The American War in Vietnam
By John Ketwig (reviewer)
The American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration?
by John Marciano
(Monthly Review Press, 2016)
An early review of Nick Turse's classic 2013 book "Kill Anything That Moves" suggested there had been more than 30,000 book titles published about America's war in Vietnam. Despite the "everybody knows" history of that terribly divisive time in America, a very small percentage of those books have dared to document the huge anti-war sentiments we experienced, or the terrible hard facts upon which the peace movement was based.
Our country's future will be determined by today's young people, students, who are coming of age in a time of unprecedented militarism and glorification of all things related to war. Our children are taught, both in school and in their communities, that military force is the answer to all problems. Presidents and politicians heap endless praise upon our military, "the greatest in the world," despite the fact that they are hugely over-funded, wasteful, bloated, corrupt, and incompetent. Our Pentagon has not won a single significant conflict since World War II, which ended back in 1945. For the next nine years, a heavily-funded White House and Pentagon "Commemoration" of the 50-year anniversaries of the war in Vietnam will sponsor thousands of home-town events designed to convince the American people that the Vietnam War was a noble undertaking. This book dares to challenge the need for such celebration, and it argues with hard facts.
In this age of the all-volunteer armed forces, as the longest wars in our history continue to destroy American lives, I suppose the military recruiters need all the help they can get. No one ever accused America's military recruiters of being factual in their presentations to impressionable young people. The Commemoration is a tool they will adore. Because very few Americans actually have a loved one, neighbor, or acquaintance in uniform, and even fewer know anyone deployed to the war zones of the Middle East, the Pentagon's marketing and merchandising folks have turned our attention from the cruel and destructive strategies and tactics guiding our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and focused us instead upon "our troops," the brave and sincere young folks who have enlisted, usually for the very best and admirable of reasons.
The sad truth is that our current wars are not one bit more genuine, necessary, nor focused upon the welfare of the common people of the Middle East than was our war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In the current environment of "embedded" journalists, the truth about our wars is difficult to discern, but the history of the Vietnam War is well-documented and certainly provides evidence of the deadly, viciously destructive mind set of America's political and military leadership since World War II. It is difficult for a high school student to accept that his or her country would tell boldface lies to lure them into enlisting and deploying to areas devastated by almost fifteen years of desperate war. As Vietnam veterans, we have tried to suggest the truth for decades. Now we have a compact, well-documented, and most informative little book we can suggest they read before enlisting. I can't help but imagine a lot of heavy, fact-based conversations will result.
John Marciano is a Professor Emeritus from SUNY Cortland, and a lifelong anti-war and social justice activist, author, scholar, and teacher. He has crafted a marvelous book, nothing too laden with dates and numbers, but a very realistic skeletal picture of the mass destruction and tragedy that was America's role in the war in Vietnam. Toward the end he offers an array of topical comments to flesh out the reader's understanding of the historical implications of many aspects of the war. He reviews a variety of textbooks, and the mis-information being fed to our children, and offers some challenging contradictory facts. This is not a big, intimidating book that would scare students away, but it contains a wealth of thought-provoking facts that should encourage lots of conversation in America's classrooms and dining rooms. While I don't completely agree with all of author Marciano's analyses, I admire his ability to present a complex subject in a concise and very readable manner. He is a teacher, and he demonstrates his craft very ably with this book.
Want to "make America great again?" I suggest we all try to get John Marciano's "The American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration?" onto the shelves of every high school, college, and community library in the land. This is a potent dose of the truth our candidates, teachers, and too many authors have studiously ignored, and in the wake of the recent election America desperately needs some truth.
John Ketwig is a lifetime member of VVAW, and the author of "...and a hard rain fell: A G.I.'s True Story of the War in Vietnam". First published by Macmillan in 1985, it is still available at most bookstores.