Soldiers Carry a Wounded Comrade Through a Swampy Area; 1969; Photographs of American Military Activities, ca. 1918 – ca. 1981; Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, Record Group 111; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/soldiers-carry-wounded, April 20, 2023]
Originally published in Peace & Planet News in the Spring, 2023 issue
So where were you in August of 1964? Okay. Stop right there. In the spirit of my all-time hero, Dr. Howard Zinn, the great Marxist historian who exhorted all who attempt to recall the past to ‘fess’ up to their own ideological presuppositions, I’ll tell you where I was. I was entering college in Cleveland, Ohio. So what? Well, for one thing I could have cared less where the Gulf of Tonkin was or what our Navy was doing there in the first place. To say that I was “apolitical” does not do justice to my self-absorbed life of privilege. Okay. That was then. Now flash forward to October 1968, to a boarding house just off the campus of Ohio State University. Imagine this writer coming back from class (I was in an MBA program) and opening a letter from the government informing me that I was to appear in Buffalo, New York, on January 9, 1969, for induction into the United States military. Me? Why? What for? My “informed ignorance” of my government’s militaristic machinations was about ready to come home to roost.
It was a fast and slippery slope from there — eight weeks of basic training at Ft. Dix; eight weeks of AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Ft. Sill; a two-week leave and then thirteen and a half months in the central highlands of Viet Nam. Wham. Bam. Thank you, Ma’am. What was that like? Imagine endless nights scared shitless, hovering down in our bunkers fully expecting to get overrun. A cliche from back then might give you a hint: “We owned the day, but Charlie owned the night.” No Hollywood movie can ever capture that feeling. Again, “So what?” is a relevant question here. Well, first off, in a moment of “Zinnian” truthfulness, from that moment to the present day I confess to seeing the world through the lens of my experience in the American War in Viet Nam. And I see an eerily similar scenario unfolding for my grandchildren. Truthfully, I’d hate for them to ask: “Where were you in August of 2024?” And then have to relate their war experiences as the American War in Ukraine unfolds according to this timeless script.
Can you see what I see? American soldiers slowly but surely once again being sucked into a so-called “civil war” of our own making (history moment: our government created North and South Vietnam in 1954, propping up an authoritarian ruthless government in South Vietnam, pumping weapons and advisors into the south to forestall the “onslaught of communism,” and then, of course, it had to finally commit boots to the ground). When I arrived in Viet Nam there were over 500,000 American troops in country. When we pulled out in 1973, we left 58,000 of our troops dead, over 300,000 seriously wounded, and millions of Vietnamese buried in their own seriously desecrated ground. For what? Don’t try to answer that question. It’s a deadly one — far more namvets, Iraq vets and Afghanistan war vets have since killed themselves than were killed in combat as they tried to answer that very question for themselves.
So what now?
The meat wheel is turning again, ever so slowly. Ukraine is looming on the horizon for U.S. soldiers. Soon, the weapons manufacturers reaping endless profits from this “proxy war” will be joined by their fellow goons trained to justify the slaughter of young people for a morally bankrupt cause. History is starting to rhyme again. And it ain’t pretty.
Now we have Zelensky to adulate (remember that Ngo Diem was called the “Winston Churchill” of Southeast Asia before he was summarily assassinated — Zelensky should take note). And we’re counseled to fear the spread of Russian totalitarianism — communism by another name. So let’s load the Ukrainians up with weapons and let them fight for us, just like we did with the South Vietnamese army. Trouble is that didn’t work then, and it’s not going to work now. But, so what? There’s that question again. I mean this former Soviet Union land mass is zillions of miles away — who cares if Ukrainian young soldiers die horrific deaths trapped in some fancy tanks we made just for them? Or Russians? They’re not our boys and girls. Not yet anyway. Take note: the military is already starting to grumble about lack of troops, and if by some weird twist of fate, a “real war” (i.e., a war that involves “our kids”) breaks out, the draft hovers in the wings. And this time around it’ll pull in young women too. If you ask “so what” now, we’re in big trouble. We’ve all got to pay attention. Here we go again. Have we learned nothing from history? Maybe it’s better to ask “what history” or “whose history” and go from there. In any event, let’s not be complacent. Let’s act now to stop this runaway train from taking any more lives. We owe that to all the world’s grandchildren.
Doug Rawlings returned to the U.S. in 1970 from the central highlands of Vietnam, where he served in an artillery unit. Upon his return, he became involved in anti-war activism, earned a teaching degree, and eventually moved to Maine where he and his wife, Judy, settled on a farmstead in Chesterville. In 1985, Rawlings was one of several cofounders of Veterans for Peace, which today claims thousands of members in over 140 chapters worldwide.