Why are they fighting?

I was watching the 7.30 Report on ABC TV. Lillian was curled up in my lap, watching too. The segment was a report from the frontlines in Afghanistan, at an American base under Taliban attack.

“Why are the soldiers fighting?” she asked.

How to explain?

“Well, there are lots of bad men in Afghanistan. The American soldiers are there trying to get rid of them. When they win, they’ll go home.”

The TV showed US soldiers taking cover from attacks.

“Those soldiers are very brave,” I remarked.

“Did you ever fight like that?”

“Oh no – I never went to a war!” I had been in cadets at school, and very briefly in the Army Reserve. I think she had seen a photo from my Army Reserve days.

“Why not? Weren’t you brave enough?” she asked, fully sincere.

“No, I wasn’t a real soldier.”

She seemed disappointed.

“Do you know who was? Grandpa Malcolm. He was very brave. He fought in Vietnam. You’ve heard of Vietnam, right?”

She nodded, but she seemed mystified as to why there would be a war there. Fair enough.

Then the inevitable question: “Did he kill anyone?”

“We don’t know. Mostly he built bridges and roads and airfields and hospitals.” Dad had been an Army engineer.

“Why build those things in a war?”

A reasonable question. “Well, the soldiers need them. And the people who live there need them too.”

One day, when she’s old enough to appreciate it, I’ll take Lillian to the War Memorial in Canberra, to see their displays about Vietnam. And then to visit Dad in the military section of the cemetery in Woden.

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