Interview Concerning the Vietnam War Era
Questions and Responses:1. Where were you from 1965 to 1975? Why?
On my twelfth birthday, in February of 1965, I recall watching troops being interviewed, live on TV, which were part of the first significant U.S. deployment in Southeast Asia. My family and friends and I all related matter-of-factly that this was to prevent the spread of communism throughout the world. The Gulf of Ton Kin Resolution, after the alleged attack on American ships by the North Vietnamese, seemed to solidify the notion that, once again, Americans were fighting on the side of freedom and righteousness. Ten years later, at twenty-two in May of 1975, the national news aired accounts of Saigon being overrun by the North Vietnamese troops (or "liberated," in their words). As I watched the video of U.S. helicopters departing from our embassy, leaving behind many loyal South Vietnamese whom they were unable to rescue, I wondered what kind of country we had become over that decade, and whether any good would come from the lessons learned.
We knew by then that the Gulf of Ton Kin incident was embellished -- fabricated even -- as a ruse to get Congress and the American people behind the military-industrial war machine – of which President Eisenhower warned us in his farewell address. Also by then, my family and friends and I had steadfastly chosen our respective sides in the bitterly divisive issue of whether we were the liberators or aggressors in Vietnam. During that period in our nation’s history, I had gone from a Green Beret “wanna-be” to being classified 1-A-H, entitled to a hearing as a conscientious objector in the event that I was called up for the draft in the military. Moreover, as I entered draft-age eligibility, I became a young father and a husband with more immediate concerns. Nevertheless, I had no choice but to register, especially after having an older brother who had previously registered and had to report any younger male siblings.
Nixon's political maneuver of establishing the lottery selection system effectively diffused a controversial point of contention that the rich and college-enrolled were insulated from the process. For those whose numbers were among the higher half of the range from 1 through 365, they no longer had to worry about their own personal survival and thus had the option to move on with their lives. Thus, for many whom were more adamant about the draft per se than our nation’s foreign policies, they dropped out of the anti-war movement altogether. However, while my lottery number was a comfortably safe # 274, I continued to support the ant-war movement, albeit in a much less active roll once I married and became a father.
My convictions were born from those of a strict Catholic upbringing, including a parochial school education, which professed hard and fast rules on what was right and wrong. My home life was that of a typical nuclear family that encouraged respect as well as kindness for others. My community -- with organized crime (“So-long-as-you-don’t-cross-them!”) notwithstanding -- was deemed the fourth-safest metropolitan area in the country, so our only “real” fear seemed to be the “godless communists” that we heard of and read so much about. The only thing that seemed to stand between them and our way of life, we believed, was our nation’s government and our military. The Cuban Missile Crisis reinforced our convictions in the righteousness of our nation against this menace that otherwise would destroy all that we cherished.
So when President Kennedy announced the deployment of military “advisors” to Vietnam, to help the South Vietnamese “stem the tide of communism” – that is, in reference to what became known as the “Domino Effect” – who would have questioned the President’s or our nation’s integrity on this issue? After all, we knew from our history lessons in school that we were the nation of a Constitution that professed freedom and protection against oppression, whether from foreign or domestic enemies. And we were, despite our failings, a nation that would correct our wrongs, as evidenced by our own Civil War to rid our country from slavery and to strengthen our union around our values, as professed within our Constitution.
One important event that changed our way of viewing our nation as well as the world did not occur all at once. It was the slow but pervasive incursion of television that brought near-instantaneous information into our living rooms. It both reinforced our beliefs and led to deeper questions about those same beliefs. As our generation grew up with television, we were led to ask many deeper, profound and even disturbing questions:
n If all men are created equal, then why are Negroes marching for civil rights?
n If Americans have the Constitutional right to peacefully assemble to air their grievances, then why are these unarmed civil rights marchers being beaten and attacked by police dogs and fire hoses?
n If Lee Harvey Oswald was President Kennedy’s “lone” assassin, then why wasn’t he brought to justice rather than in turn being assassinated (on live television, no less) while under intense and heavy security?
n Are certain special interests more powerful than our laws and our nation’s collective values?
n Are we truly a nation of the people, by the people and for the people?
n Are there exceptions to the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill?”
n Can we trust our government, our institutions, and our religions?
Thus, it was our very love for our country’s values, as well as those of our religions, which was challenged by the virtual reality that we witnessed on the evening news. Television in effect had stoked the fires of revolution and, as we became embroiled in a foreign civil war in Southeast Asia, it simultaneously united our nation technologically while it divided it both politically and morally. As we witnessed the early protests against the undeclared war during 1965, they seemed to parallel those of the civil rights movement by being vocal yet non-violent, and often resisted by the authorities. We engaged in debates with friends and schoolmates more and more, at coffee houses, on street corners, at nearly every opportunity to talk freely. Since we shared common family values as well as a common witness to experiences through our ever-growing mass media, we had a firm basis by which to question the course of our nation and its policies.
As for my religious beliefs, I had always believed beforehand that my religion was far superior than all others, and certainly above the values, beliefs and ideals of any other institution or nation, including those of the United States. I found it a bit disconcerting, therefore, when we were asked to pray for victory in Vietnam. Why, I asked myself, were we endorsing a war that I had assumed was beyond the domain of the Catholic Church? If anything, I believed, the Church should be praying for peace and an end to the killings. I wondered why, in fact, given our teachings, we as Catholics were not asked to speak out against the war. One priest who headed my local church’s congregation, whom I assisted in organizing many of the monthly coffee house events throughout our town, was eventually fired and removed from our parish for speaking out and demonstrating publicly against the war. As a result of these observations and experiences, I left the Church. (To this day, although I have maintained strong religious convictions, I lament the fact that I find so much hypocrisy in organized religions as a whole.)
We became more and more skeptical as our authority figures and elders, including our own parents, professed unquestioned loyalty (“right or wrong”) to our country. While this so-called “Establishment” frame of reference seemed to emerge from the experiences of its members surrounding events of a very different world war a generation beforehand, the experiences of my generation surrounding our current events created a distinctly contrasting frame of reference. From our perspective, that loyalty to country entailed an allegiance to values that were not necessarily shared by its leaders and institutions, many of my generation became polarized from our elders’ blind-faith attitudes. Such terms as, “Question authority!” and “Don’t trust anyone over thirty!” became the mantras for the anti-establishment movement. By extension, the anti-war movement and its ever-growing protests and mass demonstrations underscored both the value system of the “baby-boomer generation” and its collective mistrust of government institutions and policies.
2. What were you doing at the time?
During my formative years as I entered my teens, I was enthralled by the political, scientific and cultural changes, discoveries and upheavals of the Post-World War II Era. The 1960s were emerging as a major transitional period that would take us full-bore into the next century. I immersed myself in the music and writings of the counter-cultural movement. Rock and Roll music was another powerful force in the lives of my generation as we grew up in the ‘60s, and it had as equally a profound effect as television in shaping my personal perspective of the world. The Beatles’ Revolver and Rubber Soul albums were both very personal and highly representative in reflecting an awareness that the world was changing and becoming much more than the sum of its parts. I was also enthralled by the scientific experiments and discoveries of the “Space Race” as well as by my intense awareness of current events, including those concerning the escalating war in Southeast Asia.
By the time I was 14 years of age in 1967, I helped lead my eighth-grade class in several acts of dissent against the oppressive and demeaning policies in my Catholic school. We were prevented from speaking out whenever we disagreed with the views of the Church, and we were denigrated before our peers whenever we made any such attempts. Furthermore, our class, which was made up by a majority that grew up together over the previous eight years, was abruptly separated by gender, presumably under the assumption that, once we had entered puberty, we could no longer be trusted with behaving appropriately with one another in a classroom setting.
When the nuns finally asked us what our concerns and expectations were, I was asked by my classmates to be the spokesperson. Among other issues, we wanted a forum for our debates on current events, including our nation’s involvement in Vietnam, and we were granted a weekly class-time for open discussions as well as unfettered access to a free and open monthly newsletter. We were also reintegrated into co-ed classrooms and allowed to congregate in the school’s auditorium during our lunch recesses, without the pervasive and watchful eyes of the nuns. While our victory was short-lived, since my classmates and I soon went our separate ways to various high schools, I had learned that organized and non-violent resistance can at times be more powerful than threats of sanctions from positions of authority.
In 1968, when I was 15, and after more assassinations took the lives of such public figures as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the field of major candidates in the presidential election campaign consisted of (Lyndon Johnson’s Vice President) Hubert Humphrey, (Former Vice President) Richard Nixon, and Senator Eugene McCarthy, the latter of which was seen (after R.F.K.’s assassination) as the only viable anti-war candidate. So when Hubert Humphrey attended a rally at a local arena with a nationally known musical group available to attract younger voters, I joined a demonstration against the war around a bonfire in front of the stadium, which also happened to be across from the city’s police station.
Four of our demonstration group’s members were taken into custody for marching and trespassing through the police station’s building. Consequently, several hundred of us remained outside the building and yelled and chanted until they were released without charges. Here it seemed that the sheer power of our numbers, in and of itself, while we were unarmed and no match against the police force’s weapons, emerged as a powerful force for non-violent change.
In 1969, when I was 16, I participated in the “National Moratorium Against the War” in the downtown area of a local city. I had skipped school that day with several schoolmates and we were nervously asking mostly irate and uncooperative passersby to sign the petitions for which we had volunteered to solicit signatures. We gained access to the Draft Board, which was approximately five to seven floors above ground level, when someone named John, who had approached us and asked whether we needed help with our mission, led us into the building and on up the elevator to the Draft Board. The enthusiasm of those about to be inducted was both emotional and overwhelming, and I recall getting nearly everyone at the receiving end of the Draft Board that day to sign our petitions against the war. I learned on that day that, by taking an activist role, much could be gained in the political process to bring issues to the attention of our public officials.
Of note, it was rumored thereafter that the gentleman who had assisted us was an Army Intelligence mole who had successfully elicited information on our identities. For years I believed that, as a result of my actions on that day, my name was on file somewhere deep inside the Pentagon to be added to blacklists that would follow me throughout my life, alongside my “permanent record” at my high school that surely would haunt me. More than a decade later I learned that John was not, in fact, a mole, when he appeared as my history professor in college for such subjects as Radicalism and Dissent in the U.S. since 1865, and he later ran unsuccessfully to be the mayor of a local city on a platform of activism and reform. He currently is the CEO for a renowned political polling organization, which is his name’s sake.
In 1970, when I was 17, I was one of twenty, who had started out among several hundred, who staged a walkout at my public high school, while the remainder were blocked from leaving the building by the school’s wrestling and football teams, these being assigned by the school’s administrators and coaching staff. Both the Principle and Vice-Principal confronted those of us who escaped by an alternate route. When it was clear that we were planning to remain in front of the school and intended to attract media attention, we were granted access to the school’s auditorium where the entire student body attended an all-day and highly spirited forum that effectively shut down all routine activities for the day.
Our concerns followed both Nixon’s covert invasion and the bombings of Cambodia, and the subsequent shootings of unarmed students at Jackson and Kent State Universities during protests against the invasion. My high school’s administrators had refused to close its doors, in solidarity with the majority of the nation’s schools, in mourning for the dead students. Once again, this became an “Establishment” versus “Anti-establishment” confrontation, with the war being the divisive central issue. Since we were reduced to a “Gang of Twenty” by the strong-armed tactics of the school’s administrators, coaches and athletes, our names were recorded and we were later sanctioned with dire warnings to fly straight or get out altogether.
Consequently, less than two weeks into my senior year, I was expelled for skipping school, an act which I had successfully executed scores of times previously with barely a reprimand and routine detention on each occasion. The administrators apparently had taken a zero-tolerance stance against those of us who had dared to challenge the very foundation of the school’s authority. However, by then I had become totally disillusioned by the establishment’s steadfast resistance to change, and rather than fight the expulsion, I embraced it as an opportunity to move forward in other directions in my life.
My future wife and I soon left for the west coast where we visited, among other places, the hotbeds of the counter-cultural movement and radical dissent, most notably the Berkeley campus and the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco. After our brief adventure, we returned to New York, married and had a child. While our marriage hardly lasted a year, I remained in our local area to stay close to my estranged family, and I lived in a communal setting in a large house in the nearby city. During that time, I went to Boston once to cheer on a(n) SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) march against the war. I lived on the streets before qualifying for a federal Youth Opportunity Program that paid a minimum wage while I learned a trade in the printing and publications profession, and I stayed at a nearby rooming house. I then lived in a college community about a half hour’s drive away to work as a press operator, at 19 years of age, at the university, hoping for an employee subsidy to attend classes, which unfortunately never panned out.
Although my active role against the war had effectively ended with more pressing needs to survive and support my family, during the presidential election campaign of 1972 I had designed and printed anti-Nixon and anti-war flyers, which I then distributed throughout local public establishments. While it was apparent that the war was de-escalating with troops coming home by the thousands, the U.S. bombs continued to drop on civilian as well as military targets in North Vietnam. I recall debating the war with various pro-Nixon elders, including my father, who argued that I was undermining the President’s efforts to bring “Peace with Honor,” as was the official rhetoric at the time. However, I responded that, while the Paris “Peace Talks” continued, the U.S. was mining the North Vietnamese harbors, thus undermining its own supposed “peace process.”
While Secretary of State Henry Kissinger stated that “peace is at hand” several weeks before the election, and Nixon had abruptly stopped the bombings, I warned my father to “mark my words,” that this activity was all a cynical ploy to win re-election. Soon after Nixon’s record landslide at the polls, the bombings returned in full force and my father conceded that I was right, and our political differences seemed miniscule after that. In fact, once the Watergate scandal and other revelations about the Nixon Administration’s underhanded tactics became apparent to the American people, the political and philosophical chasm between the generations seemed to narrow considerably and, following Nixon’s subsequent resignation, America as a whole seemed to exhibit a willingness to move beyond those differences.
In 1973, after several fits and false starts, a cease-fire was agreed upon between the U.S. and the North Vietnamese, and seemed to effectively end the active U.S. military roll in Southeast Asia. I recall my younger brother telling me that he was seriously considering signing up into the military, as soon as he graduated from high school, in order to learn a trade. While I would have tried to discourage him otherwise, with the war winding down and the economy engulfed in a recession with runaway inflation and unemployment, it seemed like the pragmatic thing to do on his part. Despite the inherent risks involved in much of military duty, as well as my own personal repugnance of the hyper-disciplined military mentality, with peace at hand I figured he could join the Navy as planned and at least learn a trade and see a part of the world beyond our economically depressed community. The alternative, I believed, might have been that he would stagnate and become mired, like many others our age, in a life of drugs and alcohol and few opportunities to get ahead.
That same year, I traveled out west once again and worked briefly in Downtown Denver printing forms and letters for an insurance company. After struggling unsuccessfully to find meaningful work throughout the year, I returned to be near my family & entered headlong into school at a local community college in the fall of 1974, attending full-time and investing heavily into student loans and qualifying for whatever grants that I was eligible, to somehow improve my career opportunities. By 1975, when Saigon had fallen to the North Vietnamese and became known as Ho Chi Minh City, I was a feature writer for the school’s student newspaper at the time, and I continued to write for other publications thereafter.
With the war ended, I wrote about such social issues as the death penalty, factory farming, the military-industrial complex, and even a return to the draft. I also had a part-time job with the state, working in an experimental program assisting in releasing institutionalized teenagers from the region’s developmental center, back to their respective families and communities throughout the state. It had become apparent to me that government policies affect real people in many real ways far beyond the distractions of war and other conflicts. Although the world had changed, the lessons learned from the era of the Vietnam War continued to resonate.
3. What were your feelings and thoughts about the war?
It sucked! [Please refer to the above for additional information. Thank you.]
4. Why was the war fought?
The United States needed a proving ground for its war machine. Military production accounted for a significant portion of the national economy. The power of money and influence needed to expand, and the threat of world domination by the Soviets and the communists in general created fertile ideological ground on which to grow and prosper. It was as much an opportunity for expansion of American military might as it was in defense of the Free World. With Southeast Asia stabilized, the United States could triangulate with its bases in Japan and, after barely a dozen years since the Korean War armistice, contain the Red Chinese at the Korean Peninsula.
In addition to the Red Chinese threat, the Soviets were becoming a significant influence in training and arming the North Vietnamese, who in turn supported the Viet Cong. Therefore, by extension, South Vietnam became the Cold War battlefield between the superpowers, using the civil war of a third world Asian country, along with its population as pawns in the dirt, to showcase their weapons and military capabilities. World War II is what put the power of the United States at center stage, and clearly winning that war kept it there until the world threat of the Soviets became apparent and, after the stalemate in Korea, the emerging Red Chinese threat as well. A clear win was intended in Southeast Asia in order to regain the momentum of power and expansion.
5. If military, what branch [were you in, what was your] rank, [and] where were you stationed? What was your job?
[This does not apply to me, as I was never in the military.]6. If military (and in Southeast Asia): How long were you there? [Was there any] Interaction with Vietnamese? [Were you] Ever under fire?
7. What is your impression of the conduct / strategy / reasons for the war?
While I’m sure that there was much humanitarian aid provided to the non-Viet Cong civilians of South Vietnam, many were needlessly slaughtered and tortured by U.S. soldiers, and so the conduct of the war was hypocritical, racist and barbaric.
The strategy of the war was akin to that employed by the British when trying to contain the American Colonial Revolutionaries: The imperialist power was trying to outmaneuver a native guerrilla force by means of conventional warfare. The U.S. military and its nation’s leaders, by trying to flush out the native enemy forces, or “bomb them back to the Stone Age,” with such “weapons of mass destruction” as napalm, Agent Orange and B-52 bombers, brought the world of public opinion squarely against them. They were condemned for any use of such overwhelming force whatsoever, and it seemed to actually steel the resolve of those native forces against what was then seen as an invading superpower. Thus, the strategy backfired, making the U.S. appear to be the enemy of the Vietnamese people.
[As for the reasons for the war, please refer to question # 4, above.]
8. What did you think of the protestors in the United States?
From my perspective as a participant in demonstrations against the war, I can say that there are no clear-cut, black and white descriptions of who and what the protestors were. Of the many hundreds of thousands of protestors, many believed strongly in the need to send a clear and strong message to the U.S. Administration that our nation’s involvement in the war was wrong and that we should withdraw unconditionally. Others, however, were simply along for the ride as a way of mingling and interacting with their peers, or for a means to other personal gratification. Still others participated simply as a means of self-preservation. (Witness, for example, those that dropped out of the anti-war movement once the draft lottery [see question #1, above] insulated them from being called up for active duty.) Some of the more radical dissenters were violent militants and even anarchists. Nevertheless, the members of the majority were idealistic and non-violent, and willing to risk their well-being and safety for the cause of peace.
9. What did you think of “Draft Dodgers” and [President] Carter’s pardoning of “Draft Dodgers?”
Again, there are no clear-cut, black and white descriptions. I have known several “Draft Dodgers,” as well as several deserters. Some were even harbored in the communal house in which I had lived [see question #2, above] until they either moved on up north to Canada, or they surrendered to the authorities. As with the protestors, the reasons for their initial decisions ranged from sincere idealism to grandstanding and self-preservation. Whenever someone isolates himself (or herself) from society and is placed at risk of imprisonment as well as other indignities, the reasons become highly personal. Some avoided the draft altogether by risking their health – for example, one close relative raised his blood pressure through sudden and drastic weight fluctuations. Due to the possible long-term health effects, I felt that this was a rather foolish option.
Still others convinced the Draft Board that they were mentally unfit. A favorite story that was relayed to me by someone who supposedly was rejected on mental grounds has appeared in other circles of conversation, so I wonder now whether the first storyteller was telling the whole truth. Nevertheless, I felt that it was a great story and illustrative of the length that some resisters of the draft were willing to go. He related how he had shoved peanut butter in the crack of his butt just before going in to get his physical prior to draft induction. He knew that the doctor would ask him to drop his drawers, turn around and bend over, supposedly to inspect for hemorrhoids, or whatever. When the doctor observed the mess, he asked whether he had shit his pants, to which the prospective draftee replied, after collecting a dab on his finger and placing it in his mouth, “Yup, I guess I did!”
As for those who went off to Canada or Europe or elsewhere based on their strong personal or religious convictions against the war, I say more power to them. However, I wonder how many of them continued to actively resist the war from the vantage point of their isolation from the political process. With regard to President Carter’s pardoning of these “Draft Dodgers,” I believe it was necessary to heal the political wounds of the nation, although again those with sincere convictions against the war were more deserving than others.10. If civilian: Did you know anybody who went to Southeast Asia? Explain.
Shrapnel in Vietnam wounded one of my cousins, but he recovered and today is a detective with the sheriff’s department of a large municipal area of the state. One of my neighbors stepped on a land mine and died. I know at least half a dozen more, each on a first-name basis who, although not wounded physically are, even to this day, obviously scarred emotionally by memories of the conflict. A former co-worker of mine at a mental health day treatment program, who was once counseled by the same agency for post-traumatic stress disorder, would break down crying whenever he viewed movies depicting the Vietnam War. A former neighbor of mine used to isolate himself in a nearby garage for many hours at a time, even during the winter months. Any loud sounds would set him off into fits of rage and he would beat on his (former) girlfriend with whom he lived.
Most notably, however, was a friend who presented a persona of being a happy-go-lucky guy who didn’t have a care in the world. He would always entertain my friends and me for many hours at social gatherings with outrageous jokes and funny stories, and he seemed to relish being the center of attention. Our favorite story was how he convinced his military superiors to discharge him for being crazy. Whenever someone would ask how he qualified for disability benefits, he would relate how he had observed the daily activities of his Sergeant and learned that he always entered the barracks at exactly the same time every day. He related how he loaded up on several bowls-full of chili, took a laxative, and then waited for his Sergeant to arrive. At the opportune moment, he hung his butt over the eve of the barrack’s roof above the doorway, and let it rip onto the Sergeant’s head. Accordingly, he was duly discharged as quickly as possible.
It was from stories like that which not only kept us in stitches, but also distracted us from asking what drove this friend of ours to being so crazy in the first place. That is, until one day when he had too much to drink and he related an earlier experience of his while he was stationed in Vietnam. He told us how he was assigned the responsibility of securing an airstrip, with orders to shoot anyone who violated the parameter without notice. While at first we simply suspected that he was setting us up for yet another sampling of his off-the-wall humor, he began to take on a serious tone as he related to when he had fired off the machine gun from his station when he saw shadowy figures approaching off in the distance. After he investigated his targets, he discovered that he had killed three young children and their mother. At this point of the story, he was in tears and his audience members, including this writer, were speechless. To this day I wonder what scars are hidden beneath the surface of those who “served” in Vietnam.11. Did we win? Could we have won and [, if so,] how?
I believe that we won only in that, as a nation, we have a greater sense of where we stand in the eyes of the world. As great as we are as a nation and as noble as we were in the previous world wars, we learned that there are limits to our powers and abilities to influence the collective wills of other nations. Given that, I don’t see how we could have won by being involved in the war as we were.12. How do you feel the veterans of Southeast Asia were treated?
They were treated extremely poorly, especially during the conflict. Once, a friend of mine and I were beat up by two Marines outside of a tavern after the patrons had razzed them about the war, and then we became the targets for their anger. I had lost a tooth, and my jaw was nearly broken. Most of those who enlisted did so out of a sense of duty, honor and love for the ideals of their country, which, ironically, [as described above, in question #1] were the same reasons that many dissented against the war. I think today, however, there is a much greater recognition of the sacrifices that were made, as well as a long-overdue respect for their willingness to do what they believed was right.13. Do you feel that Vietnam changed the way the world is run today? Why?
I think that, coupled with the quagmire that the Soviets experienced in Afghanistan, the world body, as personified in the United Nations, is leery of any super-power’s intent on intervening in any third-world country for whatever it’s stated purpose might be. Therefore, Vietnam has changed how the world views the exercise of power over less powerful nations, regardless of the reputation and proven performances of even the United States of America.14. Was Vietnam a turning point in American history? Why?
Yes, in that it taught us how, by becoming involved in the political process through both active and non-violent means, much can be accomplished. On the other hand, through resistance to change, and even political backlashes such as the Nixon and Regan eras (and now, Bush “-II’s”), we have learned that long-term change is incremental (more “evolutionary” than revolutionary) and that true ideals can never be forced on the people, but must be willingly embraced by them through both experience and education. As for the military, I believe that one of their strategies ever since has been that of disinformation and much greater restrictions on the media to access the truth.15. (For the writer) How were you as the interviewer changed by this interview – what did you learn?
[Since I am not the interviewer, I’ll leave this question “For the writer.”]16. What is worse, to lose your life for your country, or to lose your country as with the “Draft Dodgers?”
My guess, as far-fetched as it may seem (since I have lost neither), is that it is much worse to lose one’s life than it is to lose one’s country.17. [Are there] Any similarities seen with Vietnam and: a) Hitler, in Europe, in [the] 1930’s?
Yes, but only if you believed in the “Domino Effect” [see question #1, above] in that the communists as a whole could be equated with Hitler and the Nazis.b) Saddam [Hussein] and Iraq?
Yes, in that, like the “Domino Effect” [Ibid.], the threat is vague and ill defined, and there appears to be underlying, strategic advantages to dominating the region.18. Do soldiers have the “right” and/or the “duty” to question [the] government? Do citizens [have the “right” and/or the “duty” to do so] during wartime?
Soldiers give up many of their “rights” when they take the oath to serve their country in the military, but they do not relinquish their “right” to think. One unfortunate act among the troops during the Vietnam War was “fragging,” often carried out by tossing grenades into the tents of their superior officers. Nevertheless, they have a “duty” to obey and follow their orders. Decades beforehand in Nuremberg, the trials of Nazi officers, who had pleaded that they were “only following orders,” lead to the military stipulation that soldiers do, in fact, have a “duty” to disobey orders that are clearly against the principles that define civilized humanity. While this “duty” to disobey orders is a highly personal issue, how many Mi Lai-like massacres would have been exposed or even prevented if more soldiers followed their personal values over their orders to kill unconditionally? One must never hide behind a flag at the expense of one’s principles.
Citizens always have a “right” as well as a “duty” to question the government, especially during wartime. Of course, personal responsibility must prevail as no one has the “right” to place anyone’s life in danger. But it is precisely the scrutiny of our leaders’ actions, coupled with the dissent of our nation’s citizenry, that directs the course of our nation. No public policy is more blatantly representative of the principles of a nation than that which is implemented through an act of war. We should not dominate others simply because we can. The strength of our people is through restraint, and it should be reflected through our public policies. When our public officials do not represent the principles of the people with whom they are obligated to serve, then the will of the people must be reflected in their dissent and, if necessary, through whole-scale acts of civil disobedience.Please include any other questions or statements [that] you feel [are] necessary.
When this interview began, I assumed that the events in common to many of us who experienced the Vietnam War era could be encapsulated into brief information “bytes” and simple anecdotes. However, I had forgotten the underlying feelings that were prevalent at the time. By reliving those memories, I have “tasted” tear gas once again – we had tried to block a bus full of draft inductees from leaving a local bus depot. I resented that, after the Woodstock “generation” emerged, long hair had become a fashion statement rather than a “freak flag” in protest against the war.
When the war had ended, as editor-in-chief of my college’s newspaper, I helped to pressure state and local officials to build a campus in a local suburb. In graduate school, I taught students how to organize and demonstrate non-violently for their rights – they once occupied the administration’s campus building for thirty-six hours, and prevailed with concessions to their demands. I continue to speak out on social issues and to advocate for the disabled and disenfranchised. I remain vigilant against the erosions of our constitutional rights and values. Even to this day, my actions in questioning authority, and in fighting to maintain the integrity of my values, stem from my experiences several decades past when our nation was at war and its people were bitterly divided.
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