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Vietnam War Protesters have NOTHING to Apologize For


Vietnam War Protesters have NOTHING to Apologize For

David Zeiger

How many times have you heard, or even said yourself, something like this:

It was beyond cruel what was done to Viet Nam vets. I protested the war but not the soldiers who'd been thru hell.


While I fully agree with the article, especially the extensive comments on the work of Lembcke and the horrible piece of propaganda by Burns/Novick I respectfully disagree with the title.

We didn’t fight hard enough or smart enough or well enough to succeed. In the end, that’s what matters – even with all of our blood, sweat and sacrifice. We failed to define or build a coherent Left in the United States and we and this nation and this biosphere suffer greatly because of that.


Fine article, and one quibble . .

Those of us who were in the Vietnam war on the US side were, in fact,
baby killers - or facilitated the killing of babies, which is just as bad.

And we have to live with that.


TomJohnson1 - This country’s history is that anti-war movements rarely, if ever, succeed. So, no, the protesters of Vietnam or any other U. S. war of the past 60 or so years don’t have to apologize for not succeeding. We can take some small degree of “we told you so” satisfaction of having been against the military action when it all blows up in the government’s faces - as it most assuredly will in Afghanistan and Iraq someday when they fall to the most radical Islamic elements we helped to create by our interference. It leaves one feeling very impotent, but what else can we do, but keep telling the truth and hoping someday that it will break through?


Did you even bother to read this article? Did tom? The issue discussed was about the negative myths that have encrusted the memory of the war years like barnacles on a boat not on whether the antiwar protests succeeded in stopping the war.

First off, the anti-war movement succeeded quite well. There is no way that anyone could argue that public opinion drained away support for the war and of course, Congress took note by then. The war ended and America sighed with relief.

After a respectful silence, a few years later, those who thought that the war should be seen in a more positive light, began to rewrite the narrative history and also reinterpreted what they ‘knew’ and what you knew. The TV generation understood how things looked and waxed manipulative. The era of arguing about the pros and cons of the war began amid the damning statistics of Vietnam vets suicides and media depictions of postwar violence among Vietnam veterans.

Those of us an age to have lived through the 60’s as adults remember. Those who are younger remember only the mass of constructed attitudes about the war gleaned from one side or the other. The babies who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s remember only the media’s negative depictions of the war and the myths that were being created for it.

If you tried to tell a young person that the protesters were generally supportive and respectful of returning soldiers (emulating the social niceties learned from their parents automatic respect for WWII veterans), the young person would bristle and tell you that wasn’t the way it was. Such is the power of media driven myths! The scary thing is that myths rewrite history and become what is perpetuated in memory for later generations. This is especially true in that the media tries to liven up a story and avoids statements such as “It never happened and everything was quiet like it usually was”. Instead of returning soldiers being offered a helping hand to try and fit in, find a date or “It’s cool, come hang out with us”, the conservatives remained angry at the ‘damn hippies’ and rewrote history by creating negative myths that they felt probably happened!


As a vet who served stateside, pure luck, from 67-69 I never saw any incidents of spitting at service personnel. I did, however, see urination on a uniform in a military bar no less. A second lieutenant, a personal friend, on his last day before release celebrating in the officer’s bar took off his jacket and pissed on it in the corner. El Looie are you out there somewhere? It was not well received, but he was able to separate from service successfully and left posthaste.

The point is that many if not most draftees and enlistees alike despised the military and the war both for good cause. “Fuck The Army!” FTA was the motto.


Remember the Kennedy’s and Martin Luther? The leaders of the left were assassinated leaving a horrible void that was never filled again. The official stories are full of holes and unanswered questions - the same as always.


Probably the smartest move the pro-war Establishment ever made was eliminating the draft. Entirely too many “anti-war” folks became much less so when they no longer had a personal stake in the matter.


This article should be inserted into every high school history textbook in America ( that’s when I first learned ). Along with the necessary photos. Some of the Vietnam Vets’ amateur photos ( smuggled back ) would be a thoughtful touch, as well ( just like the citizen journalists filming the police; kind of, anyway ). I’ve seen the ones where rifle barrels were inserted into ( enemy combatants ) women’s vaginas; the before and after results of the pulled trigger, will certainly create a teachable moment. Support the war, support the troops, wave the flag and then go home and kiss your lovely wife and daughters ( no hard feelings, ok? ). Sorry, I’m just not there yet, America. Let us all try a Truth & Reconciliation Commission, instead. And, broadcast it on Sunday night, before the big game. Complete with photos, flags and bunting, too. " Mistakes were made, but luckily no arrests ".
Ken Burns and Ms. Novick are asking many " children of the '60s and early '70s " to buy into the big lies. Buy one real big one at retail, we’ll sell you 24 more for a buck. We’ve got libraries full of them. Check 'em out for a week, maybe longer!
No thanks, I think I’ll pass. Have a great day.


Those who remember usually characterize it as the shocking difference between vets of the Vietnam war and those vets from earlier wars. Even to this day we do not really know why so many Vietnam vets killed themselves but it became the way we saw the decade or so after the war. An effort has been made to not research that reality. Moreover why so many vets became homeless or in truth why they broke their own homes and destroyed their families and relationships. The current explanation is the catchall PTSD diagnosis.

No one asks why so many who served in Vietnam had PTSD …

…but they should. We also never ask just what the phrase ‘body count’ implies… but we should for the sake of those who are no longer here to tell us.


As immortalized in the song, the “suicidal Vietnam Vet”, eh?

I have not checked the numbers recently but 8 years or so ago, the suicide rate amongst soldiers was twice the rate in society at large.

I think by about 2005, the casualties in US troops from suicide exceeded the casualties from hostile fire.


This author cites a figure of 500,000 for Vietnam vets. Think about that number. When Bush/Cheney celebrated having gotten over the hump caused by the Vietnam war concerning sending large numbers of troops overseas again… this was the fear in people’s minds that such a terrible result of going to war would happen once again. 500,000 suicides is almost beyond belief, although mention should be made that the deplorable VA of that era is not the VA of the modern era.

Many people see the problem of military suicides in isolation - a hazard of war, so to speak. May I suggest that it is the hazards of collateral damage instead. Collateral damage occurs on the ground and not just from missiles and bombs. One young man that needed the help of an older but sympathetic ear at a critical moment in his life, explained it this way to me >>> “She was just a kid, a girl, I hesitated. I told her to stop coming on but she kept walking. The risk was to my guys if she had a bomb. They do that. They use kids to walk a bomb to you. I had to think of my guys. I had to think of my guys. She didn’t have a bomb. Guys tell me I did what I had to for my men. She was just a …” The ex-soldier now battled ghosts. He said I helped but I have always doubted that he would escape his feelings of terrible guilt.

The orders to bring up the ‘body count’ figures … can possibly be translated into guilt driven suicides as another ‘body count’ among vets both back then and maybe even now. It is one thing to kill an armed man who is trying to kill you. It is another thing to kill an innocent non combatant. I think it will be a fact of life or a fact of war when combatants don’t wear uniforms.


The article is mentioning 500,000 desertions, NOT 500,000 suicides-

There have been recent articles that state an equal number of suicides as combat deaths in Vietnam…


Yes, I read the entire article and TomJohnson1’s reply. I’ve come to accept the revisionist theory that the Vietnam protests did not do much to hasten the end of the war. If they had we’d have cut-and-run much sooner, rather than go through the charade of “Vietnamization”, that resulted in the last 18,000 or so U. S. fatalities in-country. I keep hoping the anti-war movement regarding our current wars of empire will succeed in finally getting a Congress that will cut off all funding for those wars without a “wind-down” (don’t hold your breath). We need to admit that we just keep wasting good lives after other good lives for the profit of the MIC.


The Kennedys, while way beyond any of the pissants of today were never leftists by any stretch. They were both cold warriors to the bone. Jack Kennedy actively pursued any number of dirty wars in the Americas and Africa. He initiated the U.S. invasion of Southeast Asia because of his deep-set anti-communism, which led him to misread national liberation movements in Vietnam and around the globe. Bobby worked for Joe McCarthy for a time and referred to him as a friend afterward. The Kennedy family, with wealth that came primarily from boot-legging, quickly became part of the U.S. elite.

Dr. King was also an anti-communist who seldom worked with Black leftists or radicals, but he, like Bobby Kennedy, evolved greatly over time and it’s truly a tragedy that we lost them.


Thank you, David Zeiger, for your service in writing this article. I guess Ken Burns and Kynn Novick knew they would have to include the Big Lie in their series or they would never have have gotten their corporate funding.


Thank you. I meant to write 100,000 which is the figure that I knew from those years but I miswrote what I apparently misread. I appreciate the correction. My mind was on a specific incident that I related and simply didn’t look at where my ‘pen’ was heading.


You seem to think that very conservative government in DC wanted to heed the nation’s call to end the war. The war and the antiwar movement did not happen in a vacuum. The USA of the 50’s after the Korean War had a different mindset than that that it would have after the 60’s and Vietnam. I think you are ‘remembering’ what you read rather than what you saw. It was a long road to shift America’s attitudes towards peace from deep within the Cold War. People assume that it came as a natural progression as if peace was how a segment of the population would choose over that of war but that wasn’t how it was.

America was shocked and awed that people were protesting against us. Americans protesting at all whether Civil Rights or anti-war was something new to most of America. We had saved the world from the Nazis and now we were saving the world from the Commies wasn’t that enough? Pastors were still throwing rock and rock records on to bonfires back then. Protests sort of took America by surprise in the early days. The assassinations had thrown people for a loop. The protests quickly evolved and grew larger and more accepted after that. The government wasn’t willing but by then, even the silent majority distrusted what the government said.

The protests changed the world ( changed the way Americans saw war up until 9/11 ).


Totally understandable- It was A long article and I have misquoted or been confused also- I often hate correcting people because many take it the wrong way- Not so in your case!
Thanks for the reply…


Plenty of whitewashing in the Burns/Novick documentary, but I’ll give the film-makers this much credit: They feature lots of vets who went into the war as gung ho jingoists and came out or eventually turned into anti-war activists.

And you can debate the effectiveness of the anti-war movement, which I wholeheartedly support–in fact, I’m already against the next war–but the fact that this was America’s first TV war played a huge role in turning public sentiment against it.