This letter is for those of you who were born after the Vietnam War.
Many of you are in high school right now. Some of you have recently graduated
and are working the Slurpee machine at the 7-11 (your way of celebrating the
greatest economic boom in history!).
By now, you have probably figured out that a lot of adults have a hard time
speaking the truth. Some are just forgetful, which comes with age. Some need
to believe that the world is ordered a certain way so they can justify their
actions and the way they live their lives. Others just want the pain to go
away, and creating fantasies is one way to relieve the sorrow of the past.
Today is the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. But that’s not
exactly true. It’s really the 25th anniversary of the Vietnamese VICTORY over
the United States of America. It’s hard for a lot of adults to say those
words. No one likes to lose. We did.
You have probably seen a lot of nonsense on TV this week about how the 58,000
Americans who lost their lives in Vietnam “did not die in vain.”
That, is not the truth.
Those young lives were wasted and eliminated for absolutely no good reason
whatsoever. They were sent to die in Vietnam at the whim of a bunch of
politicians and the men who pick up their tab at the country club.
I encourage you to read “Taking Charge” by Michael Beschloss. Beschloss
obtained the secretly-recorded White House tapes from the day when President
Johnson decided to send the troops to Vietnam. They show that Johnson KNEW he
was doing the wrong thing, that the war could not be won, but, after a pause
in the conversation, he decided to go ahead anyway. You can hear what little
was left of Johnson’s conscience in that brief pause of self-doubt, and like
the moment of decision in a frightening cliffhanger, you’ll find yourself
shouting at the book, “Don’t do it, don’t do it, thousands — millions! — of
lives will be spared!!” But he does do it. He went to Congress and lied about
an American boat being attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam, and the
Senate voted 98 to 2 to send our boys to their early graves.
By now, you have probably also figured out that politicians will lie about
anything to create a justification for their actions. In order to get away
with invading Vietnam without calling it an “invasion,” the political leaders
and their compliant media friends told the American people that the
Communists were overrunning South Vietnam, a democracy and an ally of the
United States (it was a totalitarian state with a puppet leader we installed
after our government helped to assassinate the former leader). We were told
the Communists had to be stopped and, if they weren’t, Communism would spread
throughout all of Asia.
Communism, for those of you too young to have experienced the scare, was this
thing that enslaved billions of people to a system where they had little or
no say, where elections contained essentially no choice on the ballot, where
competition and choice in the marketplace were eliminated, and where
virtually every town had but one newspaper which told them what was going on.
In other words, sorta like the U.S. today!
The truth was, Vietnam had been invaded and colonized by various foreign
powers for a thousand years. In the 1940s, during World War II, a Vietnamese
leader, Ho Chi Minh, sided with America and the Allies to defeat the Japanese
and Germans. After the war, he came to Washington in the hopes of convincing
the President and Congress to back his people’s struggle to be free. He was
certain that the Americans, whose own country was founded through a
revolution against a foreign king, would back his efforts to create a free
and democratic Vietnam. He was not a “Communist” then. His hero was George
Washington. The Vietnamese Constitution he proposed was based on the U.S.
Constitution, which he thought to be a profound document.
The Congress and the President turned him away. The French, who “owned”
Vietnam at the time — you see, they were our “friends.”
Ho and the Vietnamese were forced to look for help elsewhere. And the rest is
There is not much talk on the news today about the Vietnamese who died in the
war. Over two million perished. Two million people were killed in our name,
using our taxes and America’s sons in perpetrating a mass slaughter. You
probably have seen a lot of Senator John McCain this year, everyone talking
about him being a “a war hero.” McCain’s job was to bomb innocent civilians
in the neighborhoods of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. He got shot down
while committing this heinous act. He ejected and crashed into a lake in the
center of town. How did the Vietnamese react to this American who fell from
the sky after killing their children? Did they string him up and kill him?
No, they jumped into the lake and saved his life. Thirty-two years later, he
rides with the press on his “Straight Talk Express” and calls them “gooks”
and few bother to report it.
A lot of people my age and older went to Vietnam. They were not bad people.
They were just kids who didn’t know they were being used. But, we are all
responsible for our individual actions, and on judgment day, using the excuse
that you were “only following orders” will not sit well. But neither will our
lack of compassion and understanding. “All are punish’d.”
The only true heroes of the Vietnam War — you will not read about them in
your high school history books or see statues of them in city parks — were
the brave ones who stood up against the government and refused to go and kill
Vietnamese. Contrary to what you may have seen on TV, being against the war
was never the popular position to take (until near the very end). Those who
protested took a lot of abuse, not to mention a few billy clubs to the head.
Those who refused to be drafted were sent to jail. Over a hundred thousand
escaped to Canada, a country that took them in without question. Families
were ripped apart. To this day, in spite of the amnesty, the government
continues to track down and punish those unfairly accused of violently trying
to stop the war (please read the excellent article on Howard Mechanic in
today’s New York Times Sunday Magazine http://www.nytimes.com/)
Nine guys who went to my high school were killed in Vietnam. If there is
anything you take from this letter, it is my hope that you will always resist
our government’s efforts to send you off to fight the rich man’s wars. Most
would agree that there come those times in history when, out of sheer
self-defense, a nation must defend itself. That is not what happened in
Vietnam — or in Grenada or Panama or Nicaragua or Iraq or Kosovo. These are
wars to make the world safe for oil and sweatshops. Don’t ever let an adult
tell you any differently. They will lie to you because they need YOU to go
fight THEIR war. Don’t fall for it. Only the strong and brave and courageous
are able to resist what appears to be the human instinct to kill other
humans. Be brave. Be strong. Learn from your parents’ and grandparents’
Twenty-five years later, many of them still can’t figure out what went wrong.
That’s why I believe April 30 should be a national holiday, a day to always
remember what went wrong with us, so that it never happens again. In Vietnam,
it’s not called the “Vietnam War.” It’s called the “American War.” The BBC
news ticker that runs across the top of my computer screen just flashed on:
“Vietnam Celebrates American Defeat.” Defeat? Defeat! I have not read a
headline like that in the U.S.
As long as we can’t call it for what it was, we are doomed to repeat our
worst mistake. Kids, help us.