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Morally Surviving America’s War On Vietnam

A Book Review/Essay

“Nick Turse’s decision to airbrush from the record the provenance of the Vietnam war-crimes narrative, and the roles of veterans within it, defies explanation,” Uhl writes. He cites an essay by Turse on TomDispatch called “Who Did You Rape in the War Daddy?” in which “Turse seems to harbor a truly bizarre resentment toward war veterans.” Uhl even suggests this resentment may be rooted in Turse’s “envy” of war vets and his lack of firsthand war experience. Uhl appends to his review a long bibliographic file from his CCI days listing 90 newspaper articles from 1967 to 1972 reporting veteran accounts of atrocities and suggesting that “atrocities in Vietnam were in fact the norm.” Knowing Vietnam combat vets, Uhl concedes Turse’s resentment may come from combat veterans' reluctance to reveal intimate details of their war experience to a young journalist they don't know. Uhl’s central point is that the story Turse should have addressed is -- since atrocities were in fact the norm, as Uhl and Turse both agree -- why has the real story not gotten traction in US culture? What’s blocking the Truth?

Uhl tells of Vietnam veteran writers John Ketwig and W.D. Ehrhart attending a conference at Gettysburg College. They both made the case before attendees that the Vietnam War was a crime. Here’s Ketwig: “An old lifer Sergeant Major spoke, pointed to us and very specifically stated, ‘These whining, complaining Vietnam veterans will die off. I want to assure you, we have written the history of the Vietnam War your grandchildren will read.’” A right-on story. You might say, in the Vietnam War remembrance game, there’s whiners and losers. In my moral universe, though mainstream, patriotic US culture and its arsenal of weapons may be on his side, the old lifer sergeant major is the real whiner, here. No culture that I know of easily accepts the horror and evil of its own crimes. Vietnam is a very tiny nation, and our missing, wounded and dead from the war are dwarfed by theirs. Yet, pro-war veterans and citizens obsess on our much smaller losses and suffering from the war. At the same time, we consistently refuse to publicly concede those incredible Vietnamese losses. Add to this the fact the Vietnamese were our ally in WWII and never did anything to harm or provoke the US and one begins to fathom the nature of the crime. So what’s blocking the Truth? It's simple: It's the Manifest Destiny of American Imperial Culture. It’s what gave that old lifer sergeant major the confidence to dis’ two fellow vets able to get beyond their own cultural narcissism and extend empathy to the Vietnamese.

There are book reviews that deal with Vietnam veteran politicians John Kerry and Bob Kerrey. There are three informative essays on PTSD. For some idea of Uhl’s political backstory, there are essays in conjunction with Uhl’s work with Tod Ensign and Citizens Soldier in the 1970s, a GI and veterans advocacy group with headquarters in the flatiron building in New York. Three essays discuss the very 1970s notion of unionizing GIs. There’s an essay deconstructing the image of the "war veteran” as a modern construct. The anthology ends with a 34-page excerpt from GI Guinea Pigs: How the Pentagon Exposed Our Troops to Dangers More Deadly Than War, a well-known expose authored in 1980 by Uhl and Ensign.

story | by Dr. Radut