Re: [sixties-l] Vietnam memorial and flags

From: William Mandel (
Date: Thu Jun 29 2000 - 17:49:44 CUT

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    I had a conversation yesterday that has significantly affected my
    attitude toward people in the military. A friend told me that,
    when in the Navy, 1959-1962, he had volunteered, at age 19, for
    Underwater Military Demolition, which later became the Seals.
    This was an elite unit preparing for extraordinarily dangerous
    work, involving training rigorous beyond all other duties. Half
    the men quit after the first night. He himself kept going
    throughout the entire course, always on the basis that he would
    give it one more hour. Toward the end, he was given a knife about
    the length of a machete and instructed on how to disembowel an
    opponent. In the final test, he suffered hypothermia due to the
    length of time underwater, was then put under a hot shower for
    three hours, and told to do it again. He refused, and was
    dismissed from the unit. But he said the main motive for the
    refusal was that the incident with the knife , plus the
    brutalizing training such as diving into actual sewers, had made
    him realize that he was being trained to be a mechanical killer,
    while the possibility of a second bout of hypothermia made him
    understand that he might die.
         I asked why he went through all that -- one trial after
    another, in vastly greater detail than I have summarized here. He
    said simply out of a sense of adventure, and that, at that age,
    the notion of dying had simply not been real.
         I admit that I simply had no notion of that last. Dying to
    me was very real, not later than when Sacco and Vanzetti were
    executed in my tenth year of life.
         I should add that this man has, for many years, been a
    consistent and active progressive, and is an accomplished artist.
         His story ended on something someone should investigate. He
    had heard, but has no documentation for it, that the Seals unit
    he had been in was wiped out in the Bay of Pigs. My understanding
    until now had been that that invasion consisted solely of
    American-trained Cubans. His unit consisted of sailors of any and
    all ethnicities who volunteered and had been accepted. Does
    anyone know about Seals in the attempted military destruction of
    Castro's Cuba?
                                    William Mandel

    Carrol Cox wrote:
    > wrote:
    > > From: William Mandel <>
    > > Subject: Re: [sixties-l] Vietnam Memorial and flags
    > >
    > > And what was/is your attitude toward the Korean War, in which the
    > > Air Force killed about two million Koreans?
    > > William Mandel
    > >
    > > Carrol Cox wrote:
    > What *is* my attitude? Exactly the same as yours.
    > To give a peek at what my attitude *was*: When I first began objecting
    > to the war in Vietnam, one of my *initial* arguments (it took about six
    > months to get beyond that) was to *contrast* it to the Korean War which,
    > I said then, was o.k.
    > I asked in the post you quote if anyone knew anyone with my particular
    > political curve. So far no one has given an example, so it looks as though
    > I'm one of the few people who shares your politics now but can tell you
    > what it felt like to be quite indifferent to your politics at the time HUAC
    > was trying to screw you. And *indifference*, not hostility, is the precise
    > word here, for it was the indifference of people like me, not the positive
    > hostility of the mob, that in the 1940s and 1950s gave the likes of HUAC
    > their power. I had utter contempt for both HUAC & McCarthy -- and
    > I didn't lift a finger to give that contempt political weight. I also remember
    > with equal portions of glee and acute embarassment (one reinforcing the
    > other) a bizarre bar conversation I and three other U. of Mich. grad
    > students had with a female grad student back in the spring of '59. She
    > took the eminently sensible position that, "What in the Hell would the
    > USSR *want* with the U.S.?" and the four of us ganged up on her.
    > Three of us were (non-combat) Korean vets, one had been with the
    > artillery in Korea.
    > Concerning the flag. I think a good way to view the debate is to
    > consider what the U.S looks like from inside, and what it looks
    > like from the viewpoint of the rest of the world. From *inside*,
    > the U.S. (at least for most of its population) is rather better than
    > was Hitler's Germany for the mass of the Germans. But from
    > the *outside* the U.S. today is a far greater menace to the very
    > survival of the human species than Hitler had ever been. Now the
    > Germans didn't have the freedom to oppose what their flag
    > stood for -- we do. So those of us who *know* what the U.S.
    > flag represents -- genocide and horror -- have an obligation to
    > make that knowledge known. So we should not in any way
    > honor that (in the words of e.e. cummings's Olaf) flag.
    > But somehow I think we have to do it with launching moral
    > attacks on that majority of our fellow citizens who don't (yet)
    > agree with us. So while I am quite opposed to Joe Mcdonald's
    > position that we should somehow honor that flag, I think in
    > figuring out how to disohonor it we have to take into account
    > the everyday response to it of our fellow citizens.
    > Most people have a fairly jumbled consciousness. I know a
    > former marine reservist who was called to active duty during
    > the Gulf War. About half of his platoon agreed among themselves
    > that they wouldn't stick their necks out to object to that war,
    > they'd be damned if they would ever fight against peasants in
    > Latin America. Political resistance has to take such jumbled
    > responses into account, or it becomes mere grandstanding.
    > My objections to moralism is that it is all too often mere
    > egotism.
    > Carrol

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