Morally Surviving America’s War On Vietnam
In another essay, Uhl is critical of the great Seymour Hersh for suggesting Abu Ghraib was something new. Torture and cruelty are the common denominators of war, and they certainly were given free rein in Vietnam. “Affixing primary responsibility for atrocities that are hardwired into modern wars of ‘counterinsurgency’ onto the lowest-ranking soldiers, those tasked with carrying out the dirty work, while limiting the culpability of the command, is yet another echo from the My Lai massacre that resonates with Abu Ghraib.”
There’s a fine personal essay in which Uhl engages with a war buddy with his share of PTSD and women trouble. The man tells of being attacked by war protesters in Seattle when he returned home. C’mon, Bob, it’s been shown this stuff never really happened, Uhl says. Bob insists it did. Uhl then does some research and realizes Bob was part of big PR show “return” of a unit from Vietnam in July 1969. At McCord AFB in Washington state the ceremony is indeed interrupted by protesters chanting, “Bring them all home now!” Uhl logically concludes that this “jeer” is focused not on the common soldier, but at military brass and US political leaders. Sure, human nature being what it is, “Bob felt like he was being jeered, and I’ll bet that was how most of the other GIs felt that day.” Still, Bob wouldn't let go of what Uhl tries to convince him is a misunderstanding of events. Uhl's conclusion: “Class resentment runs deep and gets tragically misplaced in this society, while divide and rule fuels the myth that vets were spat upon, even when they weren’t.”
In two pieces, Uhl is critical of Nick Turse’s 2013 book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. He doesn’t dispute Turse’s general thesis that atrocity and killing characterized the war, which everyone knows devolved into the notorious “body count," tallied nightly by Walter Chronkite. Uhl’s beef is young Turse’s tone as he reveals the “hidden history” of the war; his book is less about real history and more about a writer’s ambitions to have a "scoop" and be popular.
Uhl does write with a certain “edge” here and elsewhere in the anthology. In my opinion, it's well deserved. (Full disclosure, I'm a Vietnam vet and Uhl is a friend of mine.) For me, this edginess comes from the frustrations incumbent in being part of a serious, morality-based movement of Vietnam soldiers and veterans, men and women who tried mightily from the mid-point in the war up to today to insert the message into the cultural streams of their society that the Vietnam War was a cruel act of military aggression. The process can seem downright Sisyphian -- I know. Uhl earned his spurs working with the Citizens Commission of Inquiry On War Crimes in Vietnam, Citizens Soldier, the Safe Return Amnesty Committee, and of late with Veterans For Peace. Other vets pushed boulders up the hill in Vietnam Veterans Against the War.