Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bury Me Upside Down

Robert Kaplan remembers the Vietnam that was meant to be forgotten. It deserves to be read in its entirety, but without giving away the store, here are some excerpts.

The Unbeaten

Not ranked on Amazon, it is among the most amazing personal stories of any war. His eardrums ruptured, his face crusted with blood from beatings, one arm broken and both knees badly injured from the ejection, Bud Day was hung by the feet "like a side of butchered beef for many hours" by his captors after he refused to answer their questions. A week into his captivity he escaped. He then hiked 12 days alone in the jungle back to South Vietnam, eating frogs, nauseous from pain, only to be recaptured.

With all of his limbs now broken or shot up, he spent the next six years in captivity, undergoing mock executions, hung again repeatedly by his feet, often not permitted to urinate, beaten senseless in scenes "out of the Mongol Hordes" with whips that made his testicles like charred meat. When prison guards burst in on him and other POWs during a clandestine Christian service, Day stared into their muzzles and sang "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The Hippie Warriors

Air Force flight surgeon Dean Echenberg of San Francisco—a former hippy who helped start a free clinic in Haight-Ashbury, did drugs, went to the great rock concerts, and then volunteered for service in Vietnam, more-or-less out of sheer adventure. ... If anyone lived the American Experience of the 1960s in its totality, it was Echenberg. One day in 1968, his medical unit was near Phu Cat, just as it was attacked by Viet Cong. "The dispensary quickly filled with blood and body parts," write the authors. "Parents and family members staggered around in a daze, desperate for their children to be saved." Echenberg worked almost the entire night with a pretty American nurse. Near dawn, emotionally overwrought, the two laid down to rest near the end of the runway on the American base, and "made love in the grass while artillery boomed in the distance." "Echenberg struggled to understand how anybody could be so savage as to murder children."

Where is that village now?

The Americans liked the village. They liked the freedom to drink beer and wear oddball clothes and joke with girls. They liked having the respect of tough PFs [Popular Forces government militia] ... who could not bring themselves to challenge the Viet Cong alone. They were pleased that the villagers were impressed because they hunted the Viet Cong as the Viet Cong had for years hunted the PFs ... The Americans did not know what the villagers said of them ... but they observed that the children, who did hear their parents, did not run or avoid them ... The Marines had accepted too many invitations to too many meals in too many homes to believe they were not liked by many and tolerated by most. For perhaps the only time in the lives of those ... Americans, seven of whom had not graduated from high school, they were providing at the obvious risk of death a service of protection. This had won them open admiration ... within the Vietnamese village society in which they were working and where ultimately most of them would die.

In 2002, Bing West returned to Binh Nghia. In a new epilogue he writes:

Once a year, the villagers gather to pray for good crops and no floods [by] ... a cement wall bearing a Vietnamese inscription to the Marines who built the well and the shrine in 1967 ... The Village remembers.

Over the Fence

The border truly meant nothing. The battlefield overlapped it. Meyer spends 18 pages describing a savage, day-long firefight in Laos that ends with many dead, as well as beer in the canteen for the survivors near midnight, before another insertion that meets another enemy troop concentration the next morning. From beginning to end, Across the Fence is a record of extreme heroism and technical competence that few who fought World War II surpassed.

Every time Meyer crossed the border it was with South Vietnamese "indigs" (indigenous troops) integrated into his unit. He writes about their exploits and personalities in as much detail as he does about the Americans. He identifies with them, and with the enemy whose skill he admires, more than he does with elements of the home front.

Maybe in the end there was no such thing as the Vietnam War which historians and polemicists have codified in books. Perhaps there was nothing that remotely resembled the neatly constructed narratives, both pro and antiwar, of the times. All that there is -- all that remains -- is memory. And as Kaplan picked through the memories, I recalled Stephen Pressfield's opening chapter as the dead of Thermopylae crossed the River Lethe, the border of forgetfulness.

That state which we call life was over. I was dead. And yet, titanic as was that sense of loss, there existed a keener one which I now experienced and felt my brothers-in-arms feeling with me. It was this.

That our story would perish with us. That no one would ever know. ...

We had reached the river now. We could hear with ears that were no longer ears and see with eyes that were no longer eyes the stream of Lethe and the hosts of the long-suffering dead whose round beneath the earth was at last drawing to a period. They were returning to life, drinking of those waters which would efface all memory of their existence here as shades. ...

Then from behind me, if there can be such a thing as "behind" in that world where all directions are as one, came a glow of such sublimity that I knew, we all knew at once, it could be nothing but a god. Phoebus Far Darter, Apollo himself in war armor, moved there among the Spartiates and Thespaians. No words were exchanged; none were needed. ... I would be the one. The one to go back and speak. ... If indeed you have elected me, Archer, then let your fine-fletched arrows spring from my bow. Lend me your voice, Far Darter. Help me to tell the tale.

So long lives their tale, so long shall they be.


Blogger Kinuachdrach said...

A frustrated warrior class, always kept in check by liberal-minded officers, is the sign of a healthy democracy.

Reasonable article with references to many items that belong on our reading lists, but Mr. Kaplan still manages to draw the wrong conclusion.

A better sign of a healthy democracy might be a society where liberal-minded elitists agree that their democracy deserves to survive, and are ready to bear part of the burden of ensuring its survival against hard men who intended them serious harm.

8/30/2007 06:41:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Leaders that do not tie our Warriors hands and allow enemy sanctuaries complete safety would be nice.
If only every Warrior could consumate each hard day's battles as did Echenberg!

8/30/2007 06:49:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

A Vietnam Medic's postwar story:
90 Minutes in Heaven
What happens when the driver's side of your Ford Escort is driven over by a Semi, AND you are a preacher, AND, an ex-Vietnam Medic turned preacher has gone to the same meeting you did in another town.

8/30/2007 06:52:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

They covered his car for 90 minutes, leaving him for dead, waiting for the coroner, attending the living.
Then the Medic demanded to be with the pulse-free "dead" man.

8/30/2007 06:57:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

The book is more interesting than the video appears to be.

8/30/2007 07:02:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

"Getting Vietnam Right" by Mark Moyar Published in The American Spectator on 8/30/2007

The insurgency in Vietnam was dead by 1971, thanks to South Vietnam's armed forces, America's forces, and a South Vietnamese civilian population that overwhelmingly viewed the South Vietnamese government as legitimate. During 1972, after all American combat units had departed, South Vietnamese forces defeated a massive North Vietnamese invasion with the help of American air power. The so-called Christmas bombing of 1972 bombed North Vietnam into submission, resulting in a peace treaty. Had the antiwar Congress not slashed aid to South Vietnam and prohibited the use of American aircraft over Vietnamese skies, the South Vietnamese probably could have repulsed the North Vietnamese when they violated the peace treaty in 1975.

* * *

Today's Congressional Democrats are relying heavily on another talking point of their Vietnam-era predecessors -- that if they controlled the White House, they could quickly negotiate an end to the war. Democrats then and now believed they would succeed on account of their diplomatic skills, their goodwill, and their recognition that aggressive U.S. military action discourages the enemy from negotiating. Recent revelations from the Vietnamese Communist side have done grievous injury to these notions. When America shied from tough military action -- in 1964, 1968, and 1975 -- Hanoi tried to win the war rapidly by military means. When America and South Vietnam employed their military power effectively -- in 1963 and 1972 -- the North Vietnamese developed a serious interest in negotiations.


Poor Mr. Moyar is writing the definitive revisionist history of the Vietnam War which will condemn the self-serving and hallucinogenic memories of the odious boomers to the waste-can they so richly to deserve to molder in.

Unfortunately, this act of impiety will bring him neither fame nor fortune until such time, may it come speedily and in our own day, as the last boomer academic is pried drooling from his tenured chair.

8/30/2007 07:26:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Then there is JFK 2, who asserts there were no killing fields to speak of, and the rest of his 60's Buds in DC.

8/30/2007 07:31:00 PM  
Blogger Reliapundit said...

what fat man said. dittos.

8/30/2007 08:08:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

How NOT to check for an IED!

8/30/2007 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger Dymphna said...

Just finished reviewing a book, "House to House" by an army infantry nco...the long murderous struggle in the dark, in a house in Fallujah, will stay with me always.

Hope it sells. It deserves to. The sneering editorial from Publisher's Weekly on the Amazon site was obviously written by a pacifist in Berkeley. He complained about the soldier's use of bad language, for heaven's sake. Or maybe it was a woman, since the first sentence or so also curls its lip at the idea of "testosterone."

See the review here.

It has a link to the book.

8/30/2007 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Thanks for the snips W, they read like James Jones, plain and true. Hard, too.

One great book that tries to paint all these angles is John DelVecchio's "The Thirteenth Valley."

Obvious to all: the greatest similarity of Iraq to Vietnam is a Democratic Congress surrender of a military victory to global defeat.

When Bush mentioned Vietnam, he did not go far enough because he didn't mention how our enemies went on the warpath all around the world after we humiliated ourselves by betraying our allies in 1974-5, and how we continued to do so in Iran, Southern Africa and everywhere else.

Cuba sent 50,000 troops to Angola and we cut'n'run on the Republic of South Africa after Vietnam and the election of Jimmy Carter. The mullahs moved from Paris to replace our back-stabbed ally in Iran. Russia invaded Afghanistan with impunity. The Sandinistas took over Nicaragua. 1979 was a very good year for America's enemies.

Most people don't seem to even know any of that happened as a result of our unilateral disgrace in Nam. And South Africa lit off a nuclear weapon over the South Atlantic in 1979, a hint of what desperation will bring when we abandon our allies.

8/30/2007 09:42:00 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

Viet Nam...the gift that keeps on giving. I've recommended them before in my previous screen life as TrangBang 1968, but the collected works of Keith William Nolan are marvelous battlefield accounts of small unit conflict in Viet Nam.
Particularly powerful are "Operation Buffalo" about Marines slugging it out with the NVA near Con Thien base in 1967 and "Ripcord" about the last major American infantry battle in the war involving a couple of battalions of the 101st Airborne defending a besieged firebase in the A Shau Valley.What makes that book stand out is what happens to valiant warriors when politicians cut their legs out. It could be prescient for next year on the Euphrates.
Incidentally, I'm still the aging cat who spent his 21st birthday around Trang Bang and the Hobo Woods. Alison is the lovely woman who has helped love me whole the last 25 years.

8/30/2007 10:00:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

So, we've been doing this Iraqi war thing for four years now, and prior to that Gulf War I for a year.

And my question is why aren't we hearing as much about post-traumatic stress syndrome in our current crop of warriors as we did with the Vietnam Vets?

For 25 years now, I've been conditioned to react in a warm and caring way to all Vietnam vets, lest they were spit on at an airport, and because such a huge percentage of them were supposed to be twitchy.

Is it too early for PTSD to affect Iraqi Vets? Are the statistics somehow skewed so that there weren't as many PTSD Vietnam Vets, or there are more twitchy Iraqi vets that we simply are not being told about?

Or is the big difference the fact that soldiers are not being spit on in airports and called "baby killer" this time?

Or something else that I'm not thinking of.

8/30/2007 10:17:00 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

I think the portrayal of Viet Nam veterans as all troubled homeless etc. are largely skewed by media stereotyping and lying pseudo vets.
most guys who served came home and lived their lives like everybody else quietly.
Spit on in the airports although no doubt true in some cases almost reaches urban legend proportion. I think the biggest problem I had on returning home from the war was the utter indifference most people had to what was for me a powerful and confusing time.Part of that was caused by the draft where guys were plugged in for a couple of years including one in Asia and then kicked to the curb with no real explanation of what they had just experienced.
I think the morale and esprit d'corps now is galaxies better. A pell mell retreat with resulting chaos might cause more PTSD if guys come to believe their service was in vain.

8/30/2007 10:38:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

The entire street theater and campus crusade with mass numbers of actors spouting the commie line was less than bracing for Vets to come home to.
A lot different than today.
Most reacted with suppressed anger, some let it get them down, JFK2 Capitalized on it.
Still does.

8/30/2007 11:12:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

A book I just finished reading and can recommed and that deals with the war in Laos is Flying Through Midnight.


I recall seeing the actor John Ritter say at ralley back in the late 80's that 50,000 Americans died in Vietnam and that at least that many of those that came back committed suicide after they got home. Now, I do not believe that number, but if it was true why would it be so? Vietnam had its rigors, but overall the troops there suffered less than any other war we have been in. WWII had all of the same dangers and then some and did not feature 1 year tours, helicopter medivac and jet flights to and from the U.S. The only answer is that it was their experience at home that caused them to commit suicide - and that boils down their encountering the anti-war protestors. So whose fault was it?

8/31/2007 04:22:00 AM  
Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 08/31/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

8/31/2007 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

So we're all agreed, more or less, that the reception and respect that Iraq Vets receive when they get home helps to combat the onset of PTSD.

I wonder if Code Pink and Cindy Sheehan understand that, given the example of their precious Vietnam war, their antics can cause death by suicide of American troops.

And if they do, dimly down deep in their reptilian little hearts, want that to be the result of their street marching and public flailing about, how disappointed they must be that it's not working this time.

That the overwhelming majority of the American public not only personally support the troops, but go out of their way to extend respect and understanding to them for what they've done and been through.

THAT support by a majority of Americans is why we will not be pulling out of Iraq any time soon.

8/31/2007 10:12:00 AM  

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