“Vietnam Ambush”: A Cautionary Tale March 4, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in History, Vietnam, War.
Tags: book review, daniel seidenberg, david krieger, Dick Cheney, history, roger hollander, tonkin gulf, vietnam, vietnam ambush, Vietnam War, war, westmoreland
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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.
General Mcmoreland in Vietistan October 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan corruption, afghanistan occupation, Afghanistan War, al-Qaeda, bin Laden, counter-insurgency, Karzai, mcchrystal, nation building, Obama, pat tillman, roger hollander, saul landau, westmoreland
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Late last month, five U.S. troops died within 24 hours in southern Afghanistan. Taliban militants have killed more Americans and other troops deployed by NATO this year than in any of the previous years since President Bush ordered the invasion in 2001.
Will President Obama supplement the 21,000 soldiers sent to Afghanistan during the summer? If he heeds the experience of the Vietnam War, he’ll find a gracious way to leave the place and save his presidency.
But Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces, whose career should have ended when he admitted participating in the cover-up of the “friendly fire” killing of football star Pat Tillman, has reportedly asked Obama for up to 45,000 new troops. That would bring the total number of U.S. troops to 100,000, equaling the number of Soviet troops in Afghanistan at the height of their failed occupation. “I think that in some areas that the breadth of the violence, the geographic spread of violence, is a little more than I would have gathered,” the general admitted on 60 Minutes. How can that be? Didn’t he read Pentagon reports on U.S. casualties?
In Washington, Congress is debating sending more troops to back a government that engaged in election fraud in the August and has earned the reputation of extreme corruption.
That sure sounds familiar. In 1968, Gen. William Westmoreland assured President Lyndon Johnson that 200,000-plus troops would stabilize a corrupt puppet South Vietnamese government, provide security for the local population, and win hearts and minds. We all know how well that worked out.
This should provoke obvious questions in the White House: Does the enemy have a deeper source of recruits throughout the Muslim world than the United States and NATO? If so, how are we to reach our goals of nation-building and destroying terrorist bases? How long can the United States stay in Afghanistan? How long can the Taliban remain there? They disappeared when U.S. forces arrived Oct. 7, 2001; they reappeared in larger numbers when U.S. troops got “distracted” by Iraq.
McChrystal plans to stay in Afghanistan for years. A New York Times/CBS News poll released last month indicated that approximately half of the country opposes increasing troop levels in Afghanistan. Only 29 percent of respondents thought Obama should increase troop levels.
McChrystal told Obama that U.S. military strategy should focus less on protecting our troops and more on securing Afghan communities. He admitted such a plan “could expose military personnel and civilians to greater risk in the near term.” However, the general concluded, successful linking of U.S. troops with the Afghan people would transcend the losses. “Accepting some risk in the short term will ultimately save lives in the long run,” he wrote in his report sent to the Defense Department in August. It was leaked to The Washington Post in late September.
The report contains echoes of Westmoreland. Mr. Bush claimed he needed to invade Afghanistan to get bin Laden and the al-Qaeda training camp there. Yet, the 9/11 attackers planned and prepared in Germany and the United States with Saudi (not Afghan) money and backing. Eight frustrating years later, Pakistan seems to have imported the terror war–not war against terror. The real goal, getting al-Qaeda and bin Laden, has been replaced with securing the population and backing the government. This is also known as nation-building.
McChrystal’s plan involves NATO committing to long-term military counter-insurgency, ending corruption in the Afghan government and having NATO soldiers eschew body armor and secure bases and instead secure remote Afghan villages. NATO’s mission, wrote McChrystal, “cannot succeed if it is unwilling to share risk, at least equally, with the people.”
Vintage Mao Zedong and Che Guevara! But in 2006, when Canadian Air Force Capt. Trevor Greene removed his helmet “to parley with the locals…an Afghan brained him with an axe,” wrote Thomas Walkom in the Toronto Star. Capt. Greene shared the risk, but the military obviously neglected to educate the axe wielder–and the hundreds of thousands like him.