I got drafted on November 22, 1966. I had been working for a book distributor and as a stock boy in some stores coming out of high school. A lot of dudes were trying to do things to get deferments. One of my brothers put some knd of liquid in his eye and said he had an eye problem at his physical. He never went.
I didn't try anything. I knew when I got drafted I was going to Vietnam, no matter what I did. I knew because of the vision I had when I was twelve.
As soon as I hit boot camp in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, they tried to change your total personality. Transform you out of that civilian mentality to a military mind.
Right away they told us not to call them Vietnamese. Call everybody gooks, dinks.
Then they told us when you go over in Vietnam, you gonna be face to face with Charlie, the Viet Cong. They were like animals, or something other than human. They ain't have no regard for life. They'd blow up little babies just to kill one G.I. They wouldn't allow you to talk about them as if they were people. They told us they're not to be treated with any type of mercy or apprehension. That's what they engraved into you. That killer instinct. Just go away and do destruction.
Even the chaplains would turn the thing around in the Ten Commandments. They'd say, "Thou shall not murder," instead of "Thou shall not kill." Basically, you had a right to kill, to take and seize territory, or to protect the lives of each other. Our conscience was not to bother us once we engaged in that kind of killing. As long as we didn't murder, it was like the chaplain would give you his blessing. But you knew all of that was murder anyway.
The above is Haywood T. "The Kid" Kirkland. It's originally from Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans and I'm pulling it from Voices of a People's History of the United States edited by Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove. (Haywood T. "The Kid" Kirkland appears on pages 440-442.) The intro to Kirkland's section notes that although African-Americans made up 12.6% of "Army personnel in Vietnam" they "accounted for more than 20 percent of the fatalities."
For President's Day, Democracy Now! did a special broadcast:
"Readings From Howard Zinn's 'Voices of a People's History of the UnitedStates:'"
Today we spend the hour with readings from a Voices of a People's History of the United States edited by historian Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove. It is the companion volume to Zinn's legendary People's History of the United States which has sold over a million copies.We will hear dramatic readings of speeches, letters, poems, songs, petitions, and manifestos. These are the voices of people throughout U.S.history who struggled against slavery, racism, and war, against oppression and exploitation, and who articulated a vision for a better world. Performances include Danny Glover as Frederick Douglass, Marisa Tomei as Cindy Sheehan, Floyd Red Crow Westerman as Tecumseh and Chief Joseph, Sandra Oh as Emma Goldman and Yuri Kochiyama, and Viggo Mortensen as Bartolomeo de Las Casas and Mark Twain.
We'll close out this entry by (again) noting Howard Zinn's "After the War" (The Progressive):
Vietnam, however, proved to be a sobering experience, in which the American public, over a period of several years, began to see through the lies that had been told to justify all that bloodshed. The United States was forced to withdraw from Vietnam, and the world didn’t come to an end. One half of one tiny country in Southeast Asia was now joined to its communist other half, and 58,000 American lives and millions of Vietnamese lives had been expended to prevent that. A majority of Americans had come to oppose that war, which had provoked the largest anti-war movement in the nation’s history.
The war in Vietnam ended with a public fed up with war. I believe that the American people, once the fog of propaganda had dissipated, had come back to a more natural state. Public opinion polls showed that people in the United States were opposed to send troops anywhere in the world, for any reason.
The Establishment was alarmed. The government set out deliberately to overcome what it called "the Vietnam syndrome." Opposition to military interventions abroad was a sickness, to be cured. And so they would wean the American public away from its unhealthy attitude, by tighter control of information, by avoiding a draft, and by engaging in short, swift wars over weak opponents (Grenada, Panama, Iraq), which didn't give the public time to develop an anti-war movement.
I would argue that the end of the Vietnam War enabled the people of the United States to shake the "war syndrome," a disease not natural to the human body. But they could be infected once again, and September 11 gave the government that opportunity. Terrorism became the justification for war, but war is itself terrorism, breeding rage and hate, as we are seeing now.
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