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

From: William Mandel (
Date: Mon Jun 19 2000 - 05:52:53 CUT

  • Next message: William Mandel: "Re: [sixties-l] Re: Vietnam War Memorial"

    Anybody who wound up with VVAW is okay by me. The important thing
    is to understand that the war was wrong. I'd like to point out
    that your presentation to them goes to more sophisticated issues
    than mine: do you or do you not go abroad to kill people who
    can't possibly get to your country to kill you?
                                    Bill Mandel

    Ted Morgan wrote:
    > 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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