Friday, August 20, 2004
No one younger than I am -- 55 -- actually remembers the Vietnam War -- or, as one of my American professors called it, "That goddamn war".
It was not the neat war of fronts and uniformed enemies nor was it a moral war of evil enemies and innocent civilians. It was a quagmire from the beginning, and it just got worse the longer the Americans stayed.
John Kerry was absolutely right to tell Congress that Vietnam was turning too many young Americans into murderous torturers and killers -- which is exactly what Iraq has been doing to American soldiers, too.
Perhaps the soldiers who left Vietnam in the mid-60s did not see as much of this as the soldiers there later -- but as things deteriorated, more and more South Vietnamese people embraced the cause of the North and became insurgents, and the conditions under which Americans were serving became truly vile.
Yale University psychologist Robert Lipton described it this way in The Winter Soldier Investigation of 1971
There's a quality of atrocity in this war that goes beyond that of other wars in that the war itself is fought as a series of atrocities. There is no distinction between an enemy whom one can justifiably fire at and people whom one murders in less than military situations. It's all thrown together so that every day the distinction between every day activities and atrocities is almost nil. Now if one carries this sense of atrocity with one, one carries the sense of descent into evil. This is very strong in Vietnam vets. It's also strong in the rest of society, and this is what we mean by the primitive or brutalized behavior that there has been so much talk about. I think that this brutalization and the patterns that occur in the war again have to do with the nature of the
war we are fighting and the people we've chosen to make our enemies.
This has to do with the atrocities characterizing the war, as often happens in a counterinsurgency of war, we intervene in a civil war or in a revolution in a far-away alien place that you don't understand historically or psychologically, but also with the technological disparity. It's of great psychological significance that Americans go around with such enormous fire power in a technologically under-developed country and develop a kind of uneasy sense of power around their technological fire power, which they then use very loosely, and often with the spirit of a hunter, as we've again heard much about. In all this way, I would stress very strongly, the GI in Vietnam becomes both victim and executioner.
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