Why Vietnam Just Won't Go Away...
John Kerry, war hero. John McCain, war hero. Max Cleland, war hero. Bill Clinton, draft dodger. George W. Bush, alleged no-show.
I can expand on the list a bit, but I won't. The point of this screed is that the corpse of Vietnam has a risen from the grave again, like Freddy Kreuger or Jason, to poison the wells of politics. Then again, poisoning the wells of American politics was never all that difficult to begin with. Truth, apparently, does this from time to time.
In all seriousness, what is the deal with Vietnam? Apart from it being a very unpopular war (getting drafted cut into your acid and protest time, apparently), I can't see what all the fuss is about. Korea was an unpopular war. The Mexican-American War (such as it was) was unpopular too. I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who jumped for joy that Pear Harbor had fiunally gotten Roosevelt off his crippled behind to fight the nasty Hun and Sons of Nippon. No war is ever "popular", they are more or less, just the backdrop against which human drama is played out.
All wars are unpopular to some segment of the population or another. If you doubt that, just look at all the hue and cry about a three-week jaunt through the Iraqi desert to wrest the country from it's own citizens, who wouldn't even fight for their own country. But Vietnam, for some reason, holds a special place in the pantheon of wars for the people of this country, and the people of the Baby Boom generation.
On the one hand, the men and women who fought in or against that war are now the generation that "leads" us (to where or what is still up in the air). It is the defining moment of their entire lives, just as the Great Depression/WWII era was to the previous generation and how 9/11 and the fisrt episode of Survivor will be to mine. However, with all the chest-beating of who did what, when and who left limbs behind, and who burned flags in Moscow, etc, etc, you would believe that this one event was the end all and be all of human existance.
John Kerry jumped out of a boat to administer the coup de grace to a wounded Viet Cong, and somehow managed to get a chestful of medals for it, then came home crying that the war was unjust. Somehow he turned that into a Senate seat. War crimes are for other people, I guess.
John McCain managed to get himself shot down twice, and captured, and turned it into a Senate seat. Six years in the Hanoi Hilton notwithstanding, John McCain is probably the last person I would go to for military advice or knowledge. See? There is hope for fuck ups after all.
Max Cleland was a glorified telephone repair man with officer's bars on his collars, and he managed to blow himself up with his own grenade. Yep, I trust a guy who brings grenades to repair my telephones anyday to lead me.
Al Gore wrote for the Stars and Stripes, never heard a shot fired in anger, used his service when it suited his needs (i.e. getting elected), backed the troops when it suited his needs (i.e. getting face time on TV in return for a "Yes" vote on Gulf War I), and then spent the rest of the time decrying the "injustice" of the Vietnam war. I thank God those senior citizens in Miami couldn't muster the strength to punch a sharp piece of metal through a piece of cardboard.
Bill Clinton pretended to want to go, unless there was an anti-war chick hanging around, went throught the motions (almost) and then attended anti-war rallies in London and Moscow. Yet, he felt experienced enough in military matters to commit American troops to a multitude of conflicts where there was no American interest, and lob some missiles at an aspirin factory to cover his ass when it was convenient.
The point, simply, is this. Vietnam was a loss, through no fault of the men who actually fought it. Hailing your service in or actions against a lost cause doesn't seem to me to be a qualification for the job of President of the United States, or the Senate, the House of Representatives or local dog catcher, if you ask me. But Vietnam keeps poping up, especially when there is NOTHING else to talk about.
They can't help it, their entire lives, their identities, are wrapped up in it. Those that fought it and those who opposed it --- after all, the 1970's weren't exactly a dynamic period in American history, so I guess that's understandable.
However, we're not in 1968 anymore. The summer of love is well and truly over and we have people on the other side of the world that would gladly cut all of our throats because God told them it's okay to do so. At this point, Vietnam is irrelevant as pertains to what we do now and in the future in this regard.
But the Kerry's and Cleland's, Gore's and Clinton's of this world cannot let it go. They are the epitome of the "Me" generation, and naturally, even casual familiarity with anything Vietnam, anything 1960's, must naturally be worn as a badge of courage. A symbol of a time when American youth "spoke truth to power" (or so they think) and "stopped" an unjust conflict that kept them from enjoying all the sex without consequences they could handle.
If I have to remind anyone, the American involvement in Vietnam began under Eisenhower in 1954 and ended ignominiously with Ford in 1975, that's 21 years for anyone who wants to count them. So just what did Kerry and Co. actually stop? How many lives did they save with their protests? What did their politics and their icons (Kennedy and Johnson) actually achieve to be pround of? In the meantime, deadly communist regimes popped up and tortured, strangled and imprisoned their way through Cuba, South East Asia, Africa and South America. Untold millions died because the war was inconvenient for them, unless you were in a position to put yourself in for a shitload of medals to use as an election prop later in life.
If I were these guys, I'd keep my mouth shut about Vietnam.