Re: [sixties-l] Re: sixties-l-Vietnam War Memorials

From: Ted Morgan (
Date: Wed Jun 21 2000 - 15:39:56 CUT

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    Thanks to Craig Kind for his interesting historical post. I think the
    'tortured' path towards abolition of slavery is quite relevant to the question
    of democratic awakenings & mobilization, too. After all, there were years in
    which small groups agitated against slavery (e.g., Quakers) going way back
    before the reality occurred. As Howard Zinn has said, the agitation is crucial
    --one never knows when it's going to encounter an optimizing environment and
    either spread to a mass mobilization or effect significant change (or both).
    On another of Craig's point, though, re. "immorality" of the war --a point
    central to my argument re. media. I would distinguish between the antiwar
    MOVEMENT's views of the war, which I would argue did, in fact, revolve around
    issues of immorality,at base (probably reinforced both other concerns), and
    general public opinion against the war, which I agree reflected a far wider set
    of 'reasons' (including 'it's not working,' 'it's gone on too long,' 'it's too
    costly,' etc.). So the question about reasoning behind antiwar sentiment is
    important; we shouldn't gloss over differences between reasons.
    On the other hand, I toss out for Craig & the list's consideration, the finding
    of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations in their quadrennial public opinion
    poll in the post-Vietnam war years. Ever since, I believe, 1979, more than 50%
    (and in most cases between 68-71%) of the American public have given as their
    assessment of the war that it was "more than a mistake, it was fundamentally
    wrong and immoral" (the other choice, I think, if there was only one... was the
    it was "a mistake"). That, it seems to me indicates something, though exactly
    what, as Craig says, isn't self-evident. The could be seen as immoral because
    it involved a powerful giant wreaking destruction on a tiny nation, it could be
    seen as immoral because it inherently involved an assault on civilian
    populations, and it could be seen as immoral in that it involved a government
    lying to, exploiting, and then throwing away 19-year old 'boys.' But the
    latter requires some sense of what 'lying to' and 'exploiting' meant, which I
    would argue at least implicity involves the kind of 'war' it was.


    "Craig M. Kind" wrote:

    > <snip>
    > As a student of history I would like to suggest a few of my thoughts on
    > this view of emancipation in particular, and this type of historical memory
    > more generally. And finally I would like to pose a question.
    > First on the abolition of slavery: While there is no doubt that the
    > emancipation of slaves in 1863 had earth-shattering consequences, we must
    > remember the tortured path to the final freeing of the slaves. In saying
    > this I do not mean the long history of slavery and emancipation throughout
    > the history of antebellum America. I am referring instead to the history
    > of the Emancipation Proclamation that many people seem to forget. Lincoln
    > did not free the slaves when he entered the White House. Instead he waited
    > until the end of 1862 to announce his decision, a decision that was based
    > on military necessity and not moral considerations. Furthermore, neither
    > the preliminary nor the final Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery
    > in the United States. During the war only the slaves in states of active
    > rebellion were freed, meaning that those in MD, TN and MO remained in
    > bondage. It was not until the passage and ratification of the 13th
    > Amendment in 1865 that slavery was truly abolished in the US. And even
    > then political considerations played a huge role--re-entry into the union
    > was contingent upon rebel states ratifying the amendment.
    > Why this tangent into Civil War history? I find the memory of the Civil
    > War an interesting parallel to the memory of the Vietnam War. People have
    > redefined the Civil War as all about slavery and they have placed Lincoln
    > and his Emancipation Proclamation on a pedestal--yesterday was Juneteenth,
    > the celebration of the last slaves in Texas learning they were free. But
    > the history was infinitely more complicated. Morality was only one factor
    > in the decision to free the slaves.
    > I would suggest that similarly, morality was only one aspect of why
    > Americans finally turned against the Vietnam War in 1968, yet the moral
    > opposition to the war dominates the history of the antiwar movement.
    > Obviously a sizable segment of the American population--particularly the
    > formal movements of the Left--opposed the war on moral grounds--certainly
    > that was why so many of the contributors to this list fought against the
    > war. But when more than half of Americans told pollsters in 1968 that they
    > did not support the war in Vietnam, what exactly were they saying?
    > It seems to me that only a portion of the sentiment of the time is
    > represented on this list. Certainly other Americans turned against the war
    > because they felt we had paid too high a price, others thought the war was
    > unwinnable. But I have noted in some of my local research, and some
    > historians have argued more generally, that many were simply saying since
    > we'll never fight the war the way it should be fought, then we should get
    > out. When teaching the Vietnam War to my students, I find that these are
    > many of the perspectives they want to know about. They have been taught,
    > or more likely they have heard, about the moral arguments that many made
    > against the war, but they are seeking more than that. They want a more
    > complicated history.
    > So I pose this question to this list, What were Americans saying when they
    > turned against the war? I have taken what you have all said about your
    > own personal histories to heart, and I hope to convey such sentiments to my
    > students when I teach this time period again. But what do you consider the
    > range of responses to the war, the complexity of antiwar sentiment? What
    > was going on beyond the moral arguments against the war?
    > I thank you in advance.
    > Kind.
    > ****************************
    > Craig M. Kind
    > Department of History Grad Program
    > University of California, Irvine

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