Greetings and Salutations;
I was going to get this post written in April of this year, as a meditation on the 45th anniversary of America’s exit from the conflict.
The raw history of the War is easily found online, as the Net is, perhaps, the most comprehensive source of information ever created…putting even the Great Library at Alexandria to shame. So, I am not going to spend a great deal of time walking the same path of history. Rather, my goal here is to touch on some seminal moments that truly changed American society in general, and impacted me, personally. However, for an excellent overview of the path America walked there is this source.
I was born in 1955, so America’s involvement in Vietnam was a well-established part of reality. How did this affect America? Well, one of the aspects that has never been taught in the history classes when I was working my way through the system was the effect that the War had on the Civil Rights movement that grew in the 1950s and 1960s. Here is an interesting article that examines the role of the Civil Rights movement on the people of color who were taken into the military. Not only was military service the way out of oppression and poverty for both whites and people of color, but, the goals the Civil Rights movement preached changed the attitudes of many of the people of color in the military. At that time, thanks to President Truman, the military was desegregated.
This was in a time when much of American society was still openly segregated with “Sundown towns” all over the place, “Whites only” signs on bathrooms, separate water fountains for whites and people of color, and lunch counters that would close rather than serve a person of color that had the audacity to try and get a bite to eat. This dichotomy, I think, helped fuel the push for Civil Rights in the country. After all, how would any of us feel if we worked on a campus, where everyone was equal, and yet when we went home to visit Mom and Dad, we could not get a hamburger at Woolworth’s, or ran the danger of getting a beating for daring to use the wrong bathroom? This social pressure was a significant fuel for the “This has to end” mindset, and the actions that grew from it.
The earliest thing I remember about the Vietnam War was having dinner, with the radio on top of the refrigerator turned on, and listening to the nightly body counts from the war. Even at the age of 10 years, I did not understand what was going on, and why it was so important that so many people were dying to get temporary control of a hill in a country on the other side of the world. My parents tried to explain the “Domino Theory” to me, I suppose, but, I never really felt that their hearts were in it. While we were a strongly Republican family, my parents were very much against war, so, they simply did not have the heart to try and push nonsense on me. Most of the time, after the age of about 5, though, they would say “Go look it up yourself”…which meant that the library was my second home for many years.
The Vietnam War also did a lot to erode what little respect I had for “Authority”. I recall, when I was 12 or so, I took some time, and looked at the body counts that had been reported for years from Vietnam. I noticed two things…first off, the number of dead and wounded Americans was minimized, and they were always pumped up as heroes, being disrespected and spat on my the Commie protestors against the war. Secondly, If the numbers reported were accurate, America had killed the entire population of Vietnam at least twice! I have always been uncomfortable with lying and faking statistics, so this really eroded my trust in the government.
While we did not have a television in the house for many years, when my grandfather moved in, he brought his along. So, between that, and the few folks I visited who did have a TV, I was able to see a lot of the video that came out of the War. What I was seeing horrified me. It did have the same effect on many Americans, too… Vietnam was the first War that had been televised, and so there were very few limits on what the news cameras were able to collect and display. The still photographers also captured some moments that chilled us…including this one of General Loan casually killing a suspected Vietcong soldier This image still sits in my head, and, caused me to both take part in the Anti-War protests it created, and, solidified my hatred of the waste of War.
The increasing gap between the reality of what was happening in Vietnam, and the propaganda put out by the government went a long way towards destroying what trust and respect the citizens had for it. Alas, this, I think, is one of the seeds that put us where we are today…as the grifter in chief was able to use that crack to drive a greater wedge between the government and the people…Ignoring the reality that the government IS the people…
Because of the essentially uncensored access the reporters had to the action there, we also learned that Americans and our Military were not the angels of virtue that we might have believed they were. Mai Lia and the whole, disgusting collection of murders and destruction by Lt. Calley, rubbed our nose in the reality that war is Hell, and too many times the soldiers being chewed up by it become demons. It is also the generation of the philosophy of “We had to destroy the village in order to save it”. This, to me, echoes the madness of the Salem Witch Trials and the Inquisition, and, has persisted in the minds of the Right-Wing as a valid plan of attack even today!
Finally, though, shortly after my birthday in 1975, Nixon announced that America’s involvement in the war was at an end. In yet another example of a reality distortion bubble, he declared victory and pulled out. Did this cause all of South East Asia to become Russian states, as the Domino Theory swore would happen? No, to the surprise of almost no one, that did not happen. What did happen was, perhaps, worse. The Khmer Rouge were unleashed and swept through South Vietnam, killing in terrible ways, anyone that was suspected of collaborating with the Americans. These, by the by included people who wore glasses, or, were highly educated. Many of the South Vietnamese that had, bravely, stepped up to work with the Americans…and had been promised asylum and protection in return, were left in the lurch…their last image of America was the accompanying image. HERE is an article from one of the last Marines off the tower. The bottom line, though is that America got its ass whipped because we were fighting the wrong war. This war was, in a way, like the Revolutionary war in America…but this time, WE were the Redcoats, and the Vietnamese were the insurgents.
While some Vietnamese were pulled out along with the Americans, many more, in desperation, took boats out to try and find asylum elsewhere.
America has continued to reap the poison fruit from the Vietnam War, even until today. When the troops returned to America, they were treated as bastard stepchildren not only by many citizens, but, the military. For decades, Vietnam Vets were not welcome at many VFW posts. They have (as the article I linked to above points out) had serious issues with PTSD, depression and more mental issues that have been ignored by the support system the military had. This, in spite of the fact that these were exactly the sort of issues the military should be focusing on, and helping these brave men and women work through these issues and heal. So many Vets I have met, even decades later, are so jumpy that sudden noises can cause a huge over-reaction. Quite a few of them have sleeping issues that keep them permanently fatigued, and often sitting up in a recliner through the wee hours of the morning, trying to push back the darkness in their minds with television.
I am a fixer, so I have to think..what could be done to help these folks finally get past the trauma. I would like to see a cut in the military budget, first off. Right now, we spend as much on the Military as the next 10 countries in the world. Does this make us safer? I argue that it does not. It does, though, keep the military-industrial complex living high on the hog. Say we cut the funding back to the point that we are only spending the sum of what the next FOUR countries are spending? Would that make us less safe? I would say, no it would not. Then, I would allocate that money to rebuilding the mental health care industry in America…with a focus on inexpensive, easily accessed care. This would allow anyone with mental health issues to get the help they need to heal.
I would like to see a change in attitude of the Government. We are obscenely war-like, and have been since the founding of America. This is, in my opinion, the mental state of a child…not an adult. I would like to see America grow up a bit, and stop interfering in situations all over the world. I ESPECIALLY want to see our covert activities to overthrow governments come to a halt. After a life-time of observation, I find that the end result of these actions never seem to turn out well, either for the country we are interfering in, or, for America. I point to the Shah of Iran as a classic example of this incompetence. Had we not overthrown the elected government of Iran, and installed the Shah, Iran would not only be a very different place, it would likely be far more of an ally for America. We screwed the pooch on that one though. Of course, Vietnam is another perfect example of our screwing up.
We are, with 90 days of a Presidential election…our choice in the coming election is fairly clear. The current administration has demonstrated that it desires to destroy the country we know, and turn it into a facist dictatorship. The passel of Republicans who have supported these actions over the past 3.5 years have demonstrated that the Party itself has been corrupted to a point that my parents would not recognize it. The Democrats are not angels by any means, but, the platform they support will return power to the citizens, and, hopefully, will address some of the issues I discussed above. Why is this important? The only way America can heal the festering would that Vietnam left in our hearts is to take actions to move to a healing mindset. The Democrats have that mindset…
God help us All
Bee Man Dave