Was I coward?
I should say not. (At least I didn’t think so at the time.) I thought of myself as an idealist, doing the right thing, maybe even a revolutionary of sorts. I protested the war every chance I got — while positioning myself safely, not too far, not too close, three or four rows from the police line — everywhere from Golden Gate Park to the Washington Mall to the UN to Los Angeles’ Century Plaza Hotel in June 1967 when LBJ was giving a fundraising dinner and the LAPD moved in on the demonstrators. (Yes, I was there — though far out of harm’s way). I also attended the requisite number of teach-ins and be-ins sponsored by, among others, the Mobilization Against the War and then New Mobe and then the New New Mobe (okay, kidding). I even spoke at some. I helped found some adolescent nonsense called the Peace and Freedom Party, which appears, for reasons unknown to man or beast, on the California ballot to this day. It got so I was chanting “Ho Ho, Ho, Chi Minh, Vietcong is going to win!” in my sleep.
I also represented “my generation” in debate (formal and otherwise) with that “clueless” generation of our parents, the veterans of WWII. I can remember yelling at my father, a former flight surgeon, that he just didn’t get it, that this wasn’t like his war and that we were the villains in Vietnam. After what felt like years of this, I finally got my mother to agree with me and I could see doubt in my father’s eyes. I had won.
When I think of that moment today I am sick to my stomach with shame. This must have been around 1970 and we were at a medical convention at a fancy Las Vegas hotel — at my father’s invitation, of course, and on his dime. Forget the totalitarian communisms like North Korea and North Vietnam that we were trying to stop, what this was all about for so many of us in those days was beating our fathers, showing them up.
We didn’t realize that in the process we were creating a monster — the Boomers who came behind us and thought we were cool because we were the first to protest, the first to rock till we dropped, the first to smoke dope, the first to drop acid, the first to…well, never mind.
We weren’t the first to do anything, really. We we were just the first popularizers, the first to infiltrate the American mind in such a profound way that the wrong people became the heroes. After us, patriotism was out, ROTC was out, America the Beautiful was out.
Now we have a country of Barack Obama and veterans who are wait-listed for medical care and a foreign policy — not to mention a world — in shambles because this once great land leads from behind, if at all.
Sorry. I was just a kid. I didn’t know what I was doing.
And I wasn’t alone. There were a lot of us and it will take a lot of us to make this right.
Much as I like Roger–and I do; he seems like a decent guy with his heart in the right place at last–there’s a couple of things that need to be said about this. First: there is no “making it right.” The damage is done, and America the Beautiful is not coming back no matter how remorseful people like Roger feel. It was destroyed by them, and it cannot be rebuilt by their belated sorrow and guilt. Once again, I’m reminded of this: you’re not going to save the Shire by being shocked and sad, my dear Frodo.
As to cowardice, well, perhaps Roger personally is not a coward. But the antiwar movement of the 60s was in fact based on cowardice and, strain mightily though some of them may to avoid acknowledging it, most of us know it full well. Yes, some few were sincere in their delusions of supposedly high ideals and egalitarian, peaceful communism. But for most of them, those ideals were a convenient rationalization, and the bottom line remains: they didn’t want to go to Vietnam because they were scared to death of what might happen to them personally. They resented their country because they felt it unjust that they could be plucked out of their comfortable middle-class lives and forced to kill and bleed and die in a war they neither approved of nor understood.
Yes, there is a case to be made that Vietnam was a mistake: that the prospect of a small, insignificant Asian nation falling to communism would actually threaten or affect Almighty America very little if at all; that our own domestic political corruption negated any claim to “high ideals” on the part of those who thought Vietnam worth fighting for; that it was all none of our business in the first place; that our clear treaty obligations to France and by extension Vietnam were misguided at best.
And don’t think for a moment that I’m positing myself as Roger’s moral superior here. I was a little kid back then; if I’d been of draft age at the time, who knows what I might have done to get out of doing my duty to my country? I may well have wound up at some of the same mindless and destructive protests as Roger did, or ones just like them.
It’s all pretty much irrelevant now anyway; as I said, the damage is done, and we live in a very different country now, one dreamed up, engineered, and established for us largely by many of those same Leftist reprobates sloganeering for Ho and Mao back then. The country we live in now is far removed from the one the Founders envisioned; they wouldn’t even recognize what we are now, and would denounce it in the strongest terms, holding the people who meekly consent to live under its iron rule in bitter contempt (“may posterity forget they were ever our countrymen”). Actually, they would recognize it, all too well…as absolutely everything they feared and warned future generations of.
The country most of you reading this holds such deep and sincere patriotic feelings for exists only in our imaginations now. Nostalgia isn’t going to bring it back any more than contrition and rueful donning of the hair shirt will.
All of which leads me to something I’ve been thinking over for a while now, and have hinted at here a couple of times: much as I admire, respect, and love those who dedicated at least a portion of their lives to military service–and don’t take this as calling their integrity or honor or courage into question in any way, because I don’t intend that at all and never would do any such thing–well, put it this way: if I were in the US military today, I would harbor some very unsettling doubts about what it was I was doing–more specifically, about what it was I was putting myself on the line for.
In my opinion, our government as currently constituted is unworthy of allegiance or patriotic sentiment. Its staunchest Leftist supporters I wouldn’t be willing to walk across the street to piss on if they were on fire, much less take up arms to defend. What do you do when the country you signed up to fight and very possibly die for is snatched out from under you and turned into something entirely else? How do you defend the indefensible, as a practical matter as well as an intellectual exercise?
The answer is to be found in careful contemplation of one crucial fact: the oath our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines take is to the Constitution, not this government or any of its minions, stooges, satraps, or henchmen. That Constitution is and will forever remain well worthy of our regard and our most vigorous efforts in its defense. In an imperfect world (and how), its genius is such as to render it as close to a perfect basis for just and proper law and governance of free individuals as is possible to imagine. The establishment of a rapacious, greedy, soulless tyranny on these shores is not the fault of the document or the principles expounded therein. It is the fault of a people grown lazy, narcissistic, and inattentive…just as the Founders knew was possible.
In sum: it is right and proper that we honor the men and women who have righteously stood up and sworn an oath to defend our sacred Constitution. That it has been pissed over and rendered irrelevant by mental and moral pygmies–that the government it established has been perverted to monstrous extremes by shrunken, twisted misanthropists greedy for personal power or wealth–in no way reflects on our soldiery past and present or their honorable service, which is ultimately to the highest of high ideals: liberty and self-determination. Hats off to them, today and every day. The stench of corruption and debasement wafting off the rotting corpse of a stolen government taints them not a whit.