Providence's Alternative Source!

Vets offer mixed views on Bush's battle plan


When Gabe Hudson, a recent graduate of Brown University's MFA program, sent his new book Dear Mr. President to George W. Bush, he wasn't expecting a reply. But the president -- or one of his staff members -- apparently had the time to read this 155-page collection of short stories, based on Hudson's experience as a Gulf War-era rifleman in the Marine reserves, since the author received a letter from Bush a few weeks later calling the book "ridiculous" and "unpatriotic." Indeed, Hudson's view of the Gulf War is deeply cynical and surrealist (think Dr. Strangelove and Catch-22) -- certainly not what the president wants to read as he's gearing up for another war with Iraq.

While Hudson may tend toward leftist politics, his characters span the political spectrum -- from yoga-practicing Chomsky-reading pacifists and individualist self-preservationists to rabid right-wing patriots -- as do real-life veterans. And as much as their political views diverge, so do their opinions about the possibility of another war in Iraq.

Al Rossi, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post 172, a retired Providence Police Department captain, and Marine Corps corporal, wholeheartedly supports the commander-in-chief's authority on this matter. "If it needs to be done, it needs to be done," Rossi says. But he's adamant that his opinions do not reflect that of the VFW or veterans in general. "We got a lot of guys, with a lot of different views."

There was healthy disagreement even among the three veterans who sat talking and playing cards at the VFW post at nine on a recent Thursday morning. "I think it's a bunch of bullshit," says Vincent Pisanelli, who served with the Army as a sergeant first class in Korea. "I think we're biting off more than we can chew. The bureaucrats over there in DC, let them fight the war. The guys who start the war, let them fight it."

Alfredo Pelliccia, who served in World War II and the beginning of the Korean War, seconded Pisanelli's non-interventionist stance. "I think the problem is we've stuck our nose in everyone's business all over the world," Pelliccia says. "We should let them kill themselves." Later in the discussion, however, he seemed to support intervention. "When you start something finish it. You leave it half done and you got a lot of problems." Pelliccia seems to embody the ambivalence of many veterans who are well-acquainted with the horrors of war, but also want to support the government and the military.

Retired Marine Corps colonel Stephen M. McCartney, a Gulf War veteran and police chief in Warwick, takes a wider view on the issue. "It certainly seems that there has been a lot of debate on both sides of the issue, which is appropriate for American society."

While Hudson's book may be ridiculous -- his is a war in which chemical gasses cause a man to grown an ear on his stomach, soldiers wrestle chimpanzees, and characters have names like Fear Me, Gay Dad, and Help People -- it is not unpatriotic. In fact, it contributes to a discourse, among veterans and those unfamiliar with military service, which is the very essence, as McCartney notes, of our democracy.

Issue Date: October 18 - 24, 2002