I served as a Marine infantryman in Vietnam during 1969 and 1970. I managed to catch malaria, get hit by a handful of scrap metal and gain a permanent distrust for the US government, one that had been festering in me after the killings of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.
Little did I know then that the lessons I learned, the cynicism proven so correct, nearly a half century of entropy, America the slowly rotting corpse we see today, those signs were there then for any to see.
Forth three years later, the Vietnam War continues to define America, not through the accomplishments of war veterans instilled with courage and leadership gained through surviving a brutal struggle but quite the opposite.
Vietnam was a great evil. If genocide on such shallow pretense could be perpetrated there, why not anywhere or everywhere? All that was needed was to instill, not just obedience, that would be easy.
What kind of nation would elect, again and again, criminals and degenerates to high office, each designated the “leader of the free world?”
The flotsam and jetsam of the Vietnam War, the short-lived “Age of Aquarius” and the national descent into someone no one has been able to adequately describe, are enjoying their waning days.
Vietnam is still important, the war at least, but few understand why.
Within the first five years of the “end of the war,” 50,000 veterans had already died. Survival rates for amputees was low, thousands died of infection and neglect in filthy veterans hospitals.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or so it is called today, was unimagined, unthought-of and, most certainly, undiagnosed and untreated. It ravaged a generation, filling prisons, destroying families and infecting generations to come.
Nearly a million more veterans would die of exposure to Agent Orange, a defoliant still devastating Vietnam decades later.
Thousand more killed themselves. The same thing is going on today, the count of veterans from the “Global War on Terror” that have died at their own hand exceeded 30,000 by 2009. Since then, not only has America stopped counting but it has buried that figure as well.
Now America talks about so many veterans a day or one every so many minutes, making the numbers as small as possible and hoping nobody “does the math.”
The Vietnam War is best known for those who failed to go rather than for those who served. News anchor at CBS, Dan Rather, was fired for reporting that President Bush (41) had evaded the draft. The documents he was given were disputed.
However, they are now known to have been, not only accurate but much more of Bush’s “draft dodging” has come to light including clear evidence that he simply “abandoned” his service in the Air Force Reserve and nobody said a word.
Similarly, Vice President Cheney dodged the draft. In fact, the term “Chickenhawk” was coined to describe a virtual “army” of politicians who favor war, who reek of jingoism and phony patriotism but used every form of guile and deception imaginary to avoid serving in Vietnam.
It is easy to see how America bullies the world, a nation ruled by physical cowards. Who goes into politics in America?
These were the kids no one would play with, the informers, the malcontents, the weaklings of the schoolyard. Servility and corruption come easily to them.
The two best known Vietnam veterans are John McCain and John Kerry.
The McCain story is a curious one. Records of McCain’s period as a POW were classified upon his return from North Vietnam. His commanding officer, while a POW, was Colonel Ted Guy who submitted a series of charges to military prosecutors citing McCain for, among other things, treason.
Thirty-three POWs faced court martial with McCain, by far, accused of the most serious crimes. It was also McCain, son of an admiral who was also the son of an admiral who had to be protected.
John McCain was awarded a full pardon for his crimes by President Richard Nixon. Thus, the worst traitor in American history became the “war hero” to a generation.
As American writer and humorist, Jim W. Dean, so often states, “You just can’t make things like this up.”
McCain was hounded by Marine Sgt. Major John Holland, Army Colonel Earl Hopper and the CIA’s Ted Sampley, all dead now, who cited McCain for crimes as serious as planning air defenses for the Hanoi government to aid them in downing American pilots.
Hopper credits McCain with helping shoot down sixty American aircraft. Others who served with McCain claim it was John McCain that nearly sunk the nuclear super-carrier USS Forrestal, killing or wounding nearly 300 of the crew.
This would be funny if it weren’t true. If John McCain had been around during World War II, the two primary languages in North America would be German and Japanese.
During McCain’s time in the US Senate, when it was known that American POWs were still being held in Southeast Asia, McCain worked to block repatriation though evidence of surviving POWs was overwhelming.
It was then that John McCain began being referred to by those in the military, intelligence and veteran’s community as “the Manchurian Candidate,” after the character played by English actor Lawrence Harvey in the John Frankenheimer film of the same name.
Many Americans have wondered why Russia hasn’t opened its intelligence files on McCain, files that include recordings of 32 propaganda broadcasts he made while a “prisoner.”
John Kerry commanded a patrol boat in the Mekong Delta during the war. He served only 90 days in Vietnam, being wounded three times, sufficient for him to be removed from a combat zone. None of his wounds were severe or life threatening.
During his 2004 run for the presidency, Kerry was attack by a group who referred to themselves as “Swift Boaters.” Though Kerry was backed by his crew and other boat commanders, this group of veterans underwritten by billionaire political extremist T. Boone Pickens accused Kerry of cowardice.
Pickens offered to pay $1 million to a charity of Kerry’s choice if his accusations were proven false. Many though the “Swift Boaters” cost Kerry the election.
However, exit polls taken during the election showed that Kerry had actually won the election over Bush in a near landslide. Evidence was brought to bear that electronic voting machines were hacked and the election stolen.
In key voting precincts that guaranteed Bush an Electoral College majority, the “electoral college” being the strange system the US uses from time to time to override popular vote, nearly 200% of all registered voters cast their ballots for Bush.
In previous elections, it had been rumored that even the dead voted. In 2004 even farm animals voted.
Mike Connell, the programmer cited for writing the code that stole the election. In 2008, Connell, facing questioning by a grand jury, asked the Justice Department for protection. Connell told officials that his life was threatened by Bush national security advisor Karl Rove.
Within days, Connell was dead, victim of an unexplained plane crash. There was no explanation for the crash. The family said it was murder. There was no investigation.
T. Boone Pickens never paid the million dollars though, in the end, overwhelming evidence proved that he and his “Swift Boaters” were frauds. When I criticized Pickens for backing out of his agreement, he contacted me by email. Pickens seemed more than indifferent to his promise but indifferent to the veterans that his money would have aided.
Kerry and McCain make a strange pair, supposed political opposites, both are vastly wealthy, have always been close friends and have moved closer together politically, as seen in John Kerry’s short-lived period of bellicose rhetoric against Syria.
Few can think of John McCain without considering his musical rendition of the Beach Boys song, Barbara Ann, “Bomb – Bomb – Bomb….Bomb – Bomb Iran.”
Kerry was the titular leader of the anti-war movement in the US, no question about that. The movement floundered when it was led by young Marxists or bored college students who would show at campus rallies between classes.
Returning veterans demonstrating voicing their outrage stopped the Vietnam War. The military during Vietnam was filled with draftees and young disillusioned idealists. One in three Marine infantrymen had IQ’s over 120, qualifying them to be officers.
Lt. William Calley, the young Army officer credited with ordering the My Lai massacre, leaving over 500 women and children slaughtered had an IQ of 89. He would be the template for the new “volunteer army,” the force that has served so well in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Kerry was always suspect, however. He lacked the feeling of rage so many of us felt. If, so long ago, Kerry was being groomed for something, his career in the senate, heavily punctuated with cozying up to the military/industrial complex, we hadn’t seen it.
We see it now.
The one that doesn’t fit is Senator Chuck Hagel, now Secretary of Defense. Hagel served in the Army in Vietnam, his background much the same as mine as is his record of service.
At some point, however, Hagel becomes incomprehensible. Hagel, though a Republican, has a record of standing up to the Israel lobby, something in itself bizarre in Washington. He has seemed outspoken, voted as a moderate and shown himself to be presidential material.
In Vietnam, combat infantrymen were, invariably, anti-war. This didn’t necessarily come from strong political beliefs or even liberalism.
The military, at this time, was largely drafted and recruited from the most backward parts of the country. This is where Chuck Hagel is from, Nebraska.
Hagel, a rare cheerleader for the Vietnam War, moved from college to Washington, first as a congressional aid then as a lobbyist.
From there, Hagel was moved from one position to another, steered into money, steered into power, a “stalking horse” with populist views, carefully groomed, now seemingly a “Manchurian Candidate” like McCain but yet different, less volatile, less violent and potentially more dangerous.
Many felt that moving a Vietnam veteran, a real combat infantryman into the Department of Defense’s top slot would lead to military reforms and even signal a loosening of the noose Bush era legislation put around America’s neck.
America had become a police state and her police, her military and spy agencies had become an “uber-Gestapo.”
We would see no reform from Hagel, instead he simply sat in the chair held by Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates, his two utterly useless predecessors and “maintained an even keel.”
Did America lose its innocence in Vietnam?
The generation of Americans that fought World War II is called “the greatest generation.” In Russia, World War II is called “the great patriotic war.”
Vietnam was different. From a military standpoint, the forces sent to Vietnam were probably the best and brightest, the most effective America had ever put in the field.
That generation, my generation, fought a war to stay alive and fought a second enemy, a corrupt military, a corrupt government in Washington, to stay sane.
It didn’t work.
The real enemy was always here, in America. The Vietnamese won their freedom. Americans lost theirs.
Gordon Duff, Marine combat veteran of the Vietnam War that has worked on veterans and POW issues for decades and consulted with governments challenged by security issues. He’s a senior editor and chairman of the board of Veterans Today. Especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.