What follows are just thoughts off the top of my head. I’ve been busy with a household project over the past week and have had time to think during that time.
Over the past week, I’ve done a series of posts on the Vietnam War. The conflict ended 40 years ago, but memories of it rightly linger.
What prompted me to write about it was that I’d been spending a few late nights at the weekend listening to late 1960s and early 1970s American music, mostly written and sung by what were known at the time as ‘draft dodgers’.
For years, I hadn’t cared one way or the other. And even now, Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy A Thrill (1972) and, dare I say it, Todd Rundgren’s Something / Anything (same year) provided songs which I still know by heart and would recognise anywhere.
I listened to The Who, Pink Floyd, Yes as well as Emerson, Lake and Palmer and was called a Commie by my downstairs neighbour for so doing. He was a Vietnam vet and had no choice but to serve. Either that or risk time in a federal penitentiary and/or a fine of several thousand dollars. Back then, that was a lot of Nelsons. To him, anything played on Top 40 radio then was ‘Commie music’.
There were also two other vets in our neighbourhood who stuck together like glue. The ‘Commie music’ guy wasn’t one of the gang, so to speak — possibly because he was from a more remote part of the state — but they gave him full props whenever they saw him, so they must have compared notes somewhere down the line.
Looking back, I can see why the aforementioned two were a closely knit group and liked the third. I was surprised to read that, in Internet accounts of the time, ‘most’ Americans supported the war effort. That might have been true in the beginning, but, by the late 1960s, there was equal opposition, if not more so.
Most of the draft-age men I knew received deferments. The three aforementioned men were the first Vietnam vets I’d ever met. That was in the early 1970s. My grandmother had a neighbour who was killed in action, sadly, but I never met him and barely knew his parents.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy saw the conflict as a ‘brush fire’ which the Green Berets could see off comfortably.
It’s interesting that his administration was responsible for a raft of deferments on social cohesion grounds. If you were married, a father, in university (especially in teacher training) or in seminary, you were exempt. Not surprisingly, university students in the early 1960s who married to avoid the draft were known as Kennedy Husbands. My grandmother rented the upper storey of her house — a spacious flat — to two of these couples in succession, between 1963 and 1967. The first family arrived with one child and left with another. The second arrived with two.
In Catholic school we were told, albeit obliquely, that we should support ‘peace’. That meant opposing the war. I’m not blaming Catholics here, but I am saying that state school teachers are not the only ones opposing the government.
I met the three Vietnam vets once we moved to another state, where my father had taken a new job. Being only a preteen at the time, I was amazed: ‘People actually served and came back alive?’
The vets — those three and others — were angry and — again, as I look back — with some justification. They felt they had no real support from the American people. They didn’t. This was a war designed for the middle classes to avoid. The poor (‘Commie music’ guy) and working class (the other two vets) were the ones who went under severe penalties for refusing to do so.
As such, I read with interest that some anti-war protestors or ‘refuseniks’ (as they were often called) from the era are now sorry. Some now want to help the military in some benevolent way. Others have expressed their remorse to those who spent a tour in Southeast Asia:
I’ve had 2 friends tell me of their ( Viet Guilt ). One had served in the Corps, but had been put out with a UD I believe it was . On a few occasions he would tell me (if I only had it to do over ). The other friend was into drinking, drugs and the next party. Never served. I always had the feeling they wanted me to say it was ok . Sorry boys I couldn’t do that . I would just change the subject. I didn’t harbor any real resentment but I wasn’t going to let them off either. We all make [our] bed, so on and ——-
A Marine at the same link said of those who were ‘sorry’ for not serving (caps in the original):
FEELING SORRY FOR YOURSELF IN NO WAY MAKES UP FOR THE **** THAT YOU CAUSED BY PROVIDING AID AND COMFORT TO THE ENEMY. I may have your belated respect, but you sure as **** don’t have mine. Not now, not ever.
Although I’m still forming conclusions, the following things happened:
– The United States thought it had to get involved in these former French colonies in order to show strength in the Cold War. Dwight David Eisenhower warned against too much involvement.
– The Lyndon Baines Johnson administration (Democrat), rightly or wrongly with the approval of Congress, got around declaring war with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964.
– The cannon fodder would largely be made up of those who could not refuse to fight. They lacked the connections and money (e.g. university tuition) for a deferment.
– Emaciated rock ‘n’ roll stars of the time were no accident. They adopted a strategy of being underweight.
– The leftwing ‘peace’ propaganda weakened America for years to come. Forget about the war in Vietnam, the big news happened with protests and domestic terrorism.
– It was a Republican — Richard Milhous Nixon — who got the US out of the war on January 15, 1973. It was the only Paris Agreement which was fully carried out.
– Those who stayed behind via deferments were able to shape the United States into the left-wing nation it has become today. The teachers reformed education. The lawyers defended questionable suspects. Those who refused to serve their country also repositioned the nation from the centre and turned the Democratic Party into a socialist one.
In closing, you might be surprised to find two ‘patriotic, conservative’ Americans who relied on deferments to get them through the Vietnam era.
I cannot help but think that the US became a selfish and cowardly nation during that time. So many of today’s ageing educators, entertainers, lawyers, politicians and media personalities — Democrats and Republicans alike — refused to take part. Was it cowardice or principle?
Perhaps it was no accident, possibly because of propaganda from the nation’s Cold War enemies.
The Vietnam War was a Fabian — and Frankfurt School — wet dream.
Leave your cares behind come with us and find
The pleasures of a journey to the center of the mind
Come along if you care
Come along if you dare
Take a ride to the land inside of your mind
Beyond the seas of thought beyond the realm of what
Across the streams of hopes and dreams where things are really not …
Says it all, really.