I had lunch with an old friend—a Vietnam veteran—the other day.
He was in the mood to talk, about the war—excuse me, the “conflict” (Washington didn’t dare call it a war)—and for an hour I listened.
It was not a pie-in-the-sky talk about how we all just couldn’t wait to get drafted and go fight for our country, but rather an honest discussion about how things really were back then. If you think we are a nation divided right now, well, you should have grown up during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The issues were different, but the strain on America’s social fabric was just as great.
My buddy was a helicopter gunner. He survived the war, but the emotional scars are still there. And he will take them to his grave.
Although I was not drafted, I feel compelled to write about Vietnam ever so often because that war and the controversy that surrounded it still resonate in our society. It was a terrible time to come of age.
Once you graduated from high school, you were almost afraid to go to the mailbox because of what might be waiting for you. A draft notice was followed by a physical, basic training and then Vietnam. That’s the way it worked.
If your draft card read 1-A, you were almost certain to be wearing a military uniform within a few weeks, especially in the late 1960s, when Washington was growing our Army to stop “the communist threat in Southeast Asia.”
It was called the “domino theory.” Washington assured the American people that if South Vietnam fell, the rest of Indochina would fall, too. Within a decade, the whole world would be under communist rule if we didn’t win in Vietnam.
That, of course, turned out to be hogwash. We eventually pulled out of South Vietnam and it went communist. The rest of the world’s “dominoes” did not follow. In fact, South Vietnam was one of the last countries to turn communist—and that was almost 50 years ago.
My friend and I discussed the government lies that led up to our involvement in Vietnam and the lies that followed: the inflated body counts, the victories that were not victories at all and the underestimated strength of North Vietnam and Viet Cong forces—lies all designed to positively influence American public opinion regarding the war.
I suppose that is why most people my age don’t trust the federal government even today. We remember the lies about Vietnam.
We also talked about how nobody wanted to go to that war. Well, that’s not exactly true. We both had one common friend who couldn’t wait to get over there and kick butt. He came back in a body bag after about a month.
Vietnam was a war of survival. In World Wars I and II, soldiers were fighting toward the final victory. In Vietnam, there was never any end in sight, so you just tried to survive your one-year deployment, especially if you were a draftee.
Like most wars, it was the old men, who would not have to do the actual fighting, who wanted war in Vietnam. They fell for the government line about the domino theory and sent the young men into the slaughter.
Of course, nothing has changed because it was the old men who fell for the government line about “weapons of mass destruction” and encouraged the war in Iraq. Look what a mess that was and still is. I suppose I still don’t trust anyone over 30, even though I’m well past that age now.
As I said, no one I knew except for that one young man wanted to go to Vietnam and most of the guys tried anything short of moving to Canada (some actually did) to get out of being drafted.
Initially there was a rule that if you were married you didn’t get drafted, so many couples went to the preacher. Then they started drafting married men, but not those with children. A baby boom followed. Finally, with no victory in sight, almost everyone who could pull a trigger was taken. Finally there was the lottery system.
Today we honor our military men and women. My friend and I discussed how returning Vietnam vets were spat upon and called names when they disembarked in Seattle. American boys were forced to go to Vietnam and then shamed when they came home.
During our discussion, my buddy and I talked about how America’s drug problem exploded during the Vietnam War. He recalled 30-day detox rehabs in Hawaii, which he called “a joke.”
Five of my friends were killed in Vietnam, including one who couldn’t have fought his way out of a wet paper bag. He lasted about one week. They might as well have buried him before he left the states.
Vietnam still makes me angry and it always will. Like Iraq, we had no business being there.
In the end, we achieved nothing. A lot of good men died for no reason. As with most wars, only the undertakers were the eventual winners.
My friend and I discussed all this over lunch.
Digestion did not come easy.