Copyright John Puzzo October 18 2001
A new generation of American soldiers is in harms way, off to the hostile hills of Afghanistan. One day they will return, most of them, and when they do, they will have a different experience than my generation. We returned from war one day at a time for nearly ten years, to an indifferent and unwelcoming homeland. It is important to reflect on the American past in this way, especially today, because present events and circumstances are rooted in the worldwide violence and turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s.
His wartime sacrifice largely unacknowledged, the Viet Nam War veteran remains isolated from traditional American institutions and values historically associated with heroic sacrifice, most importantly the notion of war as a shared national experience. For the military in service today, this is not so. The nation is firmly behind them.
In 1970, I returned home to an America ashamed of its military involvement in Viet Nam and suspicious, even openly hostile towards returning soldiers. I couldnt even get my parish priest to say a memorial mass for some friends who were killed.
Consider the press release promotions for a 1969 movie by legendary Hollywood filmmaker, Sam Peckinpaugh, "The Wild Bunch:" "The 'Bunch' also represents contemporary American soldiers in the late 60s, out of place in the jungles of Vietnam. Unchanged men in a changing land. Out of step, out of place and desperately out of time...Suddenly it was sundown Suddenly their day was over The Bunch is a gang of desperadoes criminals assaulted in the film's opening ambush and then brutally destroyed in the film's conclusion."
A fitting metaphor for Hollywoods portrayal of the Viet Nam soldier until 2002, with the release of "We Were Soldiers Once and Young, when a different perspective emerged."
In 1970 and at 20 years of age, I discovered a bizarre and contradictory logic which had been built around me: fool for going, barbaric for participating, and inadequate for losing. Even today, the term, "Vietnam veteran," grates on the ears of some Americans like fingernails on a blackboard.
Stereotypes like little black Sambo, Tonto, Step N Fetchit, or the like, while meant to demean, also evoke feelings of empathy. But wartime stereotyping, common, and perhaps even necessary to dehumanize an enemy that you may have to face and kill transfers evil. For many Americans of my generation, we veterans were the evil enemy, and we were stereotyped, as "baby killers," "war criminals," and dangerously unstable.
We will not see this change in our lifetime.
Of course that contradictory logic is not true.
We were not fools, because it was a noble thing for us to risk our own future for anothers liberty. It is not true that we were barbaric in our participation, for we followed our rules of engagement fairly closely, often to our own peril, and did not consciously make war on civilians, media and movie representations notwithstanding.
And it can be argued that we did not lose, having defeated our enemy in several major and longstanding engagements that our strategists refused to exploit: The Tet Offensive of 1968, the Cambodian counter-sanctuary offensive of 1970, the Easter counteroffensive of 1972, and of course, Linebacker II-the Christmas Bombing Campaign of 1972 that brought Hanoi to its knees and to the bargaining table. Those victories were allowed to wither or called something else.
The soldiers, anyway, were not the architects of the wars strategies. The most important battles of the Viet Nam War were fought right here in the United States, for the soul of America. On this battlefield the fate of Viet Nam was sealed, and maybe Americas, too.
It is important for us to remember that, throughout the 1960s and 70s, Americans committed violent, terrorist acts of war right here, against other Americans. Civilians, the President, Congress, servicemen, wounded veterans, police, firefighters, and even bankers and armored car drivers were the targets of this terrorism.
Murder, bombings, robberies, and arson as declared acts of war played across our homeland for more than a decade, American against American. The perpetrators of these acts a fifth column, if you will-openly allied themselves with the military forces that were killing American soldiers on the battlefield and who were torturing American prisoners of war. They marched behind Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army flags in our streets.
On September 11, 2001, the New York Times headlined a feature article for a book review: "No Regrets for a Love of Explosives." "I don't regret setting bombs," the Times quoted SDS bomber, William Ayers as saying "I feel we didn't do enough." William Ayers bombed the Pentagon, New York City Police Headquarters, the offices of the National Guard in Washington, D.C., and other places, people, and things. Ayers gave speeches at peace rallies where he advised crowds to. " kill all the rich people, break up their cars and apartments, bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that's where it's at."
William Ayers is "Distinguished Professor of Education" and "Senior University Scholar" at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His most recent book is "A Kind and Just Parent." He is professor of ethics and moral education for student teachers.
Ayers is married to Bernadine Dohrn, another SDS mad bomber who was on the FBIs 10 most wanted list and who is currently professor of law at Northwestern Law School. Dohrn earned her position at Northwestern only a few years after "leaving" the FBI's Most Wanted List. She is Director of the "Children and Family Justice Center" at Northwestern University School of Law Legal Clinic and she is the author of "Look Out Kid, Its Something You Did: Zero Tolerance for Children" in: "Violence and Childrens Rights." Ayers and Dohrn have two sons; they are raising the son of fellow terrorist, Kathy Boudin, while she remains in prison for her crimes.
A quote from "Professor" Dohrn: "Dig it! [Charles] Manson killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they shoved a fork into a victim's stomach." Dohrn was referring to Sharon Tate, 9 months pregnant, murdered and stabbed in the stomach with a fork the killers used to eat with.
Bernardine Dohrn traveled to Budapest, Hungary in September 1968 to meet with representatives of North Vietnam and the Vietcong terrorists. In July 1969 Dohrn and other SDS Weatherman leaders traveled to Cuba for more meetings with the Vietnamese Communists. New Left Notes (August 29, 1969) provided an eight-page special supplement describing what took place and stating that the Vietcong wanted the Weathermen to organize violent protests in the United States against support of South Vietnam.
Kathy Boudin, also an SDS bomber on the FBIs Most wanted list, murdered two policemen and a Brinks armored car guard in a robbery in Nyack New York, in 1981. In a strange twist of fate, Brinks guard, Joe Trombino, who was shot several times in his upper arm and shoulder in that fatal robbery, would perish in the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001. Ayers were never tried for his crimes. Boudin got 20 years to life and is up for parole in 2003. She should have been hanged. Two of the terrorists involved in the 1981 Brinks robbery and murders, Susan Rosenberg and Linda Sue Evans, were pardoned from their 58 year sentences by Bill Clinton. (Surprise.)
These are the "domestic enemies" referred to in our constitution and from whom public servants swear by oath to protect us. Yet these killers and many others like them werent vilified by the nation as they should have been. In fact, they have achieved cult status. Why?
During the Viet Nam War, career military officers were shocked when it was suggested that they remove their uniforms before traveling in their own country. Servicemen and women in uniform were set upon by crowds and spat upon. A young bride and her wounded veteran husband, blinded in one eye and needing the assistance of a cane to walk, were attacked outside a restaurant near Walter Reed Hospital. After being knocked to the ground, his cane was taken from him. They were both spit on and verbally abused by a crowd shouting "peace" and "baby killer." This is what Americans did to their own during my war.
While I was a student at Yale University in the summer of 1973, another Yale student pulled a gun on me in a dormitory there. Other Yale students were in the room. He put the gun to my chest and squeezed the trigger, twice. I thought he had killed me. My shirt caught fire from the blast made by the blank charges. My chest stung, bruised by the force of the blast and wads that held the charges in. They all laughed, "We just wanted to see how you would react," one said.
Even Congress, acting in its official capacity as protector and defender of the Constitution and ostensibly protecting the interests of the Nations veterans, gave the Viet Nam veteran a GI Bill on the cheap. Many years later, when the inadequacies built into that program became evident as Viet Nam Vets developed the highest student loan default rate in American History, Congress, in violation of its own sanctions, went after the Vets disability checks to get the money back. This act of shame and outrage still affects some veterans today.
While Congress was going after veterans disability checks in the 1990s, it authorized Bill Clintons "Russian Officers Resettlement Program:" A grant of $44,000 to every Russian officer that demobilized from the Balkans. Maybe the same Russian officers that shot down American pilots over Viet Nam or who trained the North Vietnamese gunners that did shoot them down? What did comic strip character, Pogo, say, "We have met the enemy and he is us?"
Who knows or remembers these things? Largely, this part of American history is gone, erased from whatever small place it held in the national conscience. This is unfortunate, perhaps even deliberate. To begin to understand the world we live in today, Americans would do well to ask themselves why this is so.
It has been said that great things live and bad things die. The Viet Nam War is over. A battlefield victory for freedom? No, the image of North Vietnamese tanks rolling through Saigon in 1975 settles that. Communist "re-education camps" in Viet Nam settles that. 1.5 million Vietnamese refugees settles that.
The terrorists of my generation, and their supporters, won the war. They own the dubious victory they wrought.
But, for the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen, living and died who served, Viet Nam was and will remain a moral triumph What we did there lives on, a privileged inheritance from those taught by long example that to remain free is costly. This legacy is once again being challenged. It will always be so. A new generation of Americans, in harms way, in uniform and under arms, searches an elusive enemy. Are we looking in the right places? Is America safe?
VIETNAM: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT: AIR WAR
During the first three nights of Linebacker II, the so called Christmas Bombing of 1972 (note: North Viet Nam had not been bombed for four years -since 1968), B-52 bombers attacked Hanoi and Haiphong harbor in formations of three using the same altitudes and tracks (Route Packages) at evenly spaced intervals. By the insane rules of war that dictated their actions, pilots were even prohibited from maneuvering to evade SAMs or fighters once they had passed the initial point. These were the Rules of Engagement the Air Force was saddled with during the Viet Nam War.
On the first night three B-52's were lost and on the third night 6 planes went down in a nine hour period. Revealing the bitter frustration that many in the Air Force were feeling towards a war that so obviously was not being fought to win, returning aircrews from the first raids staged a rare protest at their base on Guam.
Then, President Nixon took the gloves off. On the next mission, the 26th of December, 1972, the air war over North Vietnam was decided in a single day: 120 B-52s and an additional 100 other fighter-bombers hit a variety of targets in Hanoi, all within the span of 15 minutes. Two B-52s went down that day, but the North Vietnamese air defense system was totally shattered and Hanoi was at the mercy of the Big Bombers.
After only 11 days, Linebacker IIended on December 29, 1972: 1,600 military structures had been damaged or destroyed, 3 million gallons of petroleum had been torched, Haiphong Harbor was mined and closed to shipping, and about 80 percent of North Vietnam's electrical generating capacity had been knocked out permanently. North Vietnams railroad network, upon which it was heavily dependent to move military and civilian supplies, had been severed in more than 500 places. The North Vietnamese regime announced it would return in earnest to the conference table.
24 days later a cease-fire agreement went into affect, effectively ending the long war for the United States.
Viet Nam War Postscript
A member of the North Vietnamese Army General Staff Speaks To America in 2001: BUI TINH, former NVA Colonel and member Politboro of Communist VietNam
The Wall Street Journal:
A former NVA Colonel, Bui Tin, who served on the general staff of the North Vietnamese Army and received the unconditional surrender of South Vietnam on April 30, 1975 confirmed the American Tet 1968 military victory: "Our loses were staggering and a complete surprise. Giap later told me that Tet had been a military defeat, though we had gained the planned political advantages when Johnson agreed to negotiate and did not run for reelection. The second and third waves in May and September were, in retrospect, mistakes. Our forces in the South were nearly wiped out by all the fighting in 1968. It took us until 1971 to reestablish our presence but we had to use North Vietnamese troops as local guerrillas. If the American forces had not begun to withdraw under Nixon in 1969, they could have punished us severely. We suffered badly in 1969 and 1970 as it was." And on strategy: "If Johnson had granted Wetmoreland's requests to enter Laos and block the Ho Chi Minh trail, Hanoi could not have won the war.... it was the only way to bring sufficient military power to bear on the fighting in the South. Building and maintaining the trail was a huge effort involving tens of thousands of soldiers, drivers, repair teams, medical stations, communication units .... our operations were never compromised by attacks on the trail. At times, accurate B-52 strikes would cause real damage, but we put so much in at the top of the trail that enough men and weapons to prolong the war always came out the bottom .... if all the bombing had been concentrated at one time, it would have hurt our efforts. But the bombing was expanded in slow stages under Johnson and it didn't worry us. We had plenty of time to prepare alternative routes and facilities. We always had stockpiles of rice ready to feed the people for months if a harvest was damaged. The Soviets bought rice from Thailand for us. And the left: "Support for the war from our rear was completely secure while the American rear was vulnerable. Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at 9AM to follow the growth of the antiwar movement. Visits to Hanoi by Jane Fonda and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and ministers gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses. We were elated when Jane Fonda, wearing a red Vietnamese dress, said at a press conference that she was ashamed of American actions in the war and would struggle along with us .... those people represented the conscience of America .... part of it's war- making capability, and we were turning that power in our favor."
Bui Tin went on to serve as the editor of the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Disillusioned with the reality of Vietnamese communism Bui Tin now lives in Paris.
Connecticut Author. Awarded a 1980 federal grant to study the Viet Nam War and its effects on American Society. He currently works in the securities industry.
US Army, RVN 1970: 4th Infantry Division: 5/16th Artillery; 2/8th Infantry (MECH), FO Team attached from 5/16th Artillery; K Company (RANGER)/75th Infantry (Airborne); B Company, 4th Combat Engineer Bn.; 1/14th Infantry (RECON); HHC 4th Infantry Division.