Re: Re:war vs. anti-war.

Wed, 03 Sep 1997 12:49:19 EDT

As Buffalo Springfield said, "There's something happening here!" This is
turning into a really rich, deep, and full-of-feeling thread, and for the most
part we seem to be hearing each other. I am very moved by all the feelings &
passion behind the words. If only we --antiwar & vets-- had been able to
talk this way 25-30 years ago.

I'd like to pick up on a few things.

I appreciate Joe's invite to the "wall" ceremony at the Summer of Love event.
I think it's completely fitting, and symbolically it has a really nice feel
about it, bringing together those who fought or had loved ones fight the war
with those the media at least characterize as the ones who were against it. It
would be better in this symbolic sense, if this were a coming together of
antiwar activists and vets, but this is cool. If I were close enough, I'd
probably go. And, as I've said, I DO honor the vets for their sacrifice, for
their courage, and for their struggle to work out holding on to their humanity
in that war. I DON'T honor the war or the kinds of things the U.S. does to
"protect our system" as the propaganda would have it. I try hard to avoid
actions or behaviors that can have the effect of reinforcing the propaganda,
which has & will be used to send more young people to their deaths needlessly
(or, rather, in the service of the powerful holding on to their power) while
causing enormously destructive pain to thousands of innocent people in other
parts of the world.

I think there's a confusion in some of the posts --Penny's and old friend Bill
Ehrhart's come to mind-- between being right or wrong and "paying for" one's
decisions and actions. It's very clear to me that lots of people in the
antiwar movement were courageous and paid for their actions, but as one such
(antiwar) person, I've got to say it's very clear to me that the vets paid a
much higher price --at least many did, those in combat in particular. [And,
collectively, the people of South Vietnam & & North Viet, Laos,Cambodia paid
an even --much-- huger price.] So while I as antiwar person will "fire back"
(in argument) against those who still diss antiwar folks as self-indulgent
hippies or irrelevant "purists." That stereotype is just plain wrong --just
as wrong as the "crazed killer" stereotype. On the subject of "paying a
price" one of the "pro-war" folks who fired back at pro-war people (sorry I
forget who said it) was RIGHT in saying we could all have done more. I
believe that and regret that I didn't DO more to bring the war to a close
sooner. I COULD have paid a bigger price.

But (a) I no longer beat myself with guilt over this; I can "forgive" my
youthful moments when I chose an easier path, and crucially, (b) I believe my
decision to oppose the war, to refuse to be drafted, to seek C.O. status with
prison as the backdrop if I didn't get it --that these were my best efforts at
that time to take action on what I was convinced --then and now-- was the
RIGHT position: that the Vietnam war was an immoral war by one great power
seeking to retain it's imperial hold on global resources against another
people who, far from pure or blameless themselves, were vastly out-equipped
but could rely on their own determination to fend off a foreign aggressor.

In short, paying a price or not paying the price doesn't make the war any more
or less right or wrong. The nature of the WAR makes the war right or wrong.
We're always going to differ on this, I guess, and our pain over prices paid,
costs to ourselves or loved ones, etc. will probably always fuel these
disagreements to some degree. But there is, at bottom, a moral decision to
make about this war that requires that we step back and look at it the same
way we would look dispassionately at the ACTIONS of any other great power
(take, for instance, the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan --there are
quite a few parallels, but we don't have much problem seeing it as it was, an
unjustifiable act of aggression against a (closer) neighboring state over
which the great power wanted to exercise a degree of control. And, I suspect,
while feeling the Soviet Union's actions were immoral, we can also feel for
the Red Army soldiers, plucked up in their youth, filled with propaganda about
the Great Cause, the Mother Country, etc., and sent off to fight against a
kind of guerrilla action against outside aggressors). On the subject of
morality, there's an essay I'd recommend by the playright/actor, Wallace
Shawn, (at the beginning of his play "Aunt Dan &...") called "On Comfort &
Morality" that makes this general argument much more persuasively. An action
isn't made moral or immoral because WE, or I, do it.

So we act & react with our hearts, but also we must act & react with our
heads, too. And this means we need to take this kind of dispassionate look at
what the United States really DOES in the Third World (as well as what the
Soviet Union, The British, French, Dutch, Germans, Japanese etc. did & still

A couple specific responses:

To Tom Page :
> The purists on the war are from some other planet.
What do you mean by this? This sounds like the kind of dissing I think is
stuck in some stereotype of the antiwar "Other." Who are these people, the
"purists"? People committed to pacifism? Anyone who felt the war was wrong &
immoral. I think it'd help if you were a little clear what you are dismissing
as hopelessly unrealistic.

And to drieux, whose fire & prose I usually enjoy, I didn't quite get the
point about the "culturally myopic" when you talk about costs of the war --

>When we start talking about 'the costs' that this
>that or the next group gets to pay for Our Involvement
>in the Vietnam war, I find it rather Culturally Myopic
>that so few folks on either side of the Strictly American WhineFest
>ever pause long enough to remember the Hot Slogan of PAVN:
>"Born in the North To Die In The South."

Meaning, antiwar folks aren't being committed enough to help the North
Vietnamese Vets --as someone argued earlier --a point that I'd say throws up a
red herring... Or, do you mean we antiwar folks were myopic in romanticizing
the "enemy" --which I think some were. What I THINK I hear in here is the
suggestion that since the united Vietnam turned into a pathetically
Soviet-reminiscent state, that the war was somehow RIGHT --i.e., WE were right
to intervene. I would just say that the nature of the state of Vietnam
--i.e., the kinds of freedoms, etc. the people of Viet Nam enjoyed-- had
virtually nothing (other than candy-coating our real purpose with "good
intentions") to do with U.S. intervention --it never has really. The quality
of life & freedoms is --from the record of our actions throughout the 3rd
world-- irrelevant to U.S. intervention. Time & time again "we've"
interevened to establish bloody dictatorships that in many ways were worse
that conditions in much of Eastern Europe. This is the part about our "heads"
being involved, not just our hearts, our feelings.
>Currently I have YET to see any of the various groups from the
>sixties sort out how we stop the war in Isreal or Ireland, or....
Well, if you mean the sixties groups --like the MOBE, SDS, etc.-- of course
they aren't sorting this out; they're not around. But, beyond the Sixties
stereotypes, a lot of people are working, supporting the work of others,
writing about, etc. to reveal the forces at work in those places that are
perpetuating the oppression & hatred, and some are doing it on-the-line. But,
drieux, what are you saying here again, that the antiwar folks aren't doing
enough. So? Of course, none of us are doing "enough."

I would, however, agree with...
>Personally I'm waiting for the Nice CIVILIANS to get a grip, and
>be able to support BOTH sets of Veterans from the Sixties...

Kevin, I think, misses Miles' point with:
>Miles wrote:
<<Wasn't there a difference between the killing that the NVA and VC
<<engaged in, while defending their country from US invaders, and the
<<killing that was done by the invaders?>
>This is a straw man. It wasn't that simple and it never is. You too
>would fight to protect your buddies and put everything else out of mind,
>given the right circumstances, and all these nice clean historical
>abstractions wouldn't mean shit.

It ISN'T a "straw man." It's crucial to the question of how one defines one's
actions morally. One has a moral responsibility to act morally. One cannot
act in any way that will eliminate all pain & suffering in the world, but one
can attempt to act meaningfully, i.e., in ways that can reduce this. If one's
own country, supported through one's own political system, is acting in an
immoral way, invading another nation unjustifiably (in reality, not in
feel-good propaganda), one has a kind of moral obligation to try and
affect/change that policy. This is not to say that one can't understand that
once put into combat in the jungles of Viet Nam, a soldier becomes fixated
with "simpler" realities --like staying alive & killing those who threaten
one. At THAT level, the broader questions may seem like "nice clean
historical ABSTRACTIONS. But (a) that doesn't change the larger question
about whether the war was right or wrong, (b) nor does it remove the soldier
from ANY consideration of morality (as many who distanced themselves and their
behavior from what occurred at My Lai bear witness).

I won't touch the "hippies who turned into yuppies who elected Reagan" piece!!!

Ted Morgan

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