Hero or Traitor?
And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! We’re all gonna die.
Country Joe McDonald
Robert McNamara, next to a map of Vietnam…in 1964 he participated in propagating the “Tonkin incident” lie, a false flag incident which drew the US openly into the conflict (previously “US advisors” had been fighting covertly in Vietnam). By 1968 he became disillusioned and decided to resign – another million people died after he had left the scene.
Photo credit: AP
We seem to have opened old wounds and inflicted new ones with our comments on the late Muhammad Ali. Over the last two days the Diary Mailbag has been like the Tet Offensive – with bullets flying and bombs exploding everywhere.
Few argue that the war was a good idea. But some believe it is a young man’s duty to fight whenever the Deep State asks – even with no vote in Congress and no chance that the enemy would ever pose a threat to the homeland.
Country Joe McDonald rendering his Vietnam song at Woodstock
In any event, whatever the U.S. military was trying to prevent happened nonetheless… and why ever it was trying to prevent it, it turned out not to matter anyway. About three million people died (the number of Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodians killed is very uncertain).
For what? Nobody knows. People are neither pure cowards nor undiluted heroes. It depends on the circumstances. Former secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was surely a coward for not coming forward and telling the nation the truth when it might have done some good.
McNamara is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction – the highest civilian honor awarded in the US. McNamara’s medal was eventually sold at an auction in 2014.
Photo via natedsanders.com
In 1968, he accepted his medals – the Medal of Freedom and a Distinguished Service Medal – as a hero. But he didn’t mention that the war for which he was largely responsible was a mistake, even though he said later he had already come to that conclusion. At least another million people died in the war after he left the Pentagon.
It was nearly three decades later that he found the courage to tell the public, with tears in his eyes, that it was “wrong, terribly wrong.” (additional footnote: He went on to serve the Deep State as head of the World Bank).
Judging from our Mailbag comments, half our readers agree with him; they believe the Vietnam War was a mistake and anyone who went along with it was a fool. The other half doesn’t believe we should think about it at all; you did your duty… or you were a traitor. That was all there was to it.
Jungle on Both Sides…
“What do you think?” we lobbed a softball at a cousin who had done two tours in ‘Nam.
“I think I was an idiot for getting mixed up in it. The smart boys stayed in college or went into the National Guard, or found some way to dodge out of it. I went in because I didn’t have anything better to do.
It looked sort of peaceful for a moment: Jungle patrol in Vietnam in 1967
Photo credit: Gilles Caron
“But your readers should give us all a break. Most of us didn’t know what the hell we were doing. We did what we were told. We did what we had to do. Or we did whatever we could get away with.
“And you never know what will happen. I was a lieutenant in the Army. I was an engineer. I was supposed to be building runways and roads.
“Like Ali said, I had no quarrel with the Viet Cong. I didn’t want to be there. And I damned sure didn’t get in a fight with them. But you never know…
Shawnee down: a U.S. crewman runs from a crashed CH-21 Shawnee troop helicopter near the village of Ca Mau in the southern tip of South Vietnam, Dec. 11, 1962.
Photo credfit: Horst Faas
“One time, we were coming back from a patrol. I was leading it. We had just three Jeeps, four men to a Jeep. It was supposed to be a safe area. But I knew something wasn’t right. It was too quiet.
“Then we came around a bend… I heard shots and all Hell broke loose. One of my men slumped over. We couldn’t tell where the shots were coming from. It was a jungle on both sides of the road. So we just blasted away with everything we had.
Must make your hearts steel….a father holds the body of his child as South Vietnamese Army Rangers look down from their armored vehicle March 19, 1964. The child was killed as government forces pursued guerrillas into a village near the Cambodian border.
Photo credit: Horst Faas
“Then I noticed that one of the guys behind me was just sitting there. It was the strangest thing. The middle of a firefight, and he was just sitting there.
“I yelled at him, ‘What’s the matter with you? Help us out here!’
“He said he couldn’t. He said he was a conscientious objector.
Getting shot at while trying to save a life: Trying to avoid intense sniper fire, two American medics carry a wounded paratrooper to an evacuation helicopter during the Vietnam War on June 24, 1965 near Thoung Lang.
Photo credit: Horst Faas
“What the hell? How did a conscientious objector end up in my Jeep with the VC shooting at us? It took me a couple seconds to process that information.
“Then my gun barrel was red hot from shooting. I pressed it to his forehead and I told him that if he didn’t pick up his gun I was going to blow his head off.
Gallows humor: A dig at Newsweek – a U.S. Marine shows a message written on the back of his flack vest at the Khe Sanh combat base in Vietnam on Feb. 21, 1968 during the Vietnam War.
Photo credit: Rick Merron
“People are funny. I think I would have done it. And he got the message. He started firing his gun. I bet that to this day he’s got a circle on his forehead.
“Patriotism? Fighting Communism? It’s all bullsh**. We fought because we had to. Or we didn’t know any better.”
Bad things that happen in war time….a U.S. paratrooper of the “hatchet team” of B Company, 502nd Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, holds the severed head of a Viet Cong guerrilla who was killed in hand-to-hand jungle fighting 12 miles northwest of Ben Cat during the Vietnam War, Dec. 12, 1965. The company had chased a squad of Viet Cong guerrillas, one of whom dropped a grenade that wounded several soldiers. Soldiers jumped the the guerrilla and beheaded him by hatchet. Charming – undoubtedly lots of mentally well balanced people emerged from that jungle.
Photo via flashbak.com
Image captions by PT (only the portions in italics below the war pics)
The above article originally appeared at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.