by Michael Gallagher
There were all sorts of ironies attending President Obama’s visit to Vietnam. One struck me with special force when I saw a picture of some happy and healthy Vietnamese children clutching little American flags as they waited at the airport for the arrival of the president of the nation that devastated their homeland. They were chosen, I was sure, precisely because they were so happy and healthy.
I’m also sure that among those now guiding the fortunes of Vietnam there must have been a few diehards who had argued for a different children’s lineup on the tarmac, diplomatic niceties be damned—children in wheelchairs, children with missing arms and legs, children with grotesquely twisted bodies, children without eyes—all alike either born of mothers affected by Agent Orange or victims of the unexploded munitions that have claimed the lives of some 40,000 Vietnamese since the end of the war, a disproportionate percentage of whom were young children,
As a sentimental Irishman, I freely admit that the sight of an American president, a black American president, being greeted with such joyous enthusiasm by a people who suffered so terribly from the worst that the world’s most powerful military could throw at them brought me close to tears. Especially moving, no matter how obvious the choreography, was Barack Obama’s sitting down for lunch in a little restaurant that specialized in a fatty Vietnamese delicacy.
But unbidden tears to the contrary notwithstanding, we Irish also have a critical streak as you may know. Even as I watched Obama expertly wielding his chopsticks and flashing that marvelous smile, I wasn’t too happy about his choice of a lunch companion—a renowned food critic, whose renown I’ll not increase by naming.
Had I been asked—LOL—I would have suggested another sort of guide to the real Vietnam. Take Brian Willson, for example, a Vietnam veteran and peace activist who enjoys no renown whatsoever except among those of us who are concerned about constant war having become the new American normal.
Willson has dedicated much of his life to reconciling his own nation and Vietnam, Among other things he has arranged conferences between his fellow veterans and their former enemies. He’s posted pictures of himself before the memorial at My Lai and talking with the children whom Obama was shielded from.
Willson moves easily among those who are maimed and crippled because he walks on two prosthetic legs. He lost his own just beneath the knee because, during the Contra aid affair, he refused to get out of the way of a train carrying munitions bound for for Latin America, an act that another Vietnam Veteran, his friend Charlie Liteky, a man who renounced his Medal of Honor as a protest against Contra aid, confessed to being in awe of.
So on your next trip to Vietnam, Mr. President, why not eschew fatty lunches (which Michelle would not approve of anyway) and let Brian Willson show you around. He can take you to My Lai, and you can lay a wreath at the foot of its memorial. And he can introduce you to some of those children you didn’t see on your first trip—children who, like the five hundred women and children brutally murdered at My Lai, personify the achingly human dimension of the “collateral damage” inflicted and still being inflicted by our nation’s ferocious defense of freedom, a cause in which there can be no excess.
Michael Gallagher May 31, 2016
50 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal for the Next Presidential Visit to Vietnam”
Michael–I assume you didn’t mention Obama’s real mission, that of signing arms sales agreements with the former “enemy,” because readers of this blog were surely already aware of that? Fantasizing for a moment about a “President Bernie Sanders,” can we picture such an entity offering a formal apology at the My Lai Memorial for the US’s horrendous war crimes? I will not predict such a thing would happen; the USA, King of Hubris in the world, “doesn’t do apology” very well, does it? Such a development would be a monumental moment in our history. Dream on, eh?
Written on the occasion of President George W. Bush finally making the trip to Vietnam on November 17, 2006 (my birthday), decades after a better American woman, Jane Fonda, made the trip in his place. Three-and-a-half years into his own Vietnam-style debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan — disasters that he would bequeath to his successor two years later — Dubya the Dimwit proved to the world that what he didn’t learn about America in Vietnam he wouldn’t learn about America in the Middle East, either.
In Hanoi at last
Red-carpet in return for
The words no one heard,
Due so many years after:
Sheriff Cheney’s Barney Fife
Lost in Mayberry
The boy who cried Wolfowitz
Far too many times
Naked ruler’s brand new clothes
Viewed through glasses green
A cakewalk in its last throes
Now a glacier race
Four Years an “instant”
Nothing happens right away
What did you expect?
George Orwell’s Catastrophic
Shop till the troops drop
Buy a plane ticket or two
Your part in the “war”
Rob the future now
They will never break our will
Those grandkids of ours
Lecture the victors
About their First and Second
Where did we get him?
How come we can’t do better?
We look so stupid
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006
And now, a decade later, another smiling American presidential gun salesman arrives to foment yet another proxy war pitting the Vietnamese against China. “History may not repeat itself,” said Mark Twain, “but it often rhymes.”
“Please buy some weapons from us.
No hard feelings, right?”
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2016
Yes. Those memories. They refuse to go away. They just keep screaming inside my head: “Only you now remember us. And should you ever forget, we will die again, and this time forever.”
Better Maimed than Marxist
(an experiment in so-called “free verse”)
At our U.S. Navy advanced tactical support base,
on the banks of a muddy brown river,
not far from the southernmost tip of South Vietnam,
I injured my right middle finger
in a pickup volleyball game one Sunday afternoon.
Having no X-ray equipment at our little infirmary,
I had to take a helicopter ride north
to a larger Army base possessing
better medical equipment and facilities
to see if I had broken any bones in my hand.
Walking down a hospital corridor, I passed
a room full of Vietnamese patients
who had no arms or legs.
I experienced a disorienting sense of scale compression,
unexpectedly witness to already small lives made minuscule in a moment,
like seeing living dollar bills cut down to the size of postage stamps,
or sentient silver quarters suddenly shrunk to copper pennies.
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2012
Powerful. Well done, Mike.
About three years ago, I wrote this article for Alternet: http://www.alternet.org/world/vietnam-war-memorial-vietnam-would-be-20-50-times-larger-ours. It echoes the comments here. But of course Obama couldn’t recognize any of this — he was already being pilloried by conservatives for his “apology” tour that included Vietnam as well as Hiroshima, so naturally no apologies because they would make America seem “weak.” America — so strong that we never have to say we’re sorry.
Some of what I wrote for Alternet:
When I was on active duty in the Air Force, I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. I was moved to tears as I encountered the names of more than 58,000 of my fellow Americans etched in stone. What a waste, I thought, but at least they died for their country, and at least we didn’t forget their sacrifice.
To be honest, I don’t recall thinking about the Vietnamese dead. The memorial, famously designed by Maya Lin, captures an American tragedy, not a Vietnamese one. But imagine, for a moment, if we could bridge the empathy gap that separates us from the Vietnamese and our war with them and against them. How might their suffering compare to ours?
America first sent ground combat units to Vietnam in March of 1965. If we count the Linebacker II air offensive against North Vietnam in December of 1972 (the infamous Christmas bombing) as the end of major combat operations, the U.S. military waged war in Vietnam for roughly 93 months. Now, let’s consider the number of Vietnamese killed, to include soldiers and civilians, regardless of their political allegiance or lack thereof. No one knows for sure how many Vietnamese died over this period; the “low” estimate is roughly one million Vietnamese, while the “high” estimate is in the vicinity of three million. Even using the low estimate, that’s more than ten thousand dead per month, for 93 months.
How can we bring meaning to such mind-numbing statistics? To imagine the impact of this war on the Vietnamese people, Americans have to think not of one tragic wall containing 58,000 names, but of twenty (or perhaps even fifty) tragic walls, adding up to millions of names, a high percentage of them being noncombatants, innocent men, women and children.
Difficult as that is to imagine, we must also recognize that the impact of the American war in Vietnam was not limited to killing. The U.S. military bombed and blasted and napalmed and defoliated the landscape as well. So along with twenty or more Maya Lin-type memorials to list all of the Vietnamese war dead, we’d have to imagine scores of “Super Fund” sites in Vietnam, land poisoned by Agent Orange and similar powerful chemicals, tortured terrain that is still occasionally deadly to the Vietnamese who live there…
America’s true “Vietnam Syndrome” was not an allergy to using military power after Vietnam but an allergy to facing the destruction our nation caused there. And that allergy has only exacerbated our national predilection for military adventurism, warrior glorification, and endless war.
It’s time our nation found the courage to face those twenty (or fifty) walls of Vietnamese dead. It’s time we faced them with the same sorrow and same regret we reserve for our own wall of dead. Only after we do so can our nation stop glorifying war. Only after we do so can our nation fully heal.
The United States military conducted horrendous saturation bombing campaigns against not just Vietnam (northern and southern parts of the country) but against Cambodia and Laos as well. Burma got sucked into the enormous “golden triangle” drug trade that seems to accompany America’s military and CIA wherever they go, and Thailand had to host enormous U.S. bomber bases. Therefore, I refuse to speak of the so-called “War in Vietnam” as if the boundaries of this tiny nation in fact circumscribed or somehow limited America’s hideous, vengeful destructiveness. Nothing limits the U.S. military once it has gotten the least little skirmish started in the name of “war.” So I insist on speaking of “America’s War on Southeast Asia” as the far more accurate term; and in that context, the figure of three million dead surely counts as an underestimate of the true toll of death and maiming that the United States inflicted upon a relatively marginal and inoffensive corner of the Asian continent.
But the people and government of the United States do not really care about what the U.S. military does in other countries. As Patrick L. Smith wrote recently in his column for Salon.com: “Even the Democrats’ very late opposition to the Vietnam War was rooted not in its immorality, racism, inhumanity and illegality but in the judgment that we could not win it.” One could say the same about the horrendous crime of invading and destroying Iraq — among several other countries that America has recently devastated — because the wanton destruction of other nations simply does not register with Americans of either major political party. Americans only care if the United States has “won” something or not. And even if we have not “won” anything in decades, the U.S. military simply decrees that its phony “wars” (for career advancement, target-practice, etc.) will continue for “generations,” putting the whole issue of “winning” or “losing” so far into the future that talking about such things simply makes no sense. And, anyway, losing long wars to little nobody countries doesn’t matter because no invading foreign armies seem capable of getting past the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Canada and Mexico, which four geographic obstacles in fact provide all the security American really needs — for free, and which doesn’t in the least require an enormous standing military establishment to “defend.”
Corporate Imperial Militarism (or, CIM) has wrecked the formerly democratic Republic of the United States; and until the people of the United States wake up and insist on a long-overdue demobilization of our ruinously expensive and colossally inept standing military establishment, no hope for restoring the Republic remains. Personally, I wouldn’t look for the United States to start erecting memorials to all the impoverished foreign peasants we have killed, maimed, or rendered homeless refugees. As long as they get off their ancestral lands (U.S. General Westmoreland’s policy ) and leave the ruins as “exciting business opportunities” for Shock-Doctrine American multinational corporations, Dick Cheney and You-Know-Her will consider their political and economic program “successful.”
If the US military establishment attempts to carry out the insane notion of “a war” (on Terror, you see) lasting generations, plural, it will run out of time. Global Climate Chaos will render all human endeavors quite moot. “Will the last living human please turn out the lights.” Perhaps an Ultimate Monument can be planned and erected (funded by private donations, or “subscriptions”?), with the sculpted faces of all the shining lights of corporate profiteering and PR smokescreens, and their chief lackeys in government who told the world for decades that “global warming is a myth,” or “the science isn’t clear on this,” or “it’s a natural process not caused by human activity on the planet.” THAT would be a monumental monument–to greed, stupidity and self-willed blindness–indeed!!
“As Patrick L. Smith wrote recently in his column for Salon.com: “Even the Democrats’ very late opposition to the Vietnam War was rooted not in its immorality, racism, inhumanity and illegality but in the judgment that we could not win it.” (see above in Mike’s comment)
While a business executive during the Vietnam war era I was very active in a national business group opposed to the war (Business Executives Move for Vietnam Peace, BE). As business execs we had easy access to our Senators and representatives and personally lobbyed them in addition to supporting all of the mass marches against the war in DC.
Except for a few Democratic Senators and Representatives most were supportive of the war, just as they are today, and freely offered their view using the false upbeat field commanders reports that “we are winning., be patient”. It was mainly Democratic voters i.e. the people, who were against the war and let it be known directly to the troops.* We never saw any evidence that of Democratic politicians admitting that ” we could not win it”.
What we did see in subsequent years the Democratic Party elite voicing the opinion that it did not look good that Democrats” ( voters ) made the Democratic Party look unpatriotic by opposing the war and the troops that fought there and their “political” solution was that the “Party” would unquestionably support all military actions and the troops that were involved. This policy they have followed religiously in all of the illegal and murderous subsequent military ventures.
* this aspect upsets many Vietnam vets but at the time many young draft age men were going to Canada , Sweden or getting college deferments ( Cheney, Trump,& my son). The reaction by young people mainly was to encourage draft evasion and not reward those who served. Fifty-eight thousand (58,000) dead and innumerable others seriously wounded.
As a veteran of WW II I had mixed feelings about this opposition to those drafted youth who returned from Vietnam and were ridiculed but I did see the larger context and had no remorse that I would not want my son in that war. I had close friends who let their sons go and they came back in a coffin. We had to stop that war and opposition is just as mixed up and dirty as war itself.
Bill Astore–Roger your observations on “the Vietnam Syndrome.” As a nation, we have become allergic to the truth, I’m afraid. Moral courage?? It sure ain’t gonna come from the top down, is it? In November we’ll be offered the “privilege” of choosing between one of the proud architects of “the War on Terror” and a cannon so loose he could do untold damage…before even arriving at the battlefront!! Is this “Democracy”?
Our choice, Greg, is between two narcissists, both of whom believe themselves to be above the law. Definitely not democracy. I refuse to vote for either.
Eloquent and incisive, Bill–especially the concept of fifty or sixty walls for the Vietnamese dead.
Some part of us came back from Vietnam. Some part of us never will.
Scapegoat of the king’s ambition
Hostage to the prince’s crime
Sent upon a madman’s errand
Soldier of another time
Sworn to do as he is bidden
Not to think of why he came
From himself his purpose hidden
Soldier by another name
Searching for a mystic evil
Ever just a war away
Always beaten, not defeated
Back to fight another day
Battles always won, but cheated
Of the promised victory
Never lost but just depleted
Army of our history
Kill the chicken; scare the monkey
Centipede is dead, not stiff
Off to far Cathay he marches
Soldier diving off a cliff
War not done but just abated
Peace the only thing to fear
Power’s hunger never sated
Soldier’s orders never clear
Dragon’s teeth by Cadmus planted
Sprung from battle’s plain full grown
Men who kill them all if doubtful
Heathen gods will know their own
Burn the village, clear the jungle
Save them from themselves at least
Make excuses for the bungle
Soldier then becomes the beast
Wounds still fresh and redly bleeding
Bound up with a filthy rag
Something shapeless once a husband
Stuffed into a plastic bag
Squatting in the dusty swelter
Widowed woman once a wife
Never more to know the shelter
Of a tranquil married life
Head thrown back in boundless grieving
Mouth agape with soundless woes
Tears and snot now glisten, mingling
Coursing down from eyes and nose
Anguished face a tangled curtain
Clotted, matted, raven hair
Almond eyes with sight uncertain
Weeping pools of deep despair
Do not knock this war we’re having
It’s the only one we’ve got
Better dead than red we tell them
Mouthing slogans; talking rot
Fight them over there they tell us
Rather that than fight them here
Just invent some casus belli
Danger’s best that’s never near
Ozymandias’ sneering statue
Crumbled in the desert bare:
Look upon my works, you mighty
See their ruin and take care
Told to teach and be creative
Soldier ignorant and young
Learned instead and then went native
Speaking now an ancient tongue
Only they will now receive him
Who see not his bloodstained hand
None will hear for he can’t speak it
Stranger to his own lost land
Bringing with him what he carried
Losing only what he bought
To the cause no longer married
Soldier doing what he ought
Shipped away like so much baggage
Not to choose the things he’s done
Often bad and sometimes better
Soldier not the only one
Now he comes home like the others
Breathless lips and eyes shut fast
Lain to sleep beside his brothers
Soldier’s soldier to the last
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2005
Thank you, Michael, for reminding us of something all too many of us would like to, but must never, forget.
Thank you, Brian, for focusing on what I wrote.
Not a tear shed for the hundreds of thousands of ARVN soldiers and family members dead and maimed in their struggle for something other than communist totalitarianism. The US lost a war, they lost a country.
With all due respect, Walter, there were tears shed for the soldiers on both sides, but few were shed by those on either side who sent them off to kill each other. How many soldiers do you think fought for or against Communism? How many grasped the concept of dialectal materialism?. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam is a misnomer, by the way. South Vietnam was by no means a republic but a dictatorship propped up by the U.S Had there been an election after the Paris Peace Accords, as was mandated, Ho Chi Min would have been elected president.
Technically, “south” Vietnam (and that’s my standard way of reference, with quot. marks) was a complete fiction, created by connivance of France, US and (shamefully) the UN. Thus there could never be a legitimate entity called by that name, even if a non-dictatorial regime could have been established for a while. It was an utter sham from the git-go. Were members of the ARVN fighting “for their country”? Of course not! They were miserable, reluctant conscripted tools charged with defending the privileges of one corrupt regime after another. The hunger of the people of Viet Nam for independence simply could not be suppressed. Not by France, not by the US, not by China. What a remarkable people!!
Walter — Thank you for your comments. I disagree with both their ideological content and snide tone, but your mention of the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) and their putative “struggle for something other than communist totalitarianism” brings back many memories of my eighteen months in-country working with some of these poor people.
At the little ATSB (Advanced Tactical Support Base) where I languished for over a year (see an aerial picture of the place at my website), the U.S. Navy construction battalions (“SeaBees”) had built a large, plywood cooking-and-dining facility (or “chow hall”) for the Vietnamese soldiers and sailors to use. Strangely, though, we never saw any Vietnamese ever cooking or eating in it. We American “advisers” and “trainers” had our own little chow hall located at one end of the base, so we pretty much ate by ourselves. One day, a troop of Vietnamese soldiers came straggling down the little dusty main road of the base towards our little chow hall just about lunch time. They pointed their loaded weapons at us, then pointed to their open mouths and empty stomachs. We got the message and invited them in for the first food they had seen in quite some time. As we found out later, their own officers had stolen their rice rations and pay checks so that these desperate men had nearly starved before taking the only action to survive that they could imagine. The thieving Vietnamese officers would sometimes mention “communists” or “viet cong” because they knew that Americans wanted to hear about that sort of thing and would throw large sums of money at any well-connected Vietnamese who would go along with the complete and utter bullshit. But I never heard any of the common, shit-upon Vietnamese enlisted men ever speak of such nonsense. They hated and despised the corrupt and merciless “government” that the U.S. had foisted upon them. Like the Afghan and Iraqi “armies” of today, they had no desire to fight their own relatives and countrymen for cheap American slogans — like “Better Dead Than Rde” — and would throw down their weapons, take off their trousers, and run off in their underwear at the first opportunity. Good for them. If you really want to understand the ARVN of yesteryear, see the Afghan and Iraqi “armies” of today if you really want to know how U.S. military “training” and “advising” works out for the demoralized and easily defeated local conscripts.
I could recommend to you several excellent books on the First and Second Indochina Wars fought by the Vietnamese against first the French and then the Americans, but if you missed out on the entire post-WWII history of national independence movements world wide — see India and Algeria, etc. — then I doubt that you would read them. Americans — especially those in military uniforms — really ought to stay out of the nation-wrecking business and find some more suitable and constructive civilian employment back home in America. The rest of the world has about had it with our reckless, blundering, butchering belligerence. If “freedom” and “democracy” really meant anything to Americans, they would practice more of both in their own land. As my Depression/WWII-era working widowed mother used to tell me about religious and nationalist proselytizers: “If you’ve got something good, you don’t have to sell it. Other people will steal it from you.”
That’s a powerful anecdote, Mike.
Halberstam’s book, “The Making of a Quagmire,” does a good job of documenting the corruption of ARVN prior to the major commitment of US troops beginning early in 1965. Indeed, that very corruption was the proximate cause of that commitment. First, the US committed air power as a “force multiplier” to prop up ARVN; then, we needed troops to defend the air bases; then, in a case of mission creep, those troops took the offensive, shoving ARVN aside, to win the war the American way.
There were some good ARVN units. As usual in such cases, these were units with decent officers and NCOs. I know ARVN fought well at Hue, for example. But overall ARVN was like the proverbial fish that rots from the head.
Mike Murry–I have a feeling the “ARVN Mess Hall” was a complete sham, a front. The US taxpayer was probably being billed for food and other supplies that never showed up there! Not quite a crime of the magnitude of the $6 billion cash US currency sent to “the new Iraq” on Dubya’s watch and conveniently gone missing, eh?!?
I didn’t notice a snide tone in Walter’s observation. I have noticed in others, however.
Walter.. Thanks for entering into the fray. It always hurts a bit to be questioned in your opinions but that is what healthy discourse is all about. I consider myself a bit radical but most of my friends have been very conservative. Those in my age cohort in WW II always were ready to debate. I do not find that true today. The shared experiences of the depression and the war created a bond far beyond differences of opinion.
Anyway I do have a question about this statement you made above…..”something other than communist totalitarianism. The US lost a war, they lost a country.”
My question is: Do you see Donald Trump as a potential “totalitarian” who could cause us to lose our country if he becomes President.? In my opinion he has put forward several foreign positions that are way ahead of any of the Dem candidates but his recent meanderings strike me as dangerous megalomania that characterize the typical totalitarian.
Of the foreign policy statements I’ve heard, Trump’s most matches what I think our FP should be – Constitution based. As far as being a totalitarian president, he couldn’t be any more so than the ones we have/had. In fact, after watching GWB and BO in action, he might be excused for thinking this is how presidential business is done. Hillary surely thinks so.
I don’t mind being questioned on my opinions, however, I’ll pass on such nonsense as heavily armed, combat hardened, infantrymen being robbed of pay and rations by anyone, let alone their leaders.
“traven”–In his mind, if I may float such an oxymoronic notion, Donald J. Trump may well be the famous Man On The White Horse who by sheer force of will rights all of society’s wrongs. In the real world, of course, he shows no visible qualities that would qualify him for this role! Does getting to tell people on a TV show “You’re fired!” make Trump a real leader? I am on record as saying that his victory at the polls in November should not be peremptorily ruled out. The candidate has exclaimed that the military will jump the moment he says “Frog!” but what would the reality be if the guy in the White House tried to serve as a bona fide dictator? We as a nation are in the quagmire we’re in because we are under the dictatorship, in essence, of the Military-Technological-Corporate Complex. This machinery continues to run, more or less smoothly, regardless of whether POTUS is labeled a Democrat or a Republican. POTUS is essentially the servant, not the master, of this machine. “Dictator Trump” is not necessary. Hillary will serve the machine just as faithfully, continue the Perpetual War On Terror, continue to sign orders for assassinations by drone, continue to make nice to her friends the Big Banksters, etc. And we, as a nation, will continue to decline and be despised by most of the rest of the world. There is no need whatsoever to introduce a wrecking ball named Trump into the Oval Office. If he arrives there it will send a strong message to the rest of the world that the US Empire has reached its terminus sooner than perhaps they’d anticipated, and personally I would be vastly more ashamed of being a citizen of this nation than I am now.
Walter .. I agree that between Dubya and Obama all the laws and irreverence for our Constitution have converted our Republic into a totalitarian state.by law. They have set up a situation that a megalomaniac could use those laws easily to finish our Republic for good rather than in the creeping way it is now being done. I tend to feel that our massive war making is the foundation upon which our economy and civil society is being destroyed . Fifty two percent of our national budget goes to war making while education suffers, infrastructure decays, and civil rights are gutted. We may be faced by two Presidential candidates who are capable of taking us further down that path to totalitarianism. One a megalomaniac and the other a Trojan horse.
I must agree with Greg that things don’t look so cozy on Blueberry Hill. ( from the old song “I found my love on Blueberry Hill” from the early 40’s”
Traven. Since we agree we are on either a slow road to calamity or a fast, why not opt for the fast? We brought it on, so it is cowardice to pass inevitable consequences to our children and grandchildren. Twenty-trillion in national debt (this number is severe low-ball) is what we’ve stolen from our progeny. Are we proud of it, and how soon do we wish the thievery to end?
General Walt–Ah, let us speak of moral cowardice and courage indeed! I can guarantee you no President of these United States will ever voluntarily declare national fiscal bankruptcy!! I’d stake what’s left of my life on that! It would have to be forced on us by the global financial markets declaring “We won’t buy a single additional US Treasury Bond until you get your house in order.” And believe it or not, such a day could come, though not in the very near future methinks.
You raise an interesting point. I feel that Obama is the worst President I have lived under. Most liberals I know do not understand that position. I try to explain it this way. When Dubya was in the White House he was so clearly bad that huge protests all over the country took place against his war making. Everybody knew he was a dunce.
Obama, a very smart and well educated, whose words rang like crystal bells compared to Dubya, promised Hope and Change. Who couldn’t believe in that? People, including myself, felt good that he was black because they felt we were turning a corner in racial justice.
He comes into office and lo and behold the same war criminals and financial bums who served in the Bush and Bill cabinets are his first appointments. He then spent four years dancing between increasing drone warfare, escalating in Iraq and Afghanistan, pushing fracking, etc.while giving liberal speeches. He didn’t even have the cohones to take on the Republican obstructionists directly but continued to seek “bipartisanship”. Occasionally he would through a bone of liberal legislation to the liberal base and they would lap it up with the excuse that it was the best he could do because of Republican opposition.
In his second term there has been less liberal bones and more digging into behind the scenes support of the “deep state” agenda;secrecy, suppressing information, quietly supporting unconstitutional citizen surveillance , and the latest hypocrisy. Visiting Hiroshima and tinkling those crystal bells with a speech opposing nuclear weaponry two days after approving a trillion dollar upgrade of the nuclear arsenal.
He was worse than Dubya because he neutered, with his lies and rhetoric, the liberal opposition of post war America. A democracy survivs on skepticism of governmental power, not blind patriotism. Maybe you are right. Trump or Clinton could be so bad that it will bring out mass opposition again and the government will have to change fundamentally.
“traven”–I had actually meant, but slipped up, to mention the “bloodless coup” against the Bill of Rights we’ve already suffered, embodied in “The Patriot Act.” But again, a person landing in the highest office in the land desiring to ratchet up political repression/suppression of dissenting views to the max won’t necessarily succeed…or, not immediately, at any rate. (Concluding on a hopeful note, how ’bout that?!?)
“I don’t mind being questioned on my opinions, however, I’ll pass on such nonsense as heavily armed, combat hardened, infantrymen being robbed of pay and rations by anyone, let alone their leaders.”
Walter — the above expressed opinion of yours doesn’t even merit a reply, since you obviously put so little thought or effort into it. Nonetheless, I’ll supply you with a response anyway. I won’t bother again.
You have a right to your opinion, certainly, but as the old saying goes you don’t have a right to your own facts. When the day comes that you supply any — or any citations from knowledgeable sources in support of your statements — then I’ll take your expressed opinions more seriously. Until then, it appears that you simply suppose things that you wish to believe and expect others to accept what you say at face value. I don’t.
In my reply to you above, I supplied a real world example from my own eighteen months of service with Vietnamese armed forces in the now-defunct Republic of Vietnam. You called my example “nonsense.” I could have provided many more examples: like that the South Vietnamese would run their boats out onto the river, drain the oil from the crankcases, sell the oil to make a few dollars for food, and then run the boats back in to dock with severely damaged engines that then required replacement by us American service personnel at U.S. taxpayer expense, naturally. Or, consider one of the air conditioning units that we used to cool our radio gear in the Comm Center. When one of them needed refurbishment, we tried to send it to a repair facility up north somewhere, only to discover that the Vietnamese base commander had dispatched one of his junior officers to place the commander’s home address in Saigon on the equipment as its actual destination. The Vietnamese base commander, for his part, spoke in the most heavy, rasping North Vietnamese accent that I had ever heard. Try telling a south Vietnamese Buddhist conscript that he should fight and die for the North Vietnamese Catholics whom the U.S. had ferried down into South Vietnam in 1954 and placed in power over the “government” of a “country” that didn’t even exist except in the fervid imaginations of some woefully under-informed — if not deliberately misinformed — Americans. But don’t take my own personal experiences with the ARVN as conclusive evidence. Consider the two following citations from Frances FitzGerald’s classic study, Fire in the Lake: the Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam.
“Returning to Vietnam after three years absence, David Halberstam found that his strongest impression was not that of the change wrought by the American buildup, but his sense of deja vu. Around the great American operations that were the exclusive concern of briefing officers in Saigon and the focus of Westmoreland’s strategy the old war continued much as it had in the days of [Ngo Dinh] Diem [a North Vietnamese autocrat]. The Saigon government had changed no more than the war itself.”
And even more damningly:
“The ARVN fought no better than it had in 1962. Relegated to the tedious duty of standing guard over the villages, the strike force battalions collapsed into lethargy and indiscipline. They refused to go out at night, to patrol in small units, or to use the local intelligence sources to engage the guerrillas. There were the same horror stories as there had been in the days of the Strategic Hamlet Program. … In one province, a “priority area” for the American command, an ARVN regiment had butchered the livestock of an entire village and raped so many women that the men of the village had cut their trigger fingers off as a protest against the government.”
I have done you the courtesy, Walter, of providing personal examples from my own service in Vietnam along with citations from sources with far more in-depth knowledge than I have myself. I could have provided many more of both, but I believe I’ve more than made my point. Rather than dismissively labelling my remarks “nonsense,” I suggest that you provide at least a few facts and citations yourself so that others can get some idea of this putative the ARVN’s “heavily armed infantry” and its “leaders” of which you speak. Until then, I’ll stick to what I know and what I have read against what you suppose you believe.
As one last personal note: Since I spoke some Vietnamese, I drew the duty of escorting dead Vietnamese soldiers and sailors from our little ATSB up north to the morgues at larger U.S. Army bases such as Binh Thui and Can Tho. I spent more than one night flying through the dark in a helicopter with no doors, sitting on some ammunition crates, with some body bags next to me containing the stiff remains of what once someone knew as a friend, husband, son, or father. I think I just accepted that sort of thing at the time. I can’t remember shedding any tears for anyone back then. Not dead Vietnamese. Not dead Americans. I had nothing to say about my situation and no control over it. I felt just like the Vietnamese. I just felt numb. I guess that I just did my little job and tried to go on living until the next day. But over the last ten years, I’ve come to feel a deep and abiding grief for what my country did to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. I cannot in any way justify it. I sometimes cry at the memories, but I doubt seriously that many of my countrymen do. They talk a lot about “leaders” whom they suppose don’t steal from their own soldiers and citizens because, they claim, these heavily armed persons wouldn’t stand for it. Where they get this ludicrous and unfounded opinion I will never know. I see no evidence in history to support it.
Mike Murry–Of course, we don’t know Gen. Walt personally. I believe he has stated he did do at least one tour in Vietnam himself but–if I may be pardoned for “getting personal”–I don’t think a guy goes from being an Enlisted Man to being a General (albeit in the Reserves) by, shall we say, questioning authority. During my time in uniform, we would’ve described him as coming from “the ol’ brown boot Army.” I’m afraid “our” general is stuck in a Cold War Time-Warp and still believes the US was trying to “help” the peoples of Southeast Asia rather than conquer them.
Walter, Michael is correct and it has been happening in Iraq and Afghanistan from day one of our involvement there. All of the officers in the “armies” we have supposedly trained in those countries routinely pocket soldiers pay or take bribes to recruit them or steal American taxpayers money to line their pockets rather than feed and cloth the troops. Stories of the Afghan and Iraqi army corruption include padding of payrolls with up 40 % of listed personnel being ‘ghosts’. This is routinely reported by our government inspectors and the press. Why do you think 20,00 American trained Iraqi troops fled Mosul with their officers and left all heavy equipment behind for ISIS. The figures I have seen indicate less than 2000 ISIS fighters. opposed them. About two months ago the first American SO reported killed was in a small forward base outside Mosul which had been abandoned by an officer led command and the American was killed by ISIS while trying to ‘rally the troops’.
These are very poor countries and all have a history of authoritarian governemts built on a history of corrupt rule.
Look out, that is where we are heading.
Excuse me. I left one “0” out. It was” 20,000″ Iraqi troops who fled Mosul not 20,00
traven — Although Walter may find this difficult to believe, the corruption in South Vietnam — like in Iraq and Afghanistan today — spread far and wide throughout not just the Vietnamese military forces like ARVN, but through the American military, as well. We had full Navy captains, for example, arrested and imprisoned for black-market scandals involving the PX (post exchange) system. As with all cases involving black markets, the problem stemmed from the worthlessness of the Vietnamese currency (the piaster) arising from rampant inflation due to General Westmoreland’s deliberate military policy of destroying the natural agrarian economy, which left the Vietnamese with no way to earn a living other than flocking to the city slums where they could service the various needs and desires of American servicemen. You know: bars, restaurants, laundry shops, steam baths, and whorehouses, the usual stuff one finds in the vicinity of American military bases.
Anyway, when I first arrived in South Vietnam in July of 1970, no one knew what to do with me, so I had to spend a month in a stinking, lice-infested transit barracks in Saigon waiting for orders. One night I visited a local bar and had a few beers with a young Air Force enlisted man who tried to educate me on the way things worked. We didn’t get paid in US dollars, but in something called MPC, or Military Payment Certificates, which we could use for buying things at the base Post Exchanges but which we could not spend off-base in the local economy. If we wanted to go off base to partake of Vietnamese services, however, we could exchange our MPC on base for Vietnamese piasters at the rate of 180 piasters to 1 US MPC. At any rate, my more experienced young Air Force friend told me that this exchange rate did not reflect the true value of the currencies involved. He told me that I could do much better if I took my ration card to the PX and bought several bottles of whiskey and several cartons of cigarettes with my MPC. Then, he advised me to take the booze and cigarettes to any of the local bars where the Vietnamese (or Chinese) “mama-san” who ran the place would buy them back for more piasters than what I had paid for the stuff originally in MPC.
It shames me now to admit how stupid I must have sounded when I answered: “But that sounds like the Black Market,” I replied. “Isn’t that where the Viet Cong get all their financing”? My young Air Force friend just looked at me silently for a moment and then said, not unkindly: “You’ll learn.” Indeed I did. A few months later I took a week’s R&R in Hong Kong where I visited free-market currency exchanges offering 470 piasters for 1 US dollar. Performing a little simple arithmetic, it finally dawned on me that my own government had shortchanged me something like 60 cents on the dollar every time I wanted to go off base and enjoy what little I could of my life in that hellhole of a country. So you can see how risible I find the innocent notion that governments will not rob their own servicemen every chance they get. It took me a while to disabuse myself of all the propaganda and indoctrination to which my own government had subjected me, but in time I did learn, just as my young Air Force enlisted friend had said that I would.
I learned the hard way, long ago, in many ways, that only a fool would accept at face value any official statement made by political or military representatives of the U.S. government. They may not know doodley-squat about why to fight a war, against whom and in what way to fight it, but they do know how to cheat their own and foreign soldiers while enriching themselves and a few foreign cronies, while lying and making endless excuses for their epic and unnecessary failures. And I expect nothing but more of the same from America’s next Commander-In-Brief.
“Historic”? Oh, I don’t know. “Hysterical?” Probably.
In keeping with recommending books for others to read, I have one for you: “Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation was Robbed of its Heroes and its History,” by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley.
Walter.. I will try to get it. thanks
“traven”–I strongly suggest you not waste your time with this book, originally published 1998. I just researched it on Amazon. It is nearly 700 pages of what I’m confident is rightwing drivel! The book purportedly exposes people who have fraudulently publicly claimed to have served in VN to promote a cause, or a political career. (“My own” US Senator, Mr. Blumenthal, found himself in latter category, but that was after the book’s publication.) But the writers don’t stop there. Apparently the authors go so far as to claim that Agent Orange wasn’t toxic and all claims of its lingering effects on the Vietnamese are fraudulent!! Most of the Customer Reviews are positive, but I can assure you a lot of wingnut “trolls” post reviews at Amazon to savage anti-war books, and praise the rightwing ones. Whether they’ve actually read said books is another matter altogether! I can’t wait to see the attacks my own memoir, assuming it gets published, will bring forth from this crowd! Seven percent of the 300+ reviews awarded only one star out of five, and naturally I headed to those after looking at a few shining reviews from obvious wingnuts. Here are some quotes from the negative reviews:
“Sadly, this book does much harm to veterans with Mr. Burkett’s chapters on what he thinks he knows of Agent Orange, P.T.S.D., depleted uranium rounds and the effects of war within the human character.”
“Who else have they ‘character-assassinated’ by not having done some basic homework? TAKE MUCH OF THIS BOOK WITH A GRAIN OF SALT BEFORE TRYING TO DIGEST IT.” [from a gentleman who said he’d been erroneously depicted in the book]
“The whole book consists of anecdotes about dozens of anti-war vets he exposes as frauds. He does good work exposing the frauds. No question about that, and it needed doing. But there were tens of thousands of antiwar veterans, and they should not be condemned or denied because of the frauds in their midst any more than all vets should be condemned because some are frauds.”
“Stolen Valor does a grave disservice to those who endured as grunts. After decrying the stereotyping of Vietnam veterans, the authors engaged in a more vicious stereotyping than returning grunts ever had to endure from the most fervent anti-war type.”
I can’t tell you what to read, “traven,” but I really think you’d be wasting your time slogging through nearly 700 pages of this BS.
The fakes and frauds robbed us of our heroes and history, “Stolen Valor” explains how it was done. It also prompted an act in law by the same name.
ADDENDUM: I was part of the GI movement against the War in Southeast Asia, and am not personally aware of a single veteran involved who had falsified where they had served during that affair.
A general comment on falsification of veteran’s history: this seems to happen with all sorts of men. Joseph Ellis, a bestselling and deeply respected historian, told false stories about parachuting into Vietnam with the 101st Airborne. Even “American Sniper” Chris Kyle, highly decorated as he was, exaggerated a few of his decs and told other tales of derring-do that weren’t true.
Why do men do it? For attention, I suppose. For respect. Out of insecurity, I’m guessing, or envy.
Myself: I had a respectable but unremarkable military career spent in peacetime routines. Nothing spectacular or glorious. I can’t say I missed the “thrill” of combat. To be honest, I didn’t want to leave my wife a widow.
It is a wonder, however, all fabricators display common threads: extensive use of the “I” word; corpses all around; maimed soldiers and civilians all around; atrocities all around, performed by others of course; assignments that don’t compute, many in the SOF arena. I could go on but why speak of depravity.
First rule of measuring combat truthfulness: Those who have done the most, speak the least.
Gen. Walt–I have two simple questions for you. [Necessary disclaimer: since I have not read “Stolen Valor,” the book in question here, I cannot personally vouch for the accuracy of the negative Customer Reviews at Amazon.com.] If the description of the viewpoint of the authors as conveyed in some of the reviews posted at Amazon is accurate, DO YOU AGREE that US military personnel complaining of ill health related to exposure to Agent Orange while on duty in Viet Nam, as well as those (officially diagnosed, mind you) claiming benefits because they suffer PTSD from that or more recent wars, are malingering, whining crybabies and outright frauds? DO YOU AGREE that any claims of lingering health problems among the people of Viet Nam themselves, exposed to Agent Orange, etc., are fraudulent? I can’t compel you to reply to this, of course, but a completely truthful answer may be very revealing, indeed.
Just a note: I was talking to a retired colonel and West Point grad who lives down the street from me. Two of his classmates served as pilots in Vietnam and were involved with Agent Orange. They both died early, and my neighbor blames Agent Orange.
The burn pits in Iraq are the latest version of AO. It could be that Joe Biden’s son’s brain cancer was caused by toxins released at a pit in Iraq.
Caustic and toxic chemicals — of course they’re dangerous, even deadly.
Two data points from today’s Foreign Policy feed:
Staggering corruption in Helmand. Up to 50 percent of the Afghan police force in Helmand province doesn’t actually exist, Tolo News reports. And now the province’s former police chief, Abdul Rahman Sarjang, is being brought up on charges of corruption. The new police chief in the province told the news outlet that on paper, there are around 10,000 police personnel in Helmand, but up to half are “ghost soldiers” who draw pay but “did not exist physically.”
Recently retired U.S. central Command chief Gen. Lloyd Austin has joined the board of United Technologies, a major U.S. defense contractor.
You know the saying: the more things change, the more they remain the same.
United Technologies–it almost sounds benign!–is a very large corporation headquartered in the state where I reside. Their corporate umbrella covers Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines and Otis Elevator, along with who knows how many other divisions. And they’re probably getting all kinds of tax breaks on the state level to persuade them to NOT move out of state. The state in question is Connecticut, whose Democrat governor in his second term has turned into a remarkably Republican one, wielding a sharp axe against social welfare spending. But I most hold UTX in my memory for their having sponsored a series of outdoor popular music concerts some years ago. Guess what the series was named, by this big fat war profiteer company? “Peace Train”!!! Simply hilarious, ain’t it?
May your neighbor’s classmates rest in peace. As American warriors, they deserve peace.
I sometimes wonder if the collapsing skin on my ears and face is due to Agent Orange or the fact that I am Caucasian with thousands of hours of hat-less exposure to the sun. My dermatologist declared the latter.
Walter–I don’t know what rank you held while in Viet Nam, but somehow I doubt you were loading canisters of Agent Orange onto fighter jets or on the ground in areas under direct spraying of that or similar agents. You have not replied to my query as to whether you agree with the (reputed) views of the authors of “Stolen Valor,” and I grant you, again, I can’t compel you to answer. Since you are the one who introduced that book into this discussion, and recommended it to others, I think my questions are perfectly legit. But your attempt at humor here (I think that’s what it is!) on the subject of US personnel damaged by Agent Orange serves you no good, I’m afraid. And that’s far more diplomacy than I usually display!
“Canisters of Agent Orange onto fighter jets.” You are right, I did not, nor did anyone else. Sir, thank you for paying attention to my posts.
Walter–Yes, after posting that it occurred to me that a different type of aircraft was likely employed to disperse Agent Orange. Your cute semantics game doesn’t get you off the hook, General. Your silence–and for the record, I repeat that I recognize you have this right!!–is leading me ever closer to concluding that the ideological views you hold are of the extreme rightwing persuasion. I likely will engage you no further in this forum, lest I employ language that gets me barred from this site! But at the very least, you probably owe an apology to all US personnel who were damaged by exposure to Agent Orange. But I wouldn’t expect that to be forthcoming.
I’ve read a lot about the Vietnam War and talked with a lot of veterans (this was easy to do when I was at the Air Force Academy). Short of nuclear weapons and nerve gas, the U.S. used nearly every weapon at its disposal in its attempt to “win.” High explosive, napalm, Agent Orange, you name it. Even “primitive” weapons like giant bulldozers. It’s as if we hated and despised not just the “commies” but the very flora and fauna of Southeast Asia. And perhaps we did.
I still recall Operation Ranch Hand (defoliation) and its grimly funny motto: “Only you can prevent forests.” Perhaps dark humor allows troops to keep their sanity.
I’ve said this before, but if the Vietnamese did to us what we did to them and their land, I don’t think we’d ever forgive them. We’d never normalize relations. Well, maybe after a century or two, but you get my drift.