“How long will it take for the wounds of war to heal?”
That was the most intriguing question I heard while watching Ken Burns’ documentary about the VietNam War recently aired on PBS.
If you haven’t watched it, if you haven’t made your children watch it, then shame on you.
You need to pay attention.
That’s all I ask.
I don’t portend to be some crazy woman who wants to rant and rave, although I confess I do that when it comes to trying to comprehend the war that, in my opinion, changed America forever.
I am simply a person who wants to understand why we did what we did and was it worth it. I just want to believe we learned something from the mess and that we strive to not do it again.
My friend commented to me as we discussed the series mid-way through “I learned more about this whole mess watching the documentary than I ever learned in school or during the whole war. If my children or grandchildren would watch the documentary, they would never have to go to another history class, ever.”
Most of you, us, think the Vietnam war started in the mid- to late-1960s. No, it started in the late 1950s and lasted through five presidential administrations. In fact, President John Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson continued to escalate the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict even when they knew it was a losing battle.
As Burns’ series said, sometime in 1967 the Pentagon asked that all the bullets, guns, warships, airplanes, and soldiers be loaded into a computer with a program that would spit out when the government could expect victory.
After crunching the data all weekend long, the computer came back with this simple answer, “the war was won in 1965.”
Some pundits disagreed that that ever happened.
And then there’s this quote, “we have consistently failed since 1961.” That was written during the Johnson Administration.
I’m not making this a political vignette, although I could easily do that. I could go to this side, or that side. But that’s not my intent.
Even though I enlisted in the military less than two years after my brother died in Vietnam, part of my head and my heart didn’t trust our government to fully tell the truth about what it was and wasn’t doing.
Sadly, that was proven to me several times over the 22 years I was on active duty.
And yet, I believed.
I believed in the goodness of the hearts of our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.
So here’s some takeaways from the Vietnam documentary and experiences of not just me but so many other veterans.
First, the music created during the Vietnam war was the best ever made. Listen to the lyrics and pay attention to the pain.
Second, my generation back then were the worst dancers ever. Maybe they still are.
Third, every war or war action is political.
Most importantly, honor the individuals. They’re only doing what they are told to do.
The worst part of the Vietnam war was the abuse individual military members endured when they returned to America. Even some of the anti-war protestors interviewed in Burns’ documentary apologized for their treatment of returning military members.
The best part of the war is what the American public learned in later years about the people serving in the military: love them.