Friday, January 12, 2007

Chapel Hill rally and lessons from Vietnam

I took my whole family to an anti-war rally in Chapel Hill last night. My 7-year old was tired since it was the end of a long day, but she was pretty game. This morning she spotted my husband in a group photo of the rally in the newspaper and she was proud of him. It was a good opportunity for discussion.

Our little family of 4 encompassed three generations, since my Mom joined us. As the new war makes me think back to the Vietnam era, I just can't get over the fact that my parents picked up from Cleveland Heights, Ohio and moved 7600 miles to the tiny Pacific island of Guam in the spring of 1968, for a two-year stay. This was considered a very good assignment since my Dad would be safe, working in hospital administration, and my pregnant Mom could accompany him.

As a child, "being born on Guam" was just part of our family's story. Now that I see it within the context of motherhood and war, it means something much more to me. To be honest, it's a sacrifice I can hardly imagine making. Yet for my parents, it's their gratitude for a combat-support position that really shines through. The Naval Hospital on Guam was the destination for wounded soldiers who were likely to survive, so it was an important place to be. At the rally last night, I looked at my Mom and realized that the Vietnam war was hardly an academic exercise for her, and I was glad that she wanted to raise her voice to protest the current war.

One of the protest signs last night read, "To get out of a hole, stop digging!" and that pretty much sums up my perspective. One of the most informative pieces I have seen lately was our local Independent Weekly's excerpt of the August 9, 1966 issue of Look magazine, that asked five experts "What should we do now?" about Vietnam. Several experts advocated escalation, but one spoke out against increasing the war effort:

(Look Magazine, 8/9/66) Hans Morgenthau, political science professor at the University of Chicago and consultant to the Department of Defense: Winning would take a million troops and destruction of the country that risked Chinese or Soviet intervention. Instead, "The aim of our policy must be to avoid getting more deeply involved in it and to extricate ourselves from it while minimizing our losses.... The Saigon government is hardly worthy of the name; and the great mass of the people of South Vietnam prefer an end to the war rather than a fight to the finish with the Vietcong."

The Independent Weekly's present-day reaction was: "About 7,000 U.S. forces had been killed in action in Vietnam by the end of 1966. Another 40,000 would die after that as the U.S. fought, negotiated and finally withdrew in 1973. The Vietcong were victorious in 1975. The question is: What would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had taken Hans Morgenthau's advice?"

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