A Discussion for Thought
The following is a short discussion, abit of a long read, by two Vietnam Veterans, on a VFP/VVAW, group board. The first post is a copy of a question asked and answered by another Vietnam Veteran. The two posts following that are a reply to the original than an answer to that reply.
I would hope that it might help our present Brothers and Sisters, serving in Theaters of War and when they return from, to help find the answers to any questions that may be.
With the Mutiple Tours, Extended Tours, ever Changing Reasons For, and the initial ignorance of what type of Conflict they were led into, as this countries military had already had a long running battle with Guerilla/Insurgent warfare and those lessons still aren't being applied, there will be many more questions that need answering than even we 'Nam vets have been seeking answers for, to the closed ears of our Government and the People of this Country.
"WHAT IS A VIETNAM VETERAN?"
by Dan Mouer 1996
A college student posted a request on an internet newsgroup asking for personal narratives from the likes of us addressing the question: "What is a Vietnam Veteran?" This is what I wrote back:
Vietnam veterans are men and women. We are dead or alive, whole or maimed, sane or haunted. We grew from our experiences or we were destroyed by them or we struggle to find some place in between. We lived through hell or we had a pleasant, if scary, adventure. We were Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Red Cross, and civilians of all sorts. Some of us enlisted to fight for God and Country, and some were drafted. Some were gung-ho, and some went kicking and screaming.
Like veterans of all wars, we lived a tad bit--or a great bit--closer to death than most people like to think about. If Vietnam vets differ from others, perhaps it is primarily in the fact that many of us never saw the enemy or recognized him or her. We heard gunfire and mortar fire but rarely looked into enemy eyes. Those who did, like folks who encounter close combat anywhere and anytime, are often haunted for life by those eyes, those sounds, those electric fears that ran between ourselves, our enemies, and the likelihood of death for one of us. Or we get hard, calloused, tough. All in a day's work. Life's a bitch then you die. But most of us remember and get twitchy, worried, sad.
We are crazies dressed in cammo, wide-eyed, wary, homeless, and drunk. We are Brooks Brothers suit wearers, doing deals downtown. We are housewives, grandmothers, and church deacons. We are college professors engaged in the rational pursuit of the truth about the history or politics or culture of the Vietnam experience. And we are sleepless. Often sleepless.
We pushed paper; we pushed shovels. We drove jeeps, operated bulldozers, built bridges; we toted machine guns through dense brush, deep paddy, and thorn scrub. We lived on buffalo milk, fish heads and rice. Or C-rations. Or steaks and Budweiser. We did our time in high mountains drenched by endless monsoon rains or on the dry plains or on muddy rivers or at the most beautiful beaches in the world.
We wore berets, bandanas, flop hats, and steel pots. Flak jackets, canvas, rash and rot. We ate cloroquine and got malaria anyway. We got shots constantly but have diseases nobody can diagnose. We spent our nights on cots or shivering in foxholes filled with waist-high water or lying still on cold wet ground, our eyes imagining Charlie behind every bamboo blade. Or we slept in hotel beds in Saigon or barracks in Thailand or in cramped ships' berths at sea.
We feared we would die or we feared we would kill. We simply feared, and often we still do. We hate the war or believe it was the best thing that ever happened to us. We blame Uncle Sam or Uncle Ho and their minions and secretaries and apologists for every wart or cough or tic of an eye. We wonder if Agent Orange got us.
Mostly--and this I believe with all my heart--mostly, we wish we had not been so alone. Some of us went with units; but many, probably most of us, were civilians one day, jerked up out of "the world," shaved, barked at, insulted, humiliated, de-egoized and taught to kill, to fix radios, to drive trucks. We went, put in our time, and were equally ungraciously plucked out of the morass and placed back in the real world. But now we smoked dope, shot skag, or drank heavily. Our wives or husbands seemed distant and strange. Our friends wanted to know if we shot anybody.
And life went on, had been going on, as if we hadn't been there, as if Vietnam was a topic of political conversation or college protest or news copy, not a matter of life and death for tens of thousands.
Vietnam vets are people just like you. We served our country, proudly or reluctantly or ambivalently. What makes us different--what makes us Vietnam vets--is something we understand, but we are afraid nobody else will. But we appreciate your asking.
Vietnam veterans are white, black, beige and shades of gray; but in comparison with our numbers in the "real world," we were more likely black. Our ancestors came from Africa, from Europe, and China. Or they crossed the Bering Sea Land Bridge in the last Ice Age and formed the nations of American Indians, built pyramids in Mexico, or farmed acres of corn on the banks of Chesapeake Bay. We had names like Rodriguez and Stein and Smith and Kowalski. We were Americans, Australians, Canadians, and Koreans; most Vietnam veterans are Vietnamese.
We were farmers, students, mechanics, steelworkers, nurses, and priests when the call came that changed us all forever. We had dreams and plans, and they all had to change...or wait. We were daughters and sons, lovers and poets, beatniks and philosophers, convicts and lawyers. We were rich and poor but mostly poor. We were educated or not, mostly not. We grew up in slums, in shacks, in duplexes, and bungalows and houseboats and hooches and ranchers. We were cowards and heroes. Sometimes we were cowards one moment and heroes the next.
Many of us have never seen Vietnam. We waited at home for those we loved. And for some of us, our worst fears were realized. For others, our loved ones came back but never would be the same.
We came home and marched in protest marches, sucked in tear gas, and shrieked our anger and horror for all to hear. Or we sat alone in small rooms, in VA hospital wards, in places where only the crazy ever go. We are Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, and Confucians and Buddhists and Atheists--though as usually is the case, even the atheists among us sometimes prayed to get out of there alive.
We are hungry, and we are sated, full of life or clinging to death. We are injured, and we are curers, despairing and hopeful, loved or lost. We got too old too quickly, but some of us have never grown up. We want, desparately, to go back, to heal wounds, revisit the sites of our horror. Or we want never to see that place again, to bury it, its memories, its meaning. We want to forget, and we wish we could remember.
Despite our differences, we have so much in common. There are few of us who don't know how to cry, though we often do it alone when nobody will ask "what's wrong?" We're afraid we might have to answer.
Adam, if you want to know what a Vietnam veteran is, get in your car next weekend or cage a friend with a car to drive you. Go to Washington. Go to the Wall. It's going to be Veterans Day weekend. There will be hundreds there...no, thousands. Watch them. Listen to them. I'll be there. Come touch the Wall with us. Rejoice a bit. Cry a bit. No, cry a lot. I will. I'm a Vietnam Veteran; and, after 30 years, I think I am beginning to understand what that means.
This was posted in response to the above, by Jay Janson:
Fine article, CORRECTION: THEY DID NOT SERVE THEIR COUNTRY
Excellent text except for one horribly insensitive slip into a sickening corporate media war promoting post Vietnam War propaganda lie:
" Vietnam vets are people just like you. We served our country, proudly or reluctantly or ambivalently"
Killing Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodian in their very own lands DID NOT 'SERVE' OUR COUNTRY! On the contrary, this brutal massive killing and maiming in the French colonies of Indochina seeking their independence, was a genocidal crime against humanity, the shame and dishonor of which will forever printed in history books and encylopedias for our children, and children all over the world will read about for untold generations of the future.
Jay Janson's much reprinted article below, quotes Eisenhower, John Kerry and Bob Kerry.
Jay Janson, Feb. 4, 2008
Jolted to read in Jan. 23, Huffington Post article, “Swiftboating”, John Kerry’s insensitive references to, “the Swift Boats we loved while we were in uniform on the Mekong Delta" -“the boats we honored when we were in uniform in Vietnam”. Kerry experienced the death these boats brought, called the war an atrocity. Remarks especially sickening for those who, like Jane Fonda, sided with Vietnam fighting Japan, France, and U.S.
I mean what shock do Americans need to back off from accepting, cheering on, and aping corporate media entertainment/news adulation of war?
This is a heart breaking subject for one, who has lived in Hanoi among Vietnamese who all lost family during what the Vietnamese call “The American War.” “Killed by the Americans”, they would answer with an expression of Buddhist equanimity on their faces upon inquiry during a festive annual dinner in their traditional custom of honoring of a deceased family member.
The U.S. government now makes nice with the same Vietnam communist dominated government residents from Truman through Ford sought to destroy, seemingly oblivious to the incredible loss of life. America has come to respect the Vietnam it could not defeat, and could not cut in half.
That is why this writer, was jolted to read in the Jan. 23, 2008 Huffington Post article, “Swiftboating”, John Kerry’s insensitive references to, “the Swift Boats we loved while we were in uniform on the Mekong Delta" ... “the boats we honored when we were in uniform in Vietnam”.
What chilling lack of compassion and poor taste, to call attention, even in retrospect, to their having “honored” and “loved” war equipment that brought undeserved death and destruction to Vietnam.
These unthinking hurtful written remarks are especially sickening for those of us who, like Jane Fonda, were on the side of the Vietnamese who fought first the Japanese, then the French, and thereafter endured years of carpet and napalm bombing by the U.S. during their American crucifixion.
What is most appalling about Kerry’s slip of conscience, is that we have always supposed that given the memory of Kerry’s famous brave action saving his ship and the lives of his comrades by shooting to death a Viet patriot about to launch a rocket, that Kerry must have nightmares about that Viet soldier’s grieving family.
Is this the same John Kerry who denounced the U.S. war in Vietnam as an atrocity in testimony before a congressional committee?
No, one quesses it is the John Kerry who thirty-five years later saluted the Vietnam Veterans, warriors who fought a near defenseless population in a poor Asian French colony of rice farmers, parading across the stage with large American flags to thunderous applause at the convention that would nominate him the Democratic presidential candidate? During his campaign, Kerry and commercial media made the 'Vietnam War' strangely heroic again.
With all the U.S. rapprochement in backing that same communist government for World Trade Organization membership, one wonders if Kerry ever try to contact the family of that Vietnamese patriot he shot to death in combat?
One wonders why Kerry would not be embarrassed to recall love for his swift boat. What of his memory that the crews of those boats participated in a war on the Vietnamese that Kerry testified to have been an atrocity?
Kerry reenlisted for a second tour of 'duty', but took discharge to run for Congress. Did he not know when he enlisted the first time, that Eisenhower had written in his book "Mandate for Change" in 1963, that if there had been an all Vietnam election (blocked by Ike himself), that Ho Chi Minh would have won by a plurality of more than 80%? Oddly enough Kerry would run in part on his military service record in Vietnam fighting to prevent Ho Chi Minh from becoming elected president.
Why does Kerry now believe that he or any Vietnam vets 'served' their country by taking part in a war that killed Vietnamese in their own country, often enough in their own neighborhoods and homes as he deplored in his testimony at the time?
Kerry had a fine college education, which must have included a history of colonialism, which would have included the brutality of French colonial subjugation of the Vietnamese. He must have known that Ho Chi Minh was decorated by our OSS as a dedicated ally of ours against the Japanese and Vichy French. He must have known that Truman, against Roosevelt's promise, had brought the French army back in US ships to fight an 8-year war against our former allies, the Vietnamese. All this because Ho Chi Minh was a communist? A top cabinet minister of the U.S. allied French government was also a communist, but that was OK. Martin Luther King spoke of this history in his 1967 condemnation of U.S. imperialist war.
Perhaps it useless to fault the mature John Kerry for a commonly held American attitude of disinterest in the suffering of families of the millions slaughtered in America’s mistaken and unwinnable wars and nostalgia for his stint in the Navy.
Recruiting our boys to go kill around the world is made easier for the ‘glory’ now associated with the massive killing of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians. ‘U.S. Big Brother’ media has turned the pre-1975 [shame] into [fame] in the new millennium. No more mention of the war having been ‘a terrible mistake’, and every single politician who ‘served’ in Vietnam is acclaimed as a hero!
Calling the Iraq war a mistake, as do the Democrats, does not carry with it any horror, shame or even the slightest interest in the million Iraqi lives lost. It’s the very few, by comparison, American military lives lost that are worthy of attention and mourning. In American media, a million Iraqi, Afghani, or Vietnamese dead do not equal the weight of one American fallen in the occupation of these nations.
The only attention non-American deaths get is in the highly heralded insurgent, and suspected insurgent, body counts that include men and boys who join up to fight against the American occupation of their countries and are automatically labeled terrorists in U.S. military reports.
The world, watching satellite TV, notices that the general American public, indifferent to its government policies, nevertheless seems to enjoy hearing of the U.S. killing record and body counts in the many small nations its always heroic military invades.
There is zero interest in the suffering of the family members of 'foreigners' who die ‘in harms way' of U.S. military firepower.
With John Kerry recent acquiescing to today’s wars, it is both dismal and disheartening, even bizarre, to recall that young Kerry denouncing the U.S. war on Vietnam as an atrocity in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.
Muhammad Ali did not need to go to Vietnam to know it was wrong, and he has never changed his mind.
This is a response to what Mr Janson had posted, by George Weber who brought us Dan Mouers well thought answer to a simple question:
I would argue that we did indeed serve our country....meaning that as young recruits our intentions were honorable, regardless of the fact that we were deceived and ultimately used as pawns by a dishonest government in an unjust war.
Perhaps you overlooked the sentence.......
"We came home and marched in protest marches, sucked in tear gas, and shrieked our anger and horror for all to hear."
I would guess that there are many Vietnam vets who disagree with our point of view......but in this case you're preaching to the choir.
I think perhaps you may have overlooked the spirit in which the piece was written.
VFP Tappan Zee Chapter 060
VVAW NYC Clarence Fitch Chapter
I leave you to Think on the many similarities to than and today, the many differances as well, and the perceptions of this Country brought about back than to the perceptions we live with now and well into the future!
Add-On: I posted a response to both of the above writings by my brother 'Nam Veterans, on the Morality and Reality of our Country and received this Response back; Moralism Vs. Reality: Take your pick. from another brother.