Why Vietnam, why now

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Posted by Ammianus Marcellinus on 10/04/03 - 20:15:48
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Kenny seems to think that the US troops are always good guys.  Well guess what?  They're not.

Dirty Kevin seems to think we should put William Calley and Vietnam behind us.  Well, Kevin, if you put a statute of limitations upon mass murder, you'll give the mass murders impunity to do it again and wait you out.  One of Calley's onetime cover-up artists within the ranks of the military, Colin Powell, is now Secretary of State in that Bush regime that Kevin loves so much.  And some day, twenty-five years from now, there will be another Dirty Kevin explaining to us all that the atrocities of Iraq are "in the past" and we should "put it behind us" while the atrocities of the next war are in the process of being committed.

Don Aters, whose intrusion into my little sally against Kenny's super-patriotism surprised me, finds me guilty of "sensationalism," and thinks I "know nothing" about Vietnam.  Well, all Don has ever wanted to do is shut down the conversation about Vietnam, while in the same breath cursing those who would promote war in Iraq.  

I suppose Don feels that having experienced combat entitles him -- and only combat veterans -- to criticize the war in Iraq, too.  Are we supposed to wait until we ourselves become victims of US policies of endless war, so that we can feel entitled to criticize wars?  I, on the other hand, feel that war is bad and that I have a right to criticize it WITHOUT BENEFIT OF PRIOR PARTICIPATION, regardless of what Don thinks.  In fact, the entire world ought to disagree with Don in this regard, and criticize America's meddling in Vietnamese politics, so as to put a stop to the "Vietnam syndrome" wars that have preoccupied American foreign policy ever since.

Don also seems to think that I am some kind of hippie peacenik, and that "I suppose we could always let other countries take over the world while we wave peace signs."  This is a false dilemma -- one need not be a hippie or even a peacenik to criticize America's role in Vietnam.

But let's look again at Don's notion that "other countries" will "take over the world" if we endorse peace, for what it says about him.  It not only takes leave of a real world where the United States spends more on weapons than its next six competitors spend TOGETHER.  Don leads me to suspect that his real fear is that "they'll do to us what we did to them," given that his main motive in discussing Vietnam is to scare away a real discussion of Vietnam.  After all, a real discussion of Vietnam would plumb the depths of "what we REALLY DID do to them."  So if Don wants to assert that "If you believe everything you read about Calley and subsequent massacre, you are more of an idiot than I thought," well, I'd like to hear what sort of hard evidence he has to discredit Neil Sheehan.

As for the "sensationalism" charge, let me just add that Sheehan provides an explanation for his violent characterization of American soldiers:

"The soldier and the junior officer observed the lack of regard his superiors had for the Vietnamese.  The value of Vietnamese life was systematically cheapened in his mind.  Further brutalized by the cycle of meaningless violence that was Westmoreland's war of attrition, and full of hatred because his comrades were so often killed and wounded by mines and booby traps set by the local guerrillas and the peasants who helped them, he naturally came to see all Vietnamese of the countryside as vermin to be exterminated.  The massacre at Son My was inevitable.  The military leaders of the United States, and the civilian leaders who permitted the generals to wage war as they did, had made the war inevitable." (690)

So, to Sheehan, the massacre at Son My was a result of policy.  Policy made Americans the bad guys.  Can we believe, today, that such policies are no longer part of the US government's repertoire?  Or is the government just better at hiding strategies of attrition from the public?


From all of these discussions I can only believe that Vietnam is as worthy of discussion today as if ever was.  The current "War on Terrorism" that demonizes Muslims bears a close family resemblance to the anticommunism that motivated the war against Vietnam -- for both Muslims and communists dare to walk in freedom outside of the "city on a hill" of the American elites who believe world domination is their birthright.  As Joel Kovel says in "Red Baiting In The Promised Land":

"It is the people as a whole and not the elites who need to awaken from anticommunism.  The people themselves need to become conscious not only of the costs of cold-war red-hading, but of the whole chain of events since the city upon a hill was founded by casting out darkness, the history that prepared the way for anticommunism and stands to resynthesize successors in a post-Communist era.  However, this kind of remembering does not take place on its own.  It grows out of struggle between the status quo and that which sees beyond it.  That is why the revitalization of emancipatory vision is essential for overcoming anticommunism." (241)

Speaking as a socialist, that is...

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