The most depressing stroll in the United States is that short distance from the Lincoln Memorial to the Vietnam Memorial. We walk from a monument to the preservation of the Union and its founding principles, to a monument to 58,000 who died for abstract strategic policy objectives, so that someone else could look resolute, for the sake of someone's career, so that some comfortable patriot could feel a little jingoistic pride. They were 58,000 people who died for nothing, along with millions of Vietnamese, inhabitants of a country that few of these young Americans had ever heard of until they were in the middle of it. They were the hard luck disposable surplus young people who didn't have college deferments or powerful connections to keep them out of the draft. They and the Vietnamese they fought with and against were ground up in the mill of history driven by ideologues and ambitious men.
And what have we learned from this experience? Nothing. A whole new generation of disposable surplus young people is busy cleaning up our mess in Iraq and in Afghanistan, just as we expect them to clean up our mess at home, to mow our lawns, fix our cars, build our buildings, process our food, and save us all money by being content to accept what little pay we give them.
Robert McNamara played a large role in creating the Vietnam War. When he knew the war was a lost cause, he remained silent for the sake of his career. He will now have to answer for that.
It's so very sad.
It's interesting how different U.S. coverage is from the foreign coverage of his death.
The BBC, ABC in Australia and CBC all had stories which acknowledged that McNamara did play a big role in escalating the war.
But then they focused on how his opposition to the war grew and how LBJ then "fired" him by moving him over to the World Bank. His decade there was marked by a a revamping of the World Bank's priorities which he then centred around poverty reduction and disease control (malaria, river blindness).
In the 1980s, he also played a big part in urging NATO to drop the "nuclear first" option and attempted to get both sides to give up the use of nuclear weapons in Europe.
Finally he vocally opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and met with GWB to discuss his feelings about the Iraq war.
It's interesting that American coverage seems to revolve around the Vietnam War years and international coverage is centred on his actions on the international stage after Vietnam. He is a very complex character. He seemed to have spent his later life repenting for his role in Vietnam but sadly the U.S. continued to be elect officials who never learned from the 1960s.
I think we Yanks fixate on this aspect of McNamara's life because we are still fighting the Vietnam War 35 years after it ended. The abiding anger and humiliation over its outcome is what fueled so much right-wing politics in this country, together with white resentment over the Civil Rights movement. It is the American version of the old German right-wing canard that the civilian Weimar government stabbed the troops in the back and robbed Germany of victory in 1918. The WWI canard was truly a canard. The similar 1975 canard about an American victory in Vietnam spoiled by civilian conflict and by back-stabbing politicians is also very much a canard. But both were powerful canards that absolved people of having to face the fact that both wars were wasteful, pointless, and ended in defeat.
The Vietnam War is passing into history. The Vietnam generation and the Civil Rights generation are both elderly. Most people in the USA now have no living memory of either. The current generations don't have much of a stake anymore in those old fights.
Obama is our first truly post-Vietnam President, too young to have even thought about serving in it, and probably too young to have much memory of it.
What kind of transformation this will have on our politics remains to be seen.
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