The 1960s -- that extraordinary decade -- is celebrating its 50th birthday one year at a time. Happy birthday, 1965! How, though, do you commemorate the Vietnam War, the era’s signature catastrophe? After all, our government prosecuted its brutal and indiscriminate war under false pretexts, long after most citizens objected, and failed to achieve any of its stated objectives. More than 58,000 Americans were killed along with more than four million Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians.
It was there for all to see, even Professor Abby must have seen it, but it’s a reality that no one dare speak its name. Professor Abby’s students cannot possibly fully understand that time without speaking its name. Of course I am referring to the military draft. One of the paradoxes of democratic theory is that if armies are necessary they must be citizen armies chosen by lot. I told myself I would never again quote Senator William J. Fulbright’s briliant book from 1971, “The Pentagon Propaganda Machine,” because it never illicits much response, but because again another author dares not speak its name, I will. A detailed essay warning against militarism.
“There seems to be a lack of concern among too many people about the state of the nation, and a too easy acceptance of policies and actions of a kind that a generation ago would have appalled the citizenry. The apparent broad acceptance of the “volunteer army” idea comes to mind- a concept completely at variance with our historic development. Up to now, a blessing of our system has been that those who go into the military service, whether by enlistment or through the draft, could hardly wait to get out. But today, because of the exigencies of the times, there is a chance that we may turn our back on this fundamental principle: a large, standing professional army has no place in this Republic.”
The U.S, is a nation of people easily manipulated. Even now, before our very eyes,the invasion of Iraq is being whitewashed as merely an effort to protect the “Homeland” and bring “democracy” to those unwashed “ragheads” and it’s working! History is being rewritten and even though we were witnesses to what actually happened, many are buying the lies that enable perpetual war.
One of the most nauseating – and frightening – aspects of modern American society is the widespread fawning over veterans and all things military. It’s safe to say that the vast majority of those who engage in this dim-witted pseudo-patriotism have never bothered to crack a book to learn anything about Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine or anything else. They watch Fox News and CNN and actually believe what they hear, which is pretty frightening in itself. Worse, now we also have “commercial patriotism”, with many sleazy lawyers, car dealers, kitchen tool peddlers and especially gun merchants waving large flags and proclaiming their patriotism in hopes people will buy their goods or services. It’s all pretty disgusting and has nothing to do with making America safer or more prosperous. The real effect is just the opposite.
A dishonorable discharge of a haunting history
Major Gen Smedley Butler’s “War is a Racket” gives an early glimpse into the MIlitary Industrial Complex mindset. His finest moment was in his infiltration of the Business Coup designed to overthrow FDR, which FDR chose to ignore whilst the newspapers did their best to discredit Butler. There is almost a consensus now that Pearl Harbor was allowed to happen in order to convert the pacifist isolationist US public into a nation of jingoistic warriors. The profits made by big business during WWII became so addictive that Wall Street thereafter only got worse and wars continued and it mattered not whether the US won or lost, it still makes profits for MIC (a memorable phrase coined by Eisenhower in his Valedictory TV speech). And then came JFK who gave the briefest glimmer of what a great country America could be, but as in Don McLean’s Vincent, he was much too beautiful for the MIC and their amoral agent Allen Welsh Dulles. As in the play “Julius Caesar”, “the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interr’d within their bones”. The overpowering narrative via the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird control of the media has been to lie about JFK’s legacy and rob the American people of the greatest president they ever had. But is any of this relevant? Well if the CIA can assassinate the President and then get away with it, who can ever rein them in? Democracy was dealt a mortal blow on 22nd Nov 1963 and until this crime is acknowledged, then tyranny and propaganda destroys all truth, logic, hope and goodness. There is only one book which approaches the truth: James Douglass “JFK & The Unspeakable. Why he died and why it matters”. The truth shall make you free.
Vietnam…It’s symbolizes an America gone far awry, young men sent on a mission which had nothing to do with protecting our country, politicians and leaders whose concerns weren’t for the safety of the troops, keeping score with daily body counts, the draft, emerging antiwar sentiment, DOW’s napalm, atrocities, and on and on and on. I was a draftee. As we boarded the bus headed for induction, I can still remember the white-haired lady who signed the notice letter waving goodbye to us and her words telling us to “be careful.” I have often wondered what happened to the other young men on that bus…who died in Vietnam, who killed others, how they fared after leaving the army, etc. There was no such term as PTSD. I know because I worked in a mental health clinic for the army. Never has anyone said, “Thank you” for my service. I was no hero. I didn’t like what was going on and put forth efforts to educate others about what was happening. I worked within the system, choosing not to go to Canada.
Probably most disturbing to me is that when my generation finally rose to the top of the political heap, George W., Cheney, and Rumsfeld failed to apply the lessons from Vietnam and eagerly got us back into the tar pit. While Obama has resisted kneejerk reactions to calls for intervention, we still have many who think every action calls for our military reaction. I think we should be more calculating about our responses, choosing courses of action which are more likely to get the results we need rather than providing the means to flex our military might.
This article has put into words many of the thoughts I have had about wrapping our campaigns in the flag of “freedom.” The term hero has been morphed into something requiring a new descriptor for those who truly deserve recognition for their performance above and beyond.