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Morally Surviving America’s War On Vietnam

A Book Review/Essay

With the ascendancy of Donald Trump, torture is again front and center on the American agenda. Think logically: If one is going to “make America great again,” one can’t be worried about having broken some furniture in Vietnam a half century ago. Here's Donald Rumsfeld on the Iraq War: “Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. Stuff happens.” The fact is, regime change didn’t work in Vietnam, and it has never worked well anywhere, except in backwater places in the early 1950s like Iran and Guatemala, where the tactical use of disinformation (the “fake news” of the time) was effective. Regime change backfired in Iraq; it didn’t work in Libya, and it's a US debacle in Syria.

Uhl wrote a memoir called Vietnam Awakening: My Journey From Combat to the Citizens’ Commission of Inquiry on the U.S. War Crimes in Vietnam. Both books are published by McFarland Publishing. McFarland is not in the bestseller business. Instead of indulging the popular American market for sensationalist “war stories,” McFarland has a loftier goal; it markets its books to individuals, libraries and other venues out of a sense of witness and keeping the record complete. I see it like those monks back in the Dark Ages who memorized and hand printed books so that their contents would not disappear forever into a black hole.

Anyone who defends the honor of the Vietnam War should be asked to answer one question: What (be specific) did the Vietnamese ever do to us here in the United States that justified an invasion and a ten-year-plus military occupation that killed millions, polluted the ecosystem and food supply and set the resourceful nation and people back decades? We know about the Cold War and how Truman, Eisenhower and the rest had to keep the communist yellow peril in check lest -- what? -- they invade California? Fluoridate our water? Destroy our vital bodily fluids? Was the United States of America that weak and vulnerable? Or were we, instead, that arrogant? What the Vietnamese asked from the United States was simple: They wanted French colonialists off their backs, and when they beat the French in 1954, they wanted the United States to leave them alone. A forgotten fact of history: Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Minh were our allies in WWII against the Japanese. Long an enemy of China, what the Vietnamese really wanted was for the US to treat them like we treated the Tito regime in Yugoslavia -- with a spirit of neutrality. Of course, the Vietnamese are now part of the Asian capitalist miracle, what some have called “the rise of the rest.”

The title McFarland gave Uhl’s anthology seems a bit awkward. But, then, the more I thought about it, the more I concluded maybe that’s a good thing. I Survived the Vietnam War may be more direct, but it characterizes survival as a personal accomplishment. Shifting the words around to The War I Survived Was Vietnam subtly stresses the war itself as something problematic to be survived. What Uhl is consistently writing about is moral survival, not physical survival. Veterans like Uhl survived the war morally because they insisted (and still insist) on the grotesque immorality of what they found themselves compelled against their will to do. Each and every day Vietnam veterans like Uhl “survive” their war by having the courage to say the emperor has no clothes.

story | by Dr. Radut