By Harry Welty
Published April 18, 2003
the Vietnam War I read news stories about servicemen who were spat on when they
returned to the
. The stories were anecdotal and a few years later I read an opinion column that
said these stories were all fabrications. I wanted to believe this because,
whatever the follies of our foreign policy, servicemen were the wrong people to
I turned eighteen on
December 10, 1968
, my lottery number was fixed at 41. I could have been cannon fodder because the
draft was in full swing but I was lucky. Our Congress had rigged the system so
that boys who attended college got college draft deferments. This deferment
improved on an idea from earlier wars that a fighting
couldnít imperil its war effort by drafting farmers and men who
performed certain vital occupations. By the time of the Vietnam War college
educations were deemed vital to the nationís security. Coincidentally, most
Congressmenís sons attended college.
Dad, a World War II veteran, felt we had no business in
. He didnít think
had a strategic interest there. He doubted the ďDomino theory.Ē He fretted
about a land war in
. He especially didnít want his son to be sent off to die in
just so some damn politicians wouldnít have to admit that theyíd made a big
mistake. I was in junior high when I first heard him cuss out Lyndon Johnson for
sending more troops to
. I was in college when I participated in my first anti-Vietnam War
eventually did pull out of
ingloriously. In doing so we shamefully left tens of thousands of Hmong and
Vietnamese friends behind to fend for themselves after the North Vietnamese
overran the country. Unlike earlier generations of veterans, dispirited Vietnam
Era servicemen got no welcome and no thanks when they came back home.
Despite the cocky dismissal in that Op Ed piece some veterans were spit on,
including Bill, who sings with me in our church choir.
never saw action in
but he saw more than enough of the consequence of war. He was a military
dentist who helped rebuild the broken faces of young soldiers suffering from
traumatic combat injuries. Some of
these damaged young men had volunteered to save a foreign people from tyranny.
Some had been drafted, as I might have been, and had no choice other than comply
or flee to
. Whether the Vietnam War was folly or not, these soldiers weren't to blame for
it yet some of them were spit on when they returned.
didnít take his uniform off quite fast enough. After he was spit on a
superior officer encouraged him to remove his uniform and blend back into the
civilian population. Bill smiled when he told me this story but it was the
steely smile of a man recalling a cruel indignity. Billís experience
helps explain the bitter and, I think, wrong-headed denunciations of todayís
anti-Iraq War protesters.
has a spirited Peace community but I have to shake my head at some of our
anti-war protestors. There has been a foolish strain of peace-at-any-price idealism
ever since World War II. Traumatized by the vast and pointless slaughter
of the First World War these
idealists were willing to cede the Sudatenland to Adolph Hitler to avoid
war. Some of their descendents today seem intent on blaming the
United States for the destruction of the World Trade Towers.
I can find plenty of fault with
ís foreign policy I still believe that
has been a force for good in the world. I am a little taken aback by those who are
mortally offended by
ís military. After all, our soldiers, sailors and marines have fought for
freedom and democracy. They have put an end to the reign of tyrants and
liberated concentration camps. They have done these things at great personal
years ago, as students from
ís NJROTC program presented the American flag at a school board meeting, my
Board colleague Eileen walked out of the room. Evidently she was offended by
what she regarded as a display of militaristic nationalism. Over the past month
Iíve wondered whether any of the young people who presented the flag to us at
that meeting were sent to Iraq. I've also wondered whether my
colleague would be so quick to turn away in disgust if any of our
former students were brought back home in flagged draped coffins.
is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at www.snowbizz.com
Zeitz Hudelson wrote a vigorous denial of my charge that she walked out on the
students who presented an American flag to the School Board.