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The Vietnam War at Fifty

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Today is Veteran’s Day. It is a day when Americans remember all of those who served, in peace or war.

Originally, this day was called Armistice Day in honor of the cease fire that came in ” the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” and brought the horrific slaughter of  World War I to an end. This was fitting.  The First World War loomed large in the memories of our great grandparents and grandparents the way the Civil War did for earlier generations. It was an ominous touchstone of the nadir of which Mankind was capable until it was thoroughly eclipsed by the subsequent horrors of Nazi barbarism in a Second World War – a conflict that seemed a maturation of the first. In the postwar era, Armistice Day became a national tribute to the sacrifices of all veterans.

This year also marks the fiftieth anniversary of American entry into the Vietnam War.

Historians may quibble with this, as American involvement in Vietnam went back to WWII and OSS agents giving advice to Ho Chi Minh in the jungle war against Imperial Japan and Vichy French puppet colonialists, but 1963 is when “American boys” first went to South Vietnam in real numbers.  And many of them were indeed little more than boys. Fifty-eight thousand, two hundred and eighty six of them did not come home.

Those that did are now grown grey with the passage of time.

The Vietnam War caused deeper divisions in the American psyche than any other war except the one that began at Fort Sumter. The wounds have never really healed and they rest inflamed and sore just beneath the scabrous surface of American politics to this day. America has an unenviable historical track record of not treating its veterans very well and those who served in that unpopular war that ended in defeat received on their return home far more than their share of  disdain and abuse.

Even the attempt to build a memorial – the now famously cathartic Wall – roiled at the time in a controversy of unimaginable bitterness. The site eventually became a place of pilgrimage, alive with memory of the dead and compassion for the living. This was a good thing but in truth as a nation we could have done far, far better for the men who served in Vietnam than we did.

The best tribute to these veterans of Vietnam that we can make as a people would be to see that the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan do not repeat the sad experience of their fathers.

4 Responses to “The Vietnam War at Fifty”

  1. Ray Says:

    “The best tribute to these veterans of Vietnam that we can make as a people would be to see that the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan do not repeat the sad experience of their fathers.”

    I agree with you totally but I doubt that this will happen when you have one political party that does a great job of “lip service” in claiming to support Veterans, but their numerous policies actual show blatant disrespect for veterans. Just recently they forced legislation to cut SNAP(food stamps). This will hit 5,000 active duty families. The next policy push is CPI on Social Security. This will lower Social Security benefits and veteran based entitlements. Thus the veterans will get a double whammy while the politicians of said party will smile and shake the veterans hands and wave the flag. 

    Sorry but what I have seen for far too many years is nothing but lip service for veterans.
    One real problem is people that have never served in the military are making decisions that will affect veterans. These people have no idea what it is like in ever day life for military families. The only real way for the American populace to understand Military life and sacrifices made by military personnel is for a mandatory DRAFT to be in effect. This would require a 2 year term of service from All. No exemptions. You serve then get out and go on with what you want to do or stay in. This might just keep some politicians from wanted to jump soldiers every place when their own sons and or daughters may be going. At the very least the general populace will see and experience first hand what military life is like.    

  2. zen Says:

    Hi Ray
    No service member should need to be on food stamps – that in itself is a disgrace.
    I think both parties engage in lip service and will continue to do so except where it is politically unsafe. I don’t have a comment in regard to general domestic programs as that is not my area of expertise but I do know that plans are afoot in DoD and Congress to attack both military pensions ( primarily to create a new revenue stream for Wall St.) and Tricare, though I am less informed about the latter

  3. larrydunbar Says:

    “No service member should need to be on food stamps – that in itself is a disgrace.”

    Really? Why is that? Although they may be a minority, I think to a certain degree these food stamps are going to working people, so It seems like many are at least trying.

    During the first Great Depression I think many just gave up. We became a nation of “Leave it to Beaver” and tried to move on in life where “every child is above average”.

    So as an economy under stress, things are not as bad in the Second as it was in the First. 

    Or is it now really worst, and the food stamps thing (suffered by our Vets) is actually no disgrace, just a stop on the road to recovery, at least according to Democrats? 

  4. Grurray Says:

    The disgrace isn’t the people seeking assistance. Post 9-11 veterans have over 10% unemployment rate. It’s the system that’s the problem. In theory, food stamps, medicaid, soc sec  were safety nets. Now they’re simply a government mandated alternative to middle class.
    The problem with starting another draft is how to pay for it? The army is drawing down to less than a half million soldiers and the navy is down to less than 300 ships, and they still complain that there’s no money.
    Where do we put all these people? We just moved half our troops and all our tanks out of Germany. Half the Marines just left Okinawa. Afghanistan is the largest retreat in history. We fell back to south of Seoul, and if Pyongyang ever tires of their Dr. Evil strategy, we’d be gone from there too. 
    We’ll probably see another round of bases closing next year now that the president gets to veto any future government shutdown.
    The only places that we’re actually building up is Africom, serving as France’s air force, and transferring military technology to Korea.
    The biggest problem I see for the military – political mismatch is the greater deployment & recruitment in red states vs blue states and South vs New England & Left Coast. This problem isn’t going away soon because it’s roots are deep and stretch very far back.
    A good book on the general subject is The Soldier and the State

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