Monday, May 30, 2016

Harsh History

Despite the best of intentions ... history is harsh.

It doesn't matter to those who died how good our intentions might have been. It doesn't matter to those left behind how we explained the decisions. When innocents die by our hand, the cost cannot be adequately justified.

There's defense of family, of community, of nation. Then there's war for empire, for ideology, for oil, for control of influence in a region.  National policy can blur ethical boundaries and drag both soldiers and citizens down into the pit.  

Whether you've been on the front line or the back line, whether you've been for or against national decisions, there's a price. Some things that touch your soul inevitably leave a wound.  For some of us, visiting the Vietnam Memorial is a blinding horror, a wound that reopens with each reminder of our brothers who served.  Even if your personal issues have been resolved, the national heart has not, and it weighs heavily on many. National recognition and acknowledgement of wrongdoing remain unaddressed.

Those who served did so nobly and deserve our respect.  Those who sent them, sometimes not so much.  Only a few people remember, Ho Chi Minh was our ally during the war in the Pacific. After the war, he asked America for help many times.  Many times.  The public wasn't told.

The French had abandoned their colony and handed it over to the Japanese early in WWII.  After the war, we could have helped, but we chose to back the French colonial return to the region.  We ignored the Vietnamese people and their desire to be free of colonial rule. They had declared their independence, deliberately following our example and offering to join us and the other democracies.  We should have been friends and supporters. There was no public discussion, just propaganda.. More than two million Vietnamese died in the war that followed, but they needn't have.  

The following are collected at a single site, ordered by timeline.
Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, September 2, 1945

Remember the draft?  Our young men were required by law to register and serve.  You could have strong convictions against the war in Vietnam, but you could be sent there to kill and die anyway.  If, like most of us back then, you couldn't escape the draft, there were a few opportunities to choose where and how you might serve, but you had to obligate yourself for years and take your chances.

I was adamantly opposed to the war, enlisted to stay ahead of the draft, and I managed to pursue a military career that didn't take me to Vietnam. My willingness to serve was derived from the Cold War, and when the Berlin Wall came down, in my heart I was released.  I'd done my part for my country and satisfied my conscience, however imperfectly.  The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was opened in 1982, and even though I live just an hour away, it took me 30 years to gather the strength to visit there. There are 58,195 names on that wall, but fifty times that number died in the war.

We are still engaged in foreign conflict; civilians and soldiers still die. The greater war effort today is economic, however. Military strength is tied to national economic strength, and power in the world is tied to power in the marketplace. While not openly discussed in the public forum, competition for wealth from other countries has become the goal of national economic policy.  Is this the freedom and justice for which our fathers fought?

Memorial Day is a remembrance, not a celebration.  We remember.  As always, there are deep issues to acknowledge; issues of life and loss, of justice, and of responsibility before God for our actions as a nation.  As veterans from the Vietnam War era tell us, we each bear the burden.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I cannot face the wall, yet.