year of combat in Korea in September 1951, my father contracted dysentery and was sent for treatment at a military hospital in Sasebo, Japan. He wrote this letter to my mother from the hospital in Sasebo. 

23 Sept. 1951
Sasebo, Japan

Dearest Esther,

Two more ships left the harbor this morning. Two more ships. 3,000 men. I wonder how they will fare? My guess is 1000 will never come back. That is not so they will know what it is to live and love. Of the rest how many will be deformed, how many will be sick as I am? Who will walk! Who will lose an arm or a leg?!

To many people at home peace means many things. Economic security, keeping their loved ones ever near or maybe just an ideal a good ideal. But how many know what it means to the 3,000 on these ships? How many know what it means to the close to 200,000 combat soldiers here (not including the Chinese and North + South Koreans)? How many have seen a man laugh when his best friend was killed. Not laughter of delight but laughter of relief—gladness that it wasn’t he who was killed. Who knows what it is to stay awake hoping that you will live through just one more night. If you live tonight maybe you will live tomorrow night.

Peace can stop the noise of the big guns forever trying to find you with their missiles of death and deformity. Peace can stop the endless marches which always end with bullets. Peace can stop those bullets from searching for your tired aching body. Peace can bring you home to your wife, mother, girlfriend.

I wonder how many of those at home who press for armed conflict have experienced all this. Have those veterans of previous wars forgotten so soon the horror they suffered? It is hard to believe anyone could ever forget.

I have been seeing advertisements in the magazines — they ask you to buy defense bonds for the memory of a brave dead young man who was killed in Korea. Why — they do not say so but it is to put another young man in his place. I read about how our men must be armed. Are we just entities that should be armed, lead an abnormal existence until our lives are cut short by death or wound? Don’t we have the right to live to love to carry on a normal existence?

In the past I have always claimed that in order to convince people to act on a situation you must show them how it will affect them if they do and how if they don’t act. But surely people must grasp that bigger than any ideology and economic gain, religious or political belief is the saving of the lives of our young.

I have purposely avoided what this means in terms of the Chinese or Korean people. I feel certain it is the same.

What has 15 months of war accomplished? Scores of thousands of young men killed. Many more than can be counted are wounded. Millions of people are homeless. Infants starve, cry for lost or dead parents. Cities are ruined. I wonder how much worse it could have been for South Korea under North Korean rule or vice versa. I doubt if the difference in an ordinary person’s life would have changed one bit noticeably. But those 3,000 who leave tomorrow. Those 3,000 who have left almost daily for a year now what of them? Almost all of us have our answer. Peace! Peace and the right to make our own destiny at home.

I guess I got in an speechifying mood. I get this way whenever I hear a news broadcast or read time or newsweek magazines.

The weather is beautiful. An early fall day. Bright and with just a touch of a chill in the air. Everything is bright and green and comfortable. Just the kind of day to do lots of exciting things and come home with flushed cheeks and happy smiles and feel refreshed rather than worn out.

We could go to the Museum and Central Park maybe even row in the lake. Eat in a fancy restaurant and go to a show or movie and then to our home. Oh how I long for a day like that. To me right now it seems like the ecstasy of ecstasies.

They are bringing me my lunch now and for the first time in days I feel hungry so good afternoon prettyface. I love you—


November 15, 2014