Reflections on the Vietnam War and Its Impact on the American Psyche
“We who have seen war will never stop seeing it. In the silence of the night, we will always hear the screams. So this is our story, for we were soldiers once, and young” – Joseph L. Galloway
I felt a bit of fear entering Vietnam for the first time, wondering if the Vietnamese carried anger or hatred towards Americans. After all, two million Vietnamese died in the name of American freedom and democracy to counter the evil threat of a world dominated by Communism. History proved that the American reading of the situation in Vietnam was wrong. Although the U.S. thought the Vietnamese were simply an extension of Communism, we failed to see that they were fighting for their freedom from centuries of domination by the Chinese and French.
Was the war pointless from the start, just a brutal historical episode that had nothing to do with survival or moral values? In “The Vietnam War,” a documentary series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, the American Undersecretary of Defense admits that the real reason for the U.S. ground invasion in March 1965 was “70 percent to avoid humiliation.” In another interview, a Marine officer said, “You’re killing people to protect your male ego.”
The Vietnam war has profoundly shaped the American psyche. Without it, there would have been no “sixties.” No draft, no draft dodgers, no protest, no protest music, no hippies – just a lot of people taking LSD and complaining about their parents. In “The Vietnam War,” a North Vietnamese Army veteran says, “People sing about victory, about liberation. They are wrong. Who won the war and who lost is not the question. In war, no one wins or loses. There is only destruction. Only those who have never fought like to argue about who won and who lost.”
As an Israeli, these reflections make me wonder if war is Israel’s inescapable destiny, if we are doing enough to challenge this assumption, and if there are realistic alternatives. I tend to be with the school of thought that war is Israel’s destiny and that other options are yet to come. However, just like the Americans made mistakes about Vietnam, I am open and willing to be proven wrong. I wish Israelis and Palestinians would be as friendly as the Vietnamese and Americans.
My book recommendations
Vietnam: A History, by Stanley Karnow
A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, by Neil Sheehan
Cambodia, Report from a Stricken Land, by Henry Kamm
The Vietnam War, An Intimate History, by Geoffrey C. Ward, Ken Burns
Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam, by Mark Bowden
Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific, by Robert D. Kaplan
Down with Colonialism! by Ho Chi Minh and Walden Bello
Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, by Karl Marlantes
The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, by Barbara W. Tuchman
Up Country, by Nelson DeMille
The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
The Sympathizer: A Novel, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Refugees, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden
Dispatches, by Michael Herr
The Fascinating and Frightening Traffic Flow of Modern Hanoi
Hanoi is a 1000-year-old city with Chinese and French influences from past invasions, but it is transforming into a modern city with all that it entails. Most Hanoians ride motorbikes or buses rather than cars, and the traffic flow in the city is a remarkable and frightening sight. Pedestrians walk out into the traffic like forging a stream with a continuous flowing motion of vehicles around them. It may say something about the way Vietnamese approach life in general.