Re: The Summer Of Love/Vets

Mon, 25 Aug 1997 17:01:13 EDT

Interesting discussion kicked off about vets, antiwar folks, etc. by Miles'
comments. As an ex-antiwar activist, and a C.O., I'd like to jump in with:

I, too was disturbed some by the tone of Miles' comments which seemed to be
kind of stuck in a 60s blame-the-soldiers view. Several properly pointed this
out. Still, there is a subtle point about personal responsibility, raised by
Paula and others, that suggests that (1) given the massive degree of social
conditioning & propaganda, AND the gross inequities in peoples' means, AND the
fundamental way in which the Vietnam War was not a conventional war at all but
a situation in which trained soldiers were put in a position of needing to aim
deadly fire at what amounted to "the people" of South Vietnam (and North
Vietnam and vast areas of Laos & Cambodia), I think one HAS to be understanding
of the plight of the soldiers who fought the war. They were, indeed,
victimized in several ways. And many suffered. Still, 2) if one sees the war
in this light, if one can get past the system-sustaining propaganda of
"fighting communist expansion," etc., one is drawn in a direction opposed to
what those soldiers were a part of in Vietnam. Therefore, one in a sense is
"against" what those who went to Vietnam did. That's a pretty ambiguous
position; it seems to me it boils down to (a) I understand why you went &
fought in the war, and I condemn the government (and other institutions) which
pushed you in that direction, but (b) I think going and fighting was wrong
--then and now.

This gets complicated by how the "system" (politicians, news columnists, mass
media, etc.) have dealt with all of this. By and large, it seems to me, they
have come to a place of acknowledging the suffering and victimization of vets
--though, I'd qualify this by (a) the degree to which public support has been
held back from services needed by vets, and (b) the degree to which the media
have hyped the "crazed vet" stereotype, thereby inflicting additional pain on
all vets. But, it also seems to me, the system has washed away what the
antiwar movement was about (dissenting from an immoral war of massive
aggression and brutality), replacing it with the stereotypes of
tantrum-throwing or chicken-shit-draft-evading --thereby, again, inflicting
pain on those who paid many a price themselves (and, conveniently, distorting
the public memory about Vietnam).

I was glad for Ron Jacobs' correctives on both the excesses in Miles' rhetoric
and the blindness to imperialism & class in James Cummins' post.

I think Joe MacDonald's response, deeply felt and correcting Miles' lack of
empathy for soldiers, seemed to get caught a little in the stereotype (or
maybe just his reading of Miles) of the the antiwar movement as
"revolutionary" (and therefore implicitly violent). [e.g., How could a violent
movement criticize soldiers who engaged in organized violence?]
And to Joe's:
>I don't know many anti-war protesters who are helping North Vietnamese
>Army and Liberation Front veterans today to get over their war
>experiences. Maybe you do.
What's this supposed to mean? One's antiwar integrity is to be challenged if
one isn't IN Vietnam helping NVA & NLF vets?? I hope Joe doesn't really mean
that. It seems like Joe's doing a bit of stereotyping about the antiwar
movement, mirroring Miles on vets. Kevin makes a good point in saying that
polarized, we fit nicely into the propagandists' system-sustaining needs.

Fay commends Baskir's book, which (like Myra MacPherson's Long Time Passing)
helps to correct some of the record on war service and resistance. But,
sorry, if Baskir implies this:
> The work argues that the campus movements were an elitist guilt trip vis a
>vis the fact that those doing the bleeding were the minority, blue collar and
>farm kids.

That makes the fatally flawed jump from seeing the class bias of the system
and class advantage of college kids --both true-- to imputing antiwar
students' motives to a truly stupid "guilt." Another case of stereotyping the
movement so as to dismiss it.

Ted Morgan

Department of Political Science
Maginnes Hall #9
Lehigh University
Bethlehem, PA 18015
phone: (610) 758-3345
fax: (610) 758-6554