Skip to Content

US Values, Moral Accommodation and Remembering Vietnam

A Popular Culture Essay

McCain starts his paean to American exceptionalism by citing Ronald Reagan for supporting Soviet dissidents and, as governor of California, for supporting POWs like himself in Vietnam. Governor Reagan “had often defended our cause, demanded our humane treatment and encouraged Americans not to forget us.” You'd think Reagan stood courageously alone for POWs. First off, the antiwar movement (even Jane Fonda) never did not "support" American POWs. Though it’s done all the time, it’s counter-intuitive nonsense to suggest the antiwar left had anything to do with causing war casualties or making life difficult for POWs in Vietnam. The left never wanted the war in the first place and fought valiantly to stop it and get our POWs home. It may be the most exasperating attack on the antiwar movement. It's a no-brainer that it was those who manufactured the war and prosecuted it long after it was deemed unwinnable who caused all the casualties and kept the POWs in captivity so long. And that would include Ronald Reagan.

I spent a fair amount of time as a photographer in Central America during the Reagan years. So Ronald Reagan as a giant for moral values and human rights is a bit much. I heard too many harrowing stories of death squad victims in El Salvador and in the Contra War in Nicaragua to not realize Reagan’s moral “values” in these instances was entirely politically oriented. The syllogism went something like this: We’re fighting communism. Poor central Americans are communists. So killing Central American peasants is good. Or as a Marine acquaintance of mine used to put it: “Kill a Commie for Mommy.” Reagan literally defended people who were torturing peasants in El Salvador and murdering citizens in Nicaragua. He got away with it because it was out of sight, out of mind. What kind of American values does this represent? The answer is, the same values that led to the genocide of the American Indian. We can talk about the Jewish holocaust in Germany and Poland, but we can’t talk about the holocaust of Native Americans in America. It's the great American value called forgetting or looking the other way.

Everything depends on whose ox is gored, how loud a victim class’ megaphone is and, of course, whether the exceptional American media and the people glued to it like sheep are curious enough to want to know about something. Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson are not unusual in that they coldly base American policy on what they deem to be the American interest. John McCain certainly understands this. In his op-ed, he’s simply initiating an insider pissing contest with the Trump administration, hoping to gain the Republican high ground. It’s true that Trump and company may be more elitist and ruthless than McCain in the pursuit of their American interest. But that doesn’t alter the fact McCain’s op-ed is a raft of platitudes and patriotic bullshit.

                                                      Ken Burns and The Vietnam War

story | by Dr. Radut