Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Another 50-year Memory: Vietnam

Earlier, when I got ready to post the video for the month from 50 years ago, my senior year in high school, I discovered that the song that dominated the American airwaves for five solid weeks in March and April of 1966 was the Vietnam War song, Ballad of the Green Berets. It is one of those songs that brings back deep and powerful emotions.

In 1966 the anti-war movement was hardly more than a relatively few people. Most of us were still living in the World War II vision of victory and the unbeatable power of the American military. Barry Sadler's song conjured all those positive emotions. It was, after all, only 20 years after World War II and many of us were the GI's children.

On the other hand it was a song of praise to and even worship of war. Wrapped in  the honor of the "brave men of the Green Berets" was, unfortunately, words that glorified war and death. My Dad had died about 18 months earlier, but I wonder if he, a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, would have felt that way?

Those two conflicting emotions were- and still are- real in the American psyche. They may even be basic emotional responses in the human psyche.

Underlying the conflicting emotions was also the uncertain political leadership, a deep and fatal misunderstanding of the root causes underlying the war, and a reliance on a style of war that was becoming outdated. Even Defense Secretary McNamara many years too late acknowledged the "fog" of the Vietnam War. The result, as we well know, was a disaster. We turned on ourselves and the men and women in the service. We vilified returning servicemen as if they were to blame for the problem when all they did was answer the call to military service.

Even if we did not participate directly in that vilification, as a nation it may have been among our darkest hours.

Times have changed in many ways. More people now understand that disagreement with war policy does not mean disagreement or hatred of those sent to serve. More people are recognizing the devastating effects of any war and seeking ways to help and support those who are adversely impacted by it. We are welcoming veterans home and thanking them for their service.

I also believe our Vietnam veterans are hopefully getting their long-deserved due. I have noticed that Vietnam vets are more willing to talk publicly today about their service without wondering who is going to condemn them for something that wasn't their fault.

Yesterday we were having lunch in an out-of-the-way restaurant. There was only one other couple present. The gentleman was a Vietnam-era Navy veteran. He was talking to the young server about his experiences and what he did in the war. He was not on the ground in Vietnam, but served aboard an aircraft carrier off the Vietnamese coast. As I listened to his story, we were only a couple tables apart, I was glad he now felt able to talk openly about it.

This is a far cry from some of my vet friends between 1969 and 1972. Even those who were involved in groups like Vietnam Veterans Against the War, as vocal as they were, would often be cautious about who they talked to about their experiences. Over these 40 years I have sat with a number who wanted to talk more about it and make their own amends to themselves.

Even given all that, I cannot post Barry Sadler's song. There are on You Tube videos that honor vets of other wars with pictures set to Sadler's song. While I applaud the support of these troops, Sadler's words are still too divisive and difficult, describing a time that is now past.

Plus we need to do something more positive as the vets of my generation are aging.

  • My heart still sinks every time I see a Vietnam Veteran.
  • For what we as a nation put them through,
  • For the way they were treated,
  • For the loss of so many young men!
To all Vietnam veterans, and troops from all the wars, I thank you for your willingness to do what you have done. May the day come when we (or someone) can look back and be glad when no one has to fight in war.

No comments: