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“Vietnam Ambush”: A Cautionary Tale March 4, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Vietnam, War.
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Sunday 18 December 2011
by: David Krieger, Truthout         | Book Review

(Image: PublishAmerica)

Vietnam Ambush Daniel Seidenberg Jr. PublishAmerica Baltimore, 2010

In the 1960s, the United States of America conscripted young men into its military forces. The head of Selective Service, which imposed conscription, was General Lewis B. Hershey. Assisted by local draft boards, he gobbled up young men and put them in uniforms. Then they were trained to kill.

Most young men were edgy and wary about conscription, particularly after it became apparent that the military’s destination of choice was the jungles of Vietnam. To receive a deferment and remain beyond the military’s clutches, one had to stay in college or graduate school. Dick Cheney, one of the subsequent great warmongers of our time, successfully used college deferments to stay out of the military until he qualified first for a marriage deferment and then a deferment for having a child. He always managed to stay one step ahead of the military’s grasp.

Other means of escaping being drafted into the military were failing one’s physical examination, claiming to be gay and conscientious objection. All were difficult. One rumor at the time was that if you drank enough Coke fast enough, it would raise your blood pressure to the point that you would fail your physical. This advice seemed more like an urban legend than fact. Not many young men were secure enough to use homosexuality as a reason for staying out of the military, and the criteria for conscientious objection were rigid and based in traditional religious practices that objected to killing. The truth was that most of us were naive and hadn’t given much thought to avoiding military “service.” That changed as the war in Vietnam heated up and expanded.

The generation before us had fought in World War II, which seemed like a good war, pitting democracy against fascism (Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo). More recently, there had been the war in Korea, which was touted as a fight for democracy against communism.  There was precedent for young men to go docilely into the US military and do its bidding. And then, along came Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson’s lies about the Tonkin Gulf incident and General William Westmoreland (“General Waste-more-men”), who always saw a light at the end of the tunnel – all he needed was more conscripts.

The net of conscription ensnared many of us. I was one. Another was Daniel Seidenberg Jr., who received his draft notice at the age of 19 in the winter of 1967. He was just out of high school, and he was a surfer. When his notice came, he thought about escaping to Canada, but, after visiting Canada, decided against it. Instead, he joined the regular army, having been promised by the recruiter that he would not be sent to Vietnam. Despite the promise, after being trained as an infantryman, he was sent to Vietnam. He ended up with near-fatal head wounds that have left him disabled for life.

In 2010, Seidenberg published a book he wrote about his military experience in Vietnam. The book, titled “Vietnam Ambush,” confirms the worst fears of those of us who didn’t go to fight in that needless, reckless and lawless war. It is a well-written account of the war from the perspective of a soldier in the field. It should be read by every young American who thinks war might be glorious. In fact, it is a cautionary tale that should be read by young people throughout the world. It takes the adventure and heroics out of war and tells it like it really is, a dirty business in which the old send the young to fight, kill and die in far-off lands – in the case of the Vietnam War, to fight in humid jungles which US military planes were busy defoliating with the poisonous chemicals napalm and Agent Orange.

Here is how Seidenberg describes his dilemma as a US soldier in Vietnam on the opening page of his book:

I was a combat infantryman in Vietnam. We were shooting dice for our souls. Our very spirits were on the line, if we survived.

No one could say what we were fighting for. The consensus was that our purpose was to simply survive it all. I knew that merely surviving would not be enough. I had to make sure that I survived with a clean conscience.

What good is living, if you wind up hating yourself? And I didn’t want to be responsible for any crimes.

In a war fought entirely in cold blood, keeping a clean conscience was not easy. Simply staying alive was not easy.

Although today there is no longer conscription, there is instead a “poverty draft,” which makes the military an economically attractive option for escaping poverty. Being put into a killing zone makes it difficult to not become a killer if only in order to stay alive oneself. Should we allow ourselves to be used as tools in war? Should we not fight against militarism and those who, like Dick Cheney, promote it? Should we not refuse to subordinate our consciences to leaders who lie us into war?

“Vietnam Ambush” is a short book. It is written in simple prose. It tells the truth. It reminds us that our society has corrupted its youth with war. It reminds us that war steals from the young – their youth and their consciences. It reminds us about the importance of having political leadership that is decent and truthful, not deceitful and dishonest. It reminds us that war is not a game played on a field of battle; it has consequences that last for lifetimes. War traumatizes young men and women. It kills and maims soldiers and civilians alike. It reminds us to choose peace.


Answering Bolton and Yoo: New START Will Strengthen U.S. National Security November 13, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Nuclear weapons/power, Peace, War.
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by David Krieger

Published on Saturday, November 13, 2010 by CommonDreams.org
Two staunch ideologues who served in the George W. Bush administration, John Bolton and John Yoo, ask rhetorically in a New York Times opinion piece, “Why Rush to Cut Nukes?” Bolton, a recess appointment as United Nations Ambassador under Bush II, never met an arms limitation agreement that he supported. Yoo, the lawyer who wrote memos supporting the legality of water boarding under international law (not a very favorable prospect for captured U.S. soldiers), worked in Bush II’s Justice Department. Bolton and Yoo can find no good reason to support the New START agreement with the Russians, arguing that without amendments it will weaken “our national defense.”

Let me answer the question posed in the title of their article. The Senate should support and ratify this treaty because it will strengthen U.S. national security by:

  • reducing the size of the bloated nuclear arsenals in both countries, creating a new lower level from which to make further reductions;
  • reinstating verification procedures that ended with the expiration of the first START agreement in December 2009;
  • building confidence in the Russians that we stand behind our agreements; and
  • sending a signal to the rest of the world that we are taking steps to fulfill our legal commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to achieve nuclear disarmament.

The downsides of failing to ratify the treaty would be to remove restraints on the size of the Russian arsenal, forego inspection and verification of the Russian arsenal, undermine Russian confidence in U.S. commitments, and encourage further nuclear proliferation by other countries thereby increasing the possibilities of nuclear terrorism. Further, if the treaty is not ratified before the new Congress is seated in January 2011, its future ratification will be far more difficult.

What do Bolton and Yoo say they want? First, to remove language in the treaty’s preamble, which is not legally binding, that says there is an “interrelationship” between nuclear weapons and defensive systems. That language only recognizes a reality. Of course, there is a relationship between missiles and missile defenses. Second, they don’t want the U.S. to be limited in putting conventional weapons on formerly nuclear launch systems. But that is a price, and a fair one, that each side will pay for lowering the other side’s nuclear capabilities. Third, they want a Congressional act for the financing, testing and development of new U.S. warhead designs before the treaty is ratified. In other words, they want guarantees that the U.S. nuclear arsenal will be modernized. They seek long-term reliance on the U.S. nuclear threat, but this means that U.S. citizens will also remain under nuclear threat for the long-term.

Bolton and Yoo are an interesting pair. The first would lop ten floors off the United Nations, the second do away with the laws of war when they aren’t convenient. Do they deserve their own opinions? Of course. Do their opinions make any sense? Only in the context of the American exceptionalism and militarism that were the trademarks of the Bush II administration and have done so much to weaken the spirit, values and resources of the country while continuing to haunt us in our aggressive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One must wonder what possessed the New York Times to publish their rantings. Additionally, using the word “Nukes” in the title suggests somehow that nuclear weapons are cute enough to have nicknames and not a serious threat to the very existence of civilization. That Bolton and Yoo could rise to high positions in our country is a sad commentary on the country, but perhaps understandable in the context of the Bush II administration’s persistent flaunting of international law. That the New York Times would find sufficient merit in their discredited opinions to publish their article is an even sadder commentary on the editorial integrity of one of the country’s most respected newspapers.

David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org) and a Councilor on the World Future Council.