During the Vietnam war, one of the most emotionally wrenching parts of military service was watching the vilification of service people by the anti-war movement back home. It really seemed to affect the service people of that era profoundly that some segments of the population back home questioned their collective and individual morality.
In looking at the postings and emails from service people in Afghanistan and Iraq, I don’t think this generation of service people gives a damn what the protesters or even anyone moderately associated with them think about the war and the people who fight. I think the Left burned any moral credibility it had with that segment of the U.S. population that volunteers for military service by its actions during Vietnam.
I think this is good, especially for the mental health of the service people. The psychic toll on the Vietnam-era service people seemed quite severe. People of that era expected moral support from the general populace, even from those who opposed the wisdom of the war. When they got condemnation instead it really had an impact.
I can’t help but worry though, that this represents a further divide in our culture. The military no longer cares about the opinions of a large section of the political spectrum. That can’t be healthy long-term but the Left has only itself to blame.
14 thoughts on “Another Vietnam Lesson”
Even without taking into account the huge number of differences between both conflicts – we’re way beyond apples and oranges here – I think it’s way too early to tell. A year and a half or so into the Vietnam War, or, to be more precise, a year and a half into the phase of larger troop deployments, how much protest and anguish was there ?
Also keep in mind that all the soldiers there essentially volunteered for military duty, whether they full-time pros or National Guard/Reserve members. Psychologically and politically speaking, this makes a huge difference. Fighting a guerilla half a world away with draftees is politically suicidal. As France learned in Algeria. And America in Vietnam.
Another (and partisan) Vietnam-perspective discussion on Iraq is Gerlenter’s in the Weekly Standard.
I have always been disturbed by the implications of the left’s disdain for the military for the long-term health of the American polity. Democratic society is ultimately dependent on a military (and police) that is representative of all. Historically rise of autocracy in at least quasi-democratic societies (Rome being a prime example) only begins when military service separates from citizenship (for Rome this was the impoverishment of the small-holding farmer who formed the backbone of the Republican legions by years of war directed for the benifit of the Senatorial elite) It is not healthy for American society for a significant political faction to lack a connection to the military, I don’t have the time to elaborate much, but this has concerned me for years.
The military no longer cares about the opinions of a large section of the political spectrum.
I’m not quite sure I accept the whole implication of that statement. I think it’s a safe bet to say that many soldiers and military leaders are Democrats. They don’t follow orders because they necessarily agree with the policy. They follow orders because they’re orders and the military is ultimately subordinate to its civilian leaders.
I also don’t think those who denigrate our soldiers constitute a large part of the political spectrum. On the contrary, I think they’re a small but vocal minority. Most people, I think, across the political spectrum can separate the soldier from the political policy which they have been mandated to carry out.
I’m fine with the all volunteer, professionalized army. They’re incredibly effective and are there because they want to be. What more could you want?
watching the vilification of service people by the anti-war movement back home.
Bullshit. There was no widespread vilification of service people by the anti-war movement in the US. You are just making up crap.
Oh Christ. Robert McKnucklehead is here.
Robert, you’re wrong. As usual. Soldiers had paint thrown on them, were called baby killers, blah blah blah.
Maybe you didn’t catch John Kerry’s ‘testimony’ when he compared US soldiers in Vietnam to the Mongol warriors of Geghgis Khan and then ‘testified’ to atrocities he’d never seen. Does that count as vilification? I think it does.
I am afraid that to many prominent people made to many comments in to many public forums for you to rewrite history. John Kerry’s 1971 testimony being just one on the milder instances. You can also read his book “The New Soldier” for further instances of vilification.
For the extreme half of the anti-war movement, the soldiers themselves were morally culpable for fighting the war and deserved nothing but scorn.
As a Viet Nam veteran, let me just say that you are full of shit.
Shannon, just to be clear, when I wrote, “I also don’t think those who denigrate our soldiers constitute a large part of the political spectrum.” I should have added “these days.”
For the most part, those people on the other side of war issue on both Afghanistan and Iraq seem to be separating the soldier from the policy. Most seem to have nothing but respect for our soldiers, understanding (and honoring) the risks they’re making for the nation’s policies. My impression is that the idea of blaming the soldier has been largely discreditted since Vietnam. I should have been more clear. Sorry.
I think there is a great deal less of the overt hostility today towards service people than there was in Vietnam but it is still there.
Far more common is the idea that service people are some kind of nobel idiots, nice people but ignorant dupes. One sees repeated assertions that the military is populated by the under educated dregs who joined the military because they couldn’t find a job in the private sector.
Of course, in the modern era, the military can longer accept the poorly educated. The days of the military as the employer of last resort are long gone.
As in the many other areas, the Left is living in the past.
I think the left’s relationship with the military in general, and Vietnam in particular, has always been a convoluted and shifting one; these days, the connection is, at best, one of convenience.
Remember the Clinton years, when Republicans criticized his draft-dodging. The Democrats’ reaction was, essentially : “So what ? Good for him !”. They then pointed out how out of touch, stuck in the past and the Cold War Republicans were etc etc. (And, I must admit at the time, I generally agreed…)
A few years later and the same individuals bask in the glory of Kerry’s medal, and the candidate can claim that he defended his country in Vietnam without causing as much as a collective wince, while any similar claim made about Iraq is summarily dismissed as insane government propaganda. (Guess North Vietnam threatened the west coast with its deep-water navy or something…)
Interestingly, as I understand it, back when American servicemen came home to the friendly cry of “baby killers!”, special contempt was reserved for pilots; while the drafted grunts were usually blue-collar types and, as such, seen by the hard-core activists as “class victims” of the whole exercise, pilots volunteered, were believed to drop napalm on civilians every day after breakfast and, to top it all, often hailed from better-off families. Guilt Police, pull over.
Yet three decades later, we get to watch many of the same deride Bush for not stepping up to the plate when his chance to be an evil war criminal came up. What a wimp.
The Left I respect died fighting Franco in Spain. They had gravely mistaken ideals but also noble principles they were ready to fight for; and once the truth about communism emerged, many of them abandoned it, often publicly so.
I just don’t see any connection between those individuals and the mentally stunted retards who rushed to Iraq to volunteer as human shields to protect Hussein’s loot.
The left has desperately tried to maintain the fiction of “anti-war but we love our boys in uniform”.
If this be love, what might hate be?
Funny you’d say that; that was one of the Kerry quotes that picked my attention due to its obvious self-justifying intent : it was along the lines of “you have to make a difference between the war and the warrior”. Which I agree with. Except he didn’t seem so interested in making the distinction back then.
To say that there is no cultural divide between the left and the American professional military is ludicrous. As a recent poll by the Army Times shows, potential militaru voters are leaning towards the President by a margin of four to one.
As one who has spent the last twenty-six years in and around the Army, I can tell you where this divide comes from — the Left brought it on themselves. I don’t speak of Vietnam — that conflict had been over for five years before I arrived at Basic. It has been their behavior since that has so alienated the military.
The anecdotes are legion, and could fill a book: Carter holding the line on the budget by holding military pay flat during a period of double-digit inflation; Pat Schroeder (sp?) and her relentless attacks against the military, particularly the Marine Corps; John Kerry voting against every single military appropriations bill; Bill CLinton’s amazement at the close living quarters of the crew of an aircraft carrier (after insisting that those young men should share that shared bunk with a gay crewmwmber)… The list goes on and on.
There is a wide perception that professional military people are illiterate dupes. Not so. Military people DO read the newspapers (in my unit in Germany during the Cold War, daily reading of the Stars and Stripes was pretty much required), and they can figure out pretty damn quickly who their friends are and their friends aren’t. The American left has demonstrated, and continues to demonstate, that they are NO friend of the men and women in uniform.
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