Thursday, September 28, 2017

Where would we be today on Vietnam?

The Vietnam War documentary on PBS ending Thursday night has had many intriguing moments through its 10 parts, but I have to admit the moment that will stick in my mind was one bit that aired Tuesday night.
The downtown Chicago memorial to the U.S. military conflict in Vietnam, just off the Chicago River. Photographs provided by Gregory Tejeda
The moment was some footage of a woman, Jan Howard of Nashville, Tenn., whose son, Jimmy, had served in the Army and been killed in combat. Anti-war activists approached her, asking for her support of their cause – figuring that she’d be grief-stricken and they could claim her son’s death was pointless.

HER REACTION, IN the video snippets, was to tell the activists that her son may have died to support their right to protest, but that she’d shoot them dead if they ever approached her again.

Why do I suspect that in this Age of Trump, there were probably some people who viewed the two-week-long documentary who cheered that woman on – and probably wish that she could turn her ire on the ballplayers who now are protesting racial issues as part of sporting events.

In some ways, we need to comprehend the societal split we endured some 50 years ago – back in the days when a large segment of the populace decided our government officials could no longer be trusted to be truthful or honorable in their conduct because of what happened in Vietnam.
One of few spots where S. Vietnam flag still flies

Because much of the societal split we now have dates back to those days. The “hawks” of the ‘60s are now the grandparents of many of the modern-day types who are touting the rancid rhetoric of President Donald J. Trump – whom they see as leading an effort to take back U.S. society from the “doves” who opposed the war all those years ago.

THEY’RE THE BASIS of the “red” states of America, although I suspect if you had told that woman she was a “red,” she really would have pulled out that pistol and fired. She ain’t no “Commie,” she’d claim.

What always intrigues me about the societal split is the way that the divide plays out.

In the years after the war, the “right” was determined to believe that the “hippie freaks” LOST. That anybody who had ever opposed U.S. military involvement in Vietnam was permanently discredited – a stain that only the passage of time would wash away. The election of Ronald Reagan as president, followed up by the elder George Bush, reinforced that thought.
No dog poop in Chicago's Vietnam memorial

Which is why I always felt that Bill Clinton (and his mouthy bride Hillary) was despised so much by the right. If their theory were true, neither one of them should ever have had a life in the public eye. Yet Bill Clinton gained the presidency, while Hillary had a quarter of a century in the public eye, and came dangerously close (in their eyes) to winning the White House as well.

THE FACT THAT we got a Barack Obama presidency in the mix only further reinforces the notion that the left-leaning individuals of back then are not tainted for life – and in fact have left their mark on our society for the better. A reality that the Trumpites of our time wish they could undo.
Chicago relics of the Vietnam era

When U.S military interests pulled out of Vietnam in 1973, the hopes were that a split status would evolve – a North Vietnam of Communist leanings and a South Vietnam allied with the western world. Similar to what became of the two Koreas. It didn’t happen – the North stormed its way in and took the South two years later.

Although I have to admit that such a notion of a split Vietnam continuing to this day carries a bit of scariness. If you think about it, would we really want a North Korea-like nation in existence – one that would be all too eager to ally itself with Kim Jong Un’s constant threats to resume the Korean War of the early 1950s against the United States?

Which may be a “fight” that the “right” may be yearning for – a chance to undo a military stalemate and turn it into a “win!” Even though sane people have more sensible things to focus attention on.

NOW I DON’T know how all this would play out, if it were to happen. Much of the reason the anti-war movement became so intense was because of the practical fear of many to not want to get killed in combat. Maybe they had enough going for themselves in life that they wouldn’t view the thought of a medal awarded posthumously as a worthy accomplishment.

Nowadays, we have a volunteer military that makes it likely that everybody in service feels they’re gaining something of benefit to themselves. I don’t see the uprisings – except perhaps from the “right” who wish they could create John Wayne-like images for a modern-day military conflict.
PBS shows Howard still upset w/ anti-war movement

USA Today recently had a graphic on their website explaining the concept of the draft lottery that used to exist, and let people see for themselves how likely they would have been to be called to duty – in my case, my birthday was number 11 in the lottery, which means I would have had to scramble for a worthy excuse for a deferment to avoid active duty. Of course, I was only 5 back in 1970 – nobody called on me in reality.

But in my family’s case, I have two uncles who served in the military during Vietnam – one volunteered for the Marine Corps while another was drafted into the Army. Both saw their share of combat activity, but managed to come back in one physical piece – an accomplishment that I’m sure Howard would have wished for her son.


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