Updated September 3, 2009.
Given the ongoing Presidential election campaign and the current reality and the threat of future war rising from President Bush’s decisions and inclinations, I think it makes sense to recall the Vietnam War and have in one place reminder of the behavior that the Vietnam War generated.
To me, the most shocking reminder is the admission by Robert McNamara that the entire pretext for escalation following the “Gulf of Tonkin incident” was based on misunderstanding. The “attack” never happened. It was an LBJ pretext. It has the same feeling as Bush’s WMD pretext.
Are the dice fixed?
Do we have too much momentum for shooting from the hip in this country?
The military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us against.
A born-again President who admirably champions liberty and idiotically assumes that the President of the United States can do as he damned-well pleases because he is Commander in Chief.
Bob Dylan correctly observed that there are times when even the President of the United States must stand naked. And Bush is cursed with a face that is so transparent as to be the source of an ongoing saga of little-boy aggression and adult spite.
Here in any case is today’s lesson. The Vietnam War in devastating words, images and music.
Let’s start with music. (But sadly the video is no longer available. Lyrics will have to do.)
Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation (Tom Paxton)
Tom Paxton is a folk singer who managed in a single song to touch all the bases. What strikes us today I believe is the relative humor that was present in much of the protest. How funny was it?
Lyndon B. Johnson (Vietnam Air Strikes)Music Video.
Lyndon Johnson was the protagonist of the Vietnam War because you will see below that JFK and even Robert McNamara were planning to ramp it down not up. The assassination of JFK becomes mega-tragic if one attaches to it the subsequent death of 50,000 Americans because of the proclivities of his successor, LBJ.
LBJ Speaks to Students on US Vietnam Presence (1965)
This is short and chilling still. It captures a man incapable of real warmth. Everyone’s nightmare, Stanley Kubrick, bad dream, home-room teacher.
Lyndon Johnson – The Hour Is Here Speech 1968 (Clip)
And here is a man who will brook no opposition. Today Vietnam has become our friend and China and Russia are, if not our friends, no longer Cold War enemies.
War of Vietnam – The Gulf of Tonkin incident. This gives you audio and visual insight into the confusion and the later admission that the conclusion that we had been attacked was wrong.
Anti-Vietnam War Movement 60’s and 70’s. Featuring Country Joe and the Fish
The rise of widespread profanity in our culture surely had its origin in the ambiguous response of the protest movement to the Vietnam War. Ambiguous for two reasons. Kids did not want to fight so protest became a means of legitimizing avoidance of the draft. The protests were correct in skewering the logic of the Vietnam War, but self-interest played a major role. Also, Black rhetoric of the time betrayed an anguished tension between pride in the incredible and unjust load Blacks had borne both in the Vietnam War and throughout our national history and rage at the white community for consistently frustrating legitimate and just aspirations.
Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon
Wayne Morse was one of my heroes. The only time I was ever invited to speak in Oregon I had the humbling experience of sitting next to him at the dinner before I said whatever it was I said — long forgotten. I also remember watching Morse on the Senate floor arguing the Dixon-Yates matter and feeling that here was a voice of courage and independence that trumps all talk of democracy by those who link democracy to the contest of the powerful against the weak.
Black casualties in Vietnam
I must ask in the face of widespread talk of how much change there has been in the last 40 years, oh really?
There has always been a vibrant and compelling Black middle class and this may have enlarged and surfaced in the last 40 years. But so too has the population of our prisons with a disproportionate number of Black prisoners.
I persist in my feeling that the Vietnam War trumped the Civil Rights Movement and that everything subsequent to 1968 has been judgment upon what we have done as a nation. I post this page with a sense that we are still under this judgment and that it is being played out as we speak.