Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrll continues on THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD – a Political History, Part 3: Vietnam – the Most Divisive Issue of Our Generation. She writes:

To backtrack just a bit, our beloved country had absorbed many body blows in the turbulent ’60’s, starting with the unimaginable assassination of President Kennedy. (Some of you jumped the gun by discussing that last week. It’s OK.) Assassinations were something that happened in some Latin American backwater, not in America. Our High School Girls’ Service Club had scheduled a dance for November 22nd, 1963. Naturally, it was cancelled. No matter. I didn’t have a date anyway….

Everyone of a certain age remembers exactly where he was when he heard the news that the President was dead. I was in Senior English, Period 5, though we knew at lunchtime that the President had been shot. When the definitive announcement of his death came over the intercom, we saw our large, scary stern (but excellent) lady English teacher break down in tears. That was almost as frightening as the assassination itself.

Then, in 1968, both the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were murdered just a few short weeks apart. On April 4, 1968, Joe and I were hosting in our tiny two-room apartment, a wedding reception for a black man and white woman. Neither set of parents wanted any part of it, and there was already a beautiful baby boy about 3 months old on the scene. Everyone – black and white — at the little reception was wretchedly aware that Dr. King had been murdered. Talk about an elephant in the room.

Eventually, as the dismal “party” staggered on, Chicago was on fire and the black groom left to try to calm things in his old neighborhood. I took care of the young bride and taught her how to bake bread to distract her. The baby slept peacefully in a cardboard box. Hard to believe he would be 54 years old today, very possibly a great grandfather.

Meanwhile, Lyndon Baines Johnson had promised on television prior to his 1964 landslide election against the “nuclear warmonger” Barry Goldwater, “I will nevah send American boys to do what Asian boys ought to do for themselves.” Uh-huh. And suddenly, half a MILLION “American boys” found themselves in the steaming jungles of Southeast Asia.

Although I have heard differing opinions of our South Vietnamese allies from GIs who fought with them, I will go to my grave believing that Vietnam was probably the biggest foreign policy disaster in our history, at least before Afghanistan. From that flowed massive distrust of the government (not all bad), and massive eye-opening revelations about the ability of media to manipulate us, not just by what they show, but by what they pointedly and deliberately omit.

And Vietnam was the first, but not the last, war to be fought on television, and fought politically rather than militarily. None of which was the fault of the brave and honorable soldiers tasked with fighting it.

We can only speculate what would have been the effect of the dreadful images broadcast into our living rooms night after night of the Revolutionary War from Valley Forge, the Civil War, or even World War II, particularly in stages of those wars when defeat looked certain. Try to imagine the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg televised with somewhere between 46,000 to 51,000 casualties from both armies – almost 8 years of Vietnam in a single day.

Few of our friends at the time — certainly a self-selected group — went to Vietnam. Strangely, since college, many of our male friends DID serve. We have listened to their stories with open minds and broken hearts and respect bordering on awe. We, too, hated the John Kerrys who sought to demonize the men doing the fighting and the sacrificing. Kerry was a part of the antiwar movement at the time we were active and we couldn’t even stand him THEN – even as an alleged ally.

It could not have been more apparent, even to stupid 20-somethings that he was a lying, preening, self-aggrandizing opportunist, smearing his own comrades to get ahead. And get ahead he did, becoming another lifelong government time-serve and marrying a couple of very wealthy women. God Bless the Swift Boat guys who rose up as one against him. His was the first election (2004) in which I voted Republican, but again I am jumping ahead.

While my husband did not volunteer to serve, neither did he do anything illegal or out of bounds to avoid service. Had he been drafted, he would have gone. He got the standard college deferment and then, just when he probably would have been drafted, the Lottery was instituted and he got a number in the 200s. They got to 179 that year. My best friend’s husband got 363. My number was 10. Figured. Thank God I was assigned to be a girl.

There are three things I can promise all my friends and readers who did serve or who waited for those who did: 1) We never, not even once, participated in any demonstration that destroyed any property or engaged in violence. In fact, we were sometimes accused by the more Maoist or anarchist groups of being “Feds” because we organized parade marshals to ensure order. When we had a permit to march in the streets, we stuck to the route; when we had no permit to march in the streets, we walked peacefully on the sidewalk. 2) At no time did we ever PREVENT anyone – and I do mean anyone – from speaking.

My whole life I have hated people who boo athletes or who shout down speakers. I have always felt if you aren’t “in the arena,” you should shut up. If you don’t want to hear a speaker, don’t go. It’s really that simple. (We won’t even discuss hecklers at comedy shows…)

The banning and cancelling and blows against academic freedom on campus are terrifying harbingers of worse things to come. The Free Speech Movement at Berkeley and elsewhere on campuses was organized by Far Left elements who only wanted freedom for THEMSELVES to speak. As soon as they had hegemony anywhere, then other people’s freedom to speak became “hate speech.” And 3) At no time did we engage in any Kerry-like slander of the troops. Never.

There are life experiences that, if you miss them, separate you from those who did have them in a thousand ways. One of the most obvious is having children. And definitely another one is going to war. My father was very suspicious of anyone he met who didn’t volunteer in World War II. His best friend was not allowed to enlist because, as a farmer, he was needed on the home front and Daddy did not resent that. An Army has to eat.

Right, wrong, or some of each, we were convinced that the Vietnam War was an unprovoked attack on a Third World nation that meant America no harm and was also unwinnable in the manner in which it was being fought. Remember, we were only a couple dozen years from the Holocaust and wondered, “where were the German protests against such an obvious wrong? Did we not have a moral obligation to speak out?”

Dozens of groups comprised the antiwar movement. There was what was called “The New Left” – SDS and its offshoots, and the Maoist Progressive Labor Party, and the good “Old Left” Stalinist Communist Party, USA, that our Director of the CIA, John Brennan, admitted voting for. How reassuring!

Most of these groups of young people had wild, undisciplined, “countercultural” elements. They held no attraction for us. We had no interest at all in drugs and enjoyed regular showers. We had just moved to the Twin Cities and had few friends. One day we found a radical newspaper in the back seat of an acquaintance’s car. It included information on how to get in touch. We called the number and were immediately invited to a party in Minneapolis.

We were subsequently invited to go on a camping trip on the Apple River and were virtually “courted” and ultimately invited to join the group. It was a Trotskyist group called The Young Socialist Alliance, which was the youth group of the Socialist Workers Party. That party had helped organize legitimate labor struggles, Civil Rights actions, and had a core of older, serious veteran labor activists we respected. Many were very sincere, committed people. Many had spent their whole lives sacrificing financial security and personal safety to try to achieve their utopian dream. That it was not a dream but a nightmare should have been obvious, but dreams die hard. We are always assured that “Communism just hasn’t been done right!” Yet! Yup, you betcha.

But there was no getting around it: It was basically a cult, though we didn’t know that yet, and like the tedious metaphor of the frog in tepid water, it happened in stages. Our main interest was stopping the Vietnam War and bringing the troops home safely.

Remember those wacky “conspiracy theorists” who claimed that leftists and even card-carrying Communists were behind the mass demonstrations against the war? Well, I am here to tell you that – like about 98 percent of current “conspiracies” — they were right. Through a variety of innocent-sounding “front groups,” they ran the show. And I know because I was one of them. We learned exactly how easy it was for a relatively small group of hard-core activists to have influence far beyond their numbers (or their IQs). It still is today.

Next week, Part IV – Life in a Cult.

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