No glory in war

EDITOR: The following article was published in the Morris County, N.J. Daily Record in 2003 at the beginning of the Iraqi War. It is my opinion that every American should read this.

David Umstadter


There's No Glory in War

By Joseph R. Attamante

As a citizen, I remember and honor veterans of all wars. And as a Vietnam-era veteran who lived and was spared, I especially remember that horrible war; those who lived and those who died.

Andrew Bernstein, in his "A Celebration of Freedom," which was published by the Daily Record on Memorial Day weekend, honors not only the dead and the debt we owe them, but something more; the mythology that all our wars are noble fights for freedom.

Here are his words: As long as American soldiers fought in Vietnam, the communists were held at bay, unable to achieve their goal of conquest. Only after American politicians pulled all U.S. military personnel out of Vietnam in 1975 did the country fall, and the communists, then unrestrained, enslaved the Vietnamese." And his penultimate paragraph: "What protects us is our moral courage and our military might. If President Bush has the moral conviction to permit our soldiers to fully wage war against our enemies, they will prevail, as they have so many times in the past."

So politicians did not show sufficient courage, for if they had, we would have prevailed. If only we had sent more troops to kill and be killed would we have assured freedom in Vietnam? Therefore, killing even more than the over 58,000 Americans and 2 million Vietnamese who were killed is justified if we call it "moral courage!" How quickly some forget that from the beginning, the reasons advanced for that war were moral and political deceptions.

The 1954 Geneva Accords following the French defeat in Vietnam promised elections in 1956. However, the government of South Vietnam with our support refused to permit them perhaps because, as many historians believe, the likely outcome would have been the election of North Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh, their nationalist, communist leader.

During this, our longest war, we dropped several times the tonnage in bombs on Vietnam, north and south, than in all of World War II in Europe. We used napalm and defoliants such as agent orange-dioxin, a neurological toxin. I have a picture of a GI bathing in it, since troops were told it was harmless.

The simultaneous attacks mounted by the Vietnamese communists during the Tet offensive in 1968 belied the U.S. military's assertion that the enemy was defeated and that there was "light at the end of the tunnel," especially since we now know that "body counts" of enemy dead were inflated by including dead civilians to convince those back home that we were "winning."

Four presidents from Eisenhower through Nixon supported first the French, then a series of corrupt regimes in South Vietnam, at a cost in billions, despite increasing knowledge of the war's futility. In the process, they deceived the American people (See "Secrets," the memoir by Daniel Ellsbert, an insider who released the Pentagon Papers, which document the deception).

The truth, however, was known to those like Robert McNamara, who in his 1995 memoir confessed that he knew the war was wrong, or Lyndon Johnson, who according to Michael Beschloss in "Reaching for Glory; The Secret Lyndon Johnson Tapes, 1964-1965," said, "I don't think it's worth fighting for, and I don't think we can get out." Or on the record, "I won't be the first president to lose a war." Words later echoed by President Nixon, who promised an end to the war, but secretly expanded it into Laos and Cambodia, despite daily denials to the contrary. "When the truth finally emerged, protests at Kent State resulted in four student deaths.

Finally, we now know that the supposed attack on two U.S. ships by the North Vietnamese (the Gulf of Tonkin incident) is not supported by the evidence. The "attack" was the immediate justification for congressional resolution that authorized President Johnson to use force in Vietnam.

Sometimes overlooked in our post 9/11 fear, as we look to our leaders to save us from "terrorism," and by Bernstein in his paean to our military, is the fact that war is about death and pain, suffered and inflicted, often horribly, on innocents as well as soldiers.

War should never be used to impose freedom or our way of life on others. But since Gulf War 1, we in America have lost a relatively small number of troops (several hundred) when compared with the 58,000 plus lost in Vietnam. Of course, more than 2 million Vietnamese lost their lives, and unknown thousands of Iraqis, but our government says they do not count Iraqi civilian or enemy losses.

Despite the embedded journalists, the suffering and dead are never shown on the nightly news. Wars are now antiseptic, acceptable, if not downright glorious battles for liberty and freedom. Our hearts are meant to swell with pride at our military might as drums beat, flags wave, and weapons systems rotate in all their three-dimensional glory on TV.

But we have liberated the Iraqis from a murderous tyrant, and they will have a democracy, if our government approves of it. And if the Shiite majority choose to install a religious regime? Is it not the Iraqi people's right to choose whatever government they wish: the right of national self-determination without outside interference?

To those revisionist apologists for yesterday's and today's wars who wrap themselves in the flag and mouth platitudes about freedom, patriotism and supporting the troops while cloaking the aggressive agenda of endless war, I say we've heard it all before; your words were not true then, and they are not true now.

The returning Vietnam vets who threw their medals at the Capitol in the 1970s to protest the war that destroyed so many lives, and who demonstrated in the 1980s in response to U.S. incursions in Nicaragua, knew well the difference between what is said and what is done; what seems and what is. As did Spc. John Riggan, 1st Infantry Division, whose words from a 1968 letter home are etched in glass at the Vietnam Veterans Plaza Memorial on Water Street in Manhatten: "I find myself curiously suspended from sides or causes and can only feel the human loss and terror which can never be measured in pretty medals; humans can be such damn fools."

As we honor our fallen brothers and sisters, our comrades and friends, we must heed veterans' voices warning of allure of military glory, and not forget the price in horror they paid.

We survivors must speak for those who can no longer.