Sergio Romero is a young engineering student at an Ivy League university where he is trying to find a girlfriend, for love and sex, in the Spring of 1969 before he is drafted into the US Army to fight in the Vietnam War. Can he evade the military draft at the height of the war to pursue his career goals and to find a woman he can share love with, without missing out on both and having his young life cut short? This is a story of young people bursting into adulthood at a pivotal time of great uncertainty and creativity, filled with beauty, tragedy and promise, and it is a story of friendship.
80 years ago today, on 22 June 1941, Operation Barbarossa — the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union — was launched. The warfare between the Nazis and the Russians, which lasted until the end of WWII on 8 May 1945, made up the overwhelming majority of the military action and produced the greatest number of war deaths and casualties of the entire European War of 1939-1945 (in my mind I think of this fraction as 80%).
Here in the United States we are well versed in the folklore and stories of the actions, tragedies and victories that emerged from the War In Western Europe during WWII, but we are much less aware of the magnitude of the Russian (Soviet Union) contribution made, and sacrifices suffered, to secure victory for the Allies (the “United Nations”) in May 1945. Without diminishing the dedicated, painful and heroic contributions of the U.S.A, and its Allies, it is nevertheless a fact that, by and large, Nazi Germany (and its fascist Eastern European allies and proxies) was defeated by Russian guns carried forward by an ocean of Russian blood, and the Russian state and the Red Army were fed large transfusions of American military supplies to supplement their own industrialized war machine.
Hitler had planned Operation Barbarossa not merely as a war of armed political conflict and territorial conquest, but as a war of annihilation: Jews, and Communists with any degree of political or administrative power, were to be killed. The Nazi’s estimated (in written reports) that the number of Jews they wished to eliminate from Europe totaled 11 million. Specialized militarized “death squad” troops were formed to execute Jews (primarily) as Nazi armies raced eastward through Poland (from 1 September 1939) and then during Operation Barbarossa into the Baltic States (which Stalin had recently annexed), Western Russia (nearly up to Moscow), the Ukraine, Crimea and Southern Russia (as far as Stalingrad = Volgograd). Those death squad troops were called the Einsatzgruppen.
From Wikipedia: Einsatzgruppen (“deployment groups”; also “task forces”) were Schutzstaffel (SS) paramilitary death squads of Nazi Germany that were responsible for mass killings, primarily by shooting, during World War II (1939–45) in German-occupied Europe. The Einsatzgruppen had an integral role in the implementation of the so-called “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (Die Endlösung der Judenfrage) in territories conquered by Nazi Germany, and were involved in the murder of much of the intelligentsia and cultural elite of Poland, including members of the priesthood. Almost all of the people they killed were civilians, beginning with the intelligentsia and swiftly progressing to Soviet political commissars, Jews, and Romani people as well as actual or alleged partisans throughout Eastern Europe.
Since Hitler had promised to establish a ‘1000 year Reich,’ the Nazis saw no need to worry about negative consequences to their genocidal campaign because in a few short generations after establishing their regime across Europe (and the world?) there would be few to have such raw memories of the atrocities and losses to mount any opposition. As one person commented: who today remembers the Crusades with enough anger to mount opposition to and make war on the descendants of its perpetrators?
A riveting and harrowing history of the Einsatzgruppen is presented by a 2009 four-part documentary series hosted on Netlfix: Einsatzgruppen: The Nazi Death Squads. [weblink at bottom].
Nearly all the visuals of this series were supplied by the many photographs and movies taken by German Nazi officers, but also by members of the killing units manned by Romanians, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Latvians and Lithuanians, which were both encouraged by the German Nazis (where underlying antisemitism and a thirst for pogroms, and hatred of Russians, communists and Stalin’s NKVD existed) or such other killing units were directly supervised by the German Nazis. In a few cases Jews and anti-nazi partisans were surreptitiously able to take photographs of killing actions that were kept hidden until after the war and used as evidence in war crimes trials.
Most of the rank and file of the Einsatzgruppen had been policemen, and were men of limited education; repetitive actions of brute force motivated by simple bigotry, sanctioned by their obedience to superiors, and spiced up for too many of them by committing torturous atrocities as entertainment. The officers, on the other hand, were quite well educated and intellectual, they directed and guided this genocide machine as true believers in the inhuman vision behind it.
As I watched this tragic history unroll, I recalled that Telford Taylor had publicly stated that by the standards set by the Nuremberg Trials that American officials should be liable for war crimes prosecution over their perpetration of the Vietnam War. From Wikipedia: Telford Taylor was an American lawyer best known for his role as Counsel for the Prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, his opposition to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, and his outspoken criticism of U.S. actions during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s.
And I thought of the My Lai massacre of March 1968, which was an infamous American cluster of war crimes that was not at all an isolated event as the US military claimed but actually just a typical action in an entire campaign made up of such actions conducted by US military forces in South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese Army, which was trained and lavishly supported by the U.S., were routine savage perpetrators of atrocities to Communist Vietnamese prisoners and also regular peasants caught up by the military operations. The parallels here between America’s South Vietnamese Army ally, to the non-German proxies during Operation Barbarossa, are quite close.
I also recalled that the murders of civil rights workers and voting rights activists Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner (the Freedom Summer murders) in Neshoba County, Mississippi, occurred on 21 June 1964, during the Civil Rights Movement. That was 57 years ago yesterday. Members of the local White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County Sheriff’s Office, and the (local city of) Philadelphia Police Department were involved in the incident. None of the police departments or government agencies and officers of the State of Mississippi took any action to investigate the disappearance of the three civil rights workers after 21 June 1964, and they were certainly not interested in seeking to uncover any crime and prosecute its perpetrators as related to this incident. The remains of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were discovered by federal investigators on 4 August 1964, and federal prosecutions followed. The federal government acted because of intense national public outcry against first the disappearance of the civil rights trio and then their murders, and that outrage had erupted out of the new largely national awakening that had been sparked by the Civil Rights Movement.
There is a parallel between Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner facing the the guns of their killers — pogrom-thirsting bigots and policemen who were backed by the political powers of local and state public officials — on the night of 21 June 1964, and the millions of Jews who faced the guns of their killers in Eastern Europe during 1939-1944 — also pogrom-thirsting bigots and policemen who were also often enough their own countrymen.
And then one thinks of today, of George Floyd, of Black Lives Matter, and of the logic of “defund the police.” That logic becomes very clear to anyone who comes to experience police activity as even remotely similar in any way to Einsatzgruppen activity. For them it is better to disband the police than allow for a continuation of civilian murders (especially and disproportionately of minorities, particularly Black Americans) by armed operatives employed and legally immunized by the governing political authorities, under the justification of “keeping the peace” and guarding “public safety.”
I realize all this sad and painful history is not pleasant to think about, but I think it is helpful for Americans to know about it accurately, and not filtered by fantasies and preferred biases, so that our society in the present day and into our collective future can be significantly bettered, to really ensure everybody’s public safety, and to keep the peace in a just and compassionate manner.
On 21 May 2021, Mark Ashwill’s excellent and moving article, “Of Class Rings, Bone Fragments and Fish Ponds: the Interminable Search for US MIAs in Vietnam,” was published (https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/05/21/of-class-rings-bone-fragments-fish-ponds-the-interminable-search-for-us-mias-in-vietnam/). It is about the searches by both Vietnamese and American groups for the unrecovered remains of those killed during the Vietnam War, while at the same time Americans continue to studiously avoid searching through their 20th century history to face up to its ongoing contortion of their 21st century national life. Think: Gaza in Palestine, May 2021, bombed Guernica-style by an unopposed Israeli military massively armed and lushly funded by the American Government.
“History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes,” (misattributed to Mark Twain, but actually from 1970).
It is my belief that 1968 was the most pivotal year in United States history after 1945. The commitment then to continue pursuing the Vietnam War, and the refusal ever since to face up to the consequences of it — unlike Germany’s postwar forthrightness about its 1933-1945 period — have doomed the U.S. to sink with increasing madness into the delusional path of “exceptionalism” it has been on since.
The last time there seemed a faint chance of breaking free from our American neo-fascist trajectory was 1976-1978, during the Carter Administration — and, yes, I know he was far from “perfect.”
I don’t think the U.S. will break free of its current delusional-ideological trajectory until it has fully come to terms with its Vietnam War history — and war crimes — and I mean by much more than just erecting a Black Wall.
The Amerindian Genocide, Black Slavery + Jim Crow, and the Vietnam War are in my view the three major American-perpetrated Holocausts. American “sleep” is shame-based denial of historical American reality. We as a nation could awaken from that sleep and transcend its underlying pathology, to such great benefit to everybody everywhere.
A good friend of mine is a 1966-1967 US Marine combat veteran of the Vietnam War, who survived much heavy combat and encirclement during the 1st Battle of Khe Sanh. He is the fiercest peacenik-socialist I’ve ever met, and also a really sweet gentle guy. He knows the truth.
And that truth is that official US Government ideology operates as an open cycle through the propagandized American Public Mind: we are not to “connect the dots” between what “we” have done with what “we” are doing. Acknowledging such attitudinally-causal links would be to operate both the personal and public minds in a morally closed cycle manner — to actually understand what is happening and why — and such clarified thinking must be dispatched into the non-thought oblivion of the memory hole in order to preserve the artifice by our political class of their guilt-free righteousness in perpetrating and sponsoring the war crimes deemed essential to the success of American foreign policy.
Let me suggest one such open cycle sequence of rhymed histories:
the Wounded Knee massacre, South Dakota 1890;
the Moro Crater massacre, southwestern Philippines 1906;
the No Gun Ri massacre, Korea 1950;
any number of massacres and bombardments in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1975;
the El Mozote massacre, El Salvador 1981, by a US trained and Reagan Administration sponsored Salvadoran Army;
the 2003-2011 Iraq War and its catastrophic aftermath;
May 2021: Palestinians apparently do not have a “right to exist,” but Israelis continue to have the right to destroy them with massive firepower gifted to them by the United States.
Imagine if closed cycle thinking had been applied after any of these catastrophes, and that had prevented subsequent ones because of the socially transformative moral effect of such thinking on the people and government of the United States. Give peace a chance. Is that funny? Why should the moral elevation of our American civilization be seen as an unrealistic and ridiculous fantasy? That is just a cowardly excuse to cling to barbarism and immaturity.
Our planet’s habitability is too rapidly and visibly decaying today, for us humans (and that includes you, unexceptional Americans!) to continue carrying on with the sociopathological behaviors exhibited by ancestors like Achilles, Genghis Khan, the Spanish Conquistadores, and the dictators of the 1930s. It is time we applied closed cycle moral thinking for the guidance of our political selves.
On 21 May 2021, The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported that:
In pointing out this news story, Jeffrey St. Clair commented (23 May 2021, FB): “Same old story, all across the West. The mining, oil and timber corporations rip it up, abscond with the cash, leave behind poisonous rubble and the bill for cleaning it up…if it can be cleaned up.”
This “profitable” business behavior by resource extraction corporations is consistent with the type of energy cycle being promoted: the open cycle.
In thermodynamics, the open cycle is defined as the operation of any isolated “engine” — for extracting “work” from the consumption of “fuel” — by drawing the energy-containing resource (fuel) from an assumed infinite external and unchanging source (i.e., Nature), consuming it within the engine at high temperature to extract work (such as torque, or thrust), and exhausting the waste products of the conversion process into an assumed infinite external and unchanging sink at lower temperature (i.e., Nature). It is left to unspecified external reality — Nature — to endlessly absorb all wastes from our engines, and produce all fuels for our engines, without alteration to itself while existing at a constant temperature.
This has been a very useful concept for designing thermodynamically isolated fossil-fueled engines, like for jet airplanes, but it fails when “the engine” becomes so gargantuan — like being the aggregate fossil-fueled powering of our entire industrialized civilization — that it becomes comparable in “size” to the source and sink it is supposed to operate between. In terrestrial reality there are no isolated engines. You can’t wash an elephant in a kiddie pool, pretending it is in a river.
The aerobic-respiration-photosynthesis cycle sustaining wild animal and plant life on Planet Earth operates as a closed cycle. The aerobic exhalation of carbon dioxide by animal life is inhaled by plant photosynthesis to in turn exhale oxygen, in a balanced closed loop energized by the “fuel” of sunlight, and which cycle generates food for all: sugars, cellulose and protein.
The need to transform our civilization and reduce the amount of energy we use to conduct it, is entirely the task of abandoning further reliance on open cycle thermodynamics — the fiction that all our billions of little engines are each thermodynamically isolated — and operate our civilization’s aggregate planetary engine in a closed cycle. Of necessity this would mean abandoning the fiction that all our millions of little polities are sociologically isolated and can function in an apartheid and exclusionary manner.
Mens sana in corpore sano.
To power our planetary civilization with planetary closed cycle thermodynamics — in the interests of maintaining the longevity of human and much other life on Earth — we have to conduct our various socio-economic lives in a politically closed cycle manner across this planet. Think of this as thermodynamic socialism.
We humans are physically and intellectually capable of rearranging our civilization to operate at this elegantly integrated more advanced level, and we are now morally tasked to do so. We must leave our barbarism in the past and become a nation of morally closed cycle thinking in a world of thermodynamic socialism.
Is that impossible? The toppling of moral impossibilities in past human society always began as gleams of morally closed cycle thinking in just a few minds.
I landed in college as a green wide-eyed freshman, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (NOT Penn State!), in September 1968. This was an explosive year, to my mind the most pivotal one in the United States since 1945. My dorm room was in a short cul-de-sac second floor hallway of the large antique pseudo Oxford-Cambridge style ivy-festooned stone masonry men’s dorm quadrangle building off Spruce Street.
I felt really good to finally have gotten out of the prison day-camp Catholic boys high school I’d been in for 4 years, and out of the nice suburban North Shore Long Island town my family lived in during my adolescence (before that being in New York City); and I had a brand spanking new draft deferment that I thought would insulate me from the carnage of the Vietnam War, which was at its peak at that time with the Tet Offensive.
In fact, Lyndon Johnson’s televised speech with the surprise announcement that he would not seek reelection in November 1968 happened two days after my 18th birthday, after which I had to troop down to the post office and register for the draft. That didn’t feel too good believe me, because I’d watched the news and read the papers daily all through high school. Those were my “Greta Thunberg” years, 1964-1968: from the Bay of Tonkin con-job and 1965’s Marine invasion of South Vietnam — “escalatio” as Tom Lehrer called it — to Tet, erupting on January 31, 1968, and pulsing through three bloody phases that year; when I was dreading the fucked-up situation the adults were shoving my way (you know: die for us, it’s good for “the country”).
My own priorities were: #1, study engineering so I could become the next Enzo Ferrari and build my own sports cars; #2, find receptive female companionship to find an outlet for my raging testosterone levels; and #3, stay out of Vietnam. I was not wise as an 18-year-old, I was NORMAL, having been instructed about women (“girls” was the pre-feminist term used then) by Beach Boys songs (those cherub troubadours of the white colonial culture of the Occupied Territories of Mexico’s northern part of Baja California) and Sophia Loren movies.
In the decades since then I’ve come to realize how difficult it is for women everywhere, and most certainly in the United States with its huge proportion of knucklehead males, to accept becoming the “second mothers” to so many needy fake-macho lunkheads: pickings for good husbands, mates and sperm donors (drones in the Bee World) can be slim for so many alert and intelligent women.
But, in the fall of 1968 I was feeling good and with high hopes. I burrowed enthusiastically into my school work and got on the Dean’s List. Three of us in our hallway were socially awkward and stayed in at night from lack of alternatives and fear blunting initiative. Besides, all the coeds had lots of upperclassmen to pick from and who owned cars and had money to spend. So, Joe Williams invited two or three of us to listen to his Bob Dylan records (note: using a plug-in electric machine that played vinyl discs to produce recorded music sounds).
Now, I had heard all the pop music of the day every day before that, because I had gone to my somewhat distant high school in a carpool driven by a neighbor boy’s father (a NYC fireman with rank, so lots of time to call his own), in a Ford Econoline van (a very cute unsafe-as-hell design), and Robert (the son) would put on the radio for every trip. Beside hearing it all in this way (the grating falsetto Sherry Baby too, too many times, but the Rascals on “Good Lovin’” was the best), and outside school it was so easy to hear spillover sounds from radios playing everywhere. At home I listened to the classical music and Spanish Zarzuelas (operettas) so close to my heart. So, by September 1968 I knew about Dylan’s hit songs up to that point.
But, Joe Williams said we had to hear Dylan the right way. Joe turned us on to grass: marijuana. We would sit up through the night listening to Dylan’s 1965 and 1966 albums: “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “Blonde on Blonde.” We laughed our asses off totally stoned listening to “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35” — “everybody must get stoned!” — yeah. It was so hilarious to read the “adult” press on this, where the experts saw in this song a deep poetic cry of alienation. Man, the adult world is just one big blivet of puffery.
I had heard all the popular folk music during its period of prominence, which coincided with the Civil Rights movement from about 1961 to its crescendo in August 1963 when Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed his dream to the nation and world from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (which is my favorite single building in Washington D.C.), until its triumphs with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
At that point Bob Dylan checked out of the topical political protest folk singer-songwriter role he’d mastered, and moved on artistically. No creative person can stand typecasting. Dylan’s early career in pure folk music was masterful, but I wasn’t into folk music. I turned onto Dylan when he went electric. For me a good song has both good words (even poetry) plus lots of really good instrumental music. And this essay is, believe it or not, about that.
Bob Dylan went on tour in 1966, backed by a 5 piece rock band, 4 of whose musicians (except the drummer) were a longtime group that would emerge on their own in 1968 as “The Band.” Dylan was booed at all his concerts in Europe and at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, as a “traitor” to the pure folk music style his earlier audiences had typecast him into. Even his pals Pete Seeger and Joan Baez were put off. Why?
In the late 1930s, Frank Sinatra exploded into popularity because he revolutionized how pop music was delivered to the fans. Earlier singing phenomena, like Bing Crosby, knew how to croon with projection to make up for the deficiencies of the crude electrified public address systems of the times, if one even existed in the halls they sang in. By Frank’s high school years (which he bailed out on) microphones and amplifiers were improving significantly (“modern” hi-fi equipment was finally introduced by RCA in 1941).
Tony Bennett has perceptively pointed out that with this new equipment Frank Sinatra did not need to project, so he “made love to the microphone” and sang in a very intimate style, and which every listener in the dance halls and over the radio broadcasts felt was delivered just to them, person-to-person. The Bobby-Soxers went ape-shit over this, a mega-scale precursor to the Beatlemania of 20 years later.
This is where Frank Sinatra was a pivotal figure in the evolution of broadcast popular music: he had that smooth melting crooner’s voice (and had even taken voice lessons from an ex-Metropolitan Opera vocal coach), he had lovely breath control (much learned from Jo Stafford, listen to her meltingly wonderful “The Nearness of You”) with which to fashion long lingering phrases, and he had that intimate emotional and yet cool even vulnerable at times feeling, which he conveyed so convincingly.
Bob Dylan’s folk music was conveyed to his initially small audiences in just this intimate way. Even without a P.A. system, a non-projective (non-operatic, non-Irish tenor) style of singing was just fine in the always small coffee houses and folk clubs of Greenwich Village in the 1950s and early 1960s. And of course, Dylan’s albums from 1961 to 1964 carried his recorded intimate-delivery folk music far and wide.
Now, the American folk music of the early ’60s was nothing like the polished hip big band standards that Frank Sinatra put out, but even at its most angry, and ‘protesty’ and ‘shouty’, the folk music of those years was essentially intimate (think Phil Ochs): it spoke to the personal feelings for and dreams of social transformation in each of the audience members, and with minimal acoustic instrumentation. Those songs were usually not stadium-sized sing-along sonic-boom anthems like Freddy Mercury’s “We Will Rock You,” even though Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-changin’,” and “Blowing In The Wind” sort of became ones.
So by 1965, Bob Dylan was typecast by his folk fan base as “their” intimate public voice. But by then Dylan had gotten stoned and was now deep into making group electric music for being stoned. That was the first pop music that could burrow into your stone-cave and light up the panorama movie screen of your stone-mind with its soundtrack — for so many of us lunkhead males, and also for plenty of girls (sorry: women) as I soon learned from direct experience —: the blazing folk-rock of Dylan in 1965 and 1966: “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and “Like A Rolling Stone.”
The poor folkies who wanted to be aurally cuddled by their post-Beatnik second daddy folksong troubadour wailed about their Big Brother’s abandonment of them. This is where Bob Dylan is a pivotal figure in American (U.S.) broadcast popular music: his was the folk-blues phantasmagoria of proto-rap lyrical torrents cascading out on streams of blazing hot blues-rock electric music that engulfed the newly stoned minds of the emerging adolescent and young adult nymphs, and the innocent drones and satyrs scheduled as cannon fodder for the Vietnam meat-grinder. That was me.
In 1969, I lost my deferment (2S) and was classified as ready for war right then (1A), because of some screw-up where it was reported to the draft board that “my” grades were failures. For those people any boy Garcia was the same person, so I get pegged with someone else’s failure. When I called the draft board to complain about this clerical error, telling them I could send them a copy of my dean’s list letter from the school, the old lady scarecrow on the phone just said to me “once we start the process we just keep going.” Up to 1968, 50% of the Vietnam War casualties among U.S. soldiers were Blacks and Latinos, always sent out “on point” by their white-boy lieutenant platoon commanders ‘leading’ their men, from the rear, into jungle ambuscades (I heard about such things from first hand recollections by Puerto Rican veterans who survived their 1960s in Vietnam).
So I basically lost my mind, desperate to achieve my goal #2 before being done in by a failure to meet goal #3; and I kept up my studies in the hopes of being ultimately able to proceed with my career ambitions to do engineering and science in a creative way, should I survive. I eventually lucked out by getting a very high number in the draft lottery of December 1969, and so I was passed over for being inducted into the U.S. military.
And during those years of 1968 and 1969, I listened to much music designed to accompany being stoned: Dylan, Doors, Janis Joplin, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and even Crosby Stills and Nash. Janis and CSN were favorites in the girls’ dorms (dorms were segregated by sex in those days, so making an overnight stay involved careful planning and inside help to pull off, like a bank heist caper). I learned much about all this music from the young ladies — all of them far more socially aware than me, keenly informed about pop music, and all very bright — who accepted me into their group company to listen to records at night.
After 1969 I started becoming an adult, but that is another story. Last tip: put Crème de menthe into your bong instead of water, especially helpful with hashish.
What makes for a heartrending antiwar song? Is it a doleful poetic and folkloric lament, or is it a driving martial beat with piercing raging lyrics of protest? Does it need a woman’s plaintive voice to make your heart ache with pain, or a man’s fierce growl to give you that gut-wrenching sinking feeling? I suppose it all depends on your kind of musical ear, and on your own situation with regard to the hazards of war.
I will offer a sequence of antiwar songs here, which for one reason or another have given me pause. Why do this?: because I like music, and because I think it important that none of us ever forget the proper attitude towards war and the prospect of war: rejection and rebellion. Peace is emotionally and politically turbulent when you are stubbornly antiwar, because war is the grease of imperialist capitalism.
The nuclei for this project are the first two songs listed, which both pull on my heartstrings. High Germany is a Celtic song where a Scottish lass laments the loss of her soldier lad to the First World War. This particular song really gets me because the lyrics are so poignant, and because the singer — my younger daughter — does such a good job of conveying the emotion that was very real 100 years ago in Scotland, and, sadly, remains just as real all over the world today.
Soldier, We Love You is an original composition by Rita Martinson, who performed it so eloquently and memorably in the 1972 movie F.T.A. (officially “Free The Army,” and understood to be “Fuck The Army”). F.T.A. starred Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and a collection of performers and musicians banded together in a touring satirical revue performing at coffeehouses and parks near American army bases, for G.I.’s opposed to the war in Vietnam. Though I was never a soldier (by pure luck) I have been so touched by Rita Martinson’s performance, and I gratefully wish her a happy life and satisfying career, wherever she is.
As you will see below, I quote some of the commentary on these songs by people I found on the Internet, many of them veterans, who had offered their suggestions.
“The Robert Shaw Chorale sing Shenandoah, a heartrending soldier’s lament from the American Civil War. The very first, and among the very best of antiwar songs ever… We lost a lot of relatives and close family friends in WW1, WW2 and in Vietnam.” — Fred Wilson
Eva Cassidy was a gift to us from the universe, of pure soulful heart through song. She left us far, far too early. Her rendition of Danny Boy unfolds the sheer tragedy carried by the lyrics with a radiant vocal eloquence (self accompanied on guitar), and most admirably without any showy attention-seeking bombast. The lyrics present a dead soldier’s call for remembrance and love, from his grave, and Eva had the grace and the perception to honor that sentiment.
“As a full blooded Irish man who has heard this song sung hundreds of times by family and friends at weddings, funerals and every other occasion when Irish people gather together to sing, I can honestly say I have never heard it sung better and with more feeling than sung here by Eva.” — Belfastsoul
War rips apart families, and mothers, who are the hub of their family wheels, are heavily burdened with those painful losses. So it is natural for a woman’s voice to express that universal pain, and to this Joan Baez has lent her beautiful artistry and passion.
If war is so bad why does it exist? Why does anyone allow themselves to become a soldier, a lethal tool and sacrificial victim in the war-schemes of the Big Money? Who, ultimately, is responsible for inflicting the scourge of war on humanity? Buffy Sainte-Marie plunges to the core of this question, and arrives at the painful truth (Pogo’s realization).
Many of the antiwar songs here are from the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, “a time I remember oh so well” since I was nearly swallowed up in it. The songs of that time which I list either had a sound or some turn of phrase that imprinted on my mind either because I heard them so many times during those bright days of hopeful youth, and stoned drunk nights of dreams or despair, or because hearing them coincided with moments of incredible euphoria or tension. Basically, this song-listing exercise is neither a scholarly assemblage of the historically significant, nor a production based on logic. It’s about visceral memories and their reverberations in songs.
Barry McGuire and Buffalo Springfield gave us clues, in 1965 and 1967, of what we high school boys in those years were in for. I was not looking forward to facing the draft when I reached 18.
“I remember the nightly ‘kill’ numbers on the news.” – Andre R. Newcomb. The evening television news broadcasts would give the awful weekly totals of U.S. soldiers killed. Totals of enemy dead issued by the U.S. military were complete fabrications, but the unknown quantities of Vietnamese dead were definitely very very high; America had the most superior firepower. Three Five Zero Zero, a song from the musical, Hair, takes off from its initial reference to a body count. Have you heard as scathing an antiwar song in recent years? And it no, why do you think that is?
As we know from President “Bone Spurs” Trump, Dick “Too Busy Four Deferments” Cheney, George “AWOL” W. Bush, and others of our immune ‘privilatti’ class who breezed past the Vietnam War, “getting out of the draft” in a culture dedicated to materialism and the instinctive worship of power is more easily arranged the more elevated your association to the economic and political hierarchy. Creedence Clearwater Revival give a spirited expression of this class-war truth.
For the callow petit bourgeois youth of the time, like me, who felt a continuous sinking feeling of “circling the drain” before ever really stepping into adulthood and savoring the sweet fruits of life, there arose an intense desire to find somebody to love and be loved by, at least for a while before “the end.”
Phil Ochs was a songwriter and political activist of sharp wit, sardonic humor and earnest humanism, whose songs were graced by insightful lyrics of literate elegance. He wrote hundreds of songs in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1976 at the age of 35 he succumbed to his own demons, and left us. Phil Ochs was a man of very keen perception, and immersed in the bubbling cauldron of intense antiwar activism during the Vietnam War, I think his psyche was eventually overwhelmed by that searing experience. I think the reason more of us “ordinary people” — those with reasonably decent moral character — don’t go completely mad over the poisonous nature of American politics and national character is because we are shielded by duller wits from perceiving the full reality of the kind of society we live in. There are hazards to being a seer.
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on 4 April 1968, and many large, deadly and terribly destructive urban riots broke out and continued for weeks. Federal troops were called out, and the television images of them patrolling the streets of burning cities was a hellacious realization of “bringing the war home.” Up to 1968 half of the American casualties in the war were made up of ethnic minorities, mainly Blacks and Latinos, despite their much lower proportions of the national population. This was a rather ugly manifestation of America’s formative — and apparently forever — race and class war. Edwin Starr gave voice to the deep resentments by Blacks over their exploitation as cannon fodder, in his song War.
On 4 May 1970 the Ohio National Guard, called out to Kent State University during a mass protest by unarmed college students against the bombing and invasion of neutral Cambodia by United States military forces, fired approximately 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds at the demonstrators, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.
The Vietnam War ended with the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. The Vietnamese would then continue to sort out their politics without the overt highly destructive interference of the United States (the covert interference would continue). What did any of all this mean to a young American war widow? Was it worth her pain and sacrifices? Of course not, but this was always a knowable truth. So where was justice?
It is important to realize that the most significant reason the American government withdrew from its Vietnam War effort was because of the widespread and persistent rebellion against it by active duty military personnel, and the ferocious activism of the antiwar veterans who had returned from that war. The civilian antiwar activism and public demonstrations helped to increase a public consciousness in sympathy with the military rebellions, most ad hoc and personal. Rank-and-file soldiers who had come face-to-face with the realities of that war, and who took their Soldier’s Oath seriously, realized that their duty to protect and defend the United States was actually at odds with the dictates from their military chains of command and from their country’s political leadership. Their duty was to the people of the United States, not to one of its transitory government administrations whose policies were clearly not in the interests of the American people, even though there were special interests who profited from them.
The British Soldier is a “song about the troubles in Northern Ireland. It was written and performed by folk singer Harvey Andrews, and banned when it was released. It is based on an actual event which occurred in the early ’70s.” — SuperNutty23. “Remember Sgt Michael Willets GC of 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment whose sacrifice inspired this song.” — Archie Carter
Eric Bogle wrote and performed the song My Youngest Son Came Home Today. “When I played this during an interview on Cairns FM89.1, Eric asked me if I had heard Mary Black sing the song. When I said I hadn’t he said her version was far better, as a woman can put more emotion into a song.” — Johnson28316
99 Luftballons is a German protest song against nuclear war, written in 1983. “The premise was that 99 balloons crossing over the Berlin Wall would be mistaken by radar as an attack, causing jets to scramble, starting a war that would leave both sides in ruins. The singer, walking through the ruins, finds one balloon, is reminded of her lover and lets it slowly fly away.” – TheJenr8tr
This song, band and performance are from before the Berlin Wall fell (9 November 1989), when tactical nuclear-tipped U.S. missiles stationed in Western Europe, and similar Soviet Russian missiles poised in Eastern Europe, had Germany between them under the potential arcs of their flight paths, and also very obviously in the crosshairs of their targeting in the event of a boiling over of the Cold War.
An English translation of the German lyrics of 99 Luftballons is given immediately below; it was made by my wonderful daughter-in-law, Sabrina García, from the Black Forest.
Do you have some time for me?
Then I’ll sing a song for you
About 99 air balloons
On their way to the horizon
Do you perhaps think of me just now?
Then I’ll sing a song for you
About 99 air balloons
And how one thing comes from another
99 air balloons
On their way to the horizon
Mistaken for UFOs from space
Therefore a general sent
A squadron after them
To raise the alarm if they had to
Yet there on the horizon were
Just 99 air balloons
99 fighter pilots
Each one was a great warrior
Regarding themselves as Captain Kirk
There were great fireworks
The neighbors didn’t understand anything
And thought they were under attack
Yet there on the horizon they fired
At 99 air balloons
99 War Minister
Matches and gasoline cans
Regarding themselves as smart people
Already smelling a big fat prey
Crying “War!” and wanting power
Man, who would have thought
That it would ever get this far?
Because of 99 air balloons
Because of 99 air balloons
99 air balloons
99 years of war
Left no room for winners
There are no more War Minister
And no fighter pilots either
Today I’m doing my rounds
I see the world in ruins
I’ve found a balloon
I think of you and let it fly….
A classic antiwar song is Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, by Pete Seeger. Marlene Dietrich, who was deeply and very visibly committed to antifascist activity during World War II, included Seeger’s song in her one-woman musical show, which toured the world. Burt Bacharach had arranged many songs of interest to Marlene, to accommodate the limited vocal range of her contralto voice. This enabled Marlene to continue as a singer during her later years, and she was quite open about gratefully giving Bacharach credit for this.
“Marlene Dietrich performed a German language version of Where Have All the Flowers Gone? during her 1960s tour of Israel. She sang in German only after receiving the consent of the audience, thus breaking the unofficial taboo against the use of that language in Israel. Many in the audience were German expatriate Holocaust survivors.” — Hollie Willetts
Well, the political management class of the United States managed to survive the “Vietnam Syndrome” years of popular distaste for war and opposition to foreign adventures that might require the use of military forces, mainly from 1975 to 1979, during the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter administrations. But Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor from 1977 to 1981, was able to convince Jimmy Carter to initiate the first action of what would become our current Forever War in Central Asia: the covert arming of the mujahideen in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion there in January 1980. And so Osama Bin Laden got his start.
As the US and allied wars of the 1980s and 1990s metastasized into our Forever Wars, new antiwar songs sprouted from the dragon’s teeth of pain and death sown in the wake of those wars.
“The video of ‘Smile Empty Soul – This Is War’ hits me very hard. I am a combat veteran who now advocates for peace. I took part in the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War, Fallujah 2004. My heart broke in that place, though it took me years to realize it.” — Lucas B.
And so it goes. There will certainly be antiwar songs from other times, from many cultures and in other languages, which I would not know about. I am sure that the fundamental sentiments of all such songs are universal, because they spring from the deepest and most fundamental aspirations and disappointments of the human experience.
The antiwar songs of the pop music supernovas Bob Dylan (Blowin’ in the Wind, Masters of War, The Times They Are A-Changin’) and John Lennon (Give Peace a Chance, Imagine, Happy Christmas, I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier) are so well known that I feel no need to say more about them.
Every instance of war is a failure of political leadership. Good antiwar songs can help us all see this, and motivate us to find better leaders, to devise better politics, and to reawaken feelings in our hearts of genuine human connection to everyone.
The Pentagon Papers is the informal name given to a 47 volume, 7,000 page secret history of the US government’s actions in its pursuit of war in Vietnam, from 1954 to 1967, to prevent the adoption of communism in a unified Vietnam, and ultimately to contain the spread of the political and ideological influence of the People’s Republic of China. This report was commissioned by Robert S. McNamara (US Secretary of Defense, from January 1961 to February 1968) in 1967, and produced by RAND Corporation personnel including Daniel Ellsberg, to assemble an accurate history of the actual US policies (and their consequences) regarding Vietnam, which were enacted in secret by the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson Administrations.
As early as 1965, McNamara saw the war as an ‘unwinable’ failure. He wanted to understand how this Cold War initiative in Southeast Asia had metastasized into a disaster and quagmire, and the Pentagon Papers were supposed to be the explanatory dissection, essentially a pre-mortem of this still-in-progress and irrationally unacknowledged catastrophe bullheadedly pursued by America’s leadership class.
The report was conducted as an internal study within the Pentagon (based entirely on document searches, no interviews were conducted), and marked “Top Secret – Sensitive” so as to keep it secret from the political and military leadership (the Johnson Administration) that did not want to hear fact-based conclusions that would destroy their illusions about their Vietnam War. The Pentagon Papers factually contradicted all the public pronouncements about the war that had been issued by Presidents from Truman through Johnson (1954 to 1967), and then from 1969 on by Nixon, about the purpose of the war (‘defending democracy against communist dictatorship’), the progress being made militarily to reach the publicly stated US goals (‘always improving’), and the extent of military operations (‘limited and measured strikes within Vietnam,’ “no wider war”).
The reality was that the purpose of the war, which maintained its inertia and caused its expansion, was the vanity of an American political and military leadership that feared losing face — what Henry Kissinger calls “credibility” — by being the “first president” (national administration) to “lose a war.” The “enemy” would win at tremendous cost of human life because the Vietnamese people were adamant to gain the right of self-determination as regarded their own lives and the format of their own political institutions within their own country.
The second type of lie by the US government that the Pentagon Papers devastatingly exposed was that the reports of military progress in the field were complete fabrications, and in fact the situation for the US troops was always deteriorating despite the monumental destruction and genocidal level of killing that the American technological war machine produced.
The third type of lie that the Pentagon Papers contradicted, with mountains of classified documentation from the State Department and the Pentagon, was that throughout the course of the war the US Presidents had always sought to expand the infusion of troops and military equipment, the magnitude of operations, and the ranging of operations into neighboring countries. Nixon continued this pattern of deceiving the public — whose sons and even daughters (nurses) — were bleeding and dying to provide the expendable labor needed to feed this behemoth of war-making hubris. Nixon (and Henry Kissinger) even expanded the war in 1970 with a secret invasion of Cambodia.
In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony J. Russo leaked the Pentagon Papers to the public. How the leakers came to their commitment to act, how they accomplished this very risky caper, and what the profound consequences were, make for a compelling story — really a complex of entwined stories — that has been approached from several angles by movie-makers.
The Post is Steven Spielberg’s new movie (with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep) about the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. As true with all Spielberg movies, it has a quick pace, builds excitement, and ends happily. This movie makes the central hero Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post (newspaper) at that time. So, the movie is a ‘woman overcoming patronization (domination by men)’ feel-good story (because she gave the go-ahead to publish extracts of the Pentagon Papers despite oppositional threats by the Nixon Administration) as well as one about the importance of safeguarding the 1st Amendment rights of media to publish the truth about the malfeasance of government; to help the US people safeguard their democracy. So, a reasonably good movie (2017).
However, the real heroes of the entire series of events are the people who put their lives on the line to get the Pentagon Papers out of government safes and into the hands of the people (Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony J. Russo, both of whom the government prosecuted for leaking classified info, and more or less for “treason” = life in jail). The first of those US people to get the papers from Ellsberg and Russo were the reporters and editors at the New York Times and then the Washington Post (editor Ben Bradlee, publisher Katharine Graham), so they would have a chance (if they had the guts) of widely disseminating them through newspaper publication.
A superior movie (far superior in my opinion) about this great and patriotic leak is the 2003 film The Pentagon Papers starring James Spader (playing Daniel Ellsberg), with Paul Giamatti (playing Anthony J. Russo, who pushed Ellsberg into leaking the papers, and helped him copy and distribute them); with Alan Arkin playing an important supporting role (head of the RAND Corporation).
So, by all means go and enjoy the Spielberg movie with popular stars, but make sure not to miss the 2003 movie The Pentagon Papers for the real story (or just see it instead). It is a finely made and excellently played/acted movie, which clearly lays out the incidents of the real story (Ellsberg’s story from 1964 through 1973, in which Russo’s personal story is entwined), and the historical results and significance of that story: a major blow to the government’s effort to continue the Vietnam War, and for the Nixon Administration to continue.
Understanding the story of the Pentagon Papers is important to appreciate the true merits of the actions of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden in recent years – and to properly identify the real crimes and the real culprits then and now.
Phase 1: 30 January – 28 March, 1968
Phase 2: 5 May – 15 June, 1968
Phase 3: 17 August – 23 September 1968.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
assassinated in Memphis, TN
4 April 1968
Riots broke out in about 100 US cities and towns over many weeks.
Robert F. Kennedy
assassinated in Los Angeles, CA
6 June 1968
RFK had won the CA primary election for DP presidential nominee that day.
Richard M. Nixon
elected US president
5 November 1968
In the fall (October-November) of 1968 during his election campaign as the Republican Party’s nominee for US president, Richard Nixon sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks between the Johnson Administration and the Communist Party of Vietnam (“North Vietnam”), by using Anna Chennault (of the deposed Nationalist Chinese regime) as a secret agent to contact the South Vietnamese regime of Nguyen Van Thieu and have him renege on his commitment to send a delegation to the scheduled Paris peace negotiations (Nixon promised Thieu a better deal, if Nixon became President), so the peace talks failed by not even starting.
This was an act of treason by Nixon during a time of war.
Nixon used the “failure” of the Johnson Administration to either “win the war” (militarily) or bring the four combatants (North Vietnam and the ‘Viet Cong’ versus South Vietnam and the U.S.A.) into serious armistice and peace negotiations, as an electoral issue justifying voting for him. Nixon won (over the DP’s Hubert Humphrey) by less than 1% of the popular vote.
Nixon and Henry Kissinger (National Security Advisor, then Secretary of State) then expanded the war (into Laos and Cambodia), and only in 1973 – 5 years later – were they able to get the Hanoi government (the Communist government of North Vietnam, and their allied popular forces in South Vietnam: the ‘Viet Cong’) back to the negotiating table in Paris, with the Communists finally agreeing once again to the concessions they had originally made in 1968.
During the interim, 22,000 additional Americans had died in the war, and perhaps a million more people of Vietnam (north and south) as well as Laos and Cambodia. This is all described in Episode 7 of Ken Burns’ 10 episode TV series, “The Vietnam War” (2017).
It was 50 years ago this month (during Phase 1 of the Tet Offensive) that I registered for the draft. My college deferment was cancelled at the end of 1968, and I was 1-A all of 1969. Bureaucratic delaying tactics and luck kept me from being inducted, and I drew a very high number in the Draft Lottery of December 1969, and so was passed up.
A tense time, and one that ensured I would forever be some kind of leftist.
Perhaps the period in my life during which I experienced the greatest amount of dread were the years 1968-1969, when I was being called by my draft board to be inducted into the United States military for service in the Vietnam War. Ultimately, that never occurred and I have no dramatic stories to tell, either of suffering and heroism or criminality under fire, or of stirring anti-war resistance and subversion. But, I have vivid memories of that time and believe my dread of the Vietnam War has cast a long shadow onto my consciousness. Whenever I hear or read about people in their later years saying about the disinterest by current youth in the formative experiences of these elders “you have no idea what it was like in those times,” I now understand what they are feeling, based on my own relatively easy survival of the Vietnam War, and the ease with which I am taken as obsolete today.
War is horrible, obviously, and to be avoided at almost any cost. I say “almost” because I have reluctantly come to believe that in rare circumstances the necessity to prosecute a war can arise. The difficulty here is in choosing when a situation truly deserves to be recognized as one of those rare occasions that is worthy of justifying war. There is no formula nor algorithm for making such determinations, the justification for going to war is beyond pure logic. Such justification must not only be seen intellectually as rigorous, but emotionally as essential to the self-definition of the people going to war, both as a society and as individuals. Such a broad and deep consensus could only arise in reaction to the most dire of existential threats, which I can only imagine to be truly rare. When greed, ego, religious fanaticism and lust-for-power are denied protection by military force, then no problem of popular freedom and resource allocation is beyond negotiated settlement. We can live without war if we cast away the irrational absolutes that drive us to it.
Unfortunately in our world today, it is still possible for one group of people to face the hostility of another group of people motivated so viciously by their irrational absolutes that the effort required for a necessary defense amounts to a war. The dreadful work of prosecuting such a war inevitably falls on the young and strong members of a society, despite the fact that the policy imperatives and political disputes precipitating the war were carried out by the older, more prosperous and most secure members of that society. How can the sacrifices of war be justified to its young warriors?
I can think of only two justifications: the war is necessary for the survival and self-respect of the society, and the society is worthy enough to merit the sacrifices made by its warriors for its continuation.
I do not believe that either of these conditions were met in regard to the Vietnam War. Yes, I am not very “patriotic.”
But what about today, with crises in the Middle East, and the threat of “terrorism?” The discussion of war becomes murky when we begin considering militarized police actions in response to terrorist attacks, bombings and massacres carried out by non-state gangs operating internationally. The militarized policing forces called upon to hunt down and eliminate such gangs would be (or should be) troops of highly trained professional soldiers-agents with extensive technical support, not masses of conscript soldiers. A “people’s army” is what you call upon to save an entire society under existential threat; a group of professionals – volunteers well-trained and reasonably subsidized by society like King Louis XIII’s Musketeers – is what you call upon to counter violent threats to social peace and tranquility that rise above the level of common criminality. But even though such professional soldiers are volunteers who may be called upon to earn their socially subsidized living by occasionally confronting danger, they are still our brothers and sisters, and our society must never be hasty or casual about sending them into harm’s way.
So, the two justifications for war remain: is the situation truly such a threat to the survival of our society and our worthy concepts of ourselves that it requires an armed response?, and does our society deserve the inevitable sacrifices of our warriors?
What do I mean by “worthy concepts of ourselves?” Primarily, our vision of a free and equitable society, and a solidarity with people in other nations regarding basic human rights. Again, this is a topic that can be made as murky as one wants, but the fundamental point about solidarity here is that: “to maintain my self-respect, I see it in my interest that people elsewhere be free from threats to their lives, dignity and freedom, and I would wish that they could feel the same toward us.”
Of course, the devil-in-the-details with “solidarity” is in what practical steps one society takes in response to the problems of another. Again, the judgments here go beyond logic and rest upon who we think we are, or want to be. As one specific example consider Cuba’s military response to the threats to Angolan and Namibian independence in the 1980s, and its medical response to the threat of the Ebola epidemic in Africa in 2014-2015.
As always, the enemy in our minds is humanity’s various irrational absolutes. “In politics the choice is never between good and evil but between the preferable and the detestable” (Raymond Aron). Does our society deserve the sacrifices required by this war? “This war” is whatever war is now being promoted. Any call to war, on terror, drugs or whatever, should be taken as a call to thoroughly examine American society and rectify its many glaring inequities, to make this society much more deserving of the sacrifices of its potential future warriors. Americans who might be sent out to fight and die for their country in future wars must be given a justification sufficient for their sacrifices, a justification which can be experienced daily as the living reality of our society. This goes far beyond the superficiality and commercialism of our time, and which even the word “socialism” cannot illuminate sufficiently in our imaginations.
What follows are my notes about the Vietnam War, which was frothed up in my memory by several recent encounters and e-mail messages. There is nothing earth-shaking here, just my own thoughts that echo the title of Staughton Lynd’s recent fine article:
Beware, there will be a great deal of hype later this spring about the 40th anniversary of the “end” of the Vietnam War, with the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. Don’t fall for the phony patriotism, instead ask for a transformative politics making this a much more deserving nation. There are still many people living with their personal consequences of the Vietnam War. The movie Same Same But Different (more below) is all about that. Not thinking about it is not an end.
My notes, referred to above, were originally sent out as e-mail, and now follow.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 15 February 2015 [Presidents’ Day weekend]
I can’t help sending out this broadcast message, as I have been moved to think back to the time of the Vietnam War. I myself was not in it, by the luck of the draft lottery of December 1, 1969, and prior lucky bureaucratic congestion from early 1968.
The most important part of this message is for you to see this one hour documentary about American veterans of that war, who returned to Vietnam to work on constructive and humanitarian projects. In the documentary, they tell why they have chosen to do this. Watch, and listen carefully.
The second documentary Louis comments on is “Last Days in Vietnam” by Rory Kennedy, the youngest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, and her documentary has been nominated for Best Documentary in the upcoming Academy Awards. Don’t see this, it’s a piece of shit aimed at the head-up-the-ass stupidity that swallows garbage like “American Sniper” with reverential awe.
To see real heroes, see Same Same But Different.
My daughter, Ella, had asked me about my recollections of the times of the Vietnam War, for a high school project, and while I told her about my own slight experiences of that time, I could see that any real transmission of the living experience was impossible. Seeing Same Same But Different is perhaps the best I could offer her, now, to answer her questions most usefully (for her own future).
Another prod to my recollections of the times of the Vietnam War was a group e-mail I received last Christmas, about “remembering those [US soldiers] who served” and died. I reproduce that e-mail (names deleted) and my response to it, down below, to add to my overall comments about this topic today.
By chance, there are some other articles on the Vietnam War in this weekend’s edition of Counterpunch:
Michael Uhl is a writer associated with Vietnam Full Disclosure, a website dedicated to publicizing truthful history about the Vietnam War (Pentagon-produced history is unreliable in this regard), and produced by a group of veterans of that war (including a woman nurse who treated combat wounded). See that site for many articles and commentaries:
Robert S. McNamara (Kennedy and Johnson Administrations’ Secretary of Defense) had publicly estimated that 3.5 million people, from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, died as a result of the American prosecution of the war in Southeast Asia.
If any of you still enjoy reading books (as in paper), you can learn the historical background to the Vietnam War from
The Untold History of the United States by OLIVER STONE and PETER KUZNICK [A good library or bookstore can get a copy for you.]
Oliver Stone, the filmmaker, is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.
The most complete detailed [and truthful] history of the Vietnam War is
Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience by GABRIEL KOLKO [Kolko, a Canadian and historian, interviewed leading figures in the war during its course, in the U.S., South Vietnam and North Vietnam.]
A recent book on the nature of American military operations in Vietnam (a.k.a. war crimes) is
Kill Anything That Moves by NICK TURSE
I say more about Nick Turse’s book in the appended e-mail commentary, down below.
An incredible 1971 book of photographs of the war, which was republished in 2001 by Phaidon Press is
Vietnam, Inc. by PHILIP JONES GRIFFITHS
I think Philip Jones Griffiths’ book ranks with Euripides’ “Trojan Women.”
One of the most affecting books I have ever read was Noam Chomsky’s deeply moral intellectual protest of 1970, against the aggregated atrocities we now label as the Vietnam War, and is
At War With Asia by NOAM CHOMSKY
This book is specifically about the American bombing of Laos (the country that has suffered the highest amount of bombing per capita, ever, and also subjected to defoliant chemical warfare by the U.S.). One of my best blog entries is about this book, its sources, and its effect on me.
The way I “remember” the Vietnam War today, and “honor those who served” is to buy you-know-who a chocolate milkshake every now and then, and to try to get us out into the country with him for a plant-identification ramble on some summer day.
I remember the story our friend told me about his time during the First Battle of Khe Sanh (the “Hill Fights” of 1967). The Marines were under such intense shelling for so long that they were starving (being cut off from resupply), and conditions in the camp were horrible because of the destruction, carnage (piles of dead) and the tropical rain turning ground into mud. He says he lost count of the barrages after about seventy-something, and the many concussions he experienced made him deaf in one ear. After a long stretch of this punishment, a brief and welcome relief came in the form of some hours of clear sunny weather without any shelling. As he sat in his spot, he noticed that a grasshopper had alighted near him, probably also seeking relief in sunshine without explosions. In an instant, he flashed out his arm, grasped the grasshopper, popped it into his mouth whole, crunched and swallowed. That was food. He told me he had done this without any thought whatever, and afterwards he realized what amazing things we can do when motivated by starvation. From what he’s told me, I have been able to identify the battle he was in as that for Hill 881, the First Battle of Khe Sanh (articles below).
About E. F. Murphy’s book: “While the seventy-seven-day siege of Khe Sanh in early 1968 remains one of the most highly publicized clashes of the Vietnam War, scant attention has been paid to the first battle of Khe Sanh, also known as “the Hill Fights.” Although this harrowing combat in the spring of 1967 provided a grisly preview of the carnage to come at Khe Sanh, few are aware of the significance of the battles, or even their existence. For more than thirty years, virtually the only people who knew about the Hill Fights were the Marines who fought them. Now, for the first time, the full story has been pieced together by acclaimed Vietnam War historian Edward F. Murphy.”
My wife chides me about “old man ranting,” which is to say complaining angrily, or at all, about the political and social stupidities of our time. Who cares what I think?, nothing is going to change, and if there is any slight change it will not be because of anything I have said or written. True enough, amen. So, I don’t plan to write any more in this vein. But, every now and then I have to let out some steam, and this whole “remember the Vietnam War” meme is one, of I hope very few, such occasions. MG,Jr.
XXXXXXXX sometimes sends me items from “right wing news” sites, and the item below about the Black Wall is one such message. My response to it, on “remembering” Vietnam War veterans, is further below.
On Dec 27, 2014, XXXXXXXX wrote:
At this Christmas time, I thought we should take a bit of our time to remember those who never made it back from Vietnam, those men and women who should never be forgotten. Merry Christmas to one and all…….
A little history most people will never know.
Interesting Veterans Statistics off the Vietnam Memorial Wall.
There are 58,267 names now listed on that polished black wall, including those added in 2010.
The names are arranged in the order in which they were taken from us by date and within each date the names are alphabetized. It is hard to believe it is 57 years since the first casualty.
The first known casualty was Richard B. Fitzgibbon, of North Weymouth, Mass. Listed by the U.S. Department of Defense as having been killed on June 8, 1956. His name is listed on the Wall with that of his son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard B. Fitzgibbon III, who was killed on Sept. 7, 1965.
There are three sets of fathers and sons on the Wall.
39,996 on the Wall were just 22 or younger.
8,283 were just 19 years old.
The largest age group, 33,103 were 18 years old.
12 soldiers on the Wall were 17 years old.
5 soldiers on the Wall were 16 years old.
One soldier, PFC Dan Bullock was 15 years old.
997 soldiers were killed on their first day in Vietnam
1,448 soldiers were killed on their last day in Vietnam
31 sets of brothers are on the Wall.
Thirty one sets of parents lost two of their sons.
54 soldiers attended Thomas Edison High School in Philadelphia. I wonder why so many from one school.
8 Women are on the Wall, Nursing the wounded.
244 soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War; 153 of them are on the Wall.
Beallsville, Ohio with a population of 475 lost 6 of her sons.
West Virginia had the highest casualty rate per capita in the nation. There are 711 West Virginians on the Wall.
The Marines of Morenci – They led some of the scrappiest high school football and basketball teams that the little Arizona copper town of Morenci (pop. 5,058) had ever known and cheered. They enjoyed roaring beer busts. In quieter moments, they rode horses along the Coronado Trail, stalked deer in the Apache National Forest. In the patriotic camaraderie typical of Morenci’s mining families, the nine graduates of Morenci High enlisted as a group in the Marine Corps. Their service began on Independence Day, 1966. Only 3 returned home.
The Buddies of Midvale – LeRoy Tafoya, Jimmy Martinez, Tom Gonzales – were all boyhood friends and lived on three consecutive streets in Midvale, Utah on Fifth, Sixth and Seventh avenues. They lived only a few yards apart. They played ball at the adjacent sandlot ball field. And they all went to Vietnam. In a span of 16 dark days in late 1967, all three would be killed. LeRoy was killed on Wednesday, Nov. 22, the fourth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Jimmy died less than 24 hours later on Thanksgiving Day. Tom was shot dead assaulting the enemy on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
The most casualty deaths for a single day was on January 31, 1968 ~ 245 deaths.
The most casualty deaths for a single month was May 1968 – 2,415 casualties were incurred.
For most Americans who read this they will only see the numbers that the Vietnam War created. To those of us who survived the war, and to the families of those who did not, we see the faces, we feel the pain that these numbers created. We are, until we too pass away, haunted with these numbers, because they were our friends, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters. There are no noble wars, just noble warriors.
Please pass this on to those who served during this time, and those who DO Care.
I’ve also sent this to those I KNOW do care very much, and I thank you for caring as you do.
MG,Jr. response to XXXXXXXX
Here are 2 of my (MG,Jr.’s) articles on history, which each describe many overall facts about the Vietnam War. I registered for the draft the day after Lyndon Johnson’s “I will not run” speech, and I was drafted in late ’68 and 1A all through 1969. In December 1969, I was finally released from the call-up (because of the first draft lottery). The entire experience formed much of my thinking about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” since.
A good friend of mine here is a 1966-1968 ex-Marine, who survived 3 helicopter shoot-downs (surviving 1 was unusual), and a siege at Khe Sanh (there was more than one). He lost hearing in one ear due to concussions sustained by the constant artillery barrages he had to hunker down under (which cut off food and ammunition resupply by land, and made it infrequent, inadequate and inaccurate by air). A Puerto Rican veteran of the Vietnam War [a different Marine from the previous one], who I met in college in 1970-1971, told me how the platoon commanders would send the Puerto Ricans (or “Mexicans”) out “on point” for the patrols. By 1968, half of US casualties (ground troops) were Black and Latino (“Hispanic”). After that the US military made an effort to balance out the hazardous duty, so by the end of the war the casualties fell in close to the proportions of ethnicities/race as they occur in the general US population. In 1968 I was convinced that had I been inducted (as an 18 year old) I’d never get to be 21, and I’m still convinced that was most likely.
Much of the reason the Nixon Administration decided to pull the US ground troops out of the Vietnam War was that by 1969 mutinies were routine (disregard of orders, such as to go out on patrol, and massive drug use, even though the military did give pilots amphetamines to pump them up for missions; also “fragging” was frequent). There were major mutinies of career military officers – whole squadrons of Navy fighter pilots (launching off carriers), and B-52 (Air Force pilots) – in 1972, and entire operations had to be scrubbed as an alternative to mass courts martial. Books have been written about that, as well as the “Winter Soldier” movie (where veterans share their stories, mainly about seeing and participating in atrocities).
A very recent book on the war is Kill Anything That Moves (by Nick Turse) and it draws its material from the “war crimes” files from the US military (which kept track of such things to quash potential prosecutions — Colin Powell was largely responsible for limiting the exposure of the My Lai story — saving the asses of Lt. Calley’s superiors right up to the Pentagon — and its much larger potential fallout: most operations were similar), which are stored at the US Archives (Wash. DC). Nick Turse (researching other history) was shown the material by an archivist, who noted that few people (historians) had bothered to look into it since the ‘60s; every effort had been made by the US military to bury it, and that effort has been a success.
People of my time and age, who were drawn into the War to one degree or another, knew about the things described in Turse’s book, but such stories were not widely reported by the mainstream media; and official government policy coupled with much popular sentiment was to bury the truth. My buddy, the ex-Marine (helicopter gunner) even had to fight to get his veteran’s benefits. A records center in Kansas City had burned and the paperwork about many vets’ service records was destroyed. The government had hired people to interview veterans claiming benefits, but those interviewers were charged with doing their utmost to deny such benefits. My pal had to point out names on the Black Wall and describe in detail where those individuals had been “in country” and how they had actually died (the reports made to families back home were often sanitized). My buddy obviously knew too many “classified” details not to be who he said he was, and to have experienced what he said he had. He told me these interviewers would try to “mess with your mind” to make you hysterical and go away, like “you just killed people, don’t you feel guilty?” My buddy’s wife (who was present as she herself told me, and is part American Indian) screamed at this interviewer and showed sufficient intent to “escalate” her intervention that the guy gave in and approved my buddy’s status as a veteran. My pal had described missions and deployments of specific units at specific times and places that were still officially denied by the USG. So, the combination of factual (and officially embarrassing) testimony, as well as the interviewer’s fear of probably being scalped otherwise, got my buddy recognized as a vet of the unit he had served in (during the years 1966-1968).
My own articles are straightforward history taken from public sources; though I remember the events very well as “news” and “current events” from those times, which I was focused on.
The U.S. may have lost the Vietnam War, but its war criminals got away with it.
My ex-Marine buddy is (now) recognized by the Marine Corps as a member on permanent disability. He spends some of his time helping out other old guys who are on downhill slides to their final exits. He saw many of his contemporaries (including best friends) fall in the war, and numerous others survive the war to get “screwed by the system” and then disappear in one way or another from the good life “back home” (saving tax dollars, I guess). Like my godfather, who was a veteran of the Normandy landings of June 6, 1944, my ex-Marine buddy does not tell war stories, nor does he see “war” and “action” movies, nor go to museums with “Vietnam War” exhibits. It’s best not to trigger dreams. He’s a happy fun-loving guy (like my godfather) because he’s happy to be alive, every day. He’s also a peacenik, and since the war has become an expert botanist. He has lots of metal plates, bolts and rivets in his body, as well a many healed fractures (including spinal) and replacement joints, and a permanent set of aches and pains.
Hugh Thompson, Jr., with the help of his crewmen Glenn Andreotta and Lawrence Colburn, were responsible for limiting the extent of the massacre (to 504) by landing their helicopter between advancing US troops and fleeing Vietnamese villagers, with Thompson ordering Andreotta and Colburn (manning the helicopter’s machine gun) to shoot the advancing Americans if they attempted to kill any of the fleeing civilians.
“Initially, three U.S. servicemen who had tried to halt the massacre and rescue the hiding civilians were shunned, and even denounced as traitors by several U.S. Congressmen, including Mendel Rivers, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Only after thirty years were they recognized and decorated, one posthumously, by the U.S. Army for shielding non-combatants from harm in a war zone.”
I still cry when I read the wikipedia article on Hugh Thompson. I did just now, again.
Ron Ridenhour, a US soldier in Vietnam, heard about the massacre from his acquaintances who participated in it, investigated it on his own while still on active duty, and on being discharged from the Army began a letter-writing campaign in 1969 to have the US Congress open an investigation. It was through Ridenhour’s efforts that independent investigative journalist Seymour Hersh learned of the event, and eventually broke the Mỹ Lai story to the public on November 12, 1969.
This one hour documentary by Kevin Sim and Michael Bilton can be seen as a sequence of seven video segments, listed below. Note that in segment 4 Hugh Thompson, Jr. and Lawrence Colburn describe their actions to stop the My Lai massacre by aiming their own weapons at the rampaging American troops of Charlie Company, to protect a group of Vietnamese villagers. In segment 6, Ron Ridenhour (1946-1998) describes his own discovery of the event, months later, and his subsequent letter to Congress as an act of moral outrage.
The Hugh Thompson, Jr. (1943-2006) and Lawrence Colburn seen in this documentary were men who had yet to receive any public recognition of a positive nature for their actions on March 16, 1968, and subsequently. This documentary, which went on to win a British Academy Award and an International Emmy in 1989, began to change that. Sim and Bilton continued researching the story and conducted further interviews with Thompson and Colburn. They published a book in 1992, “Four Hours in My Lai,” based on the totality of the documentary material they had gathered. It was this book that sparked both public and official interest in honoring Thompson and Colburn. The third member of Thompson’s helicopter crew, Glenn Andreotta had died during military action in Vietnam in 1968. “Exactly 30 years after the massacre, Thompson, Andreotta, and Colburn were awarded the Soldier’s Medal (Andreotta posthumously), the United States Army’s highest award for bravery not involving direct contact with the enemy.”
Hugh Thompson, Jr. (1943-2006) http://hughthompson.org/hugh.htm (hughthompson.org is the foundation organized by Larry Colburn to honor the memory of Hugh Thompson by addressing his chief concerns.)
“Hugh Thompson’s courage and integrity brought the My Lai massacre to a halt. Today he remains a true inspiration for young people everywhere but especially those in the military. Hugh was living proof that doing what is right, without weighing up the personal cost, is the hallmark of great nobility.” – Michael Bilton, author of Four Hours in My Lai
The Other Conspirator (The Secret Origins of the CIA’s Torture Program and the Forgotten Man Who Tried to Expose It ) Barbara Myers May 31, 2015
“The witness reported men being hung by the feet or the thumbs, waterboarded, given electric shocks to the genitals, and suffering from extended solitary confinement in what he said were indescribably inhumane conditions. It’s the sort of description that might have come right out of the executive summary of the Senate torture report released last December. In this case, however, the testimony was not about a “black site” somewhere in the Greater Middle East, nor was it a description from Abu Ghraib, nor in fact from this century at all.
The testimony came from Vietnam; the year was 1968; the witness was Anthony J. Russo, one of the first Americans to report on the systematic torture of enemy combatants by CIA operatives and other U.S. agents in that long-gone war. The acts Russo described became commonplace in the news post-9/11 and he would prove to be an early example of what also became commonplace in our century: a whistleblower who found himself on the wrong side of the law and so was prosecuted for releasing the secret truth about the acts of our government.
Determined to shine a light on what he called “the truth held prisoner,” Russo blew the whistle on American torture policy in Vietnam and on an intelligence debacle at the center of Vietnam decision-making that helped turn that war into the nightmare it was. Neither of his revelations saw the light of day in his own time or ours and while Daniel Ellsberg, his compatriot and companion in revelation, remains a major figure for his role in releasing the Pentagon Papers, Russo is a forgotten man.
That’s too bad. He shouldn’t be forgotten. His is, unfortunately, a story of our times as well as his.”
Barbara Myers continues, and tells that story here:
Listen to and watch Rita Martinson sing this song of hers. This is a beautiful example of art in a social cause. The audience was American soldiers in the war. This choked me up, brought tears to my eyes.
For Americans today, I think the all-time best anti-war film is the documentary Hearts and Minds. It is THE BEST film about the Vietnam War, and was released in 1974, while the war was still in progress. I just saw it again a few weeks ago; incredible. What is so compelling about it is that almost all of it is the telling of first hand experiences of soldiers who survived (not always intact). It just so happens I took a Vietnam Vet friend of mine to the V.A. hospital today, for a pre-op medical visit. There were numerous patched-up survivors of military “service” (use) in the hallways. (24 November 2017).