“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana
By Tom Crofton
The Commoner Call (9/25/17)
The current PBS series “The Vietnam War” by Ken Burns has been made in an effort to present a wide range of historical fact and opinion in an intentionally neutral voice. It’s visual elements are quite stunning, as we have come to expect from Ken Burns, and the statements of its participants provide a chance for viewers to see many sides of the conflict. Unfortunately, the use of a neutral voice leaves open the possibility that the obvious mistakes made by the principals of the conflict can be seen as tactical, where they were in fact failures of every founding principle our society is supposed to stand on. A great deal of the current political discord in our country, including the reborn concept of “America First” can be traced back to the America’s actions in this conflict.
The generation of disaffected Viet Nam vets, who feel betrayed by their government, form a large core of the Tea Party and its cousins on the right. A typical feeling that remains for many vets is that they were not allowed to win this war. That analysis assumes that someone can win a war, and that some how a better or more efficient use of enormous resources and waste of human life could have made the effort worth it. Standard military training is designed to dehumanize the enemy, so there can be little surprise that PTSD and its associated domestic violence, suicide, and retro-political action are the results of seeing through the charade, and recognizing the basic human sameness of our supposed foes. Unfortunately we can’t heal these personal wounds without a total reappraisal of our principles and actions as a people.
A deeper look at the causes and repercussions of the Viet Nam War and the following decades is available from Oliver Stone in his “The Untold History of the United States”.
This work is in many ways the modern extension of “A Peoples’ History of the United States”, by Howard Zinn, itself a tremendous read for those interested in breaking away from the “America never made a mistake”, “shining city on a hill” propaganda of conventional thinking.
Stone’s work is a series of TV shows from the History channel https://www.netflix.com/title/
The first disc is a fairly standard history of WWII, but the following discs clearly diverge from conventional thinking in describing the intentional efforts of the ruling classes to prevent peace from developing. Stone is able to show how a series of decisions were made to keep conflicts boiling and how no sacred principles were spared to maintain control over the masses worldwide. (For some a shocker may be the realization that the US created the Cold War, with its decades of trauma of impending Armageddon, to keep its economy going.)
Parallel, but perhaps deeper, than the New Testament concepts (most ignored by the Christian Right) of the Good Samaritan or Turning the other Cheek, is the Native American idea of of empathy embodied in the statement “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes”. The missing element in all Imperialist or colonial behavior is understanding that natives have all the same aspirations and intrinsic rights of the foreigner (“We hold these truths to be self evident”). They have by definition the rights of being on their home turf, their survival is connected to their adaptation to their unique local environment, and that their relative material or technological inferiority is not a measure of their worth. Political and economic oppression are based on exploiting the “naivete” of the “savages” as their connections to their environment are severed. As much as Americans want to believe we fought WWII to spread democracy, we actually used it to redistribute colonies.
These historical perspectives cut through the false patriotism of our entire political system. Both parties and all Presidents have accepted their roles as the creators and administrators of genocide in the modern era. A few brave public officials have stood up to the program, a few were taken out as a result. If the reader has any doubt about magnitude of our guilt as a nation, pictures of the piles of Viet Namese bodies in Burns’ film, stacked like cord-wood, should be viewed next to the pictures of the Nazi death camps. There is no such thing as collateral damage when more bombs are dropped on a region the size of New Jersey than had been dropped in all of human conflict before. There was no mistake when the defoliation of a nation continues decades later and birth defects continue for generations. The intentional treatment of populations as sub-human continues to be the modes-operendi of those running the planet. The parallel ongoing destruction of the Eco-system in “peace time” is merely a continuation of our war against the “weaker” populations.
Viewing history in the compressed form of a series of DVD’s allows the images of our actions as a nation to build into a solid case of intent. We can no longer accept the idea that simple mistakes were made, that a little human frailty or jealousy caused us to take a bite of the poisoned fruit. Our everyday lifestyle and prosperity is built on the lie that “we tried to do the right thing”. Only an intentional effort to rise above and reverse our behavior can turn the tide. The planet has enough resources to go around for everyone to share in peace and prosperity. We need to expose the forces preventing that. The evolution of the species needs a quantum jump. Efforts to paint our past as heroic need to be seen in the context of who gains by that viewpoint. In viewing history through a wider lens it becomes clear that our “greatest generation” became what it was fighting against; seems like maybe that was the plan all along.