Photo credit: John Clarke Russ | BDN

Hey, Buddy, Wanna Buy A Used War?

I was raised by two historians. My father had a Harvard PhD in history and was a history professor, and my mother was ABD (all but dissertation) in history from Johns Hopkins. History was a conversational mainstay at our family dinner table, and whenever someone accused my father of being less than entirely truthful about something, he would loudly declare, “But I am an historian, and am thus constitutionally incapable of lying!”

In this environment I grew up with a deep respect for the sanctity of history, and the truthful telling of history. One might not always like the way history turned out – who won and who lost – but it was important to be truthful to the historical record. We owed that to future generations. It’s almost cliche by now, but there’s still a lot of truth to it: those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. And one can’t learn the lessons of history if the historical record is a lie.

That’s why it makes my blood boil that the Pentagon, with the apparent blessing of the Obama administration, is going to spend somewhere between $15 million and $65 million in an attempt to rewrite and whitewash the history of the Vietnam War. That’s enough money to provide a year of health care to 5,000 – 23,000 veterans. 

Almost four million Southeast Asians and 58,000 Americans died in the war. If the Vietnam Veterans Memorial contained the names of all the Southeast Asians who died in the war, the 247-foot wall would stretch out for five miles. That’s bad enough, but now the government is going to heap insult on injury by lying about the war. It’s bad enough that about a trillion (current value) dollars that should have gone to President Johnson’s War on Poverty was squandered on (what was largely Johnson’s) war – now more of our national wealth is going to be squandered on a Pentagon-orchestrated public relations campaign of lies, distortions, half-truths and omissions. 

There’s a Department of Defense Vietnam War Commemoration website. Read it and weep. There’s no mention of the Southeast Asians killed in the war. No mention of the 19 million gallons of Agent Orange sprayed on 6 million acres, an area the size of Massachusetts. No mention of the 3.8 million Americans and 4.8 million Vietnamese exposed to Agent Orange. No mention of the estimated one million birth defects tied to Agent Orange. The website goes on and on about honoring Vietnam veterans, but there’s no mention of the government’s ironclad and years-long denial of the health effects of Agent Orange on the veterans it holds so dear.

Seven million tons of bombs were dropped on a country the size of New Mexico. That’s more than three times the amount of bombs dropped on Europe in World War II, and more than all the bombs dropped in all of human history up to that point. Unexploded bombs and landmines litter the landscape in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – still taking their deadly toll 40 years after the war ended. After decades of these bombs and landmines exploding accidentally and killing and wounding innocent men, women and children, and after decades of other countries risking lives to work on this problem of our making, the United States has finally decided to help out, but the assistance offered is far short of what is needed. 

None of this is on the DOD website, but this is the truth of our war on Southeast Asia, and this is the legacy of that war. 

Why is the Pentagon doing this? To grease the skids of public opinion for the next time it wants an insane ground war in Asia. This kind of whitewash and rewriting of history, and the glorification of war, is what makes it possible for our government to wage wars that benefit no one except arms merchants and the politicians who represent them. It makes possible the abandonment of wars on poverty in favor of wars on the poor.

Thankfully someone is pushing back against this Pentagon-orchestrated dog and pony show. Veterans for Peace, a national organization of 5,000 members and 140 chapters, founded here in Maine, has launched “Vietnam Full Dislcosure,” a project to set straight the historical record on Vietnam. As part of the campaign, VFP is collecting letters from people affected directly or indirectly by the Vietnam War, veterans and civilians alike, describing how they were affected by the war. The letters will be put in boxes and placed at the foot of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Memorial Day, and they may be used for other purposes such as posters, displays, flyers and maybe even a book. VFP is also inviting the public to join with them at the Wall on Memorial Day. For more information on the Vietnam Full Disclosure project, you can visit www.vietnamfulldisclosure.org

So write a letter, or ask someone affected by the war to write one. You’ll be doing a favor for the noble and beleaguered craft of history.

Lawrence Reichard

Courtesy of Courier Publication

Please see some of the letters we’ve already received here.