Special to the Cape Charles Mirror by Paul Plante.
In a post in here on March 13, 2017, Chas Cornweller, a respected contributor to the Cape Charles Mirror made this following statement which is the genesis of this thread:
Mr. Plante, your biggest life experience, I gather-correct me if I am wrong- is Vietnam.
And that answer is, it can’t.
It is like a question posed to me by a psychologist trying to probe the minds of Viet Nam combat veterans to see what might be in there:
“If you didn’t go to Viet Nam, who do you think you would have been?”
You see what I am saying here?
How does one know what the “biggest life experience” of one’s life really is?
How do you define it?
And what life experiences do you have to exclude to get to that final answer?
There is the real question.
For me, Viet Nam was Viet Nam, simply that.
To somebody who wasn’t there, it is beyond my ability with words to describe, in all honesty.
What I can say, and truthfully so, is that Viet Nam was not America, and you know what, people,. having had their own history going back to at least 1100 A.D., long before there was a United States of America, the Vietnamese people did not want America jammed down their throats, as if they were too stupid and incompetent to fend for themselves.
That is just one of the many things about life and the people of Viet Nam that I learned as an American citizen over there while a private soldier with the United States Army over there.
So yes, for me, it was a big life experience, especially when a Viet Cong RPG gunner in March of 1969, right around this same time of the month, actually, took careful aim with his RPG at the flat backside of the flame coming from the barrel of the M-60 machinegun I was manning and almost succeeded in taking off my head.
But perhaps an even bigger life experience for me personally, in all truth, was returning to this country with a serious head wound and likely, in today’s jargon, a TBI, to find myself unceremoniously dumped by the side of the road like a bag of trash to fend for myself by a supposedly grateful nation that had neither the money nor the desire to take care of the wounded and maimed veterans returning to this country from an unpopular war in Southeast Asia.
And to get to the point of this essay, Viet Nam was not only a life experience for me, it was for every other American at that time, as well, whether they knew it or not, and it was as well for the generation born right after or during Viet Nam, say, circa 1970.
To connect then to now, Hillary Clinton, an almost-president twice now, which has her vying for the impressive record set by Harold Stassen, best known for being a perennial candidate for the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States, seeking it nine times between 1944 and 1992, is in reality a product of what I call the VEET NAM times in America, times that are largely forgotten, on purpose because no one wants to remember them, or because so many people from then are dead.
Had there not been a VEET NAM war for Hillary to protest against, it is possible that Hillary might never had made her meteoric rise to national stardom as she did, becoming on May 31, 1969, as we are told in the Washington Post story “Hillary Clintonâ€™s breakout moment at Wellesley College” by Frances Stead Sellers and Marilyn W. Thompson on August 14, 2016, a national symbol of student activism and provocative voice speaking for her angry generation:
Students carried signs demanding fair housing, black economic power and a common theme: â€œGet Out of Vietnam NOW.â€
Back at Clintonâ€™s dorm, Stone-Davis, the war had particular resonance.
Down the hall from Clintonâ€™s spacious suite, a fellow student was corresponding with a brother fighting in Vietnam.
Clinton and a group of friends who have remained close ever since rallied around the dorm mate, and Clinton joined expeditions to New Hampshire to support Democrat Eugene McCarthyâ€™s antiwar campaign.
With respect to Democrat Eugene McCarthyâ€™s antiwar campaign that Hillary was a supporter of, and so much that has happened since, right up to now with the burning question of what America’s values and traditions really are, in 1968, McCarthy campaigned in St. Louis, where he continued his anti-war rhetoric, describing the Vietnam War as against â€œAmerican traditionâ€ and declaring that â€œno nation has a rightâ€ to â€œdestroy a nationâ€ with the rationale of â€œnation building,” that said as today, we are doing a real good job of destroying several nations, all in the name of nation-building.
In the Preface to the excellent American history “Dereliction of Duty – Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the lies that led to Viet Nam” by H.R. McMaster, copyright 1997, he states as follows with respect to this thread:
Despite scores of books on the subject, the WHY and HOW of direct U.S. intervention in the Vietnam War remains unclear.
The war continues to capture the public interest in part because, looking back, its cost seems exorbitant – and would seem so even if the United States had “won”.
The war took the lives of fifty-eight thousand Americans and well over one million Vietnamese.
It left Vietnam in ruins and consumed billions of American dollars, nearly wrecking the American economy.
How is that for stupid is as stupid does, people?
Getting back to McMaster:
Vietnam divided American society and inflicted upon the United States one of the greatest political traumas since the Civil War.
One of my premises in here is that divide McMaster talks about then was the beginning of the severe festering divide that exists today in the United States of America, to our detriment as a nation.
And back to McMaster:
Indeed, the war’s legacies proved to be as profound as the war was traumatic.
It led Americans to question the integrity of their government as never before.
For a few minutes, would be my addition to that last sentence, and then that became boring and we became distracted by something else, and then something else beyond that something else, to where we now are today, in a highly divided nation at war with itself.
As McMaster says:
Thirty years later, after the end of the Cold War, the shadow of the American experience in Vietnam still hangs heavy over American foreign and military policy, and over American society.
Except American society has forgotten that experience, and that history, so as a nation, being as stupid as we are, and ill-in formed, we are simply repeating that experience once again without question, and this time Hillary Clinton is not against all those wars, like she was against Viet Nam, because Hillary helped to start those wars as Secretary of State.
And getting to the meat of this discussion, in his Preface, McMaster gave us this:
Any interpretation of direct American intervention in the Vietnam war must address the question of responsibility for one of the greatest American foreign policy disasters of the Twentieth century.
Much more important is to determine how and why key decisions were made, decisions that involved the United States in a war that it could not win at a politically acceptable level of commitment.
But you know what, people?
We never bothered to do that; to the contrary, we shut it out, and then tried to move on, but to where?
As McMaster puts it:
It would be impossible for an Army lieutenant, obtaining his commission in 1984, not to be concerned with the experience of the Vietnam war.
I thought that to better prepare myself to lead soldiers in combat it was important to learn from the experiences of others, and the most recent U.S. war seemed as good a starting place as any.
I read personal accounts written by junior officers, but found to my surprise that the Army I entered barely spoke of Vietnam.
The emotions connected with sacrifices made in a lost war ran too deep to permit the veterans of that conflict to dwell on their experiences.
Those who remained in uniform seemed eager to forget and had turned their energies and talents towards building an organization capable of fighting and winning the next war.
Think on that last sentence, people, the one about “Those who remained in uniform seemed eager to forget and had turned their energies and talents towards building an organization capable of fighting and winning the next war,” as you ponder just how long we now have been mired in the war in Afghanistnam, now America’s longest war where yet more American troops are needed, which war makes Viet Nam look well run by comparison, as well as Iraqinam, where we are mired down, and Syria, where we have boots on the ground and are mired down, and Somalia, where the United States military is currently engaged in a clandestine war in the African nation of Somalia which has American special operations forces working with government forces from Somalia, Kenya, and other African nations to fight the militant group al-Shabaab, which has ties to al-Qaeda.
As to Somalia, the US military hasn’t had this many troops in the war-torn country since the “Black Hawk Down” tragedy of 1993, and yes, people, that is the same Somalia that is a part of Donald Trump’s much maligned and hated travel ban which Camille Mackler, director of legal initiatives at the New York Immigration Coalition, called a “backdoor Muslim ban.”
So, to conclude for now, was Viet Nam a life experience in the political life of this nation?
Should we have learned something from it?
Or should we have done just what we did do as a nation, which was to forget it and move on, as if the only way to get to the good times is to forget that there ever were bad times?
So many questions, so few answers.
Stay tuned, more to come.