Tuesday, February 1, 2011

There is war, and there is everything else

I am starting to get a clearer picture of the dynamics in play regarding how military folks, like General Brady, see the world after combat.  So here is my thesis:

There is war, and there is everything else.

General Brady is a man of war, he is also a man of everything else.  I am a man of only everything else.  I have developed this thesis in two days from looking at a whole slew of information regarding Tet, General Giap, and the events surrounding Eddie Adam's picture.  Two days does not a historian make, which is why I call this a thesis.

It was not until I read Eddie Adam's Eulogy for General Loan in Time, that a clearer picture of what transpires during war came into focus.  What he says makes sense in terms of a reality - war.  Then, after watching Fox New's  War Stories With Oliver North on Tet, General Brady's concluding statement and the 'why' behind his need to manipulate history, became apparent.

The Vietnam soldier was not afforded the same degree of worth for their effort as other soldier's who fought in wars that we 'won'.  We did not 'win' the war in Vietnam, not because of the effort on the part of the soldier, but because the war was deemed to no longer be worth the price being paid.  Now think about this from a soldier's perspective.  I did this...I participated in this...I worked as hard as any other soldier throughout history. I sacrificed my humanity...my buddies...my youth...my morality for something that is now deemed unworthy of that continued sacrifice.

Ending the Vietnam war before we had vanquished our enemy made everything that makes a soldier a soldier, moot.  And this is why my thesis: there is war and there is everything else, seems to make sense to me.  Without the 'win' it seems pointless to have done all that, a that that only manifests itself in a war.

So we the American people, took away their win as some see it.  Not only that, we incorrectly discounted their effort as a way to distance ourselves from what we had allowed our government to require them to perform.  This is the dynamic in play.  Those who create the war, create the warrior.  Take away the war, and you still have the warrior.  But now that warrior has seen and done things that are no longer acceptable outside of that war.  They must live with that, so when General Brady concludes:
A dishonest media opened a gash in the psyche of that veteran and rubbed salt in it. It is time for the great warriors of Tet 1968 take their place in the hierarchy of American heroes.
He is speaking about a reality that he understands is present.  Unfortunately, he is blaming others for imposing their reality on his need for a check mark in the win column.  His participation in the war and the psyche of the warrior is one reality.  The reality posed by Walter Cronkite, is another equally relevant one as well:
To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion.
Cronkite's reality is equally valid and is also in play with the one General Brady understands to be valid as well.  However, only one premise can be true at any one time.  This is a strange paradigm.

Lets look at this from an American point of view.  Do we, as Americans, hold our Constitution to be the foundation for how our society should live, its basic tenants?  Do we, as Americans, who are primarily Christian and Jewish, hold our Bible as the foundation for our morality?  If you answer "yes" then you will also need to answer the next two questions:
  1. Does the US Constitution state that no person shale "be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law?"
  2. Does the Bible state "thou shall not kill?"
Now let's not go into exceptions and what not.  Heck, even the 5th amendment gives an 'out' stating "except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger."  My point is...that we hold these two premises to be sacrosanct, do we not?  If they are not important tenants, than why put them there?  Why would God give it as one of his ten commandments if it was not something he felt, you know, important to uphold?

So if they are that important at that high of a level, how do we rectify those two sacrosanct premises with this statement:
"As we were walking...we see the South Vietnamese police pull this guy out the door that they just grabbed from the second story he was snipping.  And we start following him and walking up the street.  We get near the corner and out of, to my left, I see this guy walk in.  Soon as he got close to him, I see him go for his pistol.  And as he raises the pistol, I raised my camera and took the picture."

I wrote that down while watching Fox New's War Stories With Oliver North.  That was what Eddie Adams, the photographer, had to say about taking that picture.  And this is how Eddie Adams saw the situation after he got back to his post.  Again, in his own words:
"I thought nothing of it, it's somebody shooting somebody.  It's war.  It happens everyday."
There is context needed here, but really, there is no context that can ever rectify the two premises we hold sacrosanct with what fate had allowed to transpire that day.  We are forced by these tenants to choose one category for each participant - good guy or bad guy, hero or villain.

When in a war, the soldier in that place - at that time - cannot choose one or the other.  They effectively have no choice but to accept the reality as it is and rectify it at a later date.  Eddie Adams was a soldier and a photographer, which is why he could accept this as just a normal part of what was taking place around him.

But accepting it does not rectify it with what we know to be sacrosanct.  Under normal circumstances, Loan - the man in the picture shooting the other man - would have never done that.  And, under normal circumstances, Eddie Adams, had he witnessed the same situation on a street in America, would have never said "I thought nothing of it, it's somebody shooting somebody."

We have placed these guys we call soldiers in a situation whereby they are forced to accept what is not acceptable as acceptable.  And to do this, they make statements that allow them to acknowledge their tacit acceptance without having to grapple with the only conclusion that can be made about it; that it was wrong based on the tenants they hold as sacrosanct.
"He killed many of my men and many of your people." Loan said
Does that fact even matter?  Or does it serve only to allow a behavior known to those who witnessed it as being wrong to be overlooked...ignored?  This is the paradox these guys fall into.  It must be classified as wrong or the two sacrosanct premises - depriving someone of life - killing - are irrelevant.  And if they are trivial, then the Constitution and Bible are not valid documents of authority. And if it is wrong, then how can they continue to witness and participate in it without attempting to stop it?  As I see it, the only way to rectify this is to basically form two parallel worlds.

The "other" Spock
There is war, and there is everything else.

It is not very difficult to accept that if someone is trying to kill you, you can defend yourself and kill them.  The sniper can and should be neutralized.  That's fair, that's reasonable, that's acceptable (unless you are a pacifist).  But Loan did not neutralize the sniper, he punished him.  And in that situation, like similar situations unique only to war, it can not be right and also be wrong.  It must be one or the other.  And yet in war it can never be one or the other, or those participating will then need to be categorized as either good or bad.  General Brady wants to categorize the Vietnam vet as hero.  This I contend, only perpetuates the paradox.

So when Eddie Adams says about Loan:
He was a good guy.  He was fighting for America with Americans.  I think he was a goddamn hero.
I understand why Adams needs to say it like that.  I also understand why General Brady desperately needs General Giap to declare Tet "the communist calamity it was."  I also understand how critical the press, public, and professors are in keeping the pressure on their government to not be so caviler about placing some of their citizens in a situation where they will be seen both as a good guy and a bad guy by their fellow countrymen.  Even Adams is aware of the odd dynamic in play because of war:
"America condemned him [Loan].  They said he had shot someone in cold blood.  Two lives were destroyed in that photograph.  The person who was shot and the person who pulled the trigger."
There is war and there is everything else.  And that seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion.


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