21 March 2014 - March 29 has been designated "Vietnam Veterans Day,” according to a proclamation issued by President Obama in 2012. The Vietnam War, according to the proclamation, "is a story of patriots who braved the line of fire, who cast themselves into harm's way to save a friend, who fought hour after hour, day after day to preserve the liberties we hold dear." Now I have no problem acknowledging the debt owed to all whose lives were affected by this war, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians and Americans alike. What I find intolerable, even disgraceful, however, is that even 50 years later, our leaders are incapable of telling the truth about the war and choose rather to perpetuate the lie that these "sacrifices," at least those of the Americans, were "to preserve the liberties we hold dear." Such rhetoric - although perhaps inspiring to some - hinders reconciliation, dishonors the veteran, and damages the moral integrity of this nation.
As we embark upon a congressionally mandated 13-year-long commemoration, probably "celebration" would be more accurate, of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, I feel a responsibility, as a veteran of that war, to contribute a perspective I fear will be ignored willfully at the official commemoration web site. I am certain that there are as many perspectives as there are individuals who served, observed, protested against and supported that very divisive war. Consequently, I offer no guarantee that my observations, interpretations and conclusions about the war are definitive, or better than those of someone with a profoundly different recollection and analysis.
What I offer in this essay, then, is my personal narrative and a perspective on the Vietnam War by a former Marine Corps officer, Vietnam veteran and philosopher who has spent many years studying the theory of war, diverse historical accounts of the Vietnam war and, perhaps more to the point, contemplating a life profoundly impacted by the experience. My hope is to tell the truth as I see it and offer an analysis of the war that counters what I fear is the goal and purpose of this proclamation and commemoration. That is, to continue to perpetuate, if not ratchet up, the lie of 50 years ago and the mythological portrayal of the Vietnam War as justifiable, necessary and in the national interest.
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