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May 01, 2005
Looking Back

I was nodding as I read the teaser for this:

Divisive war haunts the US more than the people it fought

I don't know how much it haunts the people of Vietnam, but I know it haunts me. It's odd, considering that for most of that era, I was far too young to have any idea about what was happening, but it's true.

Possibly it's subconscious memories of news reports. Some of my earliest memories are of the television playing in the background; the nightly news filled with words spoken in hushed voices.

Mei Lei. Casualties. Massacre. American dead. Napalm. Dead. Agent Orange. Dead. Retreat. Dead. Deforestation. Dead. Body bags. Dead. Dead. Dead.

Those words, and the pictures that went with them, have the power to move me still.

The truth is, though, that I didn't so much grow up with the war as I grew up with the aftermath. Men with haunted eyes and shaking hands. Men only a little older than myself who were tight-lipped and radiating pain, years after they left the battlefield.

War is hell.

I think that's a lot of what ails the Democratic Party today, in reference to Iraq.

The Left protested the war, but not just the Left. Many millions of people didn't want us fighting that war. For decades, those of us too young to remember or too far away to see for ourselves have been told that returning soldiers were met with near-universal contempt and abuse, that the legacy of our protests is that we hurt no one but the men who'd been in battle. And we've been ashamed.

Eric Alterman gives us a very brief history of the 40 years that led up to the Bush Administration. Brief and selective, but worth reading.

Timing-wise, I went from that to Mahablog and read about The Persistence of False Memory.

Sigh. (I could write a lot, at the moment, about how this determination on the part of the Wingnut Right to turn this country into a tool for their own ends robbed us of much of our faith in each other and our systems of government, but I don't want to get side-tracked.)

Still. Whether the stories are true or not, that's what we've all been told for decades. That we committed unforgivable sins against returning soldiers. It's universally "known" to be true so whether it's true or not, it affects our behavior.

I think that's why we don't hear what we expect to hear from the leadership on the Left about Iraq. Whether they know/remember the truth or not, they're afraid of being tarred with the same brush today. That makes them afraid to speak out too strongly.

How do you protest a war without offending or seeming unsupportive of the men (and women) actually fighting it? Especially when those in favor of the war can command the support of the MSM and can count on it to print lies in their favor?

Well, I think that bothers those who should be leading us from the Left.

(That, and they don't have any more idea than the men who started the killing do about how to salvage the situation. Clearly we can't leave Iraq until some measure of stability and safety are available to the ordinary citizens whose lives we've trashed and just as clearly there won't be true stability until we've left.)

I find myself wondering if John Kerry and the Democratic leadership wanted to win in November. If they did, they'd have won the fallout of George Bush's punitive invasion of Iraq.

I'm just sort of speculating out loud, you understand. I know you know I'm no expert.

Posted by AnneZook at 09:09 AM


I just listened to Phil Ochs' Song of a Soldier and was struck all over again at how the left was actually the portion of the country that cared about and had sympathy for its soldiers - just like today.

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at May 1, 2005 04:22 PM

Well, it's mixed, really. They also were the direction from which the idea of the soldier as someone who makes a choice to participate comes from: moral agency is generally seen as a good thing, but it comes with responsibility. Buffy St. Marie's Universal Soldier, for example, or Phil Ochs' own Draft Dodger Rag.

Of course, it was mixed with real sympathy, as you say: Ochs' "Man behind the guns" still gets me, and there are lots of other examples. But there were just enough actual draft dodgers to give those critiques some real bite, as well.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at May 2, 2005 01:06 AM