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McNamara's death dredges up bad memories


July 15, 2009
The war in Vietnam seems like an eternity ago to most people under the age of 50. But to the generation that lost so many bright, young people to a lie, the war is still fresh, still lingering, still regretful.

If by chance there ever was any dulling of the memories, or even a small scab over the wounds caused by that war, the recent death of Robert McNamara brought it all back: the memories, the pain, the losses.

My generation took the brunt of that conflict. Those of us who were of age to be drafted into the military during those years took it all in stride at first. Our fathers had, just a few years earlier, fought in an extremely necessary war — and the whole country supported them and the war effort, and made us proud of our fathers, proud of our nation and proud of our ability to defend ourselves. My father was a machine-gunner during World War ll. He was one of those who lived through the landing at Omaha Beach and went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. I was proud of that and even bragged about it to my friends when I was growing up.

So, when the U.S. became involved in the conflict in Vietnam, many of us just assumed that it too was a necessary war. We never dreamed that the United States — our wonderful country — would ever go to war without being threatened. The idea of us being an aggressor and starting an unnecessary war was something we just couldn't fathom. Americans were good, honest and caring people. We had a constitution. We observed laws. We even promoted the Geneva Convention due to the cruelty seen on the battlefields and in prison camps.

But as the war dragged on in Vietnam, it became obvious that something was amiss, and more and more young men refused to participate. Some burned their draft cards. Others went to Canada and were labeled as traitors. Some even went to jail. And as more information became available — and more people realized the reason we were in Vietnam was a fabrication — young people began taking to the streets in protest. They, too, were labeled traitors and were beaten, dragged off to jails and even (let's never forget Kent State) killed by our own government.

Some soldiers who returned from the war became anti-war activists. Some soldiers thought the protesters were nothing but communists for not giving their total support to the soldiers and the war. The conflict in Vietnam caused a terrible conflict here on American soil. To this day, there are still hard feelings about it, and they may never be totally resolved.

When many of us reflect back to the war in Vietnam, the face that comes to mind is Robert McNamara. It was McNamara who was the main player in a war that sent thousands upon thousands of young people to their pointless and needless deaths. It was McNamara who assured President Lyndon Johnson that evidence of North Vietnamese patrol boats attacking American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin was without question. The attack never happened. But not long after that, Congress authorized the war that killed 58,000 of our young soldiers and more than two million Vietnamese.

My best friend all through high school spent a lot of time at our house, and I spent a lot of time at his. We went hunting and fishing together. We took our girlfriends to the drive-in on double-dates. We both had guitars and enjoyed learning songs together. He loved to play jokes on people, and I never saw him sad or even in a bad mood. He was drafted into the Army fresh out of high school. Just months later, he was sent to Vietnam. When he first got there, he sent a letter to me telling me it wasn't all that bad, just hot and sweaty but they ate well and spent a lot of time wading around in rice paddies looking for Viet Cong soldiers, "who never waded around in rice paddies."

He continued to write to me about every two weeks, and I kept him informed on everything that was going on at home. Then, one evening, his mother came to my house and told me he had been killed, hit by enemy fire during a patrol. About two weeks later, I received a letter from him. He had written it the night before he was killed. In the letter, he told me not to let them send me there because Vietnam was a hell-hole.

We know now that McNamara knew early on that the war couldn't be won, but he kept sending soldiers to their death. And after the war ended and the soldiers left alive were brought back home, McNamara finally admitted that he "had been wrong, terribly wrong" about Vietnam. I used to wonder how he could even sleep at night. To have that much blood on your hands — for nothing — would be a burden like no other, that is, if you had a conscience.

And that, my friends, is why so many people my age were against the war in Iraq. We saw the similarities right from the start. We knew the reasons for going into Iraq were lies — Iraq was never a threat to us — and now, six years later, just like with Vietnam, the entire world knows it.

McNamara's death last week was overshadowed by the death of pop star Michael Jackson, his passing barely mentioned or noticed. And maybe that's just as well. He deserves nothing more than obscurity, just like Dick Cheney, George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Pearl. Maybe someday, before we attack another country without good reason, this fine country will learn from the mistakes of the past.

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Barbara Shaw
Schuler Bauer
Tuesday
07 - 16 - 19
06:28
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