Should We Honor Vietnam Veterans?

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Perhaps it’s just my imagination, but it seems like the longer the United States military remains mired in Afghanistan, the more recognition is being given to Vietnam veterans.

The U.S. Congress and some states have in the last few years issued resolutions declaring March 30th as “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.” March 30, 1973, is the date when all U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam.

At an event to recognize Vietnam Veterans on March 30 at the Vietnam War Memorial near the Florida State Capitol, Vietnam Veteran Robert Jordan said: “When I see these young guys come home from Iraq and Afghanistan and everybody shaking their hands [and] all that, I shake their hands [and] I give them a lot of respect, but there is a part of me that says where is mine?” “The worst thing that can happen to us is that America forgets what we did,” said another Vietnam Veteran.

The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, a 3/5 scale of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C., made an appearance in Melbourne, Florida, for a week late last month. I have never seen it or the Wall in Washington D.C., but I have visited the one half scale version of the Wall in Pensacola, Florida, known as the Wall South. Like the memorial in Washington D.C., these other “Walls” are inscribed with the names of the over 58,000 Americans who died fighting the Vietnam War. (None of the names of the millions of Vietnamese who died as a result of the war will be found on the Wall.)

The purpose of the Vietnam War Memorial is to honor those who fought in the war. One Vietnam veteran I quoted above says he wants respect; the other says that Americans should never forget what Vietnam Veterans did.

I for one will never forget what Vietnam Veterans did – they traveled half way around the world to fight an unjust, immoral, and unnecessary war against people they didn’t know who were no threat to them, their families, or the United States. The Vietnam War was a monstrous evil in every respect. And as Nick Turse documents over and over again in his new book Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, the whole war was one murderous My Lai incident, with lots of rape, torture, and mutilation thrown in.

So, why should we honor or respect Vietnam Veterans? Because, as Turse documents, they killed, poisoned, raped, beat, tortured, burned, mutilated, abused, drowned, and sexually exploited the Vietnamese? Of, of course not (it is said), only a few bad apples did those things.

 

How about because they blindly obeyed the state? How about because they were deceived, ignorant, young, and/or foolish? How about because they had no idea what they were getting into? How about because they were pawns of the state? No (it is said), these reasons are insulting to those who “served,” “answered the call,” and “fought for our freedoms.”

How about because of their courage, sacrifice, bravery, guts, and valor? How about because they did it for “duty, honor, country”? Nice try, but asFred Reed recently wrote: “There is no honor in going to someone else’s country and butchering people you don’t know because some political general, which is to say some general, told you to; A hit man for the Mafia is exactly as honorable.”

How about because they thought they were serving their country? How about because they thought they were being patriotic? How about because they were lied to? How about because they were drafted? Okay, these things may be true, but that is not why people say we should honor our Vietnam veterans.

The reason we are supposed to honor Vietnam veterans is because . . . they fought in Vietnam. Just like the reason we are supposed to honor Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans is because they fought in those countries. The mindset of most Americans is that we should honor every U.S. soldier who fought in any war for any reason.

Because of the nature of the Vietnam War, Vietnam veterans as a group should not be honored any more than Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans as a group should be honored. That means they shouldn’t be honored at all.

There are, however, some individual Vietnam Veterans that should be honored – but not because they fought in the Vietnam War. We can honor those who acknowledge that their participation in the war was a terrible mistake. We can honor those who regret the lives they took and the property they destroyed. We can honor those who now realize that the war was a great evil. We can honor those refused to kill once they arrived in Vietnam. We can honor those who have publicly denounced the war. We can honor those who have returned to Vietnam and apologized to the Vietnamese. We can honor these individual Vietnam veterans – but not because of anything they did while fighting in Vietnam.

I don’t know how many of these honorable Vietnam veterans there are, but at least a hundred have written to me expressing regret, anger, sorrow, remorse, and/or shame because they fought in Vietnam. They don’t want to be honored for participating in an unjust and immoral war. They don’t want to be thanked for their service. They don’t want to be respected like Iraq and Afghanistan veterans unfortunately are. They don’t want to remember what they did.

The Vietnam veterans that we shouldn’t honor are the ones who wear their 25th Infantry Vietnam cap everywhere they go and demand that we respect them, honor them, and not forget their “service.” These we can pity, educate, and help – if they will let us.

The brutal truth about every U.S. soldier who died in Vietnam is that he died for a mistake. The only lasting thing about the death of any American in Vietnam is his name on a wall. I doubt that Nick Turse’s book is sold in the gift shop at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, but is should be.

Should we honor Vietnam Veterans? It all depends.

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