It is difficult to realize that thirty years have gone by since Saigon was liberated and the Vietnam war was over. Half a lifetime. At some point, in the middle of the warless period, it seemed that we were beginning to discover that the war and its two million casualties had been a criminal mistake, and not because we had not won but because the start of the war had been based on a fraudulent premise (the alleged torpedo attack by a North Vietnamese warship). That, and the domino theory, provided the flammable mix for our invasion of Vietnam. We learned that we had been on the historically wrong road. We never apologized but we hesitantly admitted that the antiwar people could have been right.
Now we are right back on that “wrong road.” The fraud this time is the Weapons of Mass Destruction hoax. The domino theory is now called “the axis of evil.” Once again we are afraid of maybe “unnecessarily” losing a war. Once again we are invited to Support Our Boys as if they had gone to Iraq on their own initiative.
The democratic presidential candidate thought he had to “explain” that he had protested the Viet war. The unparalleled spectacle of veterans throwing their medals back at the politicians, an act that came near to redeem our dishonor, was eviscerated by being used as a weapon against Kerry who added to our dishonor by thinking that it needed exlanation, and who failed to grab the moment for a final apology to the Vietnamese for their million casualties and to the fifty thousand American families who lost a son or a brother.
I am not a pacifist. I escaped from occupied Holland in 1942 to become one of the youngest sergeants in the British Army. But that was the last just war. “You think you can choose your war” LBJ said. Well, we hear a lot about choice these days, it is almost a synonym for democracy. It is nice we are able to choose our telephone company but it is of greater value if we can choose whether to accept or not accept the call to go destroy the lives of the inhabitants of a far country.
The government won’t allow us this choice. World War II was fought to defend humanity, no less, against the Germanic tribe that in those days had lost its soul. Such absolute terms do not apply now. But pretending they do creates a mood of fear in which we lose our certainties – they hope – and will be led down the wrong road, the garden path. This maneuver didn’t work in Vietnam and it won’t work in Iraq but many will die in the meantime.
In the nineteenth century young men in Russia and Prussia fled to America to escape the draft, to escape the glorification of militarism which poisoned the life in the countries of middle Europe. Death was a daily familiar there. The youths of those countries were put in field grey and spike helmets. Frederick, the king of Prussia, is on record as having shouted at his soldiers when they hesitated in an attack, “Advance, you dogs! Do you want to live forever?”
Americans felt a righteous contempt for this brand of militarism as a left-over from the middle ages. Now we begin to honor it. Dying and killing in Iraq is heroic. Young Americans fled, and will flee in a warlike future from rather than to America.
We are forced by our government to become a warlike nation like the horde of Attila the Hun, like the France of Napoleon who lost half a million soldiers in his invasion of Russia and left them in the snow while he rode back to Paris in a heated carriage. He, like Bush in his National Guard days, certainly did want to live forever.
Novelist Hans Koning www.hanskoning.net can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org