There will never be a day when the Vietnam War is not on my mind. It was one of the worst mistakes America has ever made. Vietnam was fought for big money interests and promoted under the guise of nationalism. The war should have taught us a humbling lesson, but we let it slip away. Peace has become the enemy of corporate-run America. Our nation is accustomed to viewing life through the crosshairs of a rifle scope. We are a society in search of constant battle.
Over the past 50 years Americans have been spoon-fed whatever revisionist propaganda about Vietnam our leaders want us to hear. Their lies have kept us from understanding the truth: the war in Southeast Asia was immoral and unjust, a brutality akin to slavery and the genocide of the American Indian. Vietnam produced a realization in me that, much like the British redcoats who once tried to destroy our freedom, I had fought on the wrong side.
I am a veteran who would like to apologize to the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia for my part in the war. I joined the U.S. Navy in 1966 to battle a nation that had been in a prolonged struggle to free itself from foreign domination. The Vietnamese defeated the Japanese occupation during the Second World War. In 1945 they declared themselves independent from France. They wanted only what America’s Founding Fathers wanted: liberty and independence.
In 1965 the U.S. sent an army to Vietnam to battle a new revolutionary nationalist movement called the National Liberation Front (the Viet Cong). Our soldiers were told that all struggles for national liberation were USSR- or China-led “Communist conspiracies.” That was a lie. The Vietnam War was a pointless exercise in destruction. Americans were ordered to burn Vietnamese villages, destroy large areas of the countryside, and kill as many enemy fighters as possible. Our military dropped napalm and cluster bombs and sprayed people with herbicides. The results were death and injury, lifelong illness and genetic mutation.
The suffering did not end with the liberation of Saigon in 1975.
Author Edward Tick, known for his groundbreaking work with Vietnam veterans, wrote a book called “Fallen Leaves, Broken Lives.” He collected statistics by searching history books, newspapers, and archives, and interviewing survivors and scholars throughout the United States and Southeast Asia. Here is what he discovered:
During the course of the war 2.5 million Vietnamese were killed, 4 million were wounded and 250,000 went missing in action. There have been 67,000 people maimed and 50,000 post-war deaths because of unexploded bombs and mines in Vietnam. Post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide numbers are unknown, but there are an estimated 3 million disabled street people in Vietnam.
The environmental damage was enormous, ranging from devastated forests to gasoline-poisoned rice fields. The U.S. bombing in Vietnam (approximately 8 billion pounds worth) was four times more than during World War II. Over 5,778 Vietnamese villages, 15,100 bridges, 2,923 high schools and universities, 1,500 maternity hospitals and 484 churches were destroyed or damaged. Agent Orange-related deformities still occur at the rate of 35,000 a year. (11.7 million gallons of the deadly chemical were sprayed over the countryside.)
I wish the Vietnam War could have ended with some form of introspection and reconciliation on our part, but America’s leaders were (and still are) out to lunch. We have become an enormous military camp intent on creating new enemies and wreaking havoc around the world. The U.S. has reached the point where warfare no longer requires victory. Our failures are self-inflicted. The military industrial complex is a parasite on this country, and our politicians treat young soldiers like expendable assets.
There is some good news: Americans are growing immune to our government’s attempts to propagandize faux patriotism into a good and necessary thing. We are learning that war is rarely about a “moral higher ground.” U.S. citizens are finally beginning to understand that our addiction to battle is a symptom of the sickness that pervades us.
Time does not heal all wounds, but owning the truth is a small step forward.
As a nation we are seriously flawed. Our military is deep in the blood of millions of innocents. My participation in the Vietnam War was a terrible mistake. I hope the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia will forgive me. As for the untruthful leaders of this country, no apology will be forthcoming. Their eyes are already locked on the next atrocity ahead.