The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Vietnam War’


Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing in an effort to convince those members who either oppose or are undecided  about whether the Congress should vote to support military action in Syria.

There was a great deal of speechifying about our (the United States’) moral obligation to punish an obvious atrocity.  I am nominating Secretary of State John Kerry for an Oscar – both for his performance today as well as for his moving speech on Friday.  Category – Best Performance in a work of fiction.

The Secretary expressed a concern that some members might vote against a resolution authorizing “limited military activity” because of their antipathy toward the Commander in Chief.  I’m no fan of the President’s – but I do not believe he needs to be embarrassed by the Congress.  He is perfectly capable of accomplishing that on his own.  Therefore, I hope that the members make their determination based on the facts and not on the politics.  For better or worse, for the next 1200 days or so we have the present administration in place and we have to live with that.

Looking back about fifty years, I remember another President, John F. Kennedy, who sent some advisors to a place called Viet Nam.  There was a bit of turmoil going on over there.  The French, incidentally our only potential ally in a Syrian adventure, had been dealing with those nasty Communist insurgents in that country for a decade.  This was a “limited” action on the part of our nation and stemmed from the “Domino Theory” that suggested that communism would gain strength and grow as it took over country after country.

Secretary of State Kerry and Sen. McCain, both of whom are advocating for the Congress’ endorsement of a military strike against Syria, served in that war.  So did a great number of young American men and of those who were primarily drafted, 58,209 came home in body bags and another 153,303 returned home wounded.  These are the results of a  “limited” war strategy.

The opening remarks were made by the committee’s Chairman, Sen. Bob Menendez (D – NJ).   One of his statements in his brief remarks was the following:

”This is not a declaration of war.  This is a declaration of our values to the world.”

The profoundly important question that each of us should ask is, “What values does America have?”  Are we to look to our politicians and the Washington bureaucracy to define those?  Are we to look to the examples they set for us as our guiding light?  Are we to have confidence in the values that a Sen. Menendez exhibits in his personal conduct?

Perhaps you may remember that the senator was involved in a scandal in the Dominican Republic, for hiring prostitutes as young as 16 while he stayed in that beautiful paradise setting.  And as recently as June of this year he was apparently involved in an affair with a married woman in Puerto Rico.  Now if you’re an old-fashioned person like me, you might find this sort of behavior reprehensible.  There are fewer of us with that view left in today’s America.  And to expect a thorough investigation by the Congress of one of its members is unlikely – since this sort of behavior is hardly restricted to Sen. Menendez as we have seen.

Perhaps you are of the opinion that a person’s sex life is his or her own business.  Consenting adults are free to do as they will – and the guidance for their actions must come either from within or from some higher power.  But the case of the Dominican incident did not involve adults but children – the same kind of children whom al-Qaeda presses into prostitution.

For some reason, we categorize al-Qaeda as degenerate, medieval bullies for those activities.  Yet we give a pass to a United States senator for utilizing those same children for his personal pleasure.  In fact, we make him the Chairman of a committee which expresses American ideals to the world – both to our foes and to our allies.  And what is more incomprehensible is that our military aid in Syria has, at least in part, gone to support the anti-Assad al-Qaeda rebel faction.

During the course of his testimony, Secretary of State Kerry, when pressed as to whether the proposed “limited strike” might escalate, finally admitted that if there “were a response by the Syrians or others, it might be necessary to send military forces in to Syria.”  He categorized that as a “remote possibility.”  While I’m no military strategist, I would put the likelihood of a “reaction” being pretty close to one hundred percent.

When the United States began sending more and more grunts to Viet Nam to win what the French had already learned was an unwinnable war, American frustration led to our using new and innovative weapons – specifically, napalm.  This was a petroleum based gel, first used during WW II but later perfected and used extensively by our military personnel in Vietnam.

Napalm clings to the skin and causes horrific epidermal burns.  Here is what a Vietnamese napalm survivor had to say about this weapon:

“Napalm is the most terrible pain you can imagine,” said Kim Phúc, known from a famous Vietnam War photograph. “Water boils at 212°F. degrees. Napalm generates temperatures of 1,500-2,200°F.”

In the photo below, Kim is the nude eight year old girl , center left, running down the road after being burned by napalm.


There is no morality in war.  In fact, war is the ultimate expression of a failure of morality.  Whether it’s napalm or sarin gas, nuclear weapons, machetes or assault rifles, the intent of war is to kill.  It doesn’t matter to the dead if she is a Syrian or Vietnamese child or a child in one of America’s inner cities.  Murder is an offense against all of humanity. And until each of us learns to live that truth, there will be murders and we will continue to excuse them by using the legalized term “war” to justify them.

“Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice.  It demands greater heroism than war.  It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”

– Thomas Merton


It’s hard not to see a tremendous similarity between today’s America and the America of the mid-1960’s.  The country was and is divided – severely so.  In the 1960’s the source of this division was the War in Vietnam.  Today it is divided by many more issues.  If there is one thing that unifies these two periods in our history it is the involvement of young people in the political process.

The protests against the Vietnam War were categorized by biased reporting by the mainstream media of the time and generally characterized as the activity of “hippies” and other ne’er-do-wells when it began to evolve.   As President Lyndon B. Johnson increased the number of American soldiers in Vietnam to its greatest level of 535,000, as the war began to affect more American families with the losses of their sons, the protests swelled through the mid-1960’s to climax at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968.

America brought the war home to what was then America’s “Second City.”  The protestors, generally supporters of Senator Eugene McCarthy or Senator Robert Kennedy whose brother President John F. Kennedy had escalated the number of troops in Vietnam from less than one thousand  to 16,000 came unarmed, to be battered by the Chicago Police under the direction of then Mayor Richard J. Daley.

The country realized that this was no longer about a small group of “radical misfits.”  This was not about burning draft cards or burning bras.  This was a war against Americans fought by other Americans.

Fortunately, there was no dropping of napalm, the flesh-searing chemical compound developed by Dow Chemical, which we liberally used in Vietnam, ultimately killing or  disfiguring  thousands of innocent civilians along with our intended targets, the Viet Cong.  We personalized the chaos in Chicago by applying police night sticks to the protestors who tried to voice their opinion and their rage against the war.

Beyond the hundreds of protests and rallies and sit-ins which had grown in number across the country as we continued to send more and more of our young men to their deaths in a war which could not and would not be won, the brutal response of the “authorities” at the Chicago Democratic convention was a true turning point in the minds of many in mainstream America.

It would take seven more years after the convention before our troops finally withdrew from Vietnam.  It would take four more decades before Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense under President Kennedy would admit something that most of the country already knew, “Vietnam was America’s greatest mistake.”  The concept of the “domino theory” which it was believed would cause southeast Asian countries to fall victims to communism have long since been dispelled by the evidence of history.

People, wherever their location and whatever their skin color have rejected that economic system.  Even those countries which provided a nascent home for communism, the former Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China have moved away from the musings of Karl Marx and Mao-Zedong.  Today’s Vietnam has a vibrant and capitalist-based economy and is flourishing.

It took the events in Chicago at the convention of “The Party of the People” for many of us to realize that it was only the party for some of the people.  It was willing to include only those of the people who heeled to the party line.  It accepted only those who fit into the mold that its leadership had determined was appropriate.  It was welcoming – but only to those who met the standards that those in control of the political machinery had set forth in their agenda.

The protests against Vietnam were at first viewed as an anomaly.  As they grew in size and number and frequency, the political authorities began viewing them as an annoyance.  When they built to a crescendo that swept across the country they were viewed as a threat – a challenge to the entrenched politicos and their ability to retain control of their fiefdoms.

The protests changed American opinion and  ultimately forced those in political power to exit our shameful undertaking in Vietnam, leaving millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians dead.  The rosters of the deceased included over 58,000 Americans.

Toady’s America is again divided – but without the single-focus that Vietnam provided.  We are divided over economic and social issues.  We are divided because it is to the benefit of those in power to keep us divided – to divert our attention from the fact that our leaders are only leading us further and deeper and faster into the abyss of mediocrity and failure.

We are divided because we are still at the stage of denial and are willing to hope and believe that the sops that are being strewn by Washington will be effective in staunching the blood flowing from our deep wounds.  We will ultimately emerge into the step after denial and that is acceptance – acceptance of the reality of the true nature of our politicians – and their motivations – which have little to do with the welfare of this country’s citizenry.

It is fascinating  to see to whom the young men and women in this country are rallying in their support for President of the United States.  Ron Paul is the oldest of the candidates in the race.  He carries a message which is different than any of the others of either party.  He is genuine – and the young people of this country, in their short lives, have already been able to differentiate between a genuine message of hope and the hopelessly fetid sausage that is being cranked out of the meat grinder by the rest of the field.

Those of us who remember the Vietnam protests need to get off our comfortable duffs and dust off our consciences.  We have proven that it is possible to change the path which a country follows – and that though it may take some time – that change can be achieved through the cohesive efforts of millions of us unified in a common effort.  We can start a movement.  And the young may well be heading up the parade.

Sometimes it is true, “A little child shall lead them.”

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