Never mind former Navy Secretary Webbs' gross use of the fact that 1,400,000 anti-American Vietnamese died defending their country, while only 58,000 Americans died, to demonstrate the tactical superiority of the U.S. armed forces. The superiority was in technology: a limitless supply of bombers to drop explosives, fire-bombs, and everything else. He musters endless statistics to suggest that "average Americans" supported the war. Really? "...the eleven-week trial of my son Bob and the other Oakland Seven defendants who had organized the week-long roving demonstrations of some ten thousand people that sought to shut down the [Oakland, CA] Army Induction Center....The defendants, their friends, associates, and families, including myself, were convinced that the Seven would be convicted.... "When the jury was selected, I thought the defendants were finished. There was a retired U.S. Marines colonel, who at one time had been second-in-command of the Corps. In his time the Marines were very sparing with the rank of general. The jury foreperson was a young man with top security clearance at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, where nuclear bombs are designed and laboratory-tested. But [defense attorney Charles] Garry called a stunning array of character witnesses to present the defendants' motivations. Garry actually convinced that jury that assembling massive crowds to block access to the induction centr was a legitimate exercise of freedom of speech under the First Amendment! Hatred for that war certainly ran deep." -- from my autobiography, Saying No To Power, p.416. William Mandel radman wrote: > Date: Tue, 7 Nov 2000 17:28:49 EST > From: SendMeHack@aol.com > Subject: HEROES of the VIETNAM Generation > > HEROES of the VIETNAM Generation > > By James Webb* > > The rapidly disappearing cohort of Americans that endured the Great > Depression > and then fought World War II is receiving quite a send-off from the leading > lights of > the so-called '60s generation. Tom Brokaw has published two oral histories > of "The > Greatest Generation" that feature ordinary people doing their duty and > suggest that > such conduct was historically unique. > > Chris Matthews of "Hardball" is fond of writing columns praising the Navy > service of his father while castigating his own baby boomer generation for > its alleged softness and lack of struggle. William Bennett gave a > startlingly condescending speech at the Naval Academy a few years ago > comparing the heroism of the "D-Day Generation" to the drugs-and-sex > nihilism of the "Woodstock Generation." And Steven Spielberg, in promoting > his film Saving Private Ryan, was careful to justify his portrayals of > soldiers in action based on the supposedly unique nature of World War II. > > An irony is at work here. Lest we forget, the World War II generation now > being lionized also brought us the Vietnam War, a conflict which today's > most conspicuous voices by and large opposed, and in which few of them > served. The "best and brightest" of the Vietnam age group once made > headlines by castigating their parents for bringing about the war in which > they would not fight, which has become the war they refuse to remember. > > Pundits back then invented a term for this animus: the "generation gap." > Long, plaintive articles and even books were written examining its > manifestations. Campus leaders, who claimed precocious wisdom through the > magical process of reading a few controversial books, urged fellow baby > boomers not to trust anyone over 30. Their elders who had survived the > Depression and fought the largest war in history were looked down upon as > shallow, materialistic, and out of touch. > > Those of us who grew up on the other side of the picket line from that > era's counter-culture can't help but feel a little leery of this sudden gush > of > appreciation for our elders from the leading lights of the old > counter-culture. Then and now, the national conversation has proceeded > from the dubious assumption that those who came of age during Vietnam are a > unified generation in the same sense as their parents were, and thus are > capable of being spoken for through these fickle elites. > > In truth, the "Vietnam generation" is a misnomer. Those who came of age > during that war are permanently divided by different reactions to a whole > range of counter-cultural agendas, and nothing divides them more deeply > than the personal ramifications of the war itself. The sizable portion of the > Vietnam age group who declined to support the counter-cultural agenda, and > especially the men and women who opted to serve in the military during the > Vietnam War, are quite different from their peers who for decades have > claimed to speak for them. In fact, they are much like the World War II > generation itself. For them, Woodstock was a side show, college protestors > were spoiled brats who would have benefited from having to work a few jobs > in order to pay their tuition, and Vietnam represented not an intellectual > exercise in draft avoidance or protest marches but a battlefield that was > just as brutal as those their fathers faced in World War II and Korea. > > Few who served during Vietnam ever complained of a generation gap. The men > who fought World War II were their heroes and role models. They honored > their fathers' service by emulating it, and largely agreed with their > fathers' wisdom in attempting to stop Communism's reach in Southeast Asia. > The most accurate poll of their attitudes (Harris, 1980) showed that 91 > percent were glad they'd served their country, 74 percent enjoyed their > time in the service, and 89 percent agreed with the statement that "our > troops > were asked to fight in a war which our political leaders in Washington > would not let them win." And most importantly, the castigation they received > upon returning home was not from the World War II generation, but from the > very > elites in their age group who supposedly spoke for them. > > Nine million men served in the military during the Vietnam war, three > million of whom went to the Vietnam theater. Contrary to popular > mythology, two-thirds of these were volunteers, and 73 percent of those who > died > were volunteers. While some attention has been paid recently to the plight of > our prisoners of war, most of whom were pilots, there has been little > recognition of how brutal the war was for those who fought it on the ground. > > Dropped onto the enemy's terrain 12,000 miles away from home, America's > citizen-soldiers performed with a tenacity and quality that may never be > truly understood. Those who believe the war was fought incompetently on a > tactical level should consider Hanoi's recent admission that 1.4 million > of its soldiers died on the battlefield, compared to 58,000 total U.S. dead. > > Those who believe that it was a "dirty little war" where the bombs did all > the work might contemplate that it was the most costly war the U.S. Marine > Corps has ever fought-five times as many dead as World War I, three times > as many dead as in Korea, and more total killed and wounded than in all of > World War II. > > Significantly, these sacrifices were being made at a time the United > States was deeply divided over our effort in Vietnam. The baby-boom > generation > had cracked apart along class lines as America's young men were making > difficult, life-or-death choices about serving. The better academic > institutions became focal points for vitriolic protest against the war, > with few of their graduates going into the military. Harvard College, which > had > lost 691 alumni in World War II, lost a total of 12 men in Vietnam from > the classes of 1962 through 1972 combined. Those classes at Princeton lost > six, at MIT two. The media turned ever-more hostile. And frequently the > reward > for a young man's having gone through the trauma of combat was to be > greeted by his peers with studied indifference or outright hostility. > > What is a hero? My heroes are the young men who faced the issues of war > and possible death, and then weighed those concerns against obligations to > their country. Citizen-soldiers who interrupted their personal and > professional > lives at their most formative stage, in the timeless phrase of the > Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, "not for fame or > reward, not for place or for rank, but in simple obedience to duty, as they > understood it." Who suffered loneliness, disease, and wounds with an often > contagious lan. And who deserve a far better place in history than that > now offered them by the so-called spokesmen of our so-called generation. > > Mr. Brokaw, Mr. Matthews, Mr. Bennett, Mr. Spielberg, meet my Marines. > > *** > > 1969 was an odd year to be in Vietnam. Second only to 1968 in terms of > American casualties, it was the year made famous by Hamburger Hill, as > well as the gut-wrenching Life cover story showing the pictures of 242 > Americans who had been killed in one average week of fighting. Back home, it > was > the year of Woodstock, and of numerous anti-war rallies that culminated in > the > Moratorium march on Washington. The My Lai massacre hit the papers and was > seized upon by the anti-war movement as the emblematic moment of the war. > Lyndon Johnson left Washington in utter humiliation. Richard Nixon entered > the scene, destined for an even worse fate. > > In the An Hoa Basin southwest of Danang, the Fifth Marine Regiment was in > its third year of continuous combat operations. Combat is an unpredictable > and inexact environment, but we were well-led. As a rifle platoon and > company commander, I served under a succession of three regimental > commanders who had cut their teeth in World War II, and four different > battalion commanders, three of whom had seen combat in Korea. The company > commanders were typically captains on their second combat tour in Vietnam, > or young first lieutenants like myself who were given companies after many > months of "bush time" as platoon commanders in the Basin's tough and > unforgiving environs. > > The Basin was one of the most heavily contested areas in Vietnam, its > torn, cratered earth offering every sort of wartime possibility. In the > mountains just to the west, not far from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the North > Vietnamese > Army operated an infantry division from an area called Base Area 112. In > the valleys of the Basin, main-force Viet Cong battalions whose ranks were 80 > percent North Vietnamese Army regulars moved against the Americans every > day. Local Viet Cong units sniped and harassed. Ridge lines and paddy > dikes were laced with sophisticated booby traps of every size, from a hand > grenade to a 250-pound bomb. The villages sat in the rice paddies and tree > lines > like individual fortresses, criss-crossed with trenches and spider holes, > their homes sporting bunkers capable of surviving direct hits from > large-caliber artillery shells. The Viet Cong infrastructure was intricate > and permeating. Except for the old and the very young, villagers who did > not side with the Communists had either been killed or driven out to the > government-controlled enclaves near Danang. > > In the rifle companies we spent the endless months patrolling ridge lines > and villages and mountains, far away from any notion of tents, barbed > wire, hot food, or electricity. Luxuries were limited to what would fit > inside > one's pack, which after a few "humps" usually boiled down to letter-writing > material, towel, soap, toothbrush, poncho liner, and a small transistor > radio. > > We moved through the boiling heat with 60 pounds of weapons and gear, > causing a typical Marine to drop 20 percent of his body weight while in > the bush. When we stopped we dug chest-deep fighting holes and slit trenches > for toilets. We slept on the ground under makeshift poncho hootches, and when > it rained we usually took our hootches down because wet ponchos shined under > illumination flares, making great targets. Sleep itself was fitful, never > more than an hour or two at a stretch for months at a time as we mixed > daytime patrolling with night-time ambushes, listening posts, foxhole > duty, and radio watches. Ringworm, hookworm, malaria, and dysentery were > common, as was trench foot when the monsoons came. Respite was rotating back > to the mud-filled regimental combat base at An Hoa for four or five days, > where > rocket and mortar attacks were frequent and our troops manned defensive > bunkers at night. > > Which makes it kind of hard to get excited about tales of Woodstock, or > camping at the Vineyard during summer break. > > We had been told while in training that Marine officers in the rifle > companies had an 85 percent probability of being killed or wounded, and > the experience of "Dying Delta," as our company was known, bore that out. Of > the officers in the bush when I arrived, our company commander was wounded, > the weapons platoon commander was wounded, the first platoon commander was > killed, the second platoon commander was wounded twice, and I, commanding > the third platoon, was wounded twice. The enlisted troops in the rifle > platoons fared no better. Two of my original three squad leaders were > killed, the third shot in the stomach. My platoon sergeant was severely > wounded, as was my right guide. By the time I left my platoon I had gone > through six radio operators, five of them casualties. > > These figures were hardly unique; in fact, they were typical. Many other > units-for instance, those who fought the hill battles around Khe Sanh, or > were with the famed Walking Dead of the Ninth Marine Regiment, or were in > the battle for Hue City or at Dai Do-had it far worse. > > When I remember those days and the very young men who spent them with me, > I am continually amazed, for these were mostly recent civilians barely out > of high school, called up from the cities and the farms to do their year in > Hell and then return. Visions haunt me every day, not of the nightmares of > war but of the steady consistency with which my Marines faced their > responsibilities, and of how uncomplaining most of them were in the face > of constant danger. The salty, battle-hardened 20-year-olds teaching green > 19-year-olds the intricate lessons of that hostile battlefield. The > unerring skill of the young squad leaders as we moved through unfamiliar > villages > and weed-choked trails in the black of night. The quick certainty with which > they moved when coming under enemy fire. Their sudden tenderness when a > fellow Marine was wounded and needed help. Their willingness to risk their > lives to save other Marines in peril. To this day it stuns me that their > own countrymen have so completely missed the story of their service, lost in > the bitter confusion of the war itself. > > Like every military unit throughout history we had occasional laggards, > cowards, and complainers. But in the aggregate these Marines were the > finest people I have ever been around. It has been my privilege to keep up > with > many of them over the years since we all came home. One finds in them very > little bitterness about the war in which they fought. The most common > regret, almost to a man, is that they were not able to do more-for each > other and for the people they came to help. > > It would be redundant to say that I would trust my life to these men. > Because I already have, in more ways than I can ever recount. I am alive > today because of their quiet, unaffected heroism. Such valor epitomizes > the conduct of Americans at war from the first days of our existence. That > the > boomer elites can canonize this sort of conduct in our fathers' generation > while ignoring it in our own is more than simple oversight. It is a > conscious, continuing travesty. > > * Former Secretary of the Navy James Webb was awarded the Navy Cross, Silver > Star, and Bronze Star medals for heroism as a Marine in Vietnam. His > novels include The Emperor's General and Fields of Fire.
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