[MICHAEL MOORE, along with free-thinkers like Noam Chomsky, is the conscience of America. He directed the film Roger and Me, and hosts the weekly show THE AWFUL TRUTH on Bravo TV. -ed.]
Progress is our mistakes understood. Merleau-Ponty
This letter is for those of you who were born after the Vietnam War.
Many of you are in high school right now. Some of you have recently graduated and are working the Slurpee machine at the 7-11 (your way of celebrating the greatest economic boom in history!). By now, you have probably figured out that a lot of adults have a hard time speaking the truth. Some are just forgetful, which comes with age. Some need to believe that the world is ordered a certain way so they can justify their actions and the way they live their lives. Others just want the pain to go away, and creating fantasies is one way to relieve the sorrow of the past.
April 30th is the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. But that’s not exactly true. It’s really the 25th anniversary of the Vietnamese VICTORY over the United States of America. It’s hard for a lot of adults to say those words. No one likes to lose. We did.
You have probably seen a lot of nonsense on TV about how the 58,000 Americans who lost their lives in Vietnam “did not die in vain.”
That, is not the truth.
Those young lives were wasted and eliminated for absolutely no good reason whatsoever. They were sent to die in Vietnam at the whim of a bunch of politicians and the men who pick up their tab at the country club.
I encourage you to read Taking Charge by Michael Beschloss. Beschloss obtained the secretly-recorded White House tapes from the day when President Johnson decided to send the troops to Vietnam. They show that Johnson KNEW he was doing the wrong thing, that the war could not be won, but, after a pause in the conversation, he decided to go ahead anyway. You can hear what little was left of Johnson’s conscience in that brief pause of self-doubt, and like the moment of decision in a frightening cliffhanger, you’ll find yourself shouting at the book, “Don’t do it, don’t do it, thousands — millions! – of lives will be spared!!” But he does do it. He went to Congress and lied about an American boat being attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam, and the Senate voted 98 to 2 to send our boys to their early graves.
By now, you have probably also figured out that politicians will lie about anything to create a justification for their actions. In order to get away with invading Vietnam without calling it an “invasion,” the political leaders and their compliant media friends told the American people that the Communists were overrunning South Vietnam, a democracy and an ally of the United States (it was a totalitarian state with a puppet leader we installed after our government helped to assassinate the former leader). We were told the Communists had to be stopped and, if they weren’t, Communism would spread throughout all of Asia.
Communism, for those of you too young to have experienced the scare, was this thing that enslaved billions of people to a system where they had little or no say, where elections contained essentially no choice on the ballot, where competition and choice in the marketplace were eliminated, and where virtually every town had but one newspaper which told them what was going on. In other words, sorta like the U.S. today!
The truth was, Vietnam had been invaded and colonized by various foreign powers for a thousand years. In the 1940s, during World War II, a Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh, sided with America and the Allies to defeat the Japanese and Germans. After the war, he came to Washington in the hopes of convincing the President and Congress to back his people’s struggle to be free. He was certain that the Americans, whose own country was founded through a revolution against a foreign king, would back his efforts to create a free and democratic Vietnam. He was not a ‘Communist’ then. His hero was George Washington. The Vietnamese Constitution he proposed was based on the U.S. Constitution, which he thought to be a profound document.
The Congress and the President turned him away. The French, who ‘owned’ Vietnam at the time — you see, they were our ‘”friends.’
Ho and the Vietnamese were forced to look for help elsewhere. And the rest is history.
There is not much talk on the news today about the Vietnamese who died in the war. Over two million perished. Two million people were killed in our name, using our taxes and America’s sons in perpetrating a mass slaughter. You probably have seen a lot of Senator John McCain this year, everyone talking about him being a “a war hero.” McCain’s job was to bomb innocent civilians in the neighborhoods of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. He got shot down while committing this heinous act. He ejected and crashed into a lake in the center of town. How did the Vietnamese react to this American who fell from the sky after killing their children? Did they string him up and kill him? No, they jumped into the lake and saved his life. Thirty-two years later, he rides with the press on his “Straight Talk Express” and calls them “gooks” and few bother to report it.
A lot of people my age and older went to Vietnam. They were not bad people. They were just kids who didn’t know they were being used. But, we are all responsible for our individual actions, and on judgment day, using the excuse that you were “only following orders” will not sit well. But neither will our lack of compassion and understanding. “All are punish’d.”
The only true heroes of the Vietnam War — you will not read about them in your high school history books or see statues of them in city parks – were the brave ones who stood up against the government and refused to go and kill Vietnamese. Contrary to what you may have seen on TV, being against the war was never the popular position to take (until near the very end). Those who protested took a lot of abuse, not to mention a few billy clubs to the head. Those who refused to be drafted were sent to jail. Over a hundred thousand escaped to Canada, a country that took them in without question. Families were ripped apart. To this day, in spite of the amnesty, the government continues to track down and punish those unfairly accused of violently trying to stop the war.
Nine guys who went to my high school were killed in Vietnam. If there is anything you take from this letter, it is my hope that you will always resist our government’s efforts to send you off to fight the rich man’s wars. Most would agree that there come those times in history when, out of sheer self-defense, a nation must defend itself. That is not what happened in Vietnam — or in Grenada or Panama or Nicaragua or Iraq or Kosovo. These are wars to make the world safe for oil and sweatshops. Don’t ever let an adult tell you any differently. They will lie to you because they need YOU to go fight THEIR war. Don’t fall for it. Only the strong and brave and courageous are able to resist what appears to be the human instinct to kill other humans. Be brave. Be strong. Learn from your parents’ and grandparents’ mistakes.
Twenty-five years later, many of them still can’t figure out what went wrong. That’s why I believe April 30 should be a national holiday, a day to always remember what went wrong with us, so that it never happens again. In Vietnam, it’s not called the ‘Vietnam War.’ It’s called the ‘American War.’ The BBC news ticker that runs across the top of my computer screen just flashed on: Vietnam Celebrates American Defeat. Defeat? Defeat! I have not read a headline like that in the U.S.
As long as we can’t call it for what it was, we are doomed to repeat our worst mistake. Kids, help us.
Yours, Michael Moore