By Glyn Haynie
I am relieved that the documentary “The Vietnam War” has finished. I learned that the government will use a political agenda instead of its moral compass to make decisions, which may not be best for the country. It shocked me to learn the depth of the lies our government told the American people and the criminal acts committed by our government. The most important lesson learned is we, the American people, should force any sitting President to Declare War before committing combat troops. There should never be a President, with a small group of advisors, making the decision about war and/or troop commitment. Generals can’t fight a political war; they need the authority to fight a war as military leaders. We need all elected politicians to stand up and convincingly state whether war is the right action or not. A President can’t go to war without Congress providing the funds. It seems during Vietnam we had a weak and ineffectual Congress. Does that sound familiar?
I know many veterans were watching and talking about the documentary, but I wondered what discussion the documentary was creating in my community. When going to stores, restaurants, malls, the car wash and doing all my other daily activities, I asked people of all ages what they thought of the documentary. I believe only one person (in my age group), out of forty or fifty random people, said she was watching the documentary. I guess the conversation is only happening among veterans who served and others in the baby-boomer generation. I found this disappointing.
Throughout the years I have fought mixed emotions about protesters and what I felt they stood for during the turbulence of the Vietnam War. I understand and believe in the right to free-speech and to protest against the government. I fought for those rights and served 20 years in the Army to preserve those rights.
I tried to stay open-minded about the anti-war movement portrayed during the Ken Burns Vietnam War documentary and to understand why the protesters were so outspoken and, at times, violent. I can grasp the outspoken part, but absolutely do not understand using violence to condemn the men that were fighting or had fought in Vietnam. It has continually confused me even more that protesters’ hatred and violence were often directed toward the men who came home from war.
I respect the individuals who genuinely and peacefully protested the war based on their moral values or what they thought was the best course for America. The Vietnam veteran who protested the war was the most sincere protester; he understood what he was protesting. I don’t respect the Vietnam veteran who protested the war because it was the popular choice and therefore offered a jumpstart to a political career. Let’s not forget a famous entertainer who went to a country we were at war with expressly to encourage them. She gave North Vietnam and its army the will to continue fighting against HER countrymen. She went to Hanoi. Jane was her name. It surprised me they showed the video of Jane Fonda saying “POWs should be tried, convicted and executed” while in Hanoi. I believe this speaks of her character and traitorous actions.
What about the 30,000—60,000 men who fled, ran, and hid in Canada to protest the war? How can anyone protest something going on in America from Canada? Was it truly a protest statement, or were they thinking of themselves and no one else? Thank you, President Ford for allowing these brave Americans back to “our” country. I would bet that, to a man, they’re now successful capitalists, enjoying the fruits from the sacrifices of servicemen and servicewomen before Vietnam, during and now. President Ford’s amnesty program included 50,000 deserters; these men left their brothers on the battlefield alone, and some died because the deserter was not there. They too are enjoying America today. Let’s hope one doesn’t live next door to you and is needed in a time of crisis.
It amazed me to hear and see people in the documentary commenting that going to Canada or deserting their military unit during war was the bravest act they’ve ever done. I can’t believe they actually believe their own statements. Part of President Ford’s amnesty program required the returning deserters and draft dodgers to take an oath of allegiance. Didn’t the deserter already swear to the oath of allegiance when he enlisted? I believe the documentary talked more of their bravery than it did of the American soldier’s bravery. The documentary barely talked of the amnesty program but gave those individuals plenty of air time to talk about their “bravery.”
One of the most disappointing segments was the depiction of American soldiers’ drug use and racial intolerance from 1971 and later, as if this was the fault of the military and war. In the early 70s the Army stationed me in Germany with an infantry battalion, and we had the same problems. I believe this to be in direct correlation to the “peace” movement and universities. I believe many universities taught (either directly or indirectly) our youth that doing drugs and demonstrating disobedience to authority were the norms. It wasn’t happening only in Vietnam and Germany; it was happening in the units stationed in Korea too. Of course the “peace” movement need not take responsibility for actions that may put them in a negative perspective nor did the documentary show them in a less than positive way compared to the American soldier.
As stated earlier, I have learned from the documentary. However, I am saddened that the American soldier wasn’t portrayed in the same positive manner as the soldiers who fought wars before Vietnam. The soldiers didn’t decide to go to war; our government did. America called its youth to serve, and they served with honor and bravery. Most soldiers never committed an atrocity against a civilian or soldier, but the documentary and John Kerry (his were unauthenticated, second-hand accounts) told us otherwise. The documentary did not give the respect the American fighting men and women earned. For all Vietnam veterans, I am disappointed.
When I Turned Nineteen: A Vietnam War Memoir and Soldiering After the Vietnam War.