Thursday, December 13, 2018

new topic: Westerns & the Vietnam War

or the American War, as it is known in Vietnam.

Watching Westworld, which is not a traditional western, but brings to mind the John Wayne movies and their ilk.

Remembering Born on the 4th of July, based on a true story, where Ron Kovic is shown about to graduate from high school and watching JFK on a black and white TV. Ask not....

and because his father, who fought in WWII, didn't tell Ron about the realities he experienced, leaving Ron to believe that war is a glorious thing.

Something like westerns. And so clear cut--the hero against a multitude of enemies. And the good guys always win.

Lots of WWII vets didn't talk to their children about their experiences. PTSD was a thing, but known under a different name and swept under the rug. How many WWII vets just suffered in silence, following the tenets they'd been brought up with, getting married, having children, working.

Lots of westerns showed the hyper-masculinity of white males dominating, winning, being glorified. Manifest Destiny. OUR right, and perhaps responsibility.

And so the Vietnam Generation was clueless. War heroes and cowboys and "I wanna be one too".
Enlisting or letting themselves be drafted. Heading to Vietnam believing we are the good guys. We are helping these people (who of course should feel grateful). War is hell and war is glory.

To be fair, the political leadership was bound up in the Cold War, aided by the Domino Theory, not knowing history or recognizing the differences between the World Wars and Vietnam.  A credible case can be made that Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist, not a communist. But instead we supported a corrupt Catholic leader (and Catholics were a very small minority), sent heavy equipment that sank in the mud,  and changed the rules about military service....

since really my interest is in those who served. So instead of training as a unit and serving as a unit, soldiers were sent in as individuals to replace other individuals in units that were thus unable to develop cohesion.

Instead of serving until the job is done, soldiers were given one year rotations. That meant that they knew their dates of departure as soon as they arrived. Platoons would get new individuals, whom they didn't trust because they were new. Platoons included those nearing departure, who became cautious as their dates approached.

Sergeants in the field with experience were saddled with lieutenants fresh from West Point who knew traditional warfare and nothing of Vietnam.

And as we know, deciding who was friend and who was enemy became increasingly difficult.  We tried forcibly relocating "friendlies" from their ancestral homes (and the graves of those ancestors) into "strategic hamlets" and then declaring that the area was a free-fire zone. Or, everyone left can be considered the enemy so fire at will. But people moved back, naturally. To their lands, to their ancestors. So the killing of civilians was common.

And the numbers of the dead! Since we weren't in Vietnam to conquer territory, how could we measure success? How about the number of enemy combatants killed? So the daily body count report became the measure.....Platoons might not have any idea if or how many they killed, but they'd report a body count that made them look good. All up the line of reporting the body count would be inflated. And stateside the media reported the body count and everyone marveled at our success.

Until we got smarter, and our soldiers came home and told their stories. And the protests and so on and the eventual conclusion of the war that at the time was the longest in American history. It wasn't possible to put a positive spin on the conclusion. The public decided we lost the war.

And too many of those damn WWII vets looked down on the Nam vets, calling them losers, cry babies, weak. Nam vets weren't welcomed into the traditional veteran groups for a long time. They felt isolated, alone, no one to listen or understand, and perhaps blaming themselves as well.

It was after and due to Vietnam that combat stress became identified as a legitimate psychiatric diagnosis, termed PTSD. (PTSD has since been applied to other sorts of traumatic experiences). Robert Jay Lifton began the use of small groups and talk therapy, which were enormously helpful. Vietnam Vets formed their own organizations.

Perhaps in another post I'll talk about the effects PTSD has on the entire family (wrote a book on it). But it's time to conclude with a few thoughts about today.

The Nam vets went out of their way to welcome home Afghanistan and Iraq War vets. The country, feeling collectively shamed, went overboard in supporting the vets. Hyper patriotism reigned, and if one expressed doubts about either war, one was accused of not supporting the troops.

The draft was ended. Now we have a military of enlistees, meaning so many people in the US have no direct experience with anyone serving, which prevents, perhaps, an uprising of protest like we saw during the Vietnam War.  (note: mandatory year of service for ALL high school grads, with service being defined in a variety of ways).

PTSD is joined by a new and catastrophic disease, Traumatic Brain Injury, often caused by IEDs or other violent attacks. Some of the symptoms mirror PTSD. Modern medicine saves lives that otherwise would be lost. We have a large population of veterans with physical and mental disabilities....but since fewer of us have direct experience with soldiers or veterans, they remain out of view and out of thought and mind.

I don't really have a conclusion to this. There is more to say, and films to recommend, but this entry is just my opportunity to explain why I get frustrated with westerns and people romanticizing the history of the west etc etc.

oh and if you think Born in the USA is a patriotic song, listen again.

Back to Westworld. I guess.

addendum: Saving Private Ryan was a good movie but I won't watch it again. I am appalled by "make this worth it", as if this were even possible. Way to lay a massive guilt trip on someone.

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