The Elephant in the Room: The Vietnam War

“Military madness is killing our country, solitary sadness comes over me…”

It seems impossible not to discuss “the war” that helped to shape our lives at this time. The amazing new PBS documentary put together by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is impacting me now, and the war it represents is still present in the hearts and minds of those of us who experienced it either on TV or directly, in our own lives.

the_vietnam_war_pbs_civilians_after_attack 1965

The curious thing is how we ended up making this war about us, when it was always about the people of a tiny country in southeast Asia.

Last night was about 1965, when we first started sending in troops, not just advisers. I had no idea that the Vietnamese came out to welcome the first American troops to land there. Young Vietnamese girls in white dresses came with welcome signs, food and flowers.

vietnam river scene

One American who was there, noted what a beautiful and ideal country they saw when they landed. I have some idea what he means. I lived in Thailand near the end of the Vietnam War. I agree.

This documentary provides much background information and detail into how this terrible war came about as a result of a century of Western colonialism in southeast Asia. The French dragged us into it, and we stayed. Most Americans don’t know these facts. I studied Asia in college, so I am quite familiar with this history. I loved the part last night about Eric Sevareid’s first honest report back to us through the evening news, documenting what American troops were experiencing daily there. LBJ called the president of CBS the next day and said, “Are you trying to fuck me?”

The dishonesty of our government is appalling even today. Oh sure, let’s send in thousands of young Americans to fight a war over 8,000 miles away, but let’s not tell the American public. Once we became involved in fighting there, the number of dead from each battle included both Vietnamese and American numbers, but we did not care how many Vietnamese had died, only Americans.

I do not blame anyone who chooses not to view this documentary at this time. It brings up overwhelming sadness and many tears for me. I was born in 1955, so “the war” only became a part of my daily awareness when I was ten or so, after the assassination of JFK. In my family, we were required to watch the evening news, and then discuss world affairs at the dinner table every evening.

It was only after the “wise old men” in LBJ’s world decided to start sending thousands of young Americans to a war 8,600 miles away that Vietnam truly entered my consciousness.

Chicago riots 1968

Besides the evening news reports with Walter Cronkite, my most powerful memories are of the Kent State shootings and the Democratic Convention protests in 1968. I remember watching tears roll down my Dad’s face as we watched the protesters get severely beating by Mayor Daley’s thugs. Yes, there was violence on both sides, but the police had all the weapons and they used them too!

The first time I ever protested anything was by wearing a black arm band to a junior high band concert after the Kent State shootings. I felt so conspicuous and yet I’m sure nobody else noticed. Mike was in the Navy at the end of our involvement in Vietnam. He chooses not to watch this special and I respect that. One of his best friends, who he has known for over 30 years now, was a medic in Vietnam. He definitely saw the worst of it. That war ruined the rest of his life in a number of ways, both with a broken back and severe PTSD.

What can we say now about a war most of us did not want, that destroyed the lives of many thousands of Americans, both those who fought and died, and those who loved them? This war challenged deeply my trust in our government, and by watching this timely documentary now, I learned even more about what I didn’t know about the war in Vietnam. This makes me wonder what else I don’t know about what is happening right now in our world.

“War, what a lousy way to settle politics. And the faces of the dead are all the same, just fucking kids!”   — Ernest Hemingway

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