Thursday, August 23, 2007

Staying The Course: The Human Capacity For Denial Seems Infinite

By Manifesto Joe

A very significant minority of Americans, including many veterans who ought to be at least a little jaundiced in their view of the likes of George Bush and Dick Cheney, still seem to support the Iraq war unconditionally. They represent an element of humanity that will doggedly march over the cliff ahead if an authority figure tells them to.

I've lived just long enough to witness this a second time. As a cub reporter, I was assigned to interview a Vietnam veteran. When I saw this guy, I thought, wow, this could be a fascinating interview. This was around '78 or '79. He had a white guy's curly "Afro," and was dressed very much in the latter-day hippie fashion.

Then he opened his mouth. This was a guy who had a wooden prosthesis from one of his knees on down as a result of his service. He told me he'd like to go back there and fight them again.

A year or so later I encountered, socially, an obvious alcoholic who had spent some time in the Hanoi Hilton. He described how he'd had pieces of bamboo jammed under his fingernails, and other modes of torture.

He also wanted to go back and fight the Vietnamese again. And he suggested that some slightly younger guys like me ought to have this desire as well. I didn't exactly agree with him, but at least he didn't become violent. He was a lot drunker than I was, so it wouldn't have been a fair fight.

What I later understood is how hard it is, after one has been so brazenly betrayed, duped and victimized, to ever look yourself in the mirror and admit that to yourself. And, that it was leaders you trusted, a long hierarchy of them, who did it to you.

Granted, neither of these men could be mistaken even for lay historians. But an aggravating thing is that I've debated this with "educated" conservatives, and they still often suggest that the biggest mistake of the Vietnam War was that we didn't fight it more aggressively, to win.

I have tried to solicit these people's memories of recent history. In the 1960s, the Korean War wasn't exactly ancient history. During 1950-51, with the vainglorious Douglas MacArthur in command, the U.S. and a few U.N. allies were fighting the Korean War "to win." Whatever else one might say about Doug, he was apparently a damned good general in a conventional war. His force overran most of the northern part of the Inchon peninsula late in 1950. But they got too close to the Yalu River, on the Chinese border, despite warnings.

The Red Chinese sent about 200,000 battle-hardened troops across the river. They mopped up the floor with U.S. forces for a few months, all but reversing the course of the war, coming close to running them right off the peninsula.

I won't get into the rest of this story -- that's what Wikipedia is for. But the point is that the world came mighty close to World War III over this. The Truman administration's subsequent restraint was mainly what prevented it.

If the U.S. had sent a big invasion force into North Vietnam, and then perhaps Laos and Cambodia, with a "surge" to try to finish off the enemy with bold and broad strikes -- well, China is right across the borders from Vietnam and Laos. And I seriously doubt that the Soviet Union would have stood by passively. Anyway, there are a lot of reasons why the Johnson and Nixon administrations were more circumspect than today's right-wingers would have had them be. (Too bad neither ever got it that the best thing would have been to get the hell out.)

A few right-leaning people do finally get it, if just barely. An amusing story I read was a reported exchange between the late U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona and his successor in the Senate, current U.S. Sen. John McCain. McCain, as all observers of the political scene know, endured a Ph.D. in torture from the Hanoi Hilton.

Goldwater is reported to have told McCain that if he (Goldwater) had been elected president (in 1964), that McCain would never have been a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

McCain reportedly thought for a moment and replied: "No. I would have been a prisoner of war in China."

To his limited credit, McCain seems to be at least halfway in touch with what happened in Vietnam. Too bad he still doesn't get it about Iraq. And far too many other Vietnam vets still don't.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

1 comment:

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