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Morally Surviving America’s War On Vietnam

A Book Review/Essay

The anthology starts with featured articles from The Nation and elsewhere. There’s a 1994 Nation piece on the MIA issue, which is notable for the fact the number of US missing is miniscule compared to missing Vietnamese. When Uhl and his partner Carol Brightman are visiting the Hanoi Military Museum, she runs into a US Air Force master sergeant, there for some MIA accounting mission. She chats him up and asks why we in the US are so hung up about the POW/MIA issue. The man’s answer: “Because we lost. We’re sore losers.” It doesn’t get more direct and on-the-money than that. It explains why the war has become such a political football. As Uhl nicely explains, the Vietnamese understood that “Washington needed to save face.” This kind of empathetic understanding helped Washington get over an obsession with only its own missing and encouraged working with the Vietnamese on their massive numbers of missing. Many Vietnamese soldiers were killed and bulldozed en-mass into huge pits. According to Vietnamese spirituality, the unburied (ie the missing) are wandering ghosts. In this spirit, Vietnam Veterans of America encouraged its members to return war souvenirs to Vietnam.

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, a US soldier and Vietnamese leader Ho Chi MinhDefense Secretary Robert McNamara, a US soldier and Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh

In a review/essay on Robert McNamara’s book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, Uhl and co-writer Carol Brightman interview McNamara. The exasperating truth here is, bombing devotees like McNamara (he helped develop carpet bombing in WWII) understood the Vietnam War was not winnable in the mid 1960s. Yet to save face it went on slaughtering Vietnamese for ten more years! They describe "McNamara's tendency to speak out of both sides of his mouth, as if penitent and apologist are grappling for control." So, I suppose, one has to give McNamara some credit; at least he’s somewhat morally torn by his role in it all. I'm reminded of the true story of the Vietnam vet who encountered McNamara on a Martha’s Vineyard ferry late one foggy night and, after some conversation, tried to throw him off the boat -- only to be saved by a deckhand. McNamara didn’t press charges.

There are several essays on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, a necessary topic in any discussion of Vietnam. All wars mess up people’s minds; but immoral wars really mess up people minds. Uhl witnessed torture and other things that don’t sit well in his conscience. I know too many vets who had to absorb and make sense of horrible things made only worse by the moral dubiousness of the war. If you’re fighting for the liberty of your country or your people, that’s one thing; if you’re fighting to break the back of a peasant culture that never did anything against you, that’s another.

story | by Dr. Radut