My relationship with the military, its personnel, and its ability to wage war or unseat freely elected presidents has been an ambivalent part of my life.
As a child my father would take me to Avenida Lavalle in Buenos Aires where they had long blocks of movie houses one after another to see “películas de conboys, de guerra (war) y de espadachines (sword fighters).
In my teenage hood I often asked my mother to play the US Marine Corps Hymn on the piano.
Then my love of all things military hit a brutal reality when my head was being shaved by Angel at the Arsenal Naval Buenos Aires in 1965. Suddenly I could not make any important decisions and there was a book that spelled the little freedom I had if any.
My first impulse was to rebel. That cost me many days of lice in a navy brig with the added feature of having to clean every day a kitchen bell that fed thousands.
Then I found out the subterfuge was a better tactic as a few in the Argentine Navy did not know any better. I was working as a translator and aide to the US Naval Advisor, Captain USN Onofrio Salvia. To escape arrests and brig visits I removed an 8x10 glossy of the then Argentine Chief of Naval Operations, Almirante Benigno Varela from Salvia’s filing cabinet. I wrote on the glossy in my mostly illegible handwriting “a mi amigo Conscripto Jorge Waterhouse-Hayward con afecto Almirante Benigno Varela” and then placed it under the glass of my desk. After that it would seem that I was immune to arrests. I was treated quite nicely.
But it all stopped when an Argentine Commander told me that I had to report every day in the morning at 6 am for a couple of weeks to translate some important documents. I told him this was impossible as there was no train that early that would take me from my rented room ( a privilege and much better than navy barracks) in the suburbs to my downtown office. He asked me to repeat myself. This I did. He then said, “In time of war I could have you shot for insubordination. Or a kinder me would send you to Tierra del Fuego or the South Pole and the only women will be female penguins. But we need you to translate. So you will be under arrest for two weeks and you will report here at 6 sharp.” And so it was.
It was Captain Salvia who noticing how troubled I was told me, “It is obvious that you and the Argentine Navy will never agree. My advice to you is to take what’s left in silence and when you get out of the navy do something with your life and then reach some position of authority where you can change what you do not like.” That was good advice.
Since then I have had mixed views on wars and I have been unable do decide exactly what a just war is. I remember sitting in my navy uniform in front of the tiger cage of the Buenos Aires Zoo and reading the Viet Nam body counts in Time Magazine. I read how many Communist jets had been shot down my Phantoms and almost gloried at the idea of Rolling Thunder.
Not too long ago I read Ulysses S. Grant’s excellent Memoirs and it made me think that here was a general who was not bad. He was human being and pretty good US President.
Today I can add another American general to that short list. It is General (retired) Stanley McChrystal, of some fame for his involvement in Afghanistan. He has written a remarkable, almost out of context essay defending the funding of PBS and Sesame Street. It seems that the great general thinks Americans would be safer! Read it here.
I believe that Captain Onofrio Salvia was and General Stanley McChrystal is enlightened and perhaps not exceptions to the rule.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.