For the previous entry, please see War & Pizza Hut: Volume 1
My “uncle” would not go to Vietnam. Some of his friends fled to Canada. Others loped off part of their trigger fingers. He settled on a less permanent escape. The night before his Army evaluation he chugged coffee and pounded bars of butter. When he showed up the next morning, the tester gasped at his blood pressure readings. Normal blood pressure is 120/80, but he racked up 100/150. He was a miracle to be alive, let alone fight in a war half across the globe.
Vietnam was the ignominious chapter when the American Empire got its dark streak. Man fought machine and man, unfortunately, won. If JFK’s assassination was when America lost its innocence at home, Vietnam was when America lost its innocence abroad. (see: The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964). Now, it wasn’t the first time the U.S. started a war under false pretenses (American Indian Wars, Mexican War, Spanish-American War) or the last (Iraq), but it was the first time America picked a fight and lost. And 58,159 of America’s finest paid the ultimate sacrifice. 58,159 sons, brothers, and fathers died because President Johnson couldn’t admit he was wrong.
American artists painted some of the country’s most vivid artwork against this murky canvas of imperialism and government deceit. Filmmakers and musicians fearlessly plunged into America’s throbbing wound and plucked out some of the rawest artwork the nation has ever seen it. Vietnam inspired the greatest war soundtrack (“American Woman” by The Guess Who, “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan, “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen, alluding to The Siege of Khe Sanh, “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones, and “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath). Jaded disillusionment imbued some of the finest masterpieces for print (“The Things They Carried”) and the screen (“Full Metal Jacket”, “The Deer Hunter”, “Platoon”, “Born On The Fourth Of July”).
Vietnam cast a tall shadow over American psyche ever since. We have whispered whether each subsequent war would be the next Vietnam. America held her breath when she invaded the tiny island-nation of Grenada in 1983. Maybe it’s for this reason we never gave our Vietnam War heroes-turned-politicians a fair shake. Serviceman John Kerry was a true American war hero. He earned two Purple Hearts for his valor in saving the lives of his crew. But when he returned home he was America’s most hardened war critic. He tossed his medals onto the White House lawn in disgust. He was the first Vietnam solider to testify against the war. There was nary a dry eye in Congress in 1974 when Kerry asked, “How can you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?”
Thirty years later though, Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry was painted as the effete, flip-flopping elitist who lied about his war record in the Swift Boats imbroglio. Never mind that President Bush spent the war defending South Texas from the impending Vietnam air menace (when he showed up at all). No, it was John Kerry who was vilified as the most glaring reminder of our most chronicled defeat. Four years later, pundits openly discussed how John McCain’s Vietnam selfless imprisonment rendered him mentally unsound for Presidency.
It’s tragic that America looked the other way so quickly. Our Vietnam heroes have offered some of the sagest advice for the War on Terror. John McCain was one of the earliest and adamant proponents of the Surge, which—in tandem with the Anbar Awakening—pulled Iraq back from the precipice. We need John Kerry, now on the other side of the Congressional tables, asking: How can you ask a man to be the last to die for Hamid Karzai?
The War On Terror
I accidentally did my part for the War on Terror propaganda effort. And it’s all thanks to this YouTube video.
The video was four years old, but I figured timeless for Labor Day 2009. I posted it on Facebook, Twitter, and went to sleep. When I woke up, the clip was viral. The Huffington Post snatched it up first, then CNN, then the world. MSNBC hailed the clip as the “feel-good moment” of Fall 2009.
I never did get to meet the brave serviceman or his adorable pup Gracie, but I was pleased to see he landed on a couple talk-shows for the video. The best part? All proceeds from the 2 million Youtube views (and counting) are donated to the Alexandria, VA, shelter where little Gracie was adopted—totaling $602 so far.