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SFD Talk—Vietnam in the US Imagination

Episode description

Hey folks, in lieu of notes this time, I’m going to give you the full outline that Rob and I were ostensibly working off in the show. Which should be enlightening, especially as we spend a lot of time talking about Syria instead of Vietnam.

Ernie, unfortunately, caught that bug that seems to be circling the globe (I’ve had it in Mexico, my sister’s had it in Rhode Island, Ernie’s got it in London) and couldn’t make it.



Self-explanatory, everybody plug their stuff.


Where We’re Coming From


For Rob and Ernie for the most part (given that I’m coming from a pretty outsider position, tackling a major project on the history of the war.

  • What’s our level of competence vis a vis Vietnam?
    • Very much related: What education have we received from ‘the system’ on the topic?
    • After any public/private educational opportunities, what are we looking at? Movies? Books? Ken Burns documentaries?
  • I give my little spiel here about why Vietnam’s the premature finale of SFD


Topics that I Want to Hit


Lying in Politics


I talked to Ernie a little bit about this the other day, but:

  • Vietnam was the epitome of the first cycle of public lying in foreign policy.
    • It starts with the Republicans using our ‘loss’ of China to get the Democrats out of power after Truman and rolls into the bad McCarthy years
    • It continues with JFK needing to be harder on the Reds than Nixon and thereby greatly inflating the importance of Vietnam (ie that nobody in government espoused the Domino Theory in private, only in public speeches)
    • And it culminates with JFK coming around to that we need to get out, US prestige be damned, right before he’s assassinated, with LBJ going whole hog afterwards, determined not to be the first US President to lose a war
      • And there go the secret bombings, the Tonkin Gulf incident, escalating the war on the DL, the total refusal to believe that the public might be smart enough to understand what’s going on and deciding to fucking prosecute an unjust, unpopular, unwise war because we thought that would somehow be easier than just owning up to that, Hey, Vietnam’s not that important after all
    • And then Nixon promising to end the war a full six years before he gets out
  • All of which is repeated to some extent in the run-up to Iraq/Afghanistan, with similarly disastrous results
    • The continuing consequences of which are playing out right now, literally right now, in Syria
The Idea of a “Lost War” and a Need to Reclaim Prestige


This one’s near self-explanatory too. Put your thoughts here:




Deification of the Soldiery


I mentioned this in the chat, in those little audio messages:

  • The anti-war reaction against returning soldiers seriously turns off the Nixononian Silent Majority types
    • And, really, it’s dumb on its face. Sure, Vietnam was the first war where American atrocities got play back in the US (the Korean War kicked off with us literally detonating a bridge under hundreds if not thousands of civilians trying to escape the North Korean onslaught, and the occupying American forces in Europe during WWII got up to their fair share of ugly business), but none of these guys, usually especially the ones who got up to really bad shit, wanted to be in Vietnam in the first place. They didn’t sign up for the war, and the USG did little if anything to prepare them or their commanders for the conditions they’d face over there.
  • The result being that after the war, we really start, as a country, to hammer home the ‘Support the Troops’ message.
    • It gets big play in the First Gulf War, but it would have to wait until the second to really kick into high gear.
    • By the time we invade Afghanistan/Iraq, the post-Vietnam attitude has totally permeated the populace and 9/11 leads us to double down on it.
  • So that by 2003 or so, anybody who gets into uniform is automatically a hero, regardless of what role they play or what it is they eventually do overseas.
    • And it’s the most insane time for this attitude to have ever prevailed in our history, because this is the least citizen-soldier military we’ve ever had.
    • Our modern army is the first fully volunteer, fully professional force in our history. These guys are much more like the guys defending the Khyber Pass for the British than the GIs who hit the beaches in Normandy.
    • You ask anybody why they support the troops, and they’ll tell you it’s that the troops are defending our freedoms, but more than at any previous point in our history, the troops are pretty much defending the far-flung outposts of an American Empire. These are the near-mercenary Tommies of the British 1880s, and while they might often show great heroism, signing up to kill poorer, browner people overseas is categorically not an act of automatic heroism.
  • Which all sounds whiny and esoteric, but is integral to the Neocon strategy of violent democratic activism overseas. The President can, under the current authorization of the War Powers Act and AUMFs, send anybody he wants anywhere he wants for basically any reason, as long as it’s got some tenuous connection to ‘terrorism’
    • And once the boys are over there, since they’re all heroes, and we all support them, the war they’re a part of is here to stay. Case in points: Iraq, Afghanistan.

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