I wrote this several months ago after watching the Vietnam War series on PBS. Rereading it now, I have nothing to change in it, so I hope this encourages you to watch the series and come to your own conclusions. For me, the lives lost far outweigh whatever the politics that were behind it. Watch the movie, "The Post", for another take on what was going on then. Publishing the Pentagon Papers was, and still is, a first amendment issue, but it revived the anti-war activities after the colleges/universities shut down to end the student protests that were occuring in 1970. There had been a serious uptick in protests after Kent State. Shutting the colleges/universities down resulted in the dispersion of the students, thus ending their ability to coalesce on their respective campuses to effect more protests. Thankfully, Daniel Ellsberg was just around the corner...waiting to step into history.
Another interesting note, I recently read an article in the NY Times written by a guy who has been researching the whole issue around returning soldiers/marines from Vietnam being called "baby killers". He has been unable to substantiate, reliably, any instance of this happening. Now, some bonehead/s may have, but no one that I ever associated with or protested with ever did that. All those who fought in the Vietnam war returned to military bases not public airports, so I'm not sure where they would have encountered protestors. As I said, this is not in stone and may have occurred, but it did not occur with anyone that I knew.
"I covered the Vietnam war. I remember the lies that were told, the lives that were lost - and the shock when, twenty years later, former Defense Secretary, Robert S. McNamara, admitted he knew it was a mistake all along."~ Walter Cronkite
"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."~ Howard Zinn
My mind is in a whir. I just finished watching the ten episodes (plus a 20 minute segment featuring a group of Iraq/Afghanistan vets and two Vietnam Vets, one of whom is highlighted in the Vietnam PBS Series) of the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick Vietnam series.
Even now, after all these decades and after watching this series, I still am unable to pin down precisely what happened back then. I can only speak my own truth. This PBS program covered a considerable amount of material in a short period of time, about 18+ hours. It did a reasonably good job of covering this era, yet, to me, much was left out. Yes, the Vietnam war was central to our lives then, particularly to those who served, and were serving, in Vietnam, and to their families, as well as to those of us who were most likely going to be the future fodder of that war...the poor, the middle class, and the college students....like me.
No, I did not go to war nor did I serve in the military. Nor did I come from a wealthy family. Straight up blue collar, lower middle class family. My Dad was a police officer with the Glens Falls Police Department, who, after 17 years as a cop, went to work driving a beer truck to make more money to support his family of a wife and six kids. Initially, I went to college because several friends had been killed in Vietnam and I did not want to die...there or anywhere else. In high school, my plan had been to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps, as my older brother had done, and then, after service, join the NY State Police and be a police officer like my Dad. On being accepted at Adirondack Community College, I was provided a 2S draft deferment, then, in May of 1967, as a result of a motorcycle accident where I came close to losing my right leg, I was no longer draft eligible nor eligible to enlist. I would not have enlisted anyways.
One major element that was not included in this series was the craziness around the draft. While in college, my freshman year, I discovered that Adirondack Community College, where I was enrolled, was giving students' class standings (grades/GPA) to the draft board without our permission. Another student, Lance Weisser, and I started a petition requesting the college administration stop releasing that information without the student's permission. That information was ours, not theirs, to release or keep private, as we had the right to decide. The draft board based a college student's 2S deferment on the student's GPA. If a passing GPA was not maintained, the student would become draft eligible...1A. Even then, in small town America, things got told to others unbeknownst to us. The American Legion in Lance's hometown got word of what he and I were up to..our small protest...and went to Lance's home to speak to his parents about his un-American activities. Can you believe that? I was incredulous when Lance told me. It did not stop us from continuing and the college finally agreed to not release a student's GPA without the student's permission. Small success...
This craziness drove me mad and pissed me off. This aggravation contributed to my reading up on Southeast Asia and the history of war in that part of the world. In high school and in my first year of college, I supported the war and President Johnson. Had no reason not to because, like most Americans at that time, I was completely ignorant of what was going on and how/why the U.S. thought this was an important place to send American kids to die. As the Cronkite quote above states, there were so many lies and uncovering them was difficult, if not impossible, to do. After some research, I came to realize that what we were being told about why the U.S. should take a stand there was a lie.
One thing that particularly bothered me while watching this PBS series is the section on the protesters, particularly the ones who called the returning Vietnam veterans "baby killers" and other names. Those protesters got front page coverage because they were in big cities and were confronting the servicemen who were returning home. They were assholes, IMHO, and did not, and do not, represent those who protested the war that I was with and knew. NO ONE I knew ever said these things to anybody. Those people who were returning from Vietnam were our brothers, our fathers, our friends, our neighbors...people we loved and grew up with. Call them "baby killers"? I would beat the fucking shit out of anyone who said something like that to a Vietnam veteran, as would anyone of the others who I was with while protesting the war. My two brothers were in the U.S. Marine Corps. One of them, John, served in Vietnam. Call him a "baby killer"? Get the fuck out of my face before I do serious harm to you... I love my brother and would never stand for anyone treating him like that. This was a major omission from this series. There was no real presentation of who these soldiers were to those of us who were protestors. John and I, as well as other family members and friends, disagreed about the war, and we argued about it, but call him names? Deny his reality? Diminish their beliefs just because I had a difference of opinion? NO...we talked, we agreed, we disagreed, we tried to convince each other of the righteousness of our respective stance, but I loved those people who I knew were in Vietnam, doing what they thought they should do. All I wanted was for them to come home alive and as whole as possible. Unfortunately, many friends of mine, who served in Vietnam, came home in body bags and it broke my heart, then and to this very day. I cried at their funerals and I cried watching this series. I cried for those who came back physically whole, but psychologically broken. It has all come back to me, as I'm sure it has for all those who have watched it, veterans of the war or of the protests. I do not regret my protesting the Vietnam war nor do I regret not having served in the military in Vietnam, but I, and others who protested with me, would never denigrate a returning veteran from that war...or any war. Those who did should be ashamed of what they did and not hide behind the belief that they were just kids, too. We were protesting the war and the politicians who were supporting the war with their lies, not the people serving their country.
What I believe is good about this series is that it puts this topic back on the table for discussion, with our brothers, our sisters, our children, our friends, those who are still here to talk about their time in Vietnam. I know they can redo this series and add what I think was important, just as a million others think things should be added that reflects their truth. As with most of the media, small town America always lands on the cutting room floor when it comes to telling its story. Growing up in Glens Falls, whenever someone would ask me my name, I'd say, "Patrick Lyford". They would invariably ask, "Is Carl Lyford your father?". So, we knew each other, we knew who got drafted, who enlisted, who died, who got married, who was killed in Vietnam and their family. It was personal and very up close. No, we didn't fight in Vietnam, but we were scarred by it just the same. Certainly not like those who fought there and saw so much horror. No comparison, but we did suffer in our own way. The crazines around the draft, which I spoke of, was hard to deal with. No, no one was shooting at me/us, so, it's not the same, and I'm not trying to give it equal footing. Just trying to help people understand what I/we were thinking. I truly believed then, and now, that whatever I could do to help bring the Vietnam war to an end was worth it. If just one less person died there and one less family had to bear that burden, it was worth it.
I am sure that, even now, all of the truth about Vietnam has not been told nor will it ever be told. It is the defining moment for my generation. Like Kent State. But, does anyone reading this know about Jackson State in Mississippi and what happened there? More students killed, but they were black students, so they didn't merit the same media coverage like that provided when white students were killed. Black lives mattered then, too. Think its different now? Google college protests during the Vietnam war that resulted in deaths of students and try to find any mention of Jackson State. It is there, but it is not front and center like Kent State. Black lives still matter. Someone tell the sentient septic tank that is occupying the White House, please.
Time to end this and get it posted, so I will close with a John Denver song, Readjustment Blues
I think it represents the times fairly well. Unfortunately, times have remained the same over the past decades...now, it's the deserts in the Middle East. Do some research on the history of the Middle East and you will discover the hand of the greedy, racist, self-serving white people of the world thinking they have the perfect right to dominate this part of the world for the riches within. The brown people there? Well, fuck'em, as they like to say whenever they believe their righteousness outranks humanity. We know what to do with all that oil and the money that ensues, they don't. Let's see, in Vietnam, it was the infamous "Domino Theory"...just another excuse to take land, kill people, and make them see that "we're right" and "you're wrong". How cool is that, eh? It only cost 55,000 plus lives from the U.S. Oh, and, in case you might be interested, about 3.5 million Vietnamese people died. Just for the record, eh? Yes, I'm still pissed off...
For Buddy, Jimmy, Joe, John, and way too many others who died in Vietnam, wherever you are, God speed. For Clyde, Chico, Murph, Mike, Wayne, Smokey, Karen, Margee, Sheila, and all those other protestors, never stop standing up for humanity. There are lives in the balance who depend on it.
Cycling Along The Way...
- Patrick Lyford
- Silver City, NM, United States
- Riders of the wheel. Racers, Roadies, Mountain bikers, Touring cyclists, Commuters, and others. Diamond frames, recumbents, trikes, and more. Sharing a web of connections often misunderstood or unappreciated by those who don't ride. Herewith, my attempt to share some of the more rational thoughts that flit around inside my head while bicycling, knocking back a brew or three, or just thinking about life. Reviews of bicycles, gear, touring, and more, plus some unsolicited posts about people, politics, and philosophy. Other things, too. Me: retired, gave up my TV in 1988, avid cyclist, several cross country tours completed with more to come. Your thoughts?