I can think of no other international event that had more effect on my life than the US war in Vietnam. It happened just as I was maturing and it changed the direction of my life. I have been re-living those hopeless and depressing years nightly as I watch Ken Burns’ Vietnam series on PBS.
As you can see from my old button collection I was very much opposed to that horrendous event that cost the lives of so many Americans and especially Vietnamese and changed nothing. My opposition was many faceted: on moral grounds (the killing and maiming of so many thousands of innocent people), political grounds (I had a bumper sticker that read, “How many Vietnamese fought in our civil war?”), and just common sense (Pat Paulson once said, “It costs us $10,000 to kill each Vietnamese, we could buy each of them off for less than that.”)
Like what is going on in Washington today, everything was so hopeless, about all you could do is shake your head and laugh at the tragic stupidity of it all.
I am proud to look back at those times knowing that I did what I could, naively thinking that those in power actually cared about the opinion of a teenager in Indiana (a very conservative state where probably 90% of the population supported the war).
I wrote letters to the editor, I joined with the few other local anti-war protesters in demonstrations, I worked at a draft counseling office to inform young men of their rights concerning the Draft, I travelled to the massive anti-war demonstration with hundreds of thousands of others in Washington DC, I joined the Peace Corp to delay getting drafted, and I became a conscientious objector and had to work two years in a Goodwill Store.
When all those things (and the activities of thousands of others) failed, and seeing how most of the citizens of the US still supported the war, despite all the information about reality that was out there, I immigrated to Canada. The Vietnam War opened my eyes to the reality of the US and certainly changed the direction of my life.
Ken Burns’ Vietnam War documentary presents the many opinions of both American and Vietnamese, and shows the events that led to the war, and how things played out in Washington and Vietnam. Most of the information I knew before, but it is still sobering to actually hear the secret voices of the US presidents saying that they know that the war could not be won, but at the same time telling the public that there was “light at the end of tunnel” and they just needed to send in more troops--all those lives sacrificed in vain.
Oh well, enough of this. If you haven’t been watching the PBS series, you should. It is extremely interesting to hear the stories of people on all sides--the Hawks, the Doves, the Vietcong, and the South Vietnamese. Like all of Ken Burns’ documentaries, the visuals are amazing and the stories are touching, brutal, and informative, all to a soundtrack of the music I grew up with.