Thursday, October 16, 2014

The lessons of Vietnam have been long forgotten

The Pentagon is going to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War by, as Salon writer Marjorie Cohn puts it, “…launching a $30 million program to rewrite and sanitize its history…” This includes a Pentagon sponsored website that attempts to reflect the era of the war with very scant mention of the massive anti-war protests in the U.S. and around the globe, and no mention of the many thousands of Vietnam veterans who voiced their objections to the war.

I am a Vietnam-era veteran. In a failed attempt to make the draft fairer, the Selective Service instituted the lottery system in 1969, where birthdates were drawn from a large vat. Of course my friends all had high numbers. I was number 12.

Terrified at my prospects, I reported to base camp at Fort Ord, California in May of 1972. Fortunately for me, it was the year they stopped sending soldiers to Vietnam, so my three years in the Army were spent in California and Germany.

Although I didn’t go to Vietnam, the mental and emotional toll of the war was all around me. Angry, scarred, tortured souls came back from the war to try and fit into society again. Probably the most successful ones were those who stayed in the military. Many others were lost to suicide, addiction and homelessness.

I doubt the Pentagon’s anniversary website will mention the fact that the impetus for our large scale entry into that war was based on a lie, just like Bush’s WMDs in Iraq. Sadly, our thirst for war has increased in the last 30 years and the government continues to drag our country into conflicts based on the sketchiest of pretexts.

The primary lesson of Vietnam, that sending Americans to fight and die in foreign lands to expand America’s geopolitical interests is almost always a bad idea, evaporated relatively quickly and we now find ourselves mired in the Middle East as we once were in Southeast Asia.

The 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War should be a time of reflection and soul searching by our government on the use of force as foreign policy, but they’re too busy dropping bombs and spying on citizens to take the time.

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