Morally Surviving America’s War On Vietnam
The War I Survived Was Vietnam: Collected Writings of a Veteran and Antiwar Activist
By Michael Uhl
The journalistic “beat” that Michael Uhl covered over the years in the essays and reviews collected in his just-published anthology of short works is that realm of thought that survives the relentless American capacity for forgetting history. You can look at a book like this as a tool of memory, in this case, focused on the Vietnam War from the perspective of a veteran who came to see his war as a shameful war of aggression and a crime.
This war on memory began during the war and is on-going now. “The GI resistance and antiwar Vietnam veteran’s movements of the Sixties and Seventies, so unique in the annals of warfare, became prime targets for erasure in this new and approved version of the war the Pentagon hopes to fashion.” This is from a 2012 essay on the Pentagon’s 13-year, multi-million dollar program to sanitize the Vietnam War known as the 50th Commemoration Project, which was launched that year with a speech by President Obama at the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C.
The Vietnam War will always be controversial and subject to politics. “But the specific history of the organized opposition to the war is more vulnerable.” Uhl is referring to the political opposition mounted by veterans of the war like himself, a young intelligence officer. Moral opposition by veterans becomes “more and more abstract and remote to younger generations as it recedes into the past.” For veterans of the war like Uhl, none of it is “abstract” or “remote." They began building a moral case against the war when they found themselves trapped in it. When they returned to “the world” they took their case up in the streets and in the halls of government.
Uhl does not accept President Obama’s “consoling fiction that Vietnam Veterans as a whole 'were blamed for the misdeeds of a few.’ ” We all know the drill: Although bad things happen in all wars; the Vietnam War was a noble cause. Uhl’s response is direct: “I am too wedded to my own truths about the evils of that war to ever be consoled, and Obama’s lies on this particular occasion infuriate me. I went to Vietnam. I lived the war. It horrified me. I came home and actively opposed it. Like tens of thousands of other Vietnam veterans, I witnessed or participated in atrocities. I saw the routine use of torture. These were not the ‘misdeeds of a few’: they were the essence of that war.”