Article 43


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veteran’s Day Remembered

The Vietnam generation forgot lessons learned decades ago and let itself be bamboozled

By James L Larocca
November 10, 2006

Before shipping out to river patrol in the Mekong Delta in early 1967, I managed to get home to New York for a few days. As my parents were driving me back to the airport for my trip overseas, we talked about everything but the subject at hand. Then, as the flight was being called, they told me they wanted to say something, to make an apology. They had been good and loving parents, I thought, what on earth did they have to apologize for?

They said they were sorry that, despite the searing experience of World War II, their generation had turned out to be no better at avoiding war than those who had come before.

Less than 10 years after their war ended came Korea. Now, with broken hearts, they were shipping their son off to a new war in Vietnam - one that, unlike World War II, seemed avoidable and unnecessary.

I came back at the end of 1968, dispirited and disoriented. I had survived two tours but understood that no matter how well we performed in the field, the war could not be won.

At home I found that a growing number of people already knew this. Many of my generation were standing up to a government that had blundered heedlessly into an impossible war on a deliberately manufactured myth (THE GULF OF TONKIN INCIDENT) and a questionable political premise (THE DOMINO THEORY).

People were using the tools of civil protest and political activism to call their leaders to account, to change national policy and topple a president.

I believed that this younger generation of Americans - both those who supported the war and those who didn’t - henceforth would allow their government to go to war only as a last resort, when the nation’s security and safety absolutely required it and all else failed. We would never forget that principled political activism and involvement could stop a war in its tracks.

How wrong I was. We have allowed a new generation of American troops to be sacrificed to a new manufactured myth (WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION) and a new false political premise (WE CAN BUILD A WESTERN-STYLE DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ AT THE POINT OF A GUN) - with barely a peep of protest.

How did we allow ourselves to be bamboozled into another hopeless war?

I don’t have a good answer to this question. I hate to think that because there was no military draft, we could stay detached from President George W. Bush’s march to war, seeing his folly as a problem for someone else’s sons and daughters.

Certainly the trauma of 9/11 was a factor in our failing to challenge this war, perhaps causing us to accept too readily what our government told us.

Maybe it also has to do with our general disengagement from politics - a belief that special interests rule, scandal is inevitable and incompetence routine. Tuesday’s election was a strong repudiation of this defeatist view of politics; perhaps it can mark the start of a turnaround in our catastrophic policy on Iraq.

Whatever the reasons we were bamboozled, the Vietnam generation must face the fact that we are failing our children. We have allowed them to be sent into a war that cannot be won.

On Veterans Day we usually remember the past, honoring the service and sacrifice of those who served. But in the midst of this war, a better way of honoring our veterans, old and new, is to act in the present and apply the lessons we learned so painfully a generation ago. Let’s start with an apology to the Iraq war generation. We failed you, and we are sorry. Our job now is to get you home.

James L. Larocca is chair of the Long Island Regional Planning Board and a professor of public policy at Long Island University. He co-chaired the commission on the Long Island Vietnam Veterans.


Posted by Elvis on 11/11/06 •
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