Notes: War Is Heck

Was I scared floating around in a little yellow raft off the coast of an enemy-held island, setting a world record for paddling? Of courseIwas. What sustains you in times like that? Well,you go back to fundamental values. I thought about Mother and Dad and the strength I got from them—and God and faith and the separation of Church and State.
—George Bush,
on the campaign trail last winter

SOMEWHERE OFF Chichi Jima, September 2, 1944—So much for Big Mo, I mean we go in with the top of the lineup and kick a little ass, drop our 500pounders and knock out a radio tower, and then suddenly we’re getting the darnedest flak you’ve ever seen and the next thing I know the Barbara’s in the soup. I’ve gotten a lot of grief for naming my plane after Barb, which ticks me off—but by golly, as I watch the old gal sink I can’t help but draw an enormous reservoir of strength and resolve from the Supreme Court’s decision last year in that Jehovah’s Witnesses case: “A person gets from a symbol the meaning he puts into it, and what is one man’s comfort and inspiration is another’s jest and scorn.” West Virginia State Board of education v. Barnette (319 U.S. 624, 63 S. Ct. 1178, 87 L. Ed. 1628) is a real crackerjack of a case. I mean, here’s George Bush on a raft that’s a piece of junk, something they’d be ashamed to sell at Bean’s, and I’m in the middle of nowhere and out of fresh water, and I’ve got this gash on my forehead, and yet Mr. Justice Jackson’s opinion is kinda there for me, like a rock.

Am I in deep doo-doo? Goodness, yes. Am I worried? You betcha I’m worried. What scares the dickens out of me are those kamikaze guys. It’s a religious thing, they tell me—three-two-oneBOOM, and it’s straight to heaven, or wherever. And when I think about looking at the front end of one of these fellas, I have to wonder about Murdock v. Pennsylvania (319 U.S. 105, 63 S. Ct. 891, 87 L. Ed 1292) and whether this kind of behavior, to quote Mr. Justice Douglas, really ought to have “the same claim to protection as the more orthodox and conventional exercises of religion.” And I’ve got to say, in a situation like this you thank your lucky stars for Cantwell v. Connecticut (310 U.S. 296, 60 S. Ct. 980, 84 L. Ed. 1213) and Mr. Justice Roberts’s opinion that “even the exercise of religion may be at some slight inconvenience in order that the State may protect its citizens from injury.” Maybe it’s because I’m only human, like the next guy, but gosh, just the whole notion of separation of Church and State is a tremendous source of hope and consolation.

Is my number up? Is this all she wrote? I’m just glad I don’t have to be concerned about Barbara, how she might take the news and all that, what she might do. It’s times like now, when you’ve maybe got an eye cocked upstairs, when you’re maybe thinking about the Big Guy, that your thoughts turn inevitably to Reynolds v. United States (98 U.S. 145, 25 L. Ed 244), and there’s no way you don’t come away fortified and sustained. If a woman “religiously believed it was her duty to burn herself upon the funeral pile” of her beloved, Mr. Chief Justice Waite asked, “would it be beyond the power of the civil government to prevent her carrying her belief into practice?” Heck, no, he decided, we can’t let her do such a darn fool thing. I’ve gotta love my country for that.

—Cullen Murphy