May 12, 2016
Nick Reynolds, a grandson of mine and a Bryan high school junior in Texas, asked me on May 1, 2016 if he could interview me about the Vietnam war via email. “Sure, I’d be delighted,” I replied. This Q&A exercise was part of an assignment for a junior college course in U.S. history Nick was taking. Here are Granpa’s answers:
1. What were your personal thoughts about the war?
Same back then as today: “Madness, madness, madness” as the doctor said at the end of the magnificent movie “Bridge on the River Kwai.” I thought at the time of the Vietnam War, what? Are the Viet Cong going to cross the Pacific in canoes and threaten America? Is that the “national security” interest for the U.S. Government’s war in southeast Asia? What nonsense. And the domino theory of Communist triumphalism? More unfettered rubbish on stilts. Someone should read Marine Corps General Smedley Butler’s book, “War is a Racket,” or as my wife says of all our wars today: “Somebody’s making money.” Mass murder for fun and profit. As a young college student, JFK was the first presidential candidate I’d ever campaigned for and he had turned decidedly toward peace. That was just one of many “provocations” his policies fostered and led to his assassination by the establishment (LBJ, Hoover, Dulles, Pentagon, CIA, etc.). Many references establish the responsibility for and cover up of the awful truth about JFK’s death; my favorite book proving it beyond reasonable doubt is Phillip F. Nelson’s “LBJ: From Mastermind to the Colossus.” America should wake up to the notion that we are often ruled by psychopaths (4% of births), none more easily proven than LBJ who engineered a reversal of ‘nam policy from JFK’s initial de-escalation to incredible escalation with over one-half million U.S. troops, ending in abysmal failure. As Richard Nixon said (to paraphrase), “I wanted the presidency as badly as Lyndon. The difference was I wasn’t willing to kill for it.”
I should also note that in those days I was subject to the draft (i.e., slavery) and I was not going to and never did risk my life for such a fool’s errand. But what about those nasty North Vietnamese, in their “unprovoked attack” on our U.S. Navy boys, innocently sailing around in the Gulf of Tonkin, you say? Oh yeah, that was a BIG LIE, never happened, another fake causus belli.
2- Did you know anyone that was fighting in the war?
Yes, two whom I know very well come immediately come to mind: my lifelong friend and college roommate Tim Sheil, and Jerry Arnett, my wife’s ex-husband. Tim was an army supply officer though he did get in one harrowing firefight with the Viet Cong. Tim became career army and died in July 2014 while Jerry was a flight surgeon who served 365 days in ‘nam.
3- What did your parents think about the war?
Oddly enough I recall no discussion about it, even though I debated my father early and often. The subject usually centered on economic policy. My father was an adamant unionist during my youth and I found his arguments weak at best. By the way, I am a retired Texas A&M emeritus professor of economics and author of two books on the ill consequences of unionism.
4- How was the American culture different during the war than it is today?
Of course the youth culture dominated the ‘60’s and standard imagery about that decade is mostly true. The draft played a big role in stimulating the antiwar movement and effectively driving LBJ from office and ending U.S. participation in the war. I campaigned for Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 presidential race and his victory in the New Hampshire primary (as I recall) put the writing up on the wall in unmistakable fashion for LBJ. Today I read http://www.antiwar.com every morning and an equivalent antiwar mass movement has not reemerged in opposition to all our military interventions, mostly in the middle east and south Asia. However, Donald Trump has put our interventionist foreign policy front and center, in a somewhat jumbled way, unnerving the military-industrial-intelligence-congressional complex, tapping into the public’s quiet antiwar, so-called “isolationist,” streak. Hooray for that.
5- Did you think it was necessary for the U.S. to enter the war?
Nobody could successfully defend such nonsense. “Necessary!?” “You cannot be serious,” as John McEnroe would shout. The Vietnam was a disaster from start to finish. It was clearly a matter of choice all the way, a reversal of policy by LBJ over JFK’s alarming peace tendencies. We took up the cudgel of failed French colonial rule in southeast Asia and the American empire did no better, at enormous expense in lives and treasure. But all LBJ’s military contractor buddies in Texas did great. Today our wars “of choice” halfway around the world bleed us to death, as America descends toward mediocrity and poverty “by [government] choice.”