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The Vietnam War / 60s’ Civil Rights years were a terrible time for America. For a long time afterwards one could reasonably expect it was as low as we could go without having a Civil War.
Then came Reagan, Iran-Contra, Bush, et al. and we saw a new kind of disregard for decency and the rule of law disguised as decency itself and patriotism. Some bright spots since then notwithstanding, we have trended so far below any previously imagined low.
How can it be that I see the 60s, with my own death or PTSD being pursued by my own government, for a war widely condemned, with open racism and violence against people of color being a televised fact of American life, with women still needing a political movement decades after getting the vote, with alarms sounding about ecological ruin, that today’s picture is more bleak, and today’s young adults have it much worse than we did.
We believed we were fighting for just causes. We believed those of us who lived through it would prevail and reshape our society. Today’s young adults are not being drafted but rightly wonder how they can afford to live in peacetime. They see the stranglehold of corporate greed and can’t imagine why they should even want to participate in capitalism. They see what the worst of our generation have done, and are blind to the positive things we accomplished in our time, even those that are the very foundation of their values and causes, and the basis of their electronics-dependent lives.
I don’t know what the Russian or Ukranian equivalents are, or if there are any. I wondered throughout the Cold War as I do now if all of the soldiers on both sides who didn’t want to participate all refused to do so at once, what would happen. Surely, the war would simply become impossible.
The bit about getting the mass refusal to happen all at once is the tricky part. I imagine that a wide-scale soldier strike in Russia, after producing many deaths and incarcerations, would not only end the war with Ukraine, but quickly lead to toppling the government.
Requiring the sons and daughters of all governors, State representatives and assembly-persons, and all congresspersons to be drafted first, with no possibility of deferment, no chance of being an officer for at least two years, and guaranteed deployment to the front lines would retard governmental enthusiasm for military action.
More generally, there is a striking lack of personal cost and accountability among those who consider themselves the righteous protectors of wholesomeness as they send *other people* to do the dying or mentally survive the trauma of war.
ON THE MATTER OF MILITARY SERVICE
As a 3rd generation soldier I figure I have the right to lecture everybody. Grandpa was WWI. Mom was WWII. Dad was WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. I was Vietnam-era. So I can talk.
1) Unlike most conservative issues, this one is too complex to be resolved by a simplistic answer.
2) When the call to arms sounds, every able-bodied adult needs to show up at the reception station fast and in a hurry. That’s because when we need to go to war, time is of the essence. You can debate whether we should have gone to war after it’s over.
3) Everyone is expected to trust that the call to arms is legitimate. The citizens place profound trust in their leaders that they will not be led into harm’s way needlessly or for some frivolous end. In a sense we are all suckers that way and rightfully so. And that’s important because without that trust people wouldn’t show up.
4) The last time it was patently obvious that we needed to go to war was WWII, Korea was a maybe, but Vietnam and every war thereafter were definitely not.
5) Vietnam makes a good case in point. A lot of young men were enjoined to go over there and fight for their country. In hindsight that was bullshit. They may have been fighting for some other dumb shit’s country but it sure wasn’t theirs. We were lectured endlessly about the Domino Theory and how terribly important it was to defeat communism over there so we wouldn’t have to defeat it on the banks of the Mississippi. 58,000 American soldiers died trying to hold back the onslaught of communism, and you know what? We lost. You know what else? Vietnam never did invade us back. Today they are about as capitalist as we are. Take-away message: Communism is kind of like zits. Don’t pick at them and they go away by themselves.
6) The MiddleEast is another good case in point. A few years ago I attended the West Point Founders Day Dinner. General Abizaid, CENTCOM Commander after Gulf War 2, was the speaker. After his talk somebody asked why we keep involving ourselves in wars in the the MiddleEast. He answered, “Because America’s economy has always depended on a large supply of cheap oil.” I was aghast. Almost 14,000 American soldiers have died in the MiddleEast post 9/11 just so a bunch of fat fucks can drive around in their SUVs?? BTW, consider that under Obama, we produced all the oil we needed LOCALLY.
7) So I would posit that there has been a severe betrayal of trust between politicians (and their corporate bosses and lobbyists) and the American youth that has been so willing to lay it on the line at a moment’s notice. American youth are slowly beginning to realize that they are being played for suckers. But ultimately it will be the Nation that is the loser.
8. Donald Trump, go fuck yourself and your worthless family too.
I was on the edge of my seat reading this; I just barely missed getting drafted. However, I knew guys from our area who never returned, and those that did were never the same. When you fight for a reason that you understand, deep inside, then it makes some kind of sense... like with Ukraine fighting to stay a free country. But many wars never seem to make sense. This deeply affects the morale of the troops and therefore the ability for them to try to overtake the enemy thus increasing casualties. War should always be a last resort, in my opinion.
Thank you Mr. Reich for both sharing your story on the prospects of being drafted and for sharing President Clinton’s letter. It’s enlightening to hear of these pivotal moments in time.
My draft # was 44. I was drafted in January 1971 just after I married in November 1970-- but when I reported (in Detroit) my feet had a foot fungus from lazy worker rules where I worked at the time and where I stood with wet feet for 8 hours a day. They took one look at my feet, sent me home, and a couple of months later I received a 4-F draft card (that I still have it) in the mail. A big relief, now if only my marriage had worked so well...
Thank you. So many of us remember those times so well—-young college students, anti-war protests, and confounding our parents in the rejection of what we’d be taught. I was raised as a midwestern - republican - farm girl. Conservative to the bone. I remember the shame our family felt when my young cousin married her love and moved to Canada. It didn’t take long for me to grow up a bit, and be proud of her and her husband.
So much in your letters resonates with me and makes me remember who I was and how far I’ve come —now a staunch Liberal and passionate human rights advocate. I lived and taught school in south India and was profoundly changed by that experience, in my late 60’s, observing what struggles women, poor and the disenfranchised live. In India——-the modern world and the ancient world coincide everyday. It hits you in the face when you leave your home.
As Twain said, and I paraphrase, ‘I didn’t know what a complete ass I was until I lived abroad’ .
And——now my husband and I are global citizens. My husband and I have retired to Europe where we are in community with so many other US Citizens that are fighting the good fight from abroad. Your daily words mean so much to me. Keep up the passion. It is felt so many miles away and appreciated.
I pray we never haver have to relive those Vietnam times. I look at our country today & do not recognize it- I have a daughter and son in their early 30's & was so excited to bring them into the world at that time, with such a bright future ahead. Honestly, seeing the state our country is in today, I feel guilty having brought them into it.
Thank you for sharing both Bill Clinton's letter and your own experience. Although considerably older than you, I was also in college in 1968. I started my college education in 1964 at the age of 31. Like you, I was adamantly opposed to the Vietnam war. We marched, wrote letters, and cried when our friends were drafted. I campaigned for any politician willing to end the war. I hated the barbaric things we did to the Vietnamese citizens. I also felt sorry for the military who went to Vietnam willingly or drafted. I detested the Americans who called the young men who protested, cowards, and chickens. Like the later Iraqi war a large proportion of Americans thought any war was alright because the government said so.
As I have told you, I had ROTC, flunked the physical exam, but was drafted. in January, 1966.
I spent a year in Military Assistance Command Vietnam, as a combat engineer and was exposed to those tunnels. Combat included search and destroy Operations Junction City and Cedar Falls in the Iron Triangle. Also advisor to the ARVN and CIDG, the Civilian Irregular Defense Group.
After I came home, I was in the Army of the occupation of the South, although my main duty was to give medical discharges until I was separated in January, 1968. I was "called up" later that year due to the riots.
I have a VA disability, which probably helped my career. I had a reserve commitment until 1974.
I am probably the last survivor from my unit. Agent Orange, I never joined any veterans' organization, although my father had been very active. Most of my work colleagues were veterans, high ranking in most cases, but I was one of only a few who actually had combat exposure. Most had been military lawyers and judges.
I was willing to be drafted. I was full of propaganda about the domino theory. Now I know otherwise. The Gulf of Tonkin incident never happened. Nixon turned out to have been a traitor.
My brother was ROTC soldier of the month when in college, was unable to pass the physical. and did not have to go. He went, like Robert, to Oxford.
When I was in school, this was the doo wopp theme. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edoqCg5izr8
Come on generals, let's move fast
Your big chance has come at last
You gotta go out and get those Reds
The only good Commie is one who's dead
And you know that peace can only be won
When we blow `em all to Kingdom Come.
Bill Clinton's sleazing out of a commitment he used to keep his ass safe when boys I knew had no such choices is as despicable now as it was then. We in the anti-war movement were leading lives of purpose. Leading a purposeful life seems to have lost popularity, except for Gen Z, who see that there's nothing to do that makes any sense except working against global warming. Don't call it climate change. I'm sorry for the people of Russia, some of whom are decent, good, and kind. But we are all of us in a dying world, and the only question is which horse does death ride when it comes swiftly for you. Nuclear war? Fire? Flood? Covid? Drought? Heat? Capitalist refusal to provide you with heat and food? Destruction of farm lands? Extinction of pollinators? Collapse of ecosystems?
A whiff of Alice’s Restaurant here. The viet nam war was not our war. Our two boys too young. But I promised them I’d take them to Canada if it came to a need to fight or flight. We chose flight but the ‘war’ came to an end. Each night we were exposed to how many died that day, to the point my mother in law asked ‘are w e supposed to be pleased so many viet congress were killed? Bless her heart, she woukd have helped us to get to Canada. I was against this ‘War’ bit too involved with chikdren, famiky to feel it was a part of our lives. And definitely not bloodthirsty enough to look forward to my two boys going over to kill. We were too young, too distracted to feel this war was necessary, but ho estly, my own selfish? Thoughts were to save my boys from being cannon fodder…patriotism took a very low ru g next to fierce love for my boys. And so it probably is for the Russian mothers…but where is their Canada?
"Come on all you big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again,
Got himself in a terrible jam,
Way down yonder in Viet Nam,
So put down your books,
Pick up a gun,
We're gonna have a whole lot of fun.
For it's one, two, three what are we fighting for,
Don't ask me I don't give a dam,
Next stop is Viet Nam.
And it's five, six, seven open up the pearly gates,
Ain't got time - to wonder why -
Whoopie we're all goin to die."
-- Country Joe and the Fish.
While you and Bill were "draft dodging", I worked with a team of CCCO-trained counselors to keep inductees out of war. We were able to keep most of the men who showed up at the Quaker Meeting House in Buffalo, NY, out of the military, and I'm pretty sure that in my 20 something mind, I expected that this would end the war nonsense that or good. Recenly, my 6 year old grandnephew asked his mother how many wars our country has fought in. When I looked it up, it was 90 or so. The draft is the iceberg's tip. We are a war waging nation, and until we find some other way to do business with the world, there is no end to this. PS Glad you didn't have to go.
What a close call! That was a trag7ic and totally unjustified war. The only day I took off from High School was to join the Vietnam protest rally at the Cambridge Common. outside Harvard Square.
Mental health issues like narcissism deteriorate progressively. Sadly trumps supporters are going downhill just as quickly. They have lost their collective sanity. They lost their individuality to cult brainwashing. Understanding them and supporting their insanity is far more effective then hating them. Jim jones cult is a good example as to how far they will go. Drinking the koolaide is nothing compared to what depths and actions they are capable of. Protect yourself and by all means fight for your freedom and democracy. Be assertive, because you have positive energy and power of being right minded.
Dr. Reich, I am grateful you were too short. I know that sounds weird, but any way to get out of that horrific war was a good way. I wish the 1968 peace talks had not been sabotaged by Nixon and his crew to get elected because then fewer lives on all sides would have been lost. The war was still going on and some of my high school classmates ended up drafted. My sister's 2nd grade teacher's husband was killed (she had attended their wedding) and the soldiers came to the school to tell her. Few who fought in Vietnam came back unscathed. I would like it if the whole Selected Service Program were ditched. If our military actions are just, people will join to fight. Now, the military is selecting mostly poor rural and urban youth, while other communities benefit from the industries that produce arms and the former soldiers, Marines, and sailors come back to poverty, few jobs, and extreme rents. That is not acceptable, but we keep giving the Pentagon an extra fortune while neglecting the people. When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?