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On Friday, November 10, 2017, President Trump left China for Vietnam. First Lady Melania Trump remained in China for another day:

Mrs Trump visited Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage for the Month of the Military Family Celebration. She then returned to Washington DC.

The US president spent two days in Vietnam before flying to the Philippines:

At the zoo, a group of schoolchildren greeted Mrs Trump. She had a gift for every child:

For anyone wondering:

Lucky children. They were able to tour the zoo with her:

Mrs Trump expressed her thanks for being able to see GuGu the panda:

Then it was time for her final destination:

The Conservative Treehouse gives us background on the tour:

First Lady Melania Trump visited the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall in China as the sun was starting to settle low on the horizon. It was windy and slightly cold as our First Lady signed a guest registry and was presented with a scroll from atop one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

A state official said that Yukun Zhang, chairman, Mutianyu Great Wall Travel Service Co., Ltd, received the first lady after the ride up on the cable car. After signing the guest registry Mrs. Trump made her way up a short flight of stairs to the Great Wall.

Mrs Trump wore flats:

Meanwhile, the US president landed at Da Nang International Airport:

Trump met US veterans who chose to live in Vietnam after the war. They met at the Hyatt Regency Da Nang Resort and Spa. This transcript has his address and exchange with the retired soldiers. An excerpt follows:

Our accountability efforts in Vietnam are very, very important to all of us. We will not rest until all of the 1,253 missing veterans are returned home. I want to thank the government of Vietnam for their assistance in our efforts.

Today, I’m signing a proclamation to honor the veterans of the Vietnam War. This is part of the ongoing 13-year commemoration of their sacrifice for freedom. And I just want to thank these seven very brave people for being here. I got to know them for a few minutes upfront, and they are definitely tough, smart cookies. We like them. I think they like me too. I’m not sure, but I think — (applause) — no, I think they do. I think they do. I think they see what we’re doing for our military.

Would you like to say a few words, any of you guys? Would you like to say something? Huh?

MR. HOPPER: Sure.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Come on. Come on up here. Here’s your chance. You can be a big star now.

MR. HOPPER: Well, I’m not sure about that. But just on behalf of many of us standing up in the front of the room today, I just want to say what an honor and privilege it is to be with our President. I so admire what you’re doing for our country.

Thank you for your dedication to our military, our country. And we’re all behind you in making America great again.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you very much. That’s so nice. Thank you very much.

MR. HOPPER: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)

MR. REYNOLDS: It’s an honor to be here. My family is so proud. My wife loves you. (Laughter.) She does. We all love you.

All of the veterans that I represent in my community asked me to say to you: Keep doing what you’re doing. We need to win. We need to make America great again. And we definitely think you are on the right track. So, thank you. It’s honor to meet you, sir.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We will keep it going, and we will get it done.

MR. REYNOLDS: Absolutely.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: No doubt.

MR. REYNOLDS: I believe it. Thank you very much.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Anybody?

MR. MORGAN: Mr. President, from my heart, thank you for your support of the military, and it’s an honor to be here as one of seven Vietnam veterans representing the 58,000 heroes who never made it home.

Thank you so much.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you so much. (Applause.)

MR. MORGAN: Thank you, sir. Thank you.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: You nervous?

MR. GOODE: I am nervous.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I don’t think so. I don’t think so.

MR. GOODE: I am nervous.

You know, it’s an honor for me to be here today to meet the President of the United States that’s doing such a fine job for America. I’m so proud of him and what he’s doing, and I’m also really proud to represent all those veterans that are back home to be one of seven of these veterans that are here today. It’s such an honor to represent the rest of those veterans in the United States of America.

Thank you.

This is the text of the aforementioned proclamation. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. Nearly every president since then has made a statement about finding the 1,253 missing veterans. Perhaps Trump will be the one to make that happen.

He also tweeted a 242nd happy birthday greeting to the United States Marine Corps.

Trump then went to the APEC CEO Summit 2017 at the Ariyana Da Nang Exhibition Center.

Trump addressed the summit. Note ‘H.E.’ before his name — His Excellency — in the video below:

The full transcript is here. This is is some of what he said:

This next one is really important:

This is also very important (emphases mine):

Earlier this week, I addressed the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea and urged every responsible nation to stand united in declaring that every single step the North Korean regime takes toward more weapons is a step it takes into greater and greater danger. The future of this region and its beautiful people must not be held hostage to a dictator’s twisted fantasies of violent conquest and nuclear blackmail

We must also deal decisively with other threats to our security and the future of our children, such as criminal cartels, human smuggling, drugs, corruption, cybercrime, and territorial expansion. As I have said many times before: All civilized people must come together to drive out terrorists and extremists from our societies, stripping them of funding, territory, and ideological support. We must stop radical Islamic terrorism.

So let us work together for a peaceful, prosperous, and free Indo-Pacific. I am confident that, together, every problem we have spoken about today can be solved and every challenge we face can be overcome.

If we succeed in this effort, if we seize the opportunities before us and ground our partnerships firmly in the interests of our own people, then together we will achieve everything we dream for our nations and for our children.

We will be blessed with a world of strong, sovereign, and independent nations, thriving in peace and commerce with others. They will be places where we can build our homes and where families, businesses, and people can flourish and grow.

If we do this, will we look at the globe half a century from now, and we will marvel at the beautiful constellation of nations — each different, each unique, and each shining brightly and proudly throughout this region of the world. And just as when we look at the stars in the night sky, the distance of time will make most of the challenges we have and that we spoke of today seem very, very small.

What will not seem small — what is not small — will be the big choices that all of our nations will have to make to keep their stars glowing very, very brightly.

Another fabulous speech by Stephen Miller. What a man he is, blessed by God with a talent for prose.

He also met Vladimir Putin ahead of their meeting on November 11. Men were given silk Vietnamese shirts to wear for the evening’s events (the more formal photo is here):

The two did not meet formally at APEC, although they found time to converse. Reuters reported that they discussed defeating ISIS and confirmed their commitment to Syria’s sovereignty. The Daily Mail has more. Both media outlets say that the Kremlin issued a joint statement, however, the White House offered no confirmation.

The APEC gala dinner followed. Before dinner:

A cultural performance concluded a busy day.

Meanwhile, Mrs Trump was in Alaska and spent time talking with the children attending school at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage. The children were decorating paper fish and sculpting Play Doh:

She also spoke with military personnel:

Mrs Trump arrived at the White House late that night.

More on Trump’s second day in Vietnam tomorrow.

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Finally, I’ve been able to put together a few concluding thoughts on the Vietnam War, which ended 40 years ago this year.

The Cold War demanded American intervention. The United States viewed the conflicts in Indochina, beginning with the Korean War, as Communist expansionism. Eisenhower’s administration put forward the domino theory which posited that once a nation fell to Communism, so would its nearby neighbours.

The Republican and Democrat administrations of the day viewed intervention in different ways. Eisenhower, a Republican, was careful to send in several hundred ‘advisers’ instead of installing troops. His administration was also willing to see a unified Vietnam under the Communists provided that both North and South Vietnam held democratic elections to arrive at this result; the Soviets rejected the offer of this free and fair election. Eisenhower also warned Kennedy about Vietnam and Laos, but the new Democrat president vowed to ‘pay any price, bear any burden’ in the region. Kennedy believed the Green Berets could put out what he called a ‘brush fire’ war. Under the Johnson administration, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964 allowed a regular — and increased — installation of troops which rose from 2,000 in 1961 to 16,500 in 1964. Johnson also adopted a policy of ‘minimum candour’ in communicating military operations to the media. It was Nixon (Republican), who, in his second term, ended the war in 1973 — 40 years ago this year.

Despite his ending of the war, Nixon — prior to Watergate (1974) — was criticised by both sides.  This was partly because of Henry Kissinger’s policies. Kissinger, incidentally, was an adviser to Hubert Humphrey’s 1968 presidential campaign until he saw that Nixon was likely to win. My reader Michael J McFadden, who was following the progression of the war and politics, sent me this comment recently. It sums up the complexity of Nixon’s situation (I’ve left out the references to Watergate, because that came to light later):

Nixon was vilified for other things more so than for “ending the war.” He tried to save himself by carrying through on the war-ending pledge, but it wasn’t enough, while at the same time it lost him some of the support he had from the conservative hawk-minded population. Nixon was vilified because he’d run against the “peace” candidates (Humphrey and McGovern) …

And yes, it was partly because he didn’t end it fast enough, but he was walking a very tricky road, trying to end it without an outright perception that we’d “lost.” Kissinger was vilified because he liked things like the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) doctrine and the anti-nuke people (and most sane people) agreed that it was indeed a MAD policy.

The Vietnam War was a class-defined war as, although conscription was still in place, a number of deferments were available for middle- and upper-class young men. The Kennedy administration established a number of them which were devised to preserve social cohesion (e.g. a male presence at home and in the education system). Few middle-class parents, especially, mothers wanted their sons to be drafted; this war was for ‘other people’. As a result — later exacerbated by the middle-class anti-war movement — Americans began to view complying with law as optional. My reader undergroundpewster put it this way:

That they got away with it is what I believe to be the legacy. The fact of the matter is, that once you learn that you can skirt authority, you become as one with those who openly defy authority. The breakdown of authority in the U.S. extends to all sorts of institutions, not just governmental ones.

Those young men who did not serve in Vietnam shaped the nation whilst lower and working class men fought overseas. Therefore, the former have the impression that the latter were somehow stupid. This continues today, four decades later. By way of illustration, this is what James Fallows, the Harvard-educated journalist for the Atlantic, wrote about his draft assessment in Boston (emphases mine):

It was, initially, a generalized shame at having gotten away with my deception, but it came into sharper focus later in the day. Even as the last of the Cambridge contingent was throwing its urine and deliberately failing its color-blindness tests, buses from the next board began to arrive. These bore the boys from Chelsea, thick, dark-haired young men, the white proles of Boston. Most of them were younger than us, since they had just left high school, and it had clearly never occurred to them that there might be a way around the draft ...

We returned to Cambridge that afternoon, not in government buses but as free individuals, liberated and victorious. The talk was high-spirited, but We knew now who would be killed.

The media shaped the public perception of the war. They continue to shape our perception of politics, particularly where conservatism is concerned. And, of course, a number of these opinion formers did not see active duty in Vietnam or, if they were there as reporters, had already decided to promote the anti-war agenda, ignoring what they saw. This was also the first war fought and decided on the television screen. The media-driven ‘Vietnam syndrome’ was the logical outcome. As the British-American journalist Robert Elegant — who was there — wrote (more at the link):

After each other, correspondents wrote to win the approbation of their editors, who controlled their professional lives and who were closely linked with the intellectual community at home ...

Reporting Viet Nam became a closed, self-generating system sustained largely by the acclaim the participants lavished on each other in almost equal measure to the opprobrium they heaped on “the Establishment,” a fashionable and very vulnerable target …

For some journalists, perhaps most, a moment of truth through self-examination was never to come. The farther they were from the real conflict, the more smugly self-approving they now remain as commentators who led the public to expect a brave new world when the North Vietnamese finally “liberated” South Viet Nam. Even those correspondents who today gingerly confess to some errors or distortions usually insist that the true fault was not theirs at all, but Washington’s. The enormity of having helped in one way or another to bring tens of millions under grinding totalitarian rule—and having tilted the global balance of power—appears too great to acknowledge. It is easier to absolve one’s self by blaming exclusively Johnson, Nixon, and Kissinger

Any searching analysis of fundamental premises has remained as unthinkable to “the critics” as it was during the fighting. They have remained committed to the proposition that the American role in Indochina was totally reprehensible and inexcusable, while the North Vietnamese role—and, by extension, the roles of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Pathet Lao in Laos—was righteous, magnanimous, and just.

At any given moment, a million images were available to the camera’s lens in Saigon alone—and hundreds of million throughout Indochina. But TV crews naturally preferred the most dramatic. That, after all, was their business—show business. It was not news to film farmers peacefully tilling their rice fields …

The initial inclination to look upon Hanoi as a fount of pure truth was intelligently fostered by the Communists, who selectively rewarded “critics of the American war” with visas to North Viet Nam …

The legacy is that the media has continued moving further leftward. Certainly, Watergate helped to drive this, but, that, too, took place 40 years ago next year and much water has passed under the dam since.

And although the US has had Republican presidents post-Nixon (Ford, Reagan and the Bushes), with the Clinton administration, the media began to overlook and rationalise every shady act from the Democrats. This was in full flow by 2008.

The media — part of the new left-wing Establishment — tell us that the Left is good and the Right is bad. What makes them worse than the Establishment of the 1960s is that they allow no opposing viewpoints.

That makes their brand of ‘democracy’ particularly dangerous.

That is the legacy of the Vietnam War. The totalitarianism the media and intelligentsia so loved then is at our doorstep not only in the United States but elsewhere in the West today. A ‘soft’ totalitarianism possibly, but a controlling one nonetheless.

A few days ago, James Higham — the co-founder of the British site Orphans of Liberty — featured a quote from John Fitzgerald Kennedy, shortly before his assassination.

November 22, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of that fateful day. I was in nursery school at the time and will never forget the expression on my mother’s face. It seemed the world would end. She passed a quiet word to my teacher, whose face went ashen at the news.

Ten days before his brutal slaying in Dallas, Kennedy spoke before an audience at Columbia University in New York City. There, he allegedly warned, not unlike his predecessor, Republican Dwight David Eishenhower (emphases mine):

The high office of President has been used to foment a plot to destroy the Americans’ freedom, and before I leave office I must inform the citizens of this plight.

Eisenhower’s wording was more oblique — a warning about the ‘military-industrial complex’. Heavens, we have certainly seen the results of that come to pass in our lifetimes.

On November 2, 1963, the South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem — a Roman Catholic — was overthrown and executed. It would seem that the CIA were working with their peers in the military to effect his removal.

It is interesting that Kennedy was surprised by these events. He had not asked for Diem’s removal, despite the latter’s disdain for the native South Vietnamese Buddhist faith and practice.

Maxwell Taylor, a Kennedy administration insider, recalled:

that Kennedy “rushed from the room with a look of shock and dismay on his face.”[148] He had not approved Diem’s murder.

Yet, other Kennedy advisors attempted to assuage the president’s anguish by saying that his removal would shorten the Vietnam conflict.

Kennedy would live for only another 20 days. Were people out to get him? It was a perfect assassination in that we’ll probably never know the truth.

James Higham has researched other aspects of statecraft during that period, including the story of popular music relating to Los Angeles’s Laurel Canyon, which I covered the other day. Unfortunately, since the author of that saga, David McGowan, has since published a book on it, most of the links have been removed.  It was a compelling read.

Nonetheless, Higham has presented us with another dimension of statecraft and national power, courtesy of one Democrat president and representatives from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Quotes follow from his post:

On June 28, 1945, President Truman said:

“It will be just as easy for nations to get along in a republic of the world as it is for us to get along in a republic of the United States.” On October 24, 1945, the United Nations Charter became effective.

On July 1948, Sir Harold Butler, in the CFR’s “Foreign Affairs,” saw “a New World Order” taking shape:

“How far can the life of nations, which for centuries have thought of themselves as distinct and unique, be merged with the life of other nations? How far are they prepared to sacrifice a part of their sovereignty without which there can be no effective economic or political union?”

On Feb. 7, 1950, International financier and CFR member James Warburg told a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee:

We shall have world government whether or not you like it – by conquest or consent.”

On Feb. 9, 1950, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution #66 which began:

“Whereas, in order to achieve universal peace and justice, the present Charter of the United Nations should be changed to provide a true world government constitution.”

Perhaps this is what Eisenhower and, sadly, Kennedy were referring to. Perhaps Eisehnower, because of his more temperate verbiage, was left alone. Perhaps also it was because he was no longer the leader of the free world.

We don’t know.

That said, may we remember these words, for better or worse. May we also be diligent in watching what our leaders — our elected servants — say and do, and vote accordingly.

That is the only voice we have.

It is now forty years since the Vietnam War ended and many of us still have questions about the most long-lived war in American history at that time.

When we read of Henry Kissinger, we think perhaps of Dr Strangelove. Our opinions are further obscured by those on the left who say that Kissinger was right-wing and those on the right who say he supported the left.

What are we supposed to think of this man, who jointly won the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize with the North Vietmamese Le Duc Tho for negotiating the cease-fire and the withdrawal of American troops?

It is interesting that Le Duc Tho declined the Peace Prize and Kissinger did not collect his in Oslo because of the threat of anti-war demonstrations.

A 2003 article in the Smithsonian magazine, ‘Henry Kissinger on Vietnam’ is largely a review of his book called Ending the Vietnam War. It was his 14th. He describes his time as Nixon’s national security adviser and then as Nixon’s and Gerald Ford’s secretary of state.

However, as the Smithsonian notes, Kissinger does not provide many clear answers.

Excerpts from the article follow, emphases mine.

One question relates to the length of the war. Should it have lasted as long as it did? The Smithsonian observes that Kissinger supported the 1968 Democratic nominee Hubert Horatio Humphrey until Nixon, his Republican opponent, seemed to be the favourite in the latter stage of the presidential campaign that year.

It would appear, then, that Kissinger was an opportunist, eager to be on the winning side. He:

began to ingratiate himself with the Nixon camp, and even, according to Stanley Karnow’s history, Vietnam, clandestinely supply it with information about Humphrey’s plans.

After Nixon won the election — the first of two, although he stood down in 1974 because of Watergate — Kissinger became a prominent advisor whose name appeared in the media almost daily.

Their new slogan for ending the Vietnam War was ‘peace with honour’. Although this was a difficult war to understand, the American public were intelligent enough to know that such a pledge would be difficult to achieve. For a start, some questioned the strength and integrity of the South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu, who, incredibly, remained in that post until 1975 — a period of ten years. Not only was Thieu’s government inept, it was also corrupt. Those who had been following the war through a South Vietnamese lens wondered if Thieu was a figurehead. Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky was considered to have run the government in reality.

As Kissinger was drawn to the winning side of an American presidential election, he was similarly attracted to powerful leaders. One might say that he had neo-classical and historical training which informed his adoption of this stance:

Kissinger, not unlike some American presidents, including Nixon, had a myopic affinity for strongmen—the Shah of Iran, Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos. A student of Metternich, the 19th-century Austrian statesman, Kissinger was a practitioner of the “realist” (or realpolitik) school of diplomacy, which places emphasis on the state’s interests and the use of military power to achieve them, and he preferred to deal with the strong leaders of nation-states who could deliver.

Kissinger, by the way, was not at all interested in the lives of American troops. His was a strategic, opportunistic, high-level game.

In fact, he could not understand why ordinary Americans opposed the war and why some Senators — among them, Mark Hatfield and Mike Mansfield — pressed for withdrawal.

As for Nixon, who was a Quaker, Kissinger wrote about his puzzlement with the President’s leadership. Why did he dislike giving direct orders? Why did he issue some in the hope that no one would follow through on them?

One of the biggest controversies which I remember was when Vice President Spiro Agnew turned hawkish. As the Smithsonian recalls, Nixon supported his call for an attack on the North Vietnamese, then promptly excluded him from the next meeting concerning the war.

Kissinger had his own spin on the war, then and later in 2003:

There was the futile hunt for the elusive COSVN, supposedly the North Vietnamese military headquarters in Cambodia—and a leading rationale for U.S. military incursion into Cambodia in 1970. The South Vietnamese troops and their American advisers found only deserted huts. Nevertheless, Kissinger describes the attack as a success, leading to the capture of documents, arms and ammunition, which, according to Karnow, were quickly replaced. There was also the raid by American commandos on the Son Tay prison in North Vietnam, which was believed to hold American prisoners of war but turned out to be empty. U.S. intelligence had said the prison was “closed,” Kissinger says, which it interpreted as “locked.”

Kissinger’s book does not venture into Watergate, although he does say that Nixon felt ‘unappreciated’ about his ending the war:

that antiwar sentiment “touched Nixon on his rawest nerve” and that he saw enemies all around him and so engaged in “methods of all-out political combat.”

According to the Smithsonian, Kissinger was disappointed by the way US military actions in Cambodia failed:

more than a million Cambodians [were] slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge. One justification for U.S. military actions in Cambodia was that Vietnam might overrun Cambodia—whether it actually intended to do so isn’t yet known—which would have jeopardized the plan for turning the war over to the South Vietnamese.

Even that did not convince Kissinger that it was time for the US to pull out of Southeast Asia. In his book, he blames the anti-war effort for scuppering American chances of victory.

In the end, Saigon — now Ho Chi Minh City — succumbed to the North Vietnamese. Even though the unified Vietnam is now lauded as being somewhat capitalist, it is still a Communist state.

American troops might have bought Saigon some time in the 1970s, but, in the end, were their 50,000 casualties worth it?

In researching the Vietnam War, I ran across an article that British-American journalist Robert Elegant, born in 1928, wrote for the magazine Encounter.

Elegant — what a marvellous name — was born in New York City and spent most of his journalistic career in Asia. He covered the Korean and Vietnam Wars and has a keen knowledge of China and its culture, supplemented earlier by a Masters in Far Eastern Studies from Columbia University. He has won several awards during his career. He currently divides his time between London and Italy and still travels to the Far East.

Elegant’s article is entitled ‘How to Lose A War: The Press and Viet Nam’ (Encounter (London), vol. LVII, No. 2, August 1981, pp. 73-90). Below are excerpts; reading the article in full is highly recommended for his insight into the media spin, borne of ignorance, on this war.

If you read only one post in my Vietnam series, this is it. This is especially important for parents and guardians to pass along to children. I also recommend it to teachers and lecturers, provided they can position it such that they do not incur the wrath of their notional superiors.

Emphases mine below.

The Vietnam War was unique:

For the first time in modern history, the outcome of a war was determined not on the battlefield but on the printed page and, above all, on the television screen.

Who won?

Looking back coolly, I believe it can be said (surprising as it may still sound) that South Vietnamese and American forces actually won the limited military struggle. They virtually crushed the Viet Cong in the South, the “native” guerrillas who were directed, reinforced, and equipped from Hanoi; and thereafter they threw back the invasion by regular North Vietnamese divisions. Nonetheless, the war was finally lost to the invaders after the U.S. disengagement because the political pressures built up by the media had made it quite impossible for Washington to maintain even the minimal material and moral support that would have enabled the Saigon regime to continue effective resistance.

As for knock-on effects to the 1981 — when Elegant wrote the article — we can probably safely add on later conflicts to the present day:

It is, however, interesting to wonder whether Angola, Afghanistan, and Iran would have occurred if Saigon had not fallen amid nearly universal odium—that is to say, if the “Viet Nam Syndrome,” for which the press (in my view) was largely responsible, had not afflicted the Carter Administration and paralyzed American will. On the credit side, largely despite the press, the People’s Republic of China would almost certainly not have purged itself of the Maoist doctrine of “worldwide liberation through people’s war” and, later, would not have come to blows with Hanoi if the defense of South Viet Nam had not been maintained for so long.

The media reporting on Vietnam were a ‘brotherhood’ which had already chosen which side they were on. Their reporting was also for their fellow journalists:

In my own personal experience most correspondents wanted to talk chiefly to other correspondents to confirm their own mythical vision of the war. Even newcomers were precommitted, as the American jargon has it, to the collective position most of their colleagues had already taken. What I can only call surrealistic reporting constantly fed on itself, and did not diminish thereby, but swelled into ever more grotesque shapes. I found the process equally reprehensible for being in no small part unwitting.

In part, this was because:

Most correspondents were isolated from the Vietnamese by ignorance of their language and culture, as well as by a measure of race estrangement. Most were isolated from the quixotic American Army establishment, itself often as confused as they themselves were, by their moralistic attitudes and their political prejudices.

However, the journalists also wanted to protect their jobs and wrote accordingly:

After each other, correspondents wrote to win the approbation of their editors, who controlled their professional lives and who were closely linked with the intellectual community at home. The consensus of that third circle, the domestic intelligentsia, derived largely from correspondents’ reports and in turn served to determine the nature of those reports. If dispatches did not accord with that consensus, approbation was withheld. Only in the last instance did correspondents address themselves to the general public, the mass of lay readers and viewers.

Ironically, given this state of affairs, journalists, Elegant contends, could be compared to the soldiers whom they were criticising:

A tour in Viet Nam was almost essential to promotion for a U.S. Regular Army officer, and a combat command was the best road to rapid advancement. Covering the biggest continuing story in the world was not absolutely essential to a correspondent’s rise, but it was an invaluable cachet. Quick careers were made by spectacular reporting of the obvious fact that men, women, and children were being killed; fame or at least notoriety rewarded the correspondent who became part of the action—rather than a mere observer—by influencing events directly.

Journalists, particularly those serving in television, were therefore, like soldiers, “rotated” to Viet Nam. Few were given time to develop the knowledge, and indeed the intellectual instincts, necessary to report the war in the round. Only a few remained “in country” for years, though the experienced Far Eastern correspondents visited regularly from Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo. Not surprisingly, one found that most reporting veered farther and farther from the fundamental political, economic, and military realities of the war, for these were usually not spectacular. Reporting Viet Nam became a closed, self-generating system sustained largely by the acclaim the participants lavished on each other in almost equal measure to the opprobrium they heaped on “the Establishment,” a fashionable and very vulnerable target.

Ignorance and spin were not germane only to American journalists:

For some journalists, perhaps most, a moment of truth through self-examination was never to come. The farther they were from the real conflict, the more smugly self-approving they now remain as commentators who led the public to expect a brave new world when the North Vietnamese finally “liberated” South Viet Nam. Even those correspondents who today gingerly confess to some errors or distortions usually insist that the true fault was not theirs at all, but Washington’s. The enormity of having helped in one way or another to bring tens of millions under grinding totalitarian rule—and having tilted the global balance of power—appears too great to acknowledge. It is easier to absolve one’s self by blaming exclusively Johnson, Nixon, and Kissinger.

I found few American correspondents to be as tough-minded as one Briton I knew who was very close to the action for many years in the employ of an American wire-news service. “I’m ashamed of most of what I wrote in Viet Nam,” he told me recently. “But I was a new boy, and I took my lead from the Americans, who were afire with the crusading spirit of ’60s journalism—the involvement, man, in the good fight. When I look at what’s happened now, I’m ashamed of my ignorance—and what I helped to do to the Vietnamese….”

Only journalists who knew recent history of Southeast Asia could see through Hanoi’s (North Vietnam’s capital) propaganda:

We knew that, in 1956, close to 50,000 peasants were executed in North Viet Nam. We knew that after the division of the country nearly one million North Vietnamese had fled to the South. Many of us have seen the tortured and carved-up bodies of men, women, and children executed by the Viet Cong in the early phases of the war. And many of us saw, in 1968, the mass graves of Hue, saw the corpses of thousands of civilians still festively dressed for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.

But:

Why, for heaven’s sake, did we not report about these expressions of deliberate North Vietnamese strategy at least as extensively as of the My Lai massacre and other such isolated incidents that were definitely not part of the U.S. policy in Viet Nam?

Therefore:

I think at least a little humility would be in order for us old Viet Nam hands. . . .

And let us not confuse coyness on their part with humility:

the media have been rather coy; they have not declared that they played a key role in the conflict. They have not proudly trumpeted Hanoi’s repeated expressions of gratitude to the mass media of the non-Communist world, although Hanoi has indeed affirmed that it could not have won “without the Western press.” The Western press appears either unaware of the direct connection between cause (its reporting) and effect (the Western defeat in Viet Nam), or strangely reluctant to proclaim that the pen and the camera proved decisively mightier than the bayonet and ultra-modern weapons …

Any searching analysis of fundamental premises has remained as unthinkable to “the critics” as it was during the fighting. They have remained committed to the proposition that the American role in Indochina was totally reprehensible and inexcusable, while the North Vietnamese role—and, by extension, the roles of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Pathet Lao in Laos—was righteous, magnanimous, and just. Even the growing number who finally deplored the repressive consequences of the totalitarian victory could not bring themselves to re-examine the premises that led them to contribute so decisively to those victories.

Television reinforced the media’s perspective:

At any given moment, a million images were available to the camera’s lens in Saigon alone—and hundreds of million throughout Indochina. But TV crews naturally preferred the most dramatic. That, after all, was their business—show business. It was not news to film farmers peacefully tilling their rice fields, though it might have been argued that nothing happening was news when the American public had been led to believe that almost every Vietnamese farmer was regularly threatened by the Viet Cong, constantly imperiled by battle, and rarely safe from indiscriminate U.S. bombing.

If I might interject here, this is exactly what I thought as a child. My parents tried to explain otherwise, but there it was on the news every night. Television couldn’t lie. Could it?

But television could “prove” either a negative or a positive proposition—depending on where the camera pointed and upon the correspondent’s inclination.

The military was unhappy with the nature of the reporting. It seemed as if Vietnam were two wars — one which the armed forces were fighting and the second on which the journalists reported:

Sgt. John Ashe (brother of the world-famous tennis player) was a Marine assigned to public relations duties. He delivered a biting indictment of the young wire-service correspondents and the “war freaks” who frequented Da Nang (which was a remote outpost to the media, though not to the military). They would, he recalled, rarely go into the field and never spend the night when they did; would deport themselves as if they had never heard a shot fired with intent to kill before that moment—to their own and the Marines’ peril; and then file stories that “bore little or no relation” to what he—and they—had seen. They didn’t want to know, Ashe added, what was really happening in the First Corps Area, where the Marines had winkled out the Viet Cong by stationing squads in villages.

The media’s opposition to the Establishment — government, principally — was so strong that anything the administration or military said was thought to be a lie. Only the Communists were seen to be honest:

A faulty syllogism was unconsciously accepted: Washington was lying consistently; Hanoi contradicted Washington; therefore Hanoi was telling the truth.

Communists, not surprisingly, had set up this faulty syllogism:

The initial inclination to look upon Hanoi as a fount of pure truth was intelligently fostered by the Communists, who selectively rewarded “critics of the American war” with visas to North Viet Nam.

These famous ‘critics’ included celebrities, among them Jane Fonda:

A number of influential journalists and public figures (ranging from former cabinet officers to film actresses) were feted in North Viet Nam. They were flattered not only by the attention and the presumed inside information proffered by the North Vietnamese but by their access to a land closed to most Americans.

Running like lemmings, they were — and what Elegant writes in the next paragraph is especially true; you can still read it from readers of left-wing sites such as the Daily Kos:

The favored few—and the aspiring many—helped establish a climate in which it was not only fashionable but, somehow, an act of courage to follow the critical crowd in Saigon and Washington while praising Hanoi. The skeptical correspondent risked ostracism by his peers and conflicts with his editors if he did not run with “the herd of independent minds,” if he did not support the consensus.

Historically — and even among the left-wing peace proponents, there was a respect for war, especially the Great War and the Second World War. The Korean War was seen as just about acceptable, including from a media perspective.

Just not the Vietnam War. This is why I say that the Communist and Marxist propaganda machine worked very well during that time:

World War II was generally considered a crusade against evil …

The Korean War was not a universal crusade …  Moved neither by basic antagonism towards official aims nor by unthinking commitment to those aims, a surprisingly youthful press corps offered surprisingly objective reports. Aside from a marked weakness in covering internal politics in both the South and the North—a weakness that presaged a disastrous disability in Indochina—Korea was, in my view, the best-covered American war of modern times. Besides, the conflict was, by and large, straightforward and simple to understand.

Elegant states that, as far as the Vietnam War was concerned, this part of the world, its history and its place in the Cold War were difficult to understand, ‘arcane’ at times, especially for the general public. However, he observes that the media did not help lift that cloud of ignorance for them.

Getting back to journalistic ignorance, the glaring lack of knowledge about the nature of war  (somehow — didn’t any of these people learn world history at school?) manifested itself in coverage of Vietnam:

Most, as I have noted, knew little about war in general from either experience or study—and less about the theory or practice of guerrilla war.

And, let’s not forget Marxist theory:

Since so many were also untroubled by acquaintance with Marxist theory or practice and were hazy about the international balance of power, they were incapable of covering effectively a conflict involving all those elements.

Therefore:

As long as the “Viet Nam Syndrome” afflicts the media, it seems to me that it will be virtually impossible for the West to conduct an effective foreign policy.

And this, I believe, is what James Higham was saying recently at Orphans of Liberty in his post on Vietnam (which I cited yesterday), which alluded to the United Nations and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Unfortunately, and I believe Elegant is correct:

It is possible that the “Viet Nam Syndrome” will recur; it is not unlikely that Western foreign policy, with the United States as its faltering—or even resurgent—leader, will again be forced to operate in an environment dominated by a hostile press.

This is yet another reason why it is so important to understand history, even — perhaps especially — ‘difficult’ conflicts such as the Vietnam War.

At the weekend, I posted a piece about the Vietnam War at Orphans of Liberty (OoL), for which I also occasionally write.

One of my readers, James Higham, who co-founded OoL, responded with a post on that conflict, bringing into play a number of factors.

I’ll return to James’s post in more detail. I had meant to come to a tidy conclusion on this period in history. However, at the weekend, I continued to ponder all the things that happened during the 1960s and early 1970s and was left scratching my head.

That war ended 40 years ago this year, by the way — in January 1973.

As James details, there are no easy cut-and-dried answers with this subject.

For now, I’d like to revisit the popular music of the era. James devotes part of his post to the pop and rock ‘n’ roll groups which, oddly, settled in the Laurel Canyon district of Los Angeles.

He cites a fascinating work which I’d read two years ago, thanks to a Lutheran reader who sent me the link. This online book is called Inside The LC: The Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation by David McGowan, who has written several other books on popular socio-political subjects from the past and present.

Some of these musicians who lived in Laurel Canyon served in Vietnam. Others were children of military men or government employees, some of whom worked in intelligence.

Oddly, as McGowan observes (emphases mine below):

All these folks gathered nearly simultaneously along the narrow, winding roads of Laurel Canyon. They came from across the country – although the Washington, DC area was noticeably over-represented – as well as from Canada and England. They came even though, at the time, there wasn’t much of a pop music industry in Los Angeles. They came even though, at the time, there was no live pop music scene to speak of. They came even though, in retrospect, there was no discernable reason for them to do so.

This music-related migration began in early 1965, just a few months after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964.

It’s interesting that the first half of 1965 was also the time when the first regular solidiers were drafted for service in Vietnam. Prior to that, those sent were ‘advisers’.

In the Gulf of Tonkin incident:

U.S. warships under the command of U.S. Navy Admiral George Stephen Morrison have allegedly come under attack while patrolling Vietnam’s Tonkin Gulf.

Keep the name in mind. We’ll come back to it.

Suddenly, the music scene changed overnight. McGowan lists some of the big hits of the day, all from people living in Laurel Canyon:

The first to drop an album will be The Byrds, whose biggest star will prove to be David Crosby. The band’s debut effort, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” will be released on the Summer Solstice of 1965. It will quickly be followed by releases from the John Phillips-led Mamas and the Papas (“If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears,” January 1966), Love with Arthur Lee (“Love,” May 1966), Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention (“Freak Out,” June 1966), Buffalo Springfield, featuring Stephen Stills and Neil Young (“Buffalo Springfield,” October 1966), and The Doors (“The Doors,” January 1967).

Who were these people who seemed to spring up out of nowhere?

There was Jim Morrison of the Doors:

One of the earliest on the Laurel Canyon/Sunset Strip scene is Jim Morrison … Curiously enough, the self-proclaimed “Lizard King” has another claim to fame as well, albeit one that none of his numerous chroniclers will feel is of much relevance to his career and possible untimely death: he is the son, as it turns out, of the aforementioned Admiral George Stephen Morrison.

And Frank Zappa of the Mothers of Invention:

Laurel Canyon’s father figure is the rather eccentric personality known as Frank ZappaZappa will play host to virtually every musician who passes through the canyon in the mid- to late-1960s …

Francis Zappa [Snr] was, in case you were wondering, a chemical warfare specialist assigned to the Edgewood Arsenal. Edgewood is, of course, the longtime home of America’s chemical warfare program … The family later moved to Lancaster, California, near Edwards Air Force Base, where Francis Zappa continued to busy himself with doing classified work for the military/intelligence complex. His son, meanwhile, prepped himself to become an icon of the peace & love crowd.

Zappa’s manager Herb Cohen also moved out to Laurel Canyon early on. He served as a Marine:

and those travels, curiously, had taken him to the Congo in 1961, at the very time that leftist Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was being tortured and killed by our very own CIA.

Mrs Frank Zappa — Gail:

known formerly as Adelaide Sloatman, from a long line of career Naval officers, including her father, who spent his life working on classified nuclear weapons research for the U.S. Navy. Gail herself had once worked as a secretary for the Office of Naval Research and Development (she also once told an interviewer that she had “heard voices all [her] life”). Many years before their nearly simultaneous arrival in Laurel Canyon, Gail had attended a Naval kindergarten with “Mr. Mojo Risin’” himself, Jim Morrison who had later attended the same Alexandria, Virginia high school as two other future Laurel Canyon luminaries – John Phillips and Cass Elliott.

As for John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, he was the son:

of U.S. Marine Corp Captain Claude Andrew Phillips and a mother who claimed to have psychic and telekinetic powers, John attended a series of elite military prep schools in the Washington, D.C. area, culminating in an appointment to the prestigious U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.

John Phillips married Susie Adams:

a direct descendant of ‘Founding Father’ John Adams. Susie’s father, James Adams, Jr., had been involved in what Susie described as “cloak-and-dagger stuff with the Air Force in Vienna,” or what we like to call covert intelligence operations.

As for John’s siblings’ and Susie’s employment:

Susie herself would later find employment at the Pentagon, alongside John Phillip’s older sister, Rosie, who dutifully reported to work at the complex for nearly thirty years. John’s mother, ‘Dene’ Phillips, also worked for most of her life for the federal government in some unspecified capacity.

And John’s older brother, Tommy, was a battle-scarred former U.S. Marine who found work as a cop on the Alexandria police force, albeit one with a disciplinary record for exhibiting a violent streak when dealing with people of color.

It’s interesting to read that John Phillips happened to be in Cuba at the height of the Revolution:

For the record, Phillips has claimed that he went to Havana as nothing more than a concerned private citizen, with the intention of – you’re going to love this one – “fighting for Castro.” During the two weeks or so that the Cuban Missile Crisis played out, a few years after Castro took power, Phillips found himself cooling his heels in Jacksonville, Florida – alongside, coincidentally I’m sure, the Mayport Naval Station.

Now on to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, starting with Stephen Stills:

Stephen Stills was the product of yet another career military family. Raised partly in Texas, young Stephen spent large swathes of his childhood in El Salvador, Costa Rica, the Panama Canal Zone, and various other parts of Central America – alongside his father, who was, we can be fairly certain, helping to spread ‘democracy’ to the unwashed masses. [Curiously], the follow up to Stills’s “For What It’s Worth” [was] entitled “Bluebird,” which, coincidentally or not, happens to be the original codename assigned to the MK-ULTRA program.

Stephen [would] later tell anyone who [would] sit and listen that he had served time for Uncle Sam in the jungles of Vietnam. These tales [would] be universally dismissed by chroniclers of the era as nothing more than drug-induced delusions. Such a thing couldn’t possibly be true since Stills arrived on the Laurel Canyon scene at the very time that the first uniformed troops began shipping out and he remained in the public eye thereafter.

The U.S. [though] had thousands of ‘advisers’ – which is to say, CIA/Special Forces operatives – operating in the country for a good many years before the arrival of the first official ground troops. [G]iven his background, his age, and the timeline of events, Stephen Stills not only could indeed have seen action in Vietnam, he would seem to have been a prime candidate for such an assignment. After which, of course, he could rather quickly become – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – an icon of the peace generation.

This is David Crosby’s background:

David Crosby, founding member of the Byrds, as well as, of course, Crosby, Stills & Nash [was] the son of an Annapolis graduate and WWII military intelligence officer, Major Floyd Delafield Crosby. Like others in this story, Floyd Crosby spent much of his post-service time traveling the world. Those travels landed him in places like Haiti, where he paid a visit in 1927, when the country just happened to be, coincidentally of course, under military occupation by the U.S. Marines. One of the Marines doing that occupying was a guy that we met earlier by the name of Captain Claude Andrew Phillips.

David Van Cortlandt Crosby, as it turns out, is [of the] Van Cortlandt, Van Schuyler and Van Rensselaer families … Suffice it to say that the Crosby family tree includes a truly dizzying array of US senators and congressmen, state senators and assemblymen, governors, mayors, judges, Supreme Court justices, Revolutionary and Civil War generals, signers of the Declaration of Independence, and members of the Continental Congress.

Another popular star of the era with military connections and family wealth was the highly-revered Gram Parsons (you couldn’t seriously be considered truly ‘into’ that genre of music without reverently mentioning Parsons’s name in a hushed tone):

Gram Parsons was the son of Major Cecil Ingram “Coon Dog” Connor II, a decorated military officer and bomber pilot who reportedly flew over 50 combat missions. Parsons was also an heir, on his mother’s side, to the formidable Snively family fortune. Said to be the wealthiest family in the exclusive enclave of Winter Haven, Florida, the Snively family was the proud owner of Snively Groves, Inc., which reportedly owned as much as 1/3 of all the citrus groves in the state of Florida.

There is more at McGowan’s site — well worth a read. It might change your idea of long-haired peace-and-love types wearing jeans and flannel shirts.

What follows is a very brief excerpt from James Fallows’s “What Did You Do in the Class War, Daddy?” from October 1975.

Fallows is a journalist who writes for the American magazine, the Atlantic.

Here he describes his moment as a Harvard undergraduate going for his medical exam in Boston in 1969 as part of the draft assessment for the Vietnam War.

Working class boys come for their exams as he prepares to leave with his deferment. He and his classmates had practical help at Harvard.

The way Fallows words his impression of the boys from Chelsea, north of Boston, supports my hypothesis (Parts 1 and 2) about the class divide which began in earnest during the Vietnam War and continues to this day.

Those lads didn’t have any support or way out, yet Fallows pretty much blames them for their own predicament.

Middle-class superiority is clearly in evidence.

First, ‘shame’? Lasting shame? Really?

Second, ‘white proles’? Would he have dared to write ‘black proles’ or ‘Hispanic proles’? I very much doubt it.

Third, ‘it had clearly never occurred to them’ that there was a way to avoid the draft? Well, I bet they wanted to go to Southeast Asia in troop transport as much as Fallows and his mates did.

The ‘white proles’ couldn’t help that they didn’t have a guy at their school telling them to starve themselves or lie.

I find his last sentence particularly chilling.

I was overcome by a wave of relief, which for the first time revealed to me how great my terror had been, and by the beginning of the sense of shame which remains with me to this day.

It was, initially, a generalized shame at having gotten away with my deception, but it came into sharper focus later in the day. Even as the last of the Cambridge contingent was throwing its urine and deliberately failing its color-blindness tests, buses from the next board began to arrive. These bore the boys from Chelsea, thick, dark-haired young men, the white proles of Boston. Most of them were younger than us, since they had just left high school, and it had clearly never occurred to them that there might be a way around the draft. They walked through the examination lines like so many cattle off to slaughter. I tried to avoid noticing, but the results were inescapable. While perhaps four out of five of my friends from Harvard were being deferred, just the opposite was happening to the Chelsea boys.

We returned to Cambridge that afternoon, not in government buses but as free individuals, liberated and victorious. The talk was high-spirited, but there was something close to the surface that none of us wanted to mention. We knew now who would be killed.

For those who wonder how a dead soldier’s body is collected and transported home, this post on Answers.com explains in frank terms — no doubt by someone who has seen active duty — how it was done during the Vietnam War. Emphases mine below:

During the Vietnam War, dead US Soldiers/Marines/Sailors, when the fighting was bad, were piled up onto tanks or swift boats (alpha boats, monitors, PBYs, etc), and taken to a collection point where their bodies were tagged and bagged.

During short or isolated firefights in distant mountains/jungles, dead GI’s were dragged or carried by other men, again, to a collection point (a designated spot on the ground to place the bodies). Other than the fireman carry (a dead man carried across your shoulders), the most common method was tying the dead man’s boot laces together (this forms a handle), then dragging him by his boot laces to a collection point. The biggest problem with dragging dead servicemen on the battlefield is that their uniforms (clothing) come off during the dragging process. Plus personal belongings are spread out over the area traversed during the movement; becoming lost (wallets, watches, dog-tags, rings, photographs, eye-glasses, can openers, knives, etc). Once the clothing rips off (pulls off) MOST men, for reasons as yet un-explained, are hesitant upon grabbing (touching) any part of the actual dead GI; BUT it becomes necessary to grab the deceased man’s hand, wrist, arm, leg, etc. in order to CONTINUE transporting him to the collection point. Sometimes a little bit of yelling and profanity is used to get the carrying men in motion (instead of just staring or freezing up), after a few dead bodies have been dragged away, your mind goes numb and a man can continue touching (handling) dead men without much hesitation.

Once at the collection point, the dead men are placed onto a chopper (any chopper), if there’s too many dead, and the place is still hot (dangerous), the bodies are thrown onto the bird, to expedite the evacuation of casualties. From there, they’re flown to a large US Military base in country to be processed by the medical corps for shipment home. They’ll arrive home in aluminum coffins.

Yesterday’s post looked at the middle class reaction to and avoidance of the Vietnam War.

My hypothesis — which I have not seen elsewhere — posits that those who stayed behind via one of the many deferments on offer to the middle classes changed the face of the country … for many decades to come. And, possibly, not for the better.

The numbers — Vietnam War statistics

There is an interesting section on conscription and what prompted the end to it in the Wikipedia article on the Vietnam War. Photo credits also go to Wikipedia. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

There were 8,744,000 servicemembers between 1964 and 1975, of which 3,403,000 were deployed to Southeast Asia.[49] From a pool of approximately 27 million, the draft raised 2,215,000 men for military service (in the United States, Vietnam, West Germany, and elsewhere) during the Vietnam era. The draft has also been credited with “encouraging” many of the 8.7 million “volunteers” to join rather than risk being drafted ...

Of the nearly 16 million men not engaged in active military service, 96% were exempted (typically because of jobs including other military service), deferred (usually for educational reasons), or disqualified (usually for physical and mental deficiencies but also for criminal records including draft violations).[19] Nearly 500,000 men were disqualified for criminal records, but less than 10,000 of them were convicted of draft violations.[27] Finally, as many as 100,000 draft eligible men fled the country.[50][51]

I touched on the last group briefly yesterday.

In 1968, one of the planks of Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign was a pledge to end the draft. The Republican saw the problem that middle class resistance had created with regard to the Vietnam War:

He had first become interested in the idea of an all-volunteer army during his time out of office, based upon a paper by Martin Anderson of Columbia University.[53] Nixon also saw ending the draft as an effective way to undermine the anti-Vietnam war movement, since he believed affluent youths would stop protesting the war once their own probability of having to fight in it was gone.[54] There was opposition to the all-volunteer notion from both the Department of Defense and Congress, so Nixon took no immediate action towards ending the draft early in his presidency.[53]

Instead, the Gates Commission was formed, headed by Thomas S. Gates, Jr., a former Secretary of Defense in the Eisenhower administration. Gates initially opposed the all-volunteer army idea, but changed his mind during the course of the 15-member commission’s work.[53] The Gates Commission issued its report in February 1970, describing how adequate military strength could be maintained without having conscription.[52][55] The existing draft law was expiring at the end of June 1971, but the Department of Defense and Nixon administration decided the draft needed to continue for at least some time.[55] In February 1971, the administration requested of Congress a two-year extension of the draft, to June 1973.[56][57]

With the end of active U.S. ground participation in Vietnam, December 1972 saw the last men conscripted, who were born in 1952[61] and who reported for duty in June 1973. On February 2, 1972, a drawing was held to determine draft priority numbers for men born in 1953, but in early 1973 it was announced that no further draft orders would be issued. In March 1973, 1974, and 1975, the Selective Service assigned draft priority numbers for all men born in 1954, 1955, and 1956, in case the draft was extended, but it never was.[62] The last drafted soldier retired from active duty in 2011.[63]

A Republican president ended conscription.

One wonders how many students learn that in history class these days.

Those who had no choice but to serve

Before that, a number of men who were working class and poor had no choice but to enlist.

One of them was the son of my paternal grandmother’s neighbours two doors down, Mr and Mrs W. They had but the one son; their other two children were daughters.

Mrs W was beside herself when the young man received his ‘Greetings’ letter. Her husband had seen active duty, so he told his son to man up and meet the task at hand.

My grandmother didn’t know quite what to say, especially as the nightly news broadcasts were faithful in giving an aggregate body count. We all knew the latest casualty figures.

The Ws didn’t have a person who could ‘fix it’ for their son, and, even if they did, Mr W would have been opposed on principle.

His parents couldn’t afford to send him to university or seminary; instead, he found a job.

And so it was that another terrified young man went to Southeast Asia.

About a year later, my mother and I walked past the W’s house. There was a small photo-sized flag on display, hanging from the top of their front porch. I couldn’t figure it out.

My mum explained that the government sent the families of American soldiers who died overseas a small flag to display when they were killed in action. This was to indicate that the household had a family member who died for his country; it was also a quiet means of letting neighbours and passersby know what happened. I do not know if this is still done, but I did see a few more in the years that followed; often, the flag was in the front window.

Afterward, the Ws became quite reclusive. Mr W’s health began to fail. My grandmother went to see them a couple of times and, although they were very polite, they gave her the impression they wanted to be left alone in their grief. After a few months they took the flag down and, sadly, that’s where their story ended as far as I knew it.

It made me think about my grandmother’s tenants, the Kennedy Husbands and their families (explained in yesterday’s post).

Recently, I began giving more thought to those who served in Southeast Asia. In the 1980s I met a few and was surrounded on occasion by others.

After I got a job away from home, one of the secretaries where I worked was dating a Vietnam veteran. The man was full of rage. Although he directed it against the Vietnamese — yes, all of them — in vulgar, jaw-dropping terms, I can’t help but wonder if he was really angry at the American middle classes but couldn’t bring himself to say so, otherwise he would have lost it completely — on them.

He seemed to be at boiling point whenever I saw him, and this was in the early 1980s. Did he feel irrevocably let down by his own country for their lack of support? He couldn’t avoid the draft, either: no university, no seminary, no marriage, no children.

Another man I know has been filled with class rage ever since he was drafted. That’s been over four decades now, but he was very aware that the sons of the middle class with whom he went to secondary school didn’t have to serve in Vietnam. Yet, he, as a son of the working class did. Fortunately, he got as far as a base in Europe and never had to see active duty in Southeast Asia.

Then I worked for a highly successful executive who mentioned the Vietnam War once. He said he was so angry — at comfy middle class anti-war protestors — that he was only going to discuss it that one time. He initiated the subject because something in the news or another conversation jogged his memory. He’d just finished university and was called up. Fortunately, he’d just finished basic training in the US when the war came to an end. He didn’t have a Mr Fix-it, either.

In case you are wondering, these men all vote Democrat. The Democrats escalated the Vietnam War. These men are not Tea Partiers or Republicans or particularly ‘conservative’ as Democratic Underground might define the term.

Two men who didn’t serve

What makes the rage of these veterans all the more understandable is the way those who stayed behind made names for themselves in business, industry, politics, media and entertainment.

The Smoking Gun has two stories on men — supposed ‘conservatives’ — who did not serve in Vietnam.

Donald Trump, like my cousin (see yesterday’s post), claims he just ‘got lucky’ with his high draft number. Yet, the site claims otherwise:

Selective Service records show that the purported presidential aspirant actually received a series of student deferments while in college and then topped those off with a medical deferment after graduation that helped spare him from fighting for his country, The Smoking Gun has learned.

Trump–who spent his high school years enrolled at the New York Military Academy–said, “I actually got lucky because I had a very high draft number. I’ll never forget, that was an amazing period of time in my life” …

Trump obtained his first two Class 2-S student deferments in June 1964 and December 1965, when he was student at Fordham University in the Bronx. He was briefly reclassified as 1-A–or “available for military service”–in late-November 1966, but that classification was switched back to 2-S three weeks later.

Another 2-S deferment is dated January 16, 1968, just months before his graduation from UPenn (to which he transferred following his sophomore year at Fordham).

Following his UPenn graduation, Trump–no longer qualified for a 2-S deferment–was again briefly classified as available for service on July 9. However, three months later, on October 15, his classification was switched to 1-Y, which was given to men deemed qualified for military service “only in time of national emergency.”

The 1-Y classification came a month after Trump underwent an “Armed Forces Physical Examination,” according to Selective Service records, which note the results of the exam as “DISQ.” While the military records do not further detail why Trump was granted the 1-Y deferment, a 1992 biography of the businessman by journalist Wayne Barrett reported that Trump received a medical deferment following the September 17, 1968 exam.

Trump’s 1-Y classification stayed in effect until February 1, 1972 when it was changed to a 4-F classification (which covered registrants not qualified for military service). The change in classification was likely prompted by the military’s December 1971 decision to abolish the 1-Y classification.

Another is libertarian, pro-America, gun enthusiast Ted Nugent. I’ve written about him before but to profile a first-person testimony as to his modern-day squeaky clean image.

Yet, Americans of a certain age will remember a rock ‘n’ roll group called the Amboy Dukes. Ted Nugent was the mainstay of the band during its existence between 1967 and 1975.

Their most memorable hit was April 1968’s ‘Journey to the Center of the Mind’. Enjoy the YouTube and note the clothes (Nugent’s on the right with the guitar; Steve Farmer is singing). This was what Ted Nugent was up to when lads like the aforementioned young W boy were coming home in body bags:

Nugent (lead guitar, vocals) co-wrote the song with band member Steve Farmer, who also shared guitar and vocals. You can read the full lyrics here; what follows is an excerpt:

Leave your cares behind come with us and find
The pleasures of a journey to the center of the mind

Come along if you care
Come along if you dare
Take a ride to the land inside of your mind

Beyond the seas of thought beyond the realm of what
Across the streams of hopes and dreams where things are really not …

Like Donald Trump, Nugent, The Smoking Gun says, received more than one deferment:

Theodore Anthony Nugent first received a high school 1-S deferment in February 1967, when he was 18. After briefly being reclassified as available for service, Nugent got a 2-S college deferment when he enrolled in Oakland Community College in Michigan.

In August 1969, Nugent took his draft physical and was rejected for service. He was classified as 1-Y, indicating that he was qualified for service only in time of a national emergency. The 1-Y classification was usually issued to candidates saddled with significant medical or mental issues.

In interviews, Nugent has provided varying accounts of how he avoided a seat on a troop transport to Southeast Asia. In a 1977 High Times interview, he claimed to have stopped bathing a month before his draft physical, adding that he showed up for the exam with pants “crusted” with urine and feces …

But while Nugent would subsequently disavow his defecation claim, he did cop to snorting a line of crystal meth before the physical because, “I wanted to see the look on the Sergeant’s face.”

Five weeks after the exam, Nugent received his 1-Y deferment on October 7, 1969. Nugent’s 1-Y deferment remained in effect until 1972, when the classification was abolished. He was then reclassified as 4-F

It would be fascinating to read more of these deferment exposés of people who rode to fame and fortune whilst others were losing their lives or coming back with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Who ruled the roost while they were away? Those with deferments.

Who continue to rule the roost today? Those with deferments.

Film and the Vietnam War

Many films made during the Vietnam era carry an anti-war statement and some made afterward attempted to redress the balance.

The Deer Hunter is a film I’ve seen many times and still enjoy it. It perfectly captures snapshots of the lives of the type of people who served in Vietnam and the families and friends they left behind. Every character is portrayed as realistically as possible. The war scenes are equally unforgettable.

Platoon, which came out in 1986, seems to be very popular amongst Vietnam veterans. I hesitate to return to the aforementioned rage angle, but, when it premiered, I reluctantly went with a friend to see the premiere in the city where I then lived, which, by the way, votes heavily Democratic.

That was one of the scariest nights out ever. There were very few people there who were not veterans of that war or married to one. My friend and I happened to be two lifelong civilians in the audience.

The vets were angry. So were their wives. Almost all of them shouted the ‘g’ word throughout the film. Every time a Vietnamese appeared on the screen, their shouts were deafening.

Again, as with my colleague’s boyfriend, I wondered if they were angry at the Vietnamese or really angry at the American people who scorned them when they were drafted and dumped them upon their return.

I do believe they were, in reality, angrier at Americans, but it would have broken their hearts and probably destroyed them to admit it.

Yes, the Vietnam War was pretty pointless and/or incorrectly engineered. However, that is no reason to denigrate or ignore the men who served their country through no choice of their own.

Furthermore, it’s also no reason to raise those who opted out onto a pedestal.

America on life support

Therefore, I contend that the Vietnam War was the occasion for draft dodgers (or whatever you want to call them) to lay the foundations for the America of the future.

With regard to politics, news media, entertainment and culture, what we are seeing now really is a by-product of those who never cared to serve their country, even as conscientious objectors.

While the true heroes were overseas worrying about whether they’d see another day, these guys rewrote the script for the once-Great Republic whilst getting high and living it large.

This self-centredness, which many, including Nixon’s ‘silent majority’, thought would disappear has instead morphed into the pleasure-seeking, leftward leaning, selfish society we know today.

And that is the sad, unvarnished truth of the matter to which no one, especially Americans, will ever admit.

Here’s a hypothesis about the real effect of the Vietnam War on America.

Those who stayed behind changed the face of the country … for many decades to come.

Yesterday’s post provides a potted history of the Vietnam War, which is helpful for those who do not know how the US came to be so deeply involved.

Today’s post examines what happened at home, many from my own recollections and others from documented sources.

It is my contention that those who were of age but did not serve in the Vietnam War changed — and are changing — America for decades to come.

‘Kennedy Husbands’: avoiding call-up

In the 1960s it did not take long for American adults to figure out that not everyone who was eligible to go to Vietnam actually served.

This was a war largely for ‘others’ — working class and poor men — to enter.

In the first half of the 1960s Generation X was born to young couples. In the middle classes the husband was often a university undergrad or graduate student.

This was no coincidence — or necessarily proof of a love of family before having the means to support one (emphases mine below):

two wishes of JFK with regard to conscription. The first was that the names of married men with children should occupy the very bottom of the callup list. Just above them should be the names of men who are married. This Presidential policy, however, was not to be formally encoded into Selective Service Status. Men who fit into these categories became known as Kennedy Husbands. When President Lyndon Johnson decided to rescind this Kennedy policy, there was a last-minute rush to the altar by thousands of American couples.

My grandmother, who rented the upper storey of her house to university students, had two Kennedy husbands in succession who lived there with their families — the children being babies and toddlers — in the mid- to late 1960s.

She knew what was going on. So did my parents, but as Grandma said, ‘They need a place to live, and I’m providing it.’

The second couple who lived there was interesting. The wife grew up in a well-heeled borough of New York City. Her mother came to visit a couple of times. On one of those occasions, my mother and I were there. My mother engaged the mother-in-law in conversation, which Mum quickly steered to the Vietnam War. Was this lady’s son-in-law avoiding being drafted? The answer came, ‘He’s doing what is within the law’.

Thanks to my grandmother, I knew three of these men well enough to say that they did not look happy. It would not surprise me to discover that all of them had marital difficulties by the early 1970s.

They married and started families because they had to, in order to avoid war. They became schoolteachers not because they felt they had a vocation but because they were able to escape going to Vietnam.

Many American men blame feminism for their troubles, but I reckon that wartime arrangements in the 1960s had just as much bearing on their unhappiness.

A plethora of deferments for middle class men

There were other legal ways, via deferment, to avoid call-up.

In 1969, a draft lottery came into effect. The higher one’s number, the less likely the chance of being drafted into military service.

Before that, this is how the draft worked:

Before the lottery was implemented in the latter part of the Vietnam conflict, Local Boards called men classified 1-A, 18 1/2 through 25 years old, oldest first. This resulted in uncertainty for the potential draftees during the entire time they were within the draft-eligible age group. A draft held today would use a lottery system under which a man would spend only one year in first priority for the draft – either the calendar year he turned 20 or the year his deferment ended. Each year after that, he would be placed in a succeedingly lower priority group and his liability for the draft would lessen accordingly. In this way, he would be spared the uncertainty of waiting until his 26th birthday to be certain he would not be drafted.

However, there were several categories of deferments in place during that time:

Here is a list of codes that were used previously (Vietnam era and before):

    • I-A – Registrant available for military service.

    • I-A-O – Conscientious objector registrant available for noncombatant military service only.

    • I-C – Member of the Armed Forces of the US, the Environmental Science Services Administration, or the Public Health Service.

    • I-D – Qualified member of reserve component, or student taking military training, including ROTC and accepted aviation cadet applicant.

    • I-S – Student deferred by law until graduation from high school or attainment of age of 20, or until end of his academic year at a college or university.

    • I-W – Conscientious objector performing civilian work contributing to the maintenance of national health, safety, or interest, or who has completed such work.

    • I-Y – Registrant qualified for military service only in time of war or national emergency.

    • II-A – Occupational deferment (other than agricultural and student).

    • II-C – Agricultural deferment.

    • II-S – Student deferment.

    • III-A – Extreme hardship deferment, or registrant with a child.

    • IV-A – Registrant with sufficient prior active service or who is a sole surviving son.

    • IV-B – Official deferred by law.

    • IV-C – Alien not currently liable for military service.

    • IV-D – Minister of religion or divinity student.

    • IV-F – Registrant not qualified for any military service.

    • Class V-A – Registrant over the age of liability for military service.

Also, a man at university who wished to serve in Vietnam was likely to be fast-tracked to an officer’s commission and the ability to be sent where he requested — a preferential posting.

If a man was lucky and had connections, he could serve at home with less worry about being sent to Vietnam:

Since only 15,000 National Guard and Reserve soldiers were sent to Vietnam, enlistment in the Guard or the Reserves became a popular means of avoiding serving in a war zone. For those who could meet the more stringent enlistment standards, service in the Air Force, Navy, or Coast Guard was a means of reducing the chances of being killed.

Not surprisingly, other middle class men suddenly got a religious calling:

Vocations to the ministry and the rabbinate soared, because divinity students were exempt from the draft.

Elsewhere:

Doctors and draft board members found themselves being pressured by relatives or family friends to exempt potential draftees.

People in the news who didn’t serve in Vietnam

Among those who saw no active service were Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush. Mitt Romney avoided it, too; he was serving as a Mormon missionary in France. Many young American musicians, some of whom sang protest songs, also avoided military service. I’ll look at one in tomorrow’s post. However, there were future multimillionaires, too, in that group, one of whom will also be profiled tomorrow.

Another who did not see military service was President Obama’s friend Bill Ayers (see here and here).  Ayers now tours the country pushing his radical education plans in a pleasantly middle class way.

One wonders how many paying to listen to him pontificate today know that he was once on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

Conservative Politics Today explained (covered in my first Ayers post):

Ayers was not simply protesting “against” the Vietnam War. Firstly, he wasn’t against war in principle, he was agitating for the victory of the communist forces in Vietnam. In other words: He wasn’t against the war, he was against our side in the war.

He may have escaped conviction due to a legal technicality (the prosecutors failed to get a warrant during some of their surveillance of the Weather Underground), but this in no way means that Ayers was factually innocent of the crimes. As has been widely reported, after the case against him was dropped, Ayers decribed himself as “guilty as hell, free as a bird.”

Just because Ayers tries to appear respectable now doesn’t mean that he wasn’t a violent revolutionary in the past. In fact, as the text of Prairie Fire shows, Ayers was one of the most extreme extremists in American political history.

Academe adds its voice to the mix

Older academics aided and abetted the anti-war cause. Noam Chomsky was one of them. Anyone who says they read his books just for the notes on linguistics could be economical with the truth. Here is a full version of William F Buckley Jr’s PBS programme Firing Line wherein he debates Chomsky on the Vietnam War. This is anti-war agitprop from Chomsky and television debating at its best from both. The right-of-centre needs another WFB desperately.

There were also Frankfurt School professors who directly or indirectly attempted to turn young American university students against the war, capitalism and, interestingly, the middle class — i.e. their own roots. Herbert Marcuse’s:

critiques of capitalist society (especially his 1955 synthesis of Marx and Freud, Eros and Civilization, and his 1964 book One-Dimensional Man) resonated with the concerns of the student movement in the 1960s. Because of his willingness to speak at student protests, Marcuse soon became known as “the father of the New Left in the United States”, a term he strongly disliked and disavowed. His work heavily influenced intellectual discourse on popular culture and scholarly popular culture studies. He had many speaking engagements in the US and Europe in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Even if he did not like being associated with the birth of the New Left:

He was a friend and collaborator of the political sociologist Barrington Moore, Jr. and of the political philosopher Robert Paul Wolff, and also a friend of the Columbia University sociology professor C. Wright Mills, one of the founders of the New Left movement.

School in general also anti-war

I was in Catholic primary school at the time. Although school for that age group is hardly a highbrow educational setting, we were already being urged not to support the war. The nuns did it more subtlely; the lay teachers were more obvious.

When I was ten, my teacher — a young laywoman — asked all of us to support that week’s anti-war protest ‘moratorium’ — each of which called for a different silent protest tactic — coming up one day. On this occasion, motorists were told to occasionally blink their headlamps if they supported an immediate end to the war. We were to urge our parents — ‘ask nicely’ — to flash their headlamps in protest on that particular Tuesday.

I told my mother, because being anti-war myself (school nearly always trumps home), it seemed like a marvellous passive, non-violent statement to make. My mother liked this teacher, and we were part of a teacher-student-parent group that used to do things for the parish with which the school was associated.

When my mother next saw my teacher, I don’t know what she said in a brief one-to-one moment, but the woman teacher just blanched.

That was the end of our association with this particular group. My mother gave me some plausible excuse, the sort that parents proffer. It didn’t bother me one way or another. I never thought anything about it until now.

War-related discussions starring my mother

Only one of my cousins was eligible to fight in Vietnam. He graduated from university in 1968. I do not know whether he was called up and, if so, if my uncle or aunt — his parents — ‘fixed it’ for him. In any event, he did not marry until after the war ended. I asked him some years later what happened and he said, characteristically of men in that age group, ‘My number was never called. Just lucky, I guess.’

However, I do think that my mother might have broached this subject during a family gathering after his graduation.  She was quite close to this aunt and uncle (one of her brothers, a Second World War veteran), but I noticed that there seemed to be a sudden, unprecedented distance by the end of the day between my aunt and my mother.

A few years later, they invited us to the Pacific Northwest to spend a week with them. They also had a daughter, married to someone in 1969 who, ostensibly, never had a call-up, either — ‘just lucky’, one supposes.

We were all invited to a sprawling beach house belonging to my cousin and her husband for the weekend. They’d also invited their friends from university. It was the closest I’ll ever get to commune living; by Sunday afternoon, I could hardly wait to leave. There wasn’t a moment’s peace: babies, toddlers, nursing mothers, weedy men and constant talking.

After the first day, my mother must have lain awake at night wondering about the age group of this lot — and also the weedy men. She felt increasing conflict over the rights and wrongs of the war, especially young men whom she knew who didn’t do a tour in Vietnam. She was brought up to ‘do the right thing’ and if that meant enlisting upon receiving the letter that began with ‘Greetings’, then, that was what you did.  Her father had done it and her brothers had done it.

Yet, she found herself sidelined. I think she wanted to make sense of it all, and no sense was forthcoming. So she tried to discuss it nicely with family, but they were either opposed to or non-committal about the war.

My dad didn’t think it was a good topic of conversation, but he, too, wondered where society was going in that era; he was more into identity politics, although he didn’t know it by that term. I couldn’t tell you what my maternal grandparents thought about any of it. Or what my two aunts — the nuns — thought. They were all quite sphinx-like in these matters.

Perhaps it is because so many adults were quiet then that this infamous war is never discussed now. Perhaps also it was this group of people whom Nixon had in mind when he coined the expression ‘the silent majority’. Their voices couldn’t or wouldn’t be heard — much less tolerated. And they knew it.

But I digress. The next day at the beach house, my mum — it seems — discreetly passed comment to my aunt on the young husbands there. Instead of reacting like my teacher did, my aunt made it clear, albeit very quietly, that my mother should keep her views to herself. Essentially, she was a guest there and should act like it: ‘Forget about the war — if only this once’.

The pall cast a few years before — which had appeared to be lifting at the beginning of our visit — again descended. I really liked my aunt, and it was only after she died some decades ago, that my mother told me how unkind the lady was to her after that. The rest of our visit, even back in town, was a bit of a damp rag for her now that I think back on it.

My mum got a more accepting and more frank opinion from her employer at the time, a prominent, well-respected member of the community where we lived. One of his daughters was marrying a young professional, also of age to be in Vietnam. My mother floated the inevitable question, but cloaked it in such a way that expressed concern for the daughter.

Mum’s boss replied, ‘Aww, heck, that stupid war. Nobody belongs there. No, I want this young man to marry my daughter and make her happy. Which I know he will. And he did. Vietnam never figured in their life together.

Finally, there was my mother’s tour of Europe in the early 1970s with another relative. The relative not feeling well, my mother went on a walkabout in Bern, Switzerland. She saw a hippie comatose in the park. She must have been staring at him, because a Swiss person approached her and asked, ‘Are you American?’ Mum replied, ‘Well, yes, I am.’ The Swiss person said, ‘That’s one of yours, madam. A draft dodger who became a junkie. Our city is full of them. Please stop the war. Maybe they will go away.’

Who held the keys to the castle?

With the Kennedy Husbands teaching school, modern leftist thought infiltrating universities and seminaries, not to mention apprehensive parents whose memories of the Second World War and Korean Wars were still very much alive, there was no chance that Vietnam was going to be the war of the Middle Classes.

In fact, they did their darndest — no doubt as President Kennedy was anticipating — to keep their children, with some exceptions, away from the conflict.

Thus, it fell to the poor and working class men to be cannon fodder for an unappreciative America. With the exception of my immediate family, for reasons to be explained tomorrow, and a few colleagues and neighbours whose family served, no one expressed one iota of sympathy for American troops who served in Southeast Asia in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Meanwhile, all the university grads who stayed behind began to settle comfortably into well-paid jobs (the teachers moved on, you can be sure of it) and professions.

If you doubt me, look at the men who were born in the early Baby Boomer years just after the Second World War to see how many did military service. Not that many.

They ended up holding the keys to Castle America, if I may use that word in association with what was once the world’s greatest republic. They became the elite — in greater and lesser ways.

And people think that a rejection of six-day creationism is bringing down the United States? No, not at all.

The rot started around 50 years ago with the general reaction to the Vietnam War which brought the United States where it is today.

Tomorrow: Part 2 — those who went to fight and two who didn’t

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