My Dad was an avid reader. Foreign Affairs kept him current on geo-political dynamics. The Economist informed him about money and economies around the world. The New York Times and Christian Science Monitor made sure that he kept up with U.S. news. Until a couple of years ago, he consumed non-fiction books about Shakespeare (Harold Bloom), history (Jared Diamond) and military strategy (Stephen Ambrose).
As he lost his concentration for longer works, the ratio between the printed word and the boob tube reversed itself. Television went from an evening pastime that would begin with the evening news shows (a vestige of the time when they used to be actual, thoughtful shows presided over by thoughtful anchors like Huntley and Brinkley or Walter Cronkite) to the status of electronic companion.
During his last few months of life, he consumed the Military History Channel almost exclusively.
Hour after hour, day after day, he watched familiar black and white images culled from news reels. Military advances were demonstrated with ever more lethal efficiency through film clips and interviews about wars from the Revolutionary War forward. Some documented in painful detail the creeping advance of the Marines in the Pacific Theater of WWII. Dad’s war.
I worried about the effect of this steady diet of war video. Why ingest gruesome images of loss and destruction? Would it trouble his dreams?
He was, like so many veterans of his age, not one to talk about the war. Certainly he didn’t regale us with tales of his buddies, near misses, brave efforts or hijinks. War was a serious topic, rarely broached.
I sometimes felt like Dad’s own movie clips were running in a loop in his head. Without preamble, Dad would occasionally look up from a glass of wine and remember standing on the loading dock in San Diego with the sudden responsibility for loading a warship that would soon be bound for Kwajalein.
Did the images on the small screen take him back to a time and place he needed to revisit? He seemed expressionless when he watched the scenes. How could they not depress him?
I considered switching the channel, suggesting different fare, but I stopped myself. He had so little control over his life at that point. Who was I to legislate what he watched? I wondered if perhaps he needed to review this important part of his history. Or perhaps he just followed a habit formed long ago when he used to be a student of military strategy.
In those last, long weeks, I sat next to him and wondered what he thought.