mad in pursuit: greed & arrogance

2004 political season

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10.19.04 Lessons for the Reality-Based

We just finished watching Hearts and Minds, a 1974 documentary about the Vietnam War. If I'd seen this movie 4 years ago, I would have breathed a sigh of relief that we no longer live in such times of heartbreaking conflict.

In the film, young men talk about their gung-ho attitude for going to war -- whether for love of country, for the thrill of high-tech weaponry or for the awful pleasure of "killin' me some gooks." Over the course of the film, you see that most of the men being interviewed were terribly maimed during combat -- missing arms and legs, paralysis. Some are bitter about being mislead into something completely senseless. Others are still struggling to put a patriotic face on their sacrifice.

The same goes for parents and other loved ones interviewed. They want so much to believe it was for a good cause, but whether they say it directly or not, you hear them thinking, For what?

And there are a few government officials like Clark Clifford and William Fulbright who, even in 1973, were saying what a terrible mistake it had all been. It is hard to focus separately on both things: policies gone awry and the inner struggles of young soldiers. The soldiers long for respect and yet they are so enmeshed in "the sins of their fathers."

That was wrenching.

Just as horrible were the stricken faces of the Vietnamese. Really, all they ever wanted was to rid themselves of colonialists. What was "communism" except a means to get their country back? They thought Americans would understand, but all we did was swoop in and devour them with our bombs and our chemicals. People stare vacantly or sob hopelessly at the loss of their loved ones, their homes, and their livelihoods. And then the film cuts to General Westmorland explaining the the "Oriental people" don't really value life the same way Americans do (implying that killing them by the thousands doesn't bother them much, especially since we're doing it for their freedom).

Like I said, 4 years ago this movie would have been like looking at those Holocaust documentaries I watched in college -- a righteous glance back on an era we would never repeat. Because we had learned our lessons.

But now history is repeating itself in Iraq. Young soldiers are victimized, if not by outright government lies, then devastating governmental self-delusion. And we toll the bell for every American lost but have not even kept count of the dead and devastated Iraqis. But life in cheap in those Asian places, right? And look at all the freedom they are getting in return!





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