I am of the age to have served in the military during the war in Vietnam. Instead, I joined the anti-war movement and avoided being drafted into the army. Now I see many young and old people being accused of being unpatriotic for protesting our armed forces being in Iraq and Afghanistan. Makes my blood boil to see them judged so. and here is why.
My older neighbors and friends went into the armed forces and fought in Vietnam. Most of them returned with regrets that serving their country meant blowing up someone else’s. They regretted calling in air strikes on entire villages. They regretted interrogation techniques which amounted to torture. They regretted seeing US GIs blown to bits, driven on to punji sticks, and disemboweled.
They regretted participating in the use of napalm and Agent Orange to destroy in its entirety everyone and everything touched by chemicals. And like every GI, they regretted that they had left family and friends, jobs, and schools, to fight an enemy that was elusive and in fact often invisible.
So many of the men I knew returned home full of anger and regrets. Some had even been involved in attacks on military superiors in response to orders they would not obey. These were good men. Proud men who had grown up much like me, with every intention of serving their country admirably and honorably and unhesitatingly. When they returned and we sat to talk about their time in Nam, here is what they said. Don’t go. It is a wrong place where we are doing wrong things. This is ot the war our fathers fought. This is not a just war. They told me to resist. They told me to forget everything I thought about war from John Wayne movies.
I began to question the notion that when I reached 18 I would serve in the military, with vim and vigor. I read more news accounts. I spoke to more vets. I watched the Vietnam Vets Against the War march in downtown Chicago.
Many of my generation will never trust the military/industrial complex. We have tried in earnest to motivate the next generations to listen with caution to the beat of war drums. I cannot say with certainty when we should militarily or politically intervene in foreign countries. I can say that I think it should be quite sparingly and reluctantly.
And opposing the war in generally associated with protests and demonstrations. Some are peaceful, some not. Some are well organized, some not. Often times they turn dramatic. Flags and effigies are burned and profanities hurled along with an occasional bottle or rock.
I suggest that whatever dishonor and disrespect you interpret in these actions, many of us believe that not resisting unjust wars are dishonorable and disrespectful.
Phil Ochs, a folk singer sang this lyric “It’s always the old to lead us to the war
It’s always the young to fall
Now look at all we’ve won with the saber and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all”
He also sang this lyric
One-legged veterans will greet the dawn
And they’re whistling marches as they mow the lawn
And the gargoyles only sit and grieve
The gypsy fortune teller told me that we’d been deceived
You only are what you believe
I believe the war is over
It’s over, it’s over
Be slow to judge who seem unpatriotic. They may perceive themselves to be super patriots. They/We risk being beaten by cops, going to jail or prison, losing jobs and being despised by neighbors in order to follow their conscience. Even if they are wrong does not mean they are unpatriotic. I fought my war during Vietnam. When riot police surrounded us I was scared. I was afraid of being gassed or beat.I knew if I left quickly I could avoid the ugliness to follow. But I stayed the course and chanted anti-war slogans. Because I loved my country.