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Archive for November 17th, 2011

“Have you ever protested for anything?”

Finally, a topic I can respond to. Most of the last several have been, shall we say, “uninspiring.”

In fact, in my callow youth, I did care enough about something to mount a picket line. Mind you, it didn’t do much good. We did everything by the book: Kept the line moving, kept it on a quiet side street, so we were always drowned out by the more spectacular crowd parading down Fifth Avenue, screaming slogans and obscenities and planting themselves in such a way that it took four or five cops to wrestle one into a paddy wagon. This was the Vietnam War era, and there were thousands who marched the streets of Manhattan in protest – and one quiet little group demonstrating in favor of the War. That was us.

I mean, really. Nobody’s in favor of war, not even the military. People get killed in wars, Us as well as Them, and those lines can get blurred very quickly when you meet one of Them up close and personal; a warrior can be put out of commission for the rest of his life by having to kill someone in hand-to-hand combat. So no, the military isn’t pro-war, either, just pro-deterrence: Rattle a long enough sabre, and the enemy thinks twice before invading. And that’s as it should be.

In our case, we were very clear about the purpose of the Vietnam War. It was the containment of Communism, period. China was big and Communist, and pushing its way into smaller countries, gobbling them up like appetizers, and our small group considered that Americans had an obligation to those countries to keep them free enough to decide their own destinies. There was already plenty of evidence to suggest that Communism wasn’t a remotely benign form of government. There was no real economic incentive for the United States to be in Vietnam, either; it wasn’t like we were exporting Vietnamese teak, or whatever, by the metric ton. No, the goal was very clear: containment of Communism.

Not to mention that in those days, there was an actual draft. You turned 18, and you either went to college or into the service. Most of our group were college kids, but a fair number were 1-A status, and knew that it was only a matter of time before being called up. And still they participated in our little counter-protest. For the other side of the coin was equally plain to us: Regardless of what the media and the mainstream asserted, American boys didn’t run around killing babies, and we owed them our support.

It’s been more than forty years since those adventures, and I’m still glad I did it. I have a clearer idea now of what Vietnam was really about – it was supposed to be a “quick victory” for Kennedy in 1964, to boost his chances of re-election – and that awareness annoys me no end. But there was one other fallout that never once occurred to me in those days: Now, forty years later, I can look a Vietnam vet in the eye and say, “I did my best to support your efforts over there.”

(By the way, I’m currently re-reading “Vatican,” by Malachi Martin. There’s a fascinating chapter in there on the role of the Catholic Church in undermining the American effort in Vietnam. Keep in mind that Malachi Martin was a Jesuit for a number of years, so he had no anti-Catholic agenda. Read the book – it’s an eye-opener!)

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