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US Values, Moral Accommodation and Remembering Vietnam

A Popular Culture Essay

 
The past two days were a roller-coaster for me in the national struggle for meaning in the realm of war and peace. First, I was talking with a friend about his conscientious objector status specifically to the Vietnam War. This was early in the war, and he made it under the wire. Soon, draft boards realized they better stop giving CO status to those morally opposing a specific war, lest they encourage a groundswell of opposition among potential combatants that could undermine an unpopular war like the one the US government chose to unleash on the Vietnamese. The war really began in 1945 when President Truman betrayed our WWII ally, the Vietnamese, and supported re-colonization by the French.

Senator John McCain and documentary filmmaker Ken BurnsSenator John McCain and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns

Later that night, I was part of an hour-long group phone call of fellow Vietnam veterans and friends in an organization called Full Disclosure. The group works to counter the government’s well-funded 13-year propaganda project to clean up the image of the Vietnam War; it emphasizes individual heroism and passes out badges and plaques to veterans. Members of Full Disclosure are very concerned right now about the upcoming Ken Burns 10-week PBS documentary series on the Vietnam War. Trying to get any kind of influence with Burns or members of his team on how the war is to be represented to Americans in 2017 is an uphill struggle.

Following the Full Disclosure phone call, I watched Mel Gibson’s excruciating film Hacksaw Ridge, about a CO medic who refused to even touch a rifle and saved 75 men from certain death in a horrific battle on the island of Okinawa in May 1945. I find Mel Gibson to be a repugnant lout; but my CO friend told me the film was a must-see. The husband of a gay Vietnam veteran friend who was a Navy corpsman with a Marine infantry unit in Vietnam also told me the film was good and how it reminded him of his husband’s experiences in Vietnam. (My medic friend felt no need to personally sit through Gibson’s gore fest.) Like the protagonist of Hacksaw Ridge, my friend refused to carry a weapon and saved men with sucking chest wounds and mangled and bleeding legs. He had been assured by a Navy recruiter he would be sent to journalism school, but Navy leaders did not need young men to assemble facts and information on the war; they needed what is historically known as cannon fodder, specifically cannon fodder able to keep other men alive. As cannon fodder, my friend's sexual preference was irrelevant.



story | by Dr. Radut