‘The Vietnam War,’ Episode 4: ‘Resolve’

I’m a day behind here, but I want to have a post about each episode, so I’m posting this a day late, after I’ve already seen Episode 5. But here goes…

First, if there was an episode, of all those thus far, that was going to turn me into the Vietnam war protester that Bud would like me to be, it was this one. From start to finish, practically every point made, every interview, every video clip, added up to a powerful message that whether we should have been in Vietnam or not, what we were doing was not working. The Johnson administration was fooling itself as well as the American people, and each escalation added to the sense of desperation that the episode conveyed. These points were made again and again, eloquently.

A person watching that episode would naturally wonder, why did we continue to fight? Why didn’t the American people demand that we withdraw immediately? And my answer, as I expressed earlier in a comment, is that the concentrated way that these arguments are presented in the episode was NOT the way life was experienced at the time. First, if you were a stateside civilian, little of your average day was spent thinking about the war. And when it was, the antiwar message was a much smaller chunk of what we were taking in about the war — and no, that was NOT because the POTUS was a big, fat liar.

Most of the journalism we saw was NOT by David Halberstam or Morley Safer. We did not have the experience that this series affords of hearing at length from young men who went over enthusiastic about the mission and became disillusioned. (So far, every single young man we learn of in

I was just a kid at the time, which makes me unreliable, but I have no memory at all of the Fulbright hearings, much less of the calm, articulate, intellectual arguments of George F. Kennan and other witnesses arguing against our involvement.

In fact, if you were alive at the time, most of what you saw of the growing antiwar movement was people chanting such things as “Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” I know that such “arguments” are persuasive to many people, but they turn me right off. Such approaches aim to engage the emotion and shut down rational faculties, and I’ve always held them in contempt.

Anyway, I was impressed by what Kennan had to say, because of who he was — or who the series told me he was. My ears perked up immediately when I heard that he was sort of the father of Cold War strategy of containment. I had heard his name, and I was familiar with the strategy, and I was eager to hear more.

As y’all know, I have frequently written here about Vietnam as an application of that policy of containment. So hearing that Kennan said Vietnam was a wrong-headed misapplication of the strategy really made an impression on me.

Bud thinks I should “just admit the hippies and draft dodgers were right,” which ain’t gonna happen. Nor is Muhammad Ali or Dr. Spock going to knock me over. Nor John Kerry. In fact, definitely not John Kerry. But if a guy like Kennan says something, I’m thinking as I watch this, I’m paying attention.

The next morning, seeking to know more, I googled Kennan. Wikipedia’s not the same as reading a serious book about him, and I stand ready to be corrected by someone with deeper knowledge, but it’s what I had time for so far. And I read this:

Soon after his concepts had become U.S. policy, Kennan began to criticize the foreign policies that he had seemingly helped begin. Subsequently, prior to the end of 1948, Kennan became confident that positive dialogue could commence with the Soviet government. His proposals were discounted by the Truman administration and Kennan’s influence was marginalized, particularly after Dean Acheson was appointed Secretary of State in 1949. Soon thereafter, U.S. Cold War strategy assumed a more assertive and militaristic quality, causing Kennan to lament about what he believed was an abrogation of his previous assessments….

In other words, Kennan wasn’t exactly what the series suggested. He had disowned the way the U.S. government applied his containment idea to the entire Cold War, starting LONG before we got involved in Vietnam.

Which puts his testimony in a very different light from what I heard Wednesday night. It’s not like he was a guy wedded to the overall strategy who had a specific problem with Vietnam; he was a guy who disowned the whole policy.

The way it was presented on the show was that here was Mr. Containment himself, and he was against our involvement in Vietnam. But apparently, that description was off.

Maybe that was acknowledged at some point when I got up to get a glass of water or something. But if it wasn’t, the omission bothers me. It’s one of the few flaws I’ve spotted in the series thus far, though, which testifies to the excellence we’ve come to associate with Burns and Novak.

One other small thing that speaks to something huge…

The episode told of how in the last year of his life, Martin Luther King struggled with whether he should take a stand against the war. And as we know, he eventually decided to do so.

I deeply respect his prayerful process of discernment, and was as always impressed by the rolling power of his eloquence in the speech the program showed a clip from.

But something jumped out at me. Like so many other opponents of our involvement, he called upon our leaders to “end the war.”

Well, y’all know how I tend to react to that phrase. It is spoken by so many good, decent, kind, caring people who just want all the bloodshed to stop. It was spoken during that war, and later with regard to Iraq, and to this day about Afghanistan.

But it was not in our power to “end the war.” It was only in our power to get out of the way and let it proceed without us. This is not some small linguistic quibble. The difference between ending a war and pulling out to let the other combatants fight it out is a big as between night and day.

As we would see in 1975…

Kennan

30 thoughts on “‘The Vietnam War,’ Episode 4: ‘Resolve’

  1. Doug Ross

    “I was just a kid at the time, which makes me unreliable, but I have no memory at all of the Fulbright hearings, much less of the calm, articulate, intellectual arguments of George F. Kennan and other witnesses arguing against our involvement.”

    Can you offer a little context, please? Where were you at this time and wasn’t your father serving at the same time? If the latter is true, is it not the least bit plausible that your perceptions during that highly impressionable age were affected by your environment? Could it be possible that you were not exposed to opposing views either due to being shielded by adults around you or just being in a place where there were more military families?

    Me? I was in Massachusetts in my elementary to middle school days. I have no recollection of pro war sentiments being expressed — and for whatever reason, I distinctly remember hearing my father – a guy who volunteered for WWII (Navy) and Korea (Coast Guard) — saying to some other adult that if my older brother was drafted he’d send him to Canada to live with his relatives there. At least in my house and neighborhood (lower middle class / blue collar small mill town) there seemed to be more anti-war talk than pro-war.

    That’s why perspectives are different based on our experiences — especially when we were young.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      No, I just meant what I said. I was about 12, and didn’t pay much attention to stuff like that. The political or ideological content had absolutely zero to do with it. Like most kids that age, I wasn’t particularly interested in a bunch of old guys in a room talking about something I didn’t understand.

      I think the first congressional hearings I ever paid attention to was the Watergate hearings. I was in college then, and preparing to be a journalist.

      And Doug, I think you have a somewhat confused notion of what it’s like to grow up in a military family. Which I suppose is understandable, since you didn’t (since you set such store by our experiences shaping us, I thought I’d throw that in).

      If you haven’t figured it out, I’ve never been much of one for buying my opinions and attitudes off the shelf, ready-prepared for me. I’m big on looking at the evidence and thinking for myself. I’m that way to an unusual degree. That’s why, for instance, the political parties turn me off…

      Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        My impression is that your choose the evidence that supports your opinion and attitudes. Most of us do the same. You’ve already made your mind up on Vietnam and I doubt anything would change that opinion — even in the face of evidence. It would shatter your belief system if you had to accept that people like Kennedy and LBJ were lying to the American public.

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          What is it that you think I’ve made up my mind to? How would you describe what I think about the war?

          I’m curious, because I don’t think I could easily and succinctly express what I think of the war myself. Basically, I’ve thought about it too much to be able to characterize easily what I think.

          But I do know this: I object strongly, and have always done this, to the assertions of people who HAVE made up their minds, and who think it’s simple and obvious.

          It isn’t simple. It isn’t obvious. And most of the things people say in trying to assert that it IS are things I feel compelled to argue with — because the flaws in those assertions seem quite glaring to me.

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          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Put another way.

            You say, “You’ve already made your mind up.” But that’s the thing. I haven’t. And the platitudes I hear from those who HAVE are highly objectionable to me. And since most such people are on the antiwar side, that’s the side I end up arguing with the most. If the predominant attitude. If the predominant attitude was “We’d have won if not for the damn’ hippies and draft-dodgers” or “We shoulda just dropped the Big One on them,” then you’d see me arguing with that

            I think there’s a separate post in this… but I don’t know if I’ll get to it today…

            Reply
          2. Doug Ross

            I think you believe there is an acceptable explanation for the series of decisions that were made that justified the United States sending troops into Vietnam — even in hindsight — and even knowing what we know now — that there was all sorts of evidence and concern from various factions expressing the futility of such an endeavor. You think they were being strategic and thinking globally. I think you believe the leaders of our country at the time did the right thing in presenting a best case scenario for the war to help advance their chances of re-election. Have I misstated your opinion on Vietnam?

            You have a bias toward the actions of the U.S. military being right. It comes through all the time.

            Reply
            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              No, it’s more like I just don’t have a bias toward the actions of the U.S. military being wrong. I’ll elaborate when I’m not at the Red Cross giving platelets. They’re just about to hook up both arms, so…

              Reply
  2. bud

    Of course the hippies and draft dodgers were right. I wasn’t but 12 years old but regarded myself as a hippie in 1968. I’m very proud of that too. We were right and anyone who supported Vietnam after the Tet offensive was just deluded. Yes that is smug and condescending but damn it to read Brads utter nonsense gets my dander up. It is just a fact that the freaking dominos didn’t fall. Concluding otherwise is to accept alternative facts as truth. And once you understand that you have no logical choice but to accept that any involvement in Vietnam after Tet was a bad mistake. I’m not a huge fan of Ken Burns. He gets a bit too preachy for my taste. But if his take is that Vietnam was a bad mistake then Burns is in good company with us hippies.

    Reply
  3. Lynn Teague

    I was a freshman at USC in 1966-67, and did an honors history class paper reviewing Congressional Record reports on Vietnam from the era before we became engaged there, from 1950 onward. While the French were still fighting their “Indochina” war, in the early 1950’s there was a Congressional study (I believe including a junket to the country) to evaluate American responses. The report was detailed, but the conclusion was stark. A ground war there could not be won, not by the French and not by the U.S. However, the report adhered to the domino theory and claimed that the fall of Vietnam would lead to a communist SE Asia, so recommended intervention – even while recognizing it was doomed. Crazy stuff.

    Reply
  4. Dave Crockett

    I was a high school sophomore in 1968…but I clearly remember several kitchen table discussions between my father (the retired WWII and Korea veteran, full bird USMC colonel) and my brother (the bearded, generally liberal junior at UVa) about the war and where it was going by then. Surprisingly (in retrospect), my brother was arguing why we SHOULD continue the fight in Vietnam….and my dad was arguing that the best thing we could do was to declare victory and leave as quickly as possible. I just watched them go at it, respectfully but loudly disagreeing with each other. I just sipped my ginger ale…

    My wife and I have been holding off on viewing the Burns series until we can binge watch the whole thing.

    Reply
  5. Doug Ross

    Just finished episode 4 and it does seem like Brad and I are watching a different series. This episode should have been called “Loss”. Using the death of 19 year old Denton Crocker as a symbol of the futility of the war was powerful. A 19 year old kid (an age we think is too young to drink a beer but old enough to go and kill people) full of patriotism and a desire to change the world, gets dropped into a quagmire that (naturally) ends up leaving him disillusioned and then dead fighting for a meaningless piece of land.

    LBJ is again shown as a horrible President. Indecisive. Politically motivated at all times. And Robert McNamara makes Dick Cheney look like an altar boy. He was a cold, calculating liar whose actions led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children.

    How can we not learn from all these mistakes?

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    1. Phillip

      Agree, Doug, about LBJ. Can we agree, no more Texans as President? The combination of overweening pride plus ignorance, all mixed up in some outmoded gunslinger ideas about what constitutes honor.

      At least McNamara finally saw the light and also late in his life, fully repudiated the mindset he and others had embraced in that era (and some still, sadly, espouse today). After this series is over I want to go back and watch The Fog of War, the Errol Morris documentary featuring McNamara.

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        And Phillip, how can you say this about LBJ: “The combination of overweening pride plus ignorance, all mixed up in some outmoded gunslinger ideas about what constitutes honor.”

        Seriously? This was a guy who did not like inheriting the war. This was a guy who wanted to spend all his time doing such things as the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid. (I only wish, while he had that leverage, gone all the way to full single payer so we wouldn’t still be arguing over it today — and maybe he could have, if not dragged down by the war.) This was a man who threw away the South for the Democratic Party in order to do the right things.

        I’ll never, ever understand intelligent people who can speak that way of Johnson.

        And that, of course, is the tragedy of Vietnam — people go so far overboard in their antiwar attitudes that it consumes every other consideration, on every other issue. It’s warped our politics ever since, and there’s no reason for it to have done that.

        There is a sweeping, mindless, all-consumingness to opposition to the war, and THAT is the thing that causes me to react viscerally against the antiwar movement. People don’t go, “OK, there’s a problem here, so let’s fix it and learn from it.” People have to reject everything about the country, they have to despise “Amerika.” Or even of the concept of government itself. It’s this huge negativity generator. It’s like a black hole, that sucks up everything worthwhile as well as things that are problematic.

        It’s the ATTITUDE that I can’t stand. Like those people who celebrated the fall of Saigon — and whom Musgrave the antiwar marine so rightly castigated for their nihilistic, hateful attitudes.

        People on the antiwar side, especially the more passionate ones, long ago passed over to a very dark place, a place where I wish I could reach them, but I can’t. This is such a monumental tragedy for the country.

        Those things I mentioned that LBJ accomplished… think about it. What has our country accomplished since then? What steps forward have we taken toward being a better society? Nothing, really, by comparison.

        And I’m sick of this morass, this malaise. I just don’t know what to say to dispel it. I have felt sicker and sicker watching these episodes, seeing the country fall apart, seeing us step down into a darkness from which we haven’t yet emerged.

        And now there’s Trump — a guy whose “Vietnam” was trying to keep from getting the clap.

        It’s all just profoundly depressing. I guess that’s one reason I’ve fallen behind in writing about these episodes. It’s just all so disheartening. That, and the fact that I know that attitudes about the war are as unshakable as attitudes about abortion. So what’s the point of discussing it?

        Reply
        1. Bryan Caskey

          “It’s all just profoundly depressing. I guess that’s one reason I’ve fallen behind in writing about these episodes. It’s just all so disheartening. That, and the fact that I know that attitudes about the war are as unshakable as attitudes about abortion. So what’s the point of discussing it?”

          As someone who gets depressed by politics at times, I can relate to how you’re feeling. If possible, I’d like to try and give you something to be optimistic about:

          As someone of Generation X, the Vietnam War doesn’t burden me in the same way. My parents went through it, as they’re about the same as Musgrave. (My dad was in college ROTC in 1972, and his older brother has already over there for awhile flying helicopters). I didn’t go through all that. To me, the Vietnam War is simply American history in the same way the Civil War is American History. It’s more recent, but it’s not part of my life experience in the same way 9/11 is.

          It’s obvious that the Vietnam War still burdens the Baby Boomer generation. It’s still argued over, and it’s a political football every time some boomer politician runs for for office. (Bush 43’s National Guard Service; John Kerry’s Medals, Trump’s deferments)

          For folks my age (I’m 36) and younger, the Vietnam War isn’t our burden. It’s something that shaped America and we should learn from it, but I don’t feel any more connection to the Vietnam War than I do to WWII, or the Civil War. It’s history. I don’t have any guilt associated with it. It’s probably how you feel about your Civil War ancestors who owned slaves. Hey, that was those guys, way back then…not me. I wasn’t there. Had nothing to do with it.

          My point is, with the passing of the baby boomer generation (in time) the Vietnam War isn’t going to loom as large. It’s not going to be an intractable issue anymore because it’s going to cease being an issue. Sure, people will always argue about it, but it’s going to be people arguing about it who weren’t there, sort like we kick around thoughts on the Civil War.

          Shorter version of my point: Time heals all wounds. Even this one.

          Reply
        2. Doug Ross

          ” people go so far overboard in their antiwar attitudes that it consumes every other consideration, on every other issue. ”

          Because people got killed. Hundreds of thousands of people. Without justification. No amount of Great Society goodwill can offset that. You think Denton Crocker’s mother would give up her Medicare to have her son back? One of the key objectives of The Great Society programs was to win the “War on Poverty”. Is there any indication today that LBJ won that war either?

          At this point, I’m more convinced LBJ pursued any objective purely based on its political basis. Great Society = votes from poor people.

          Reply
          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            “At this point, I’m more convinced LBJ pursued any objective purely based on its political basis. Great Society = votes from poor people.”

            WHAT!?!?!

            He DESTROYED his party in order to accomplish what he did! He threw away the Solid South! If there’s ever been a policy move that was NOT politically advantageous, that was it.

            And he KNEW that’s what he was doing!

            Nothing you just said makes ANY sense unless you think he was secretly a Republican, and planned on running under that party’s banner later…

            Reply
    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’ll never learn what you’ve “learned” — which is to despise government and anyone who holds political power.

      Sorry, but I can’t despise LBJ, as easily as it comes to you and Phillip. The man accomplished a great deal for this country.

      If there’s anyone this series has given me a darker view of, it’s Nixon. Every taped conversation of his, filled with calculation for protecting his own political power, makes him look worse and worse.

      Of course, I’d still take him over Trump. But I wouldn’t be happy about it….

      Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        “which is to despise government and anyone who holds political power.”

        I despise parts of government and some of those who hold political power. It’s no different than how you feel about libertarians. You paint them with a broad brush as well.

        The benefit I have is evidence to support my position. When someone keeps hitting you in the head with a hammer, you start to despise hammers. When I see the ongoing corruption and inefficiency in government, I recognize the pattern is due to the system itself,

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      2. Phillip

        “I’ll never, ever understand intelligent people who can speak that way of Johnson…And that, of course, is the tragedy of Vietnam — people go so far overboard in their antiwar attitudes that it consumes every other consideration, on every other issue. There is a sweeping, mindless, all-consumingness to opposition to the war.”

        Are you really thinking about what you are saying? I’m trying to imagine what issue is more important than the tragedy of humans killing each other. I’m trying to imagine how one should be only a little bit anti-war, but you know, not an “all-consuming” opposition to the killing of human beings. You decry the element of emotion in discussing issues, but is it not emotion that revolts us at the idea of killing? My goodness, how on earth is it possible to go “overboard” in opposing war, especially senseless, utterly pointless war, and a war where we were not in the remotest sense defending our national sovereignty?

        Brad, it is possible to acknowledge the accomplishments of LBJ on the domestic front, and even to acknowledge that it was a kind of tragedy that brought about the confluence in time of the Vietnam issue and the LBJ Presidency, and yet to still condemn the man (and those around him giving him that advice) for terrible, inhumane judgment. Yes, it would have been great had the Vietnam situation not existed when he became President. Then, today perhaps, we would remember him only or primarily for domestic policy achievements.

        LBJ was a complex person, no doubt. And there’s no denying the accomplishment of the Voting Rights Act and so much of the Civil Rights legislation and other domestic accomplishments. And I suppose you could say that he didn’t give Westmoreland everything in regards to troop requests, desire to widen the war to Cambodia and Laos, etc. so it could have been worse, as horrible as that is to contemplate.

        But still, the blood of thousands, thousands of American soldiers, thousands of Vietnamese, both military and civilians, men, women and children, was on his hands. I do acknowledge that LBJ did “accomplish a great deal” for this country, but through his stubborn prosecution of the war he also did huge and lasting damage to the country. He was not “dragged down by the war.” He dragged himself and his country down through his escalation of the war. His crimes do not negate his good deeds, but on balance the thousands and thousands of deaths do tilt the scales pretty significantly, to me anyway.

        I find your dismissal of “antiwar” people as also being anti-government also highly inaccurate. Think of how often you have tended to criticize people on the left-ward side of the political spectrum for being too unwilling to allow America to “project force” in various parts of the world to “be a force for good”—but you have to acknowledge that that same side of the spectrum often favors robust government programs…e.g., think of how many on the left both are very anti-interventionist but favor, for example, single-payer health care. That’s hardly anti-government. Think of how many anti-war protesters who later went on to careers in public service as very strong advocates for what government could accomplish, at least in the domestic sphere.

        So I think you’re making some snap judgments in the wake of the series that you would even back away from, given some time.

        And please stop talking about antiwar people going to some “dark side.” Working for a day when war is rare or extinct is not a dark vision, but a bright one. And while reason is important, emotion has its place too, especially where the topic of war is involved. You write of cynicism on later posts… to me, if one doesn’t feel deep emotion and anger and revulsion about senseless slaughter in senseless wars, that is the ultimate cynicism.

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          First, Phillip, know that I’m thinking of folks like Doug when I speak of the movement, coming out of Vietnam and Watergate, that led to an extreme distrust of and dissatisfaction with government in general.

          I’m not thinking of people on the left when I say that.

          Of course, the war changed the left, too. Before that, liberals — Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson — believed that our society could do anything if we set our minds to it. They had tremendous faith in the power of government to achieve huge things, at home and abroad — including militarily.

          The optimist that led Johnson to believe we could wipe out poverty had a close relationship to the belief that if we just made the right decisions, we could fix the problem in Vietnam.

          Before, there was little area of agreement between liberals and libertarians (classical liberals) like Doug. Now, when we speak of foreign endeavors, there’s a great deal of overlap.

          It’s the negativity that came out of Vietnam that gets to me, wherever it crops up on the political spectrum. Ditto with Watergate.

          As for this:

          Are you really thinking about what you are saying? I’m trying to imagine what issue is more important than the tragedy of humans killing each other. I’m trying to imagine how one should be only a little bit anti-war, but you know, not an “all-consuming” opposition to the killing of human beings. You decry the element of emotion in discussing issues, but is it not emotion that revolts us at the idea of killing? My goodness, how on earth is it possible to go “overboard” in opposing war, especially senseless, utterly pointless war, and a war where we were not in the remotest sense defending our national sovereignty?

          While at the end, you seem to be referring to Vietnam (and probably the Iraq invasion, and maybe some other things such as the Spanish-American War — the one that actually fits Bud’s label of imperialism), before that last line or two, you seem to be referring to war in general.

          And that’s where we get confused in our discussions of Vietnam. I don’t have a beef with pacifists. I’m not one of them, but I respect principled opposition to war. What gets me is the way people go over the edge about Vietnam, specifically — as though it were a war that, in terms of killing people, was somehow way worse than other wars.

          I think a lot of that arises from the fact that the gravitational center of opposition to that war was among the young, and they reacted as young people do — without a sense of the past, with great passion, without frames of reference. This led to their damnation of everything the older generations had wrought, a completely overboard response to society and its institutions.

          I don’t agree with a lot of this comment from Bud, but I appreciate that he says of the atrocities at My Lai that “They’re inevitable in war,” and “it will happen in war.”

          Yes, even the most righteous war causes terrible things to happen, particularly under certain circumstances. And the war in Vietnam tended to produce those circumstances — the most serious being that we often didn’t know who was VC and who wasn’t. You send some heavily armed young guys who have just lost buddies (one of the chief factors that causes humans to overcome the reluctance to kill) into a village where they’re not sure who’s VC, or supporting VC, and who isn’t, and you’re a long way toward something monstrous happening. That doesn’t explain killing women, children and old men, but it does explain men being in a murderous mood.

          There’s lots of room for agreement here. But what knocks me back is the attitude that suggests that Vietnam was the most horrible war in the history of the world, and everyone involved with getting us involved there (especially Johnson) is some sort of monster.

          And my generation developed a sort of cult in which those rejections of America, its leaders and culture, that causes me to react very negatively, because I see it as going beyond reason…

          Reply
          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            One of the toughest things about Vietnam was that business of never knowing for sure who was VC, or supporting VC.

            Remember the story of Vincent Okamoto? There was this anecdote he told that started out heart-warming and then turned chilling.

            Being from a Japanese family, Okamoto had grown up eating rice every day. He was in this village where some women were cooking rice, and he was overcome with the smell of home. He traded some of his rations for a bowl. One of his comrades gigged him, saying, Damn, ain’t these people poor enough, without you eating their food? Okamoto replied, They’re fine. Look: There’s enough rice there to feed a dozen guys.

            Then it hit him: There WAS enough rice there for a dozen guys. That made them start poking around the village again. They found a tunnel entrance, and Okamoto tossed in a grenade. They pulled out several VC bodies — and watched the villagers to see who would mourn them, indicating people they needed to question further.

            The women whose rice he had eaten began to wail. “I think that was the first time I knew that I personally had killed people,” Okamoto says…

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          2. Doug Ross

            “First, Phillip, know that I’m thinking of folks like Doug when I speak of the movement, coming out of Vietnam and Watergate, that led to an extreme distrust of and dissatisfaction with government in general.”

            Well, that would be an incorrect view of me. I am not anti-government no matter how many times you say it. I am anti-excessive and unethical government. BIG difference. When it works, I have no problem with government. I am also not anti-war because of Vietnam alone. I was too young at the time to understand — other than seeing the young Vietnamese girl burned by napalm running down the street and wondering why we (America) would do that…

            Anyway, whatever feelings I have about the government didn’t really exist until I was well past college. Before then, I was more interested in sports and girls (who weren’t interested in me). I’d say my awakening happened in the 1980’s with Reagan. Never understood the fawning subservience to a guy who seemed to by playing the role of President. My views have been influenced by my experiences as a taxpayer, mainly after I had a family to raise and saw 40% of my paycheck going to taxes. Then I decided to get involved and run for school board in 2002. That was the biggest eye opener. The level of unethical behavior I witnessed firsthand at the lowest level of government was unbelievable. Lying, cheating, colluding to win a part time job that paid $600 a month made me realize there was a whole lot going on under the surface that we never know about.

            Reply
            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              “Well, that would be an incorrect view of me. I am not anti-government no matter how many times you say it. I am anti-excessive and unethical government. BIG difference. When it works, I have no problem with government.”

              But you usually think government is excessive, unethical, and not working, right?

              Anyway, I’m talking about attitudes that sweep across a LOT of positions on the political spectrum. Not just basic libertarians, but your Tea Party, your Trumpistas, your Club for Growth, your disengaged people who don’t vote — it’s all over the place. And it’s on the left, too, depending on what you’re talking about — you have the liberals who love domestic social programs but don’t have confidence in out ability to make a difference in the rest of the world, and the Bernie Sanders/Occupy Wall Street type who think the “system is rigged” in favor of “billionayuhs.”

              All of that has its roots in Vietnam or Watergate or both. You can also blame media, who during and after that period took such a habitually adversarial position toward government at all levels, persuading readers that that’s all there was in government — the outlier stuff that we exposed. Readers and viewers started saying “They all do it,” when they don’t all do it — which is what makes it news when they do.

              The parties have done everything they can to turn people off to government as well. Each side constantly telling us how absolutely HORRIBLE the other side is, and how everything they want to do would be the end of the world. (And media are complicit in communicating those messages.)

              So nothing gets done. And so another class of people — those of us who would like to see government DO things and be effective in doing them again — get turned off as well.

              But it all started turning this way with Vietnam and Watergate…

              Reply
              1. Doug Ross

                Yeah if we could just ignore the trivial details like Vietnam and Watergate we’d all feel so much better about government. It’s not like there have been any scandals, corruption, or inefficiency since then.

                Does the cynicism cause bad government or does bad government cause the cynicism? I lean toward the latter… only because I see examples of it every day at every level of government. All those legislators who Pascoe is going after aren’t a byproduct of a cynical electorate, they are a byproduct of a corrupt, unaccountable system controlled by those legislators. John Courson didn’t lose his ethics because the of the voters.

                Reply
  6. Lynn Teague

    “We did not have the experience that this series affords of hearing at length from young men who went over enthusiastic about the mission and became disillusioned.”

    Well, actually, one of us married one of those young men, and heard about it at length. I don’t think George was ever all that enthusiastic about the “mission” (I doubt many in their late teens and early twenties were willing to die for a theory of geopolitics) but he was an army volunteer, an 82nd Airborne volunteer, and volunteered for Vietnam. He came back saying that to get him again they would have to burn the woods and sift the ashes.

    Reply
    1. Bryan Caskey

      Watched Episodes 8 and 9 last night, which were the most powerful two for me so far.

      Watching the transformation of Musgrave from the clean cut Marine to the long haired anti-war protester was astounding. When I saw that image of the guy with the long curly hair and his fist in the air stood in such stark contrast to the young Marine of just a few years ago, it was very powerful.

      Musgrave’s recount of the soldiers protesting, how a barrier was erected to prevent them from going into the Capitol, and how they threw their medals over the barrier carried a lot of weight. I was particularly touched by the moment he re-bonded with his dad (who still believed in the war at the time) and was very upset that John had thrown his medals away. However, after calls came to their house threatening the Musgrave family over John’s protest, his father supported his son and said he would stand beside him in the driveway against anyone who wanted to mess with the family.

      I remember Kerry got a lot of criticism when he ran for President about his throwing his medals over the fence, but some of the harshest criticism came from the men he served with who essentially said that some of Kerry’s medals were not legitimately earned, or that he inflated stories to get a purple heart. Someone who claims a military award they didn’t legitimately earn is rightfully to be criticized.

      I don’t know about John Kerry – maybe his medals were legit – maybe they weren’t. However, I do know that John Musgrave earned his medals. Anyone who goes through what Musgrave went through certainly earned the right to say whatever he wants to say.

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        “Anyone who goes through what Musgrave went through certainly earned the right to say whatever he wants to say.”

        Yep. And I particularly appreciate what he had to say in the last episode, in reaction to his idiot friends who actually celebrated the fall of Saigon…

        Reply

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