It was leadership from my parents’ generation that made the decisions to fight the war in Vietnam. For a generation that had fought against two evil regimes – Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan – adopting isolationism was unthinkable. And the new enemy ideology – Communism – was spreading. The national mood was bellicose. So .. fight!
It wasn’t until I heard reports of the older brothers of some friends being killed by snipers that .I realized it was actually costing us anything. Then came the protests. By the time I was in high school, my generation had established its own beachhead on the national scene. Country Joe and the Fish sang “It’s one, two, three what are we fighting for?”. “Old enough to kill but not for votin’ ” rasped Barry McGuire. And after the killing of protesters at Kent State University by National Guard troops, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang “Four Dead in Ohio”. Those, among other hits, were the anthems flooding the song lists on the new venue of FM radio.
And we changed our culture, if not THE culture Head shops arose to feed the hunger for bohemian style, free love and optimal smoking of marijuana and hashish, just for starters. We were cool and we knew it. And .. we were victims of an identifiable evil.
My generation had revised the discussion and had invaded the national conscience. I remember the power and pride I felt in those days, to be part of a whole generation who was finally getting it right.
And in some ways, we did get it right – today we can look at the Vietnam war as a debacle – a bad idea spawned from bad information with bad motives. It’s easy to see, now. There was no domino theory in play wherein China was advancing its empire into Southeast Asia – the Vietnamese hated the Chinese – and Ho Chi Minh saw socialism as reform over French colonial rule. For Vietnam, it was a war for independence. America was propping up a corrupt government in the south.
For my generation – at least those around me – our revision of the dialogue and effect on national direction became part of our identity.
Going back, you can find that every generation develops some level of a contrarian spirit and is convinced of its own righteousness, regardless of a gross lack of perspective and experience. An event as dramatic or costly as Vietnam isn’t necessary. Any issue, any injustice, marginalized group or sin of the former generation is fair game to “get right” and rally around.
The identity is the goal. But if reality is consulted, and it will always be, my generations’s anti-war movement got it wrong in many ways:
- The treatment of returning soldiers was completely shameful. Flower children, not being so floral, threw cups of urine in the face of wheelchair-bound veterans – because the “correct” response to the war was to dodge the draft and move to Canada.
- Communism was and is bad. The jury is in. We didn’t want to talk about it, but I have had the honor of working with ex-USSR citizens. Their tales of brutality – as a rule – speak for themselves. It is all the rage to cite what’s wrong with America – and we should fix that. It’s a whole different story coming out of nations ruled by totalitarian socialist regimes.
- The questioning of America’s forceful role in world conflict has reproduced a lack of vigilance and rise in isolationism that can resemble that prior to the second world war. When there is real evil (see ISIS) it is historically better to fight it earlier than later. Because fight it you will.
- The hubris of a generation caused a complete ignorance – or denial – of the sacrifices of our parents’ generation. They were not perfect, but they were perfectly great. I will remain humbled by what they went through and gave to us. Shame on us where we have not been humble enough to see that and put on some gratitude.
The example of the war in Vietnam is only a pointed example of generational pride. All revisionism suffers from it. C.S. Lewis called it “chronological snobbery”. And it is always found to be full of error and excess.
As a workable example, I don’t expect many of my children’s generation to even read this. Maybe after I’m gone and they see the cycle (and it can be found somehow). I don’t make that observation with any resentment – I had avoidance to reading what my father wrote.
But I was wrong. Badly.
I rest my case.