Many years ago, after graduating from college and spending a year learning from a wonderful group of third graders at Biddeford’s Kennedy school, I took a position on the 3rd shift at a local electronic components factory. My brief career in public education was effectively over, though I didn’t actually know it yet.
Like many young men of that time I had become classified as 1-A by the local draft board. That meant that I could be yanked away and set to work killing Vietnamese people in great numbers. They called such spilling of blood “serving my country.” They still call it that. Only the killees have changed.
During that contentious year, the board and I discussed whether or not they would put me in jail. It was quite unpleasant.
Popular opinion had turned substantially against the Vietnam invasion/occupation by then with polls showing the public opposed to the project as “morally wrong” and “not a mistake.” But the press and the political class were dug in. Just like today, they were very reluctant to condemn the imperial thrust. It’s commonly alleged that the congress and the media were then filled with leftist “peaceniks.” Today’s school kids are taught that the evening news was filled with gory footage, “bringing the war into people’s living rooms.”
Closer to reality is Michael Arlen’s assessment of the coverage: “A nightly stylized, generally distanced overview of a disjointed conflict which was composed mainly of scenes of helicopters landing, tall grasses blowing in the helicopter wind, American soldiers fanning out across a hillside on foot, rifles at the ready, with now and then (on the soundtrack) a far-off ping or two, and now and then (as the visual grand finale) a column of dark, billowing smoke a half mile away, invariably described as a burning Viet-cong ammo dump.”
John MacArthur’s ” Second Front ” notes that despite the current hallucination of a 60s media establishment wild with anti-war hysteria, in 1967 a Newsweek poll “found 67 percent of viewers surveyed stating that television coverage had increased their inclination toward ‘backing up the boys in Vietnam.’ ”
Just as today’s barbaric wars of aggression are presented as noble efforts —partly defensive, partly altruistic “democracy promotion” / “nation building”— the problems stemming merely from “mistakes” made in advancing an honorable cause, so was the Vietnam “police action” presented as a difficult struggle based on the purest of motives. The “dinks,” and the “slopes,” and the “gooks” were seen as lower forms of life who needed our intervention, just like the “hagis” and “ragheads” of today. To suggest otherwise was to be un-American.
It’s quite remarkable how little has changed, or perhaps, how far we’ve regressed. Looking back, I remember a particular night in the component plant’s break room. I was one of the first male employees at this place. The lunch tables were always packed with women. I often sat next to a grandmotherly type of gentle and supportive demeanor. We often talked. But when, on one occasion the conversation turned to Vietnam, she revealed an unexpectedly hard edge. I was lamenting the bombing and the great loss of civilian life among the peasantry. But she brought me up short. “What good are they anyway?” she challenged.
I’m no longer surprised by such blunt expressions of racist solidarity in the imperial project. But I was younger then, and naive.
That said, however, it’s still somewhat overwhelming; the ease with which the public can be whipped up to venomous rage against whatever enemy-du-jour the political class deems it expedient to attack.
The right wing has now seized power, over only the most pitiful objections from tepid centrists called “liberals.” The resulting numbskull name-calling coarsens a squalid exchange of “talking points” that now passes for “debate.”
People that the right wing theocrats don’t like usually get labeled as un-American. It’s long been understood locally that I am an un-American. “Communist” used to be good enough, but then, my stated lack of enthusiasm for murdering Iraqi children gained me the “Osama” label. This is what standing up for labor rights and against state terrorism gets you these days.
Now even spineless corporate tools like Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid are being tagged as un-American by the hysterical right. Using the same kind of voodoo calculus that for years pegged Maine as having nearly the highest “tax burden” in the nation (not true they lately admit, but so what?), the Republican attack machine now alleges that Obama has the most liberal voting record in the Senate. He’s supposed to be some kind of left fringe dweller.
Fun fact: The financial sector has donated more money to Comrade Obama than to Field Marshall McCain. He has been auditioning for them for years and they understand that he poses no threat to their continued supremacy.
Now comes news that someone’s erected an 8-by-12 foot sign on Route 101 up in New Gloucester (Maine) picturing a young McCain in his flight suit, all set to bomb civilians and power plants in Vietnam. Next to the “Retired Captain” the sign depicts a turbaned “Barack Hussein Obama” labeled “No US Military Service.” Press accounts note that the aim of the sign is to promote McCain as “more American” than his rival in the race for Commander in Chief.
Representative Michele Bachman (R-MN) has called for investigations into who’s anti-American and who isn’t. “Most Americans are wild about America,” she says. Sure we’re deindustrialized, downwardly mobile, and distracted. But we’re very well armed. So watch out what you say. “We” know where you live.
In my case, there’s not far to go and not much investigation needed. People like me who’ve advocated for majority rule, economic rights for all, and less state terror are clearly un(or anti)-American.
Guess it may soon be open season.
RICHARD RHAMES is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org