Sunday, 5 November 2017

Later Life Learning Week Eight: The Challenge to One's Humanity in War

“The Vietnam War was a tragedy, immeasurable and irredeemable. But meaning can be found in the individual stories of those who lived through it, stories of courage and comradeship and perseverance, of understanding and forgiveness and, ultimately, reconciliation.”
 The narrator in The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick 



“In terms of content, The Vietnam War, written by the historian Geoffrey C. Ward and narrated by Peter Coyote, is rich, revelatory, and scrupulously evenhanded. It succeeds in large part by not being reductive or succinct—by being, in fact, rather overstuffed, a lot to take in…. By dint of its thoroughness, its fairness, and its pedigree, The Vietnam War is as good an occasion as we’ve ever had for a levelheaded national conversation about America’s most divisive foreign war. It deserves to be, and likely will be, the rare kind of television that becomes an event.”
- David Kamp, “Why The Vietnam War Is Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s Most Ambitious Project Yet” Vanity Fair September, 2017

 
John Musgrave
"There is a family of these witnesses; we never hear the voice of an interviewer. One of the most beguiling is John Musgrave, a Marine so badly wounded in Vietnam that several doctors rated him ‘expected’. He became a drop-out and an alcoholic, a would-be suicide and a protester who is still battling the melodrama of the war and the effects of his wounds. He is now a poet and a spokesman for veterans. We feel his romantic recklessness, as he tries to reconcile what happened to him with what he wished had happened. Another witness, Tim O’Brien (author of Going after Cacciato and The Things They Carried), has been a success in life, but is so anguished still that he has difficulty looking at the camera. Musgrave, on the other hand, stares into the lens as if it were his mirror. He deserves a novel or a movie, and because so many of the witnesses are just as conflicted as he is The Vietnam War acquires the density of a sprawling work of fiction....


This is the point: The Vietnam War isn’t just about the war but the consequences it had for Americans. There is a great deal from the home front here, and while the jukebox of great rock and roll on the soundtrack makes the ordeal seem exciting sometimes, it leaves little doubt that the cultural revolutions of the 1960s – Merrill McPeak’s ‘rivulets’ – were a liberation for a minority and one that left a schism in America still emphatically evident in the 2016 election."

- David Thomson, "Merely an Empire," London Review of Books, September 21, 2017 

Another insightful review can be found in The New York Review of Books 

t
 "Hugh Thompson, Who Saved Civilians at My Lai, Dies"

By Richard Goldstein, New York Times, Jan. 7, 2006

Hugh Thompson, an Army helicopter pilot who rescued Vietnamese civilians during the My Lai massacre, reported the killings to his superior officers in a rage over what he had seen, testified at the inquiries and received a commendation from the Army three decades later, died yesterday in Alexandria, La. He was 62.

On March 16, 1968, Chief Warrant Officer Thompson and his two crewmen were flying on a reconnaissance mission over the South Vietnamese village of My Lai when they spotted the bodies of men, women and children strewn over the landscape.

Mr. Thompson landed twice in an effort to determine what was happening, finally coming to the realization that a massacre was taking place. The second time, he touched down near a bunker in which a group of about 10 civilians were being menaced by American troops. Using hand signals, Mr. Thompson persuaded the Vietnamese to come out while ordering his gunner and his crew chief to shoot any American soldiers who opened fire on the civilians. None did.

Mr. Thompson radioed for a helicopter gunship to evacuate the group, and then his crew chief, Glenn Andreotta, pulled a boy from a nearby irrigation ditch, and their helicopter flew him to safety.
Mr. Thompson told of what he had seen when he returned to his base.

"They said I was screaming quite loud," he told U.S. News & World Report in 2004. "I threatened never to fly again. I didn't want to be a part of that. It wasn't war."

Mr. Thompson remained in combat, then returned to the United States to train helicopter pilots. When the revelations about My Lai surfaced, he testified before Congress, a military inquiry and the court-martial of Lt. William L. Calley Jr., the platoon leader at My Lai, who was the only soldier to be convicted in the massacre.

Perhaps the best drama on Vietnam and the incident that it is based upon is referenced in Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's The Vietnam War

"In the late '60s, TV coverage of the Vietnam War gave it the repetitiveness of a bad dream. That's probably what Brian DePalma is after in Casualties of War: a nightmare, reeking with blood, tears and cold sweat.
Taken from a real-life incident, DePalma's movie turns into a battle epic with a screw loose. It conveys a sense of moral quagmire, of sinking into squishily dangerous terrain, honeycombed with tunnels and traps, all hell exploding around it. That's the imagery of the movie's first battle scene, a taut prologue for a superb film.
DePalma may have found here the perfect arena for his darkly voluptuous expertise. Working with a David Rabe script that uses Daniel Lang's New Yorker reportage, he gets a bad-dream Vietnam. This isn't reality but hyper-reality: war as experienced in the oscillations between fatigue and terror, or recalled by someone fighting back the horror of his recollections. There's a moral charge to the action, but it's also swooningly exciting, coldly scary. Every friend may be an enemy, every innocent a traitor.
Lang's book revolved around a brutally shocking 1966 incident in which the leader of a five-man reconnaissance squad, Sgt. Tony Meserve, informed his men that, before setting out on their mission, they would kidnap a Vietnamese farm girl, rape her en masse and then murder and dump her to cover their tracks. Astonishingly, all the men went along with this plan, except for one upright Minnesota farm boy, Sven Eriksson--like the others, a fictitious name--who refused to participate and later tried to bring his squad mates to justice..."
—Michael Wilmington
This memorial is now thought to be the most successful and beloved public work of our time. It is so simple, so elegant, that it makes its statement without even trying. The long arms of marble enclose us. We see the names of the dead. We are left with our thoughts.
The most arresting scenes in the documentary Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision are about the miracle that this memorial was even erected at all—about its opponents, who would have replaced it with something ordinary and mundane.
Today, when the memorial is universally beloved, such men as Pat Buchanan and Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) are not quick to remind you that they fought against it, in ways that do not reflect well on their judgment or taste....
Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, written and directed by Freida Lee Mock, tells the story of how Lin designed the memorial, and how it came to be built. It follows her over the next 14 years, as she matures from an insecure student to a confident professional, and designs other public works, including the Civil Rights Monument in Montgomery, Ala. " 
                            —Selections from a review by Roger Ebert


I Love This Country by Chief R. Stacey LaForme

You were and always shall be my brother
We were all the same color wrapped in the flag of this nation
Yet when we came home, when the nation's colors were removed
Difference became apparent, not between you and me, God never willing
But in the eyes of those for whom we laid down our lives.

Oh, we stood shoulder to shoulder in parades, but the government
thought your life was more valuable than mine
So you were given land property while I waited and waited,
I know what you were given was not enough for what we endured
Still, it was much more than I.

I am not envious of you brother, I believe you deserve more than you received
But it hurt be badly, I am not ashamed to say I cried and why not
I bled I died I killed, and why does my country think I am unworthy
The enemy I fought could never be so cruel as the people I came to embrace.

I gave so much, lived through so much and then you,
you who would give all for, you pushed me aside as it I was inconsequential
I feel as I have been spit upon by one I honored.

Do I feel good having to ask you for what should have been given long ago, no?
In fact I am little ashamed to ask for justice in this 
For I never went to war for money, for glory, for rewards, I went because it was the right thing to do and God
forgive me, I would go again.

This may seem an old wound to you that never heals.
For it is a wound to my people's heart  and soul and insult to our pride,
And we deserve so much better, especially from you. 







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