Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My God, Has It Been That Long?

April, 1969: A Vietnamese woman mourns over the body of her husband found with 47 others in a mass grave at Hue.

Today is the 35th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, which marked the end of the Vietnam war. I can remember that war like it just happened yesterday. It was the shaping event of my generation. I can remember the bitter feeling of resignation I felt after Saigon fell and what I had suspected all along--that the US would not win because we were morally corrupt--came to pass. I can remember the horror of the pictures we saw of the carnage, the cruelty, the suffering we, the US, inflicted on a small, insignificant southeast Asian country that had the misfortune to become a pawn in the gigantic, ultimately futile and wasteful power game between the so-called "free world" and the forces of godless evil incarnate, the communists, who were all inspired by the Soviet Union and who meant to take over the world. I can remember the newsreels--the real blood and death we saw--the kind of thing we're never allowed to see now because the government and especially the Pentagon discovered that presenting the real picture of war and what it does somehow seems to turn people against it--and the commentary by ridiculously young newscasters like Morley Safer, Dan Rather, Garrick Utley, and a host of others.* I can remember the anger young people (at least those I ran around with) felt at the sight of what we were doing to the people of Vietnam, to the land itself. I can remember how countless members of my generation had their very lives molded by this conflict, which, like all our wars, was wrapped in the red, white, and blue bunting that all "patriots" were expected to follow into the gates of hell and beyond--if not fall down and worship--because we had to "defend our country" against its enemies. Enemies like that poor woman in the picture above. Enemies that were enemies because the politicians in charge claimed they were. No other reason than that.

Oh, I can remember it all, that goddamned, wretched, endless war that ruined us. That ushered me into to being a grown-up in this country. That turned us into callous killers. That snuffed out the lives of almost 60,000 of us and maimed and crippled who knows how many hundreds of thousands more. For nothing. For nothing other than the transitory follies of leaders. The bootless charade of good vs evil measured in deaths. I hated that war then, and I hate it even more now that nobody but those of us with the scars remember.

The full gallery of pictures from which the horrifying shot above was taken can be found here. Some of the shots, familiar to anyone who lived through it, will break your heart.

*Vietnam was the last time the US news reporters were granted even semi-free access to the war. Since then, war news has been completely controlled by the Pentagon. "Embedded" reportage is managed news, I don't care what they choose call it. And we're never shown pictures of the reality of war. Never.
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