[sixties-l] Vietnam: soldiers & anti-warriors

From: Ted Morgan (epm2@lehigh.edu)
Date: Mon Jun 19 2000 - 03:10:09 CUT

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    Interesting, busy (!) list these days, especially with the discussion
    between JoeMcDonald & Bill Mandel. I have for a long time been
    troubled by the chasm between anti-war people and vets, a chasm that has
    been greatly enlarged by the media (speaking of which...). Joe asked
    about war status, so I'll say up front I was a C.O. & served two years
    in a Boston hospital. By spring, 1968, I was not going to serve in any
    branch of the military nor do anything which felt it would help the war
    effort; I was headed to prison if my board (or the Mass. board) didn't
    give me the C.O. and I got drafted (there's a weird tale in there about
    the board's actual decision, but that's for another day). I considered
    the war an immoral horror. From that position, one can quickly move to
    condemn those who participated in the war as soldiers; after all,
    they're carrying it out, making it a reality. A lot of antiwar thinking
    in those days moved along those lines, I think, at least initially or in
    a knee-jerk way (especially after My Lai became public knowledge). But
    (a) I was never entirely comfortable with that. I had some real
    advantages --knew some people in college who had antiwar experience,
    read alot about the war, including highly critical stuff, even had a
    course on it. And alot of my college peers were not going to serve in
    it --via various paths. And (b) there was a sizeable contingent in the
    antiwar movement who understood the class makeup of the war, the
    exploitation of working class guys who hadn't had those same exposures,
    but whose fathers & uncles had served their country loyally in WWII, and
    won their country's praise (and reflected back on the war as some of the
    best times of their lives, in some cases). So, I think, Bill, that
    you're not been very empathic with your blanket condemnation --"they
    should have figured out that Vietnam didn't threaten us" or however
    exactly you put it. You also don't stretch enough I think from your
    position that already challenged Cold War ideology at the time to
    understand those (like me, too) who grew up in it and to varying degrees
    succumbed to it, at least for a while. The "hoariest of myths" I think
    is how Bruce Miroff put it.

    So, I think it's important to do the work to try and cross those gaps
    our government put in between us (or at least reinforced) -- as part of
    the solidarity we should be building today! [The government, the Right,
    and the corporate revival have all benefitted greatly from the
    divisiveness they've helped keep alive about 60s issues.]
    For years I've invited some local vets from the VVA local chapter to
    visit my class for a length discussion about their war experience &
    perspectives (and recently I've added an interview assignment), and it
    has consistently been one of the best, if not THE best class in the
    course. Most of these guys are still struggling to sort some of it out
    and they're glad to share their experiences (and I think mend what they
    see is a bad name; in some cases, just to talk about it helps). It's
    always been interesting when they and I get together for lunch
    before-hand. Usually there's a new guy or two (occasional we've been
    joined by a nurse); I'm always introduced to them as someone who was a
    "protester" (another 'bad name' in the media culture). There's a little
    'feeling each other out' at the beginning, but I've been impressed by
    their willingness to be quite open about their experiences, impressions
    and beliefs, and I always try to make my position clear to them, too:
    That I think the war was immoral because it was an assault by the United
    States, with its massive military power, against what essentially
    amounted to "the people" of Vietnam who were struggling for their
    independence from colonialism (first), then Western control/imperialism
    (US, second). And I feel that American soldiers were put into a
    position by the US government that was morally untenable even by the
    standards of military ethics --that is, the "enemy" was, again and
    again, "the people." This was true in several respects: the indigenous
    independence movement of the Viet Minh, the broad coalition of groups
    that struggled against Diem and became the NLF, the fact that the
    guerrillas were largely supported by the peasants in the countryside
    (though they, too, committed atrocities to ensure that support when the
    violence escalated), and in the soldiers' experience the fact that "any
    one" could prove to BE the enemy.... The US government --one
    administration after another-- is responsible for putting heavily
    propagandized young men of c. 19 into that situation while calling it a
    war and telling them to "win." That is an atrocity against those young
    men --in addition to the atrocity the was being committed against the
    people of Indochina.
    That's just the way I see it. Rather than a monument, I'd like to see
    people come together and understand each other's experience back then
    and help to get the reality of the US government's responsibility out in
    the open where it belongs --but where it isn't. Whatever helps that
    happen is to the good. It'll also help prevent the kind of bogus
    propaganda used to mobilize public support for --and isolation
    opposition to-- the Gulf War.

    Ted Morgan

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