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An Honest Confession by an American Coward
Old 06-16-2012, 01:46 PM   #1
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An Honest Confession by an American Coward

As a veteran of the Vietnam war (1968-69), I have accumulated an array of random articles over the years that have the war as it's theme. I don't recall why I have saved these various clippings/files, but I find myself flipping through them from time to time. The attached article, written by the author of The Great Santini and other books, has stuck with me over the last 5 years or so as a sad tale of remorse.

I had friends on both sides of the peace/war issues of the '60s/'70s and have always tried to stay neutral as a way of trying (still) to understand both sides.

This helps. I have included the initial paragraphs and well as the final few. The link contains the entire article.


Quote:
The true things always ambush me on the road and take me by surprise when I am drifting down the light of placid days, careless about flanks and rearguard actions. I was not looking for a true thing to come upon me in the state of New Jersey. Nothing has ever happened to me in New Jersey. But came it did, and it came to stay.
In the past four years I have been interviewing my teammates on the 1966-67 basketball team at the Citadel for a book I'm writing. For the most part, this has been like buying back a part of my past that I had mislaid or shut out of my life. At first I thought I was writing about being young and frisky and able to run up and down a court all day long, but lately I realized I came to this book because I needed to come to grips with being middle-aged and having ripened into a gray-haired man you could not trust to handle the ball on a fast break.

Quote:
I looked for some conclusion, a summation of this trip to my teammate's house. I wanted to come to the single right thing, a true thing that I may not like but that I could live with. After hearing Al Kroboth's story of his walk across Vietnam and his brutal imprisonment in the North, I found myself passing harrowing, remorseless judgment on myself. I had not turned out to be the man I had once envisioned myself to be. I thought I would be the kind of man that America could point to and say, "There. That's the guy. That's the one who got it right. The whole package. The one I can depend on."

It had never once occurred to me that I would find myself in the position I did on that night in Al Kroboth's house in Roselle, New Jersey: an American coward spending the night with an American hero.
Pat Conroy's novels include The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, and Beach Music. He lives on Fripp Island, South Carolina. This essay is from his forthcoming book, My Losing Season.
An Honest Confession by an American Coward
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Old 06-16-2012, 02:14 PM   #2
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I don't understand where a Citadel cadet would even find the time to question the Vietnam War, let alone to act on the strength of his "mistaken convictions".

As apologia go, this one is far better than Bob McNamara's.
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Old 06-16-2012, 03:08 PM   #3
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Nam grunt vet here 70-71, 1st Cav. and I don't harbor any ill feelings against those who chose a different path. They have to look at themselves in the mirror, in the morning, I don't. In hindsight I think the only deferment anyone should have gotten was for medical reasons, too many avoided service by going to college or by getting married. A number of friends I have who did not serve now regret it and I tell them they didn't miss a thing.
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Old 06-16-2012, 03:23 PM   #4
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too many avoided service by going to college or by getting married.
A bunch of us did both (went to college and got married) and still got that "Greetings" notice...
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Old 06-16-2012, 03:35 PM   #5
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...I don't harbor any ill feelings against those who chose a different path. They have to look at themselves in the mirror, in the morning, I don't.
Agreed (7th AF, 377 CSG - '68 - '69).
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Old 06-16-2012, 03:49 PM   #6
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As apologia go, this one is far better than Bob McNamara's.
+1

I was struck by this line.

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. I understand now that I should have protested the war after my return from Vietnam, after I had done my duty for my country. I have come to a conclusion about my country that I knew then in my bones but lacked the courage to act on: America is good enough to die for even when she is wrong.
Over the last decade as we have debated the current wars, I have rolled my eyes at the protestors. I have certainly been involved in many spirited discussion with people in person, online, and yelling at the TV. However, the one group of anti-war protestor that I've always treated with great deference is returning vets. I figure they've been there I haven't, and they more than earned their right to protest.
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Old 06-16-2012, 04:01 PM   #7
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+1

I was struck by this line.



Over the last decade as we have debated the current wars, I have rolled my eyes at the protestors. I have certainly been involved in many spirited discussion with people in person, online, and yelling at the TV. However, the one group of anti-war protestor that I've always treated with great deference is returning vets. I figure they've been there I haven't, and they more than earned their right to protest.
Conversely, the group for whom I have the greatest disdain are those who tirelessly promote American military action at any and every opportunity but who contrived never to serve in the military and who ensure that their own children will never serve in the military.
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Old 06-16-2012, 05:05 PM   #8
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Conversely, the group for whom I have the greatest disdain are those who tirelessly promote American military action at any and every opportunity but who contrived never to serve in the military and who ensure that their own children will never serve in the military.
Agreed, except for those children that got to serve as clerk typists or Alabama Air NG only due to thier parent's influence and political positions.
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Old 06-16-2012, 07:30 PM   #9
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Over the last decade as we have debated the current wars, I have rolled my eyes at the protestors. I have certainly been involved in many spirited discussion with people in person, online, and yelling at the TV. However, the one group of anti-war protestor that I've always treated with great deference is returning vets. I figure they've been there I haven't, and they more than earned their right to protest.
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Conversely, the group for whom I have the greatest disdain are those who tirelessly promote American military action at any and every opportunity but who contrived never to serve in the military and who ensure that their own children will never serve in the military.
My pet peeve is protesters who confuse "the right war or the wrong war" with "the right war in the wrong way".

Anti-war protesters who've never been involved in a war would seem to have a difficult time finding a base for their credibility. But anti-war protesters who've been there, either as military veterans or with NGOs or perhaps even in the political/diplomatic realm, would appear to have more credibility. I don't think media embeds or USO tours count, although it's an encouraging start.

My personal hope is that the U.S. military is downsized enough to remain an effective defensive force for American interests without offering those who've never served the delusions of imperialism.
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Old 06-16-2012, 08:43 PM   #10
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My personal hope is that the U.S. military is downsized enough to remain an effective defensive force for American interests without offering those who've never served the delusions of imperialism.
It seems to me that if we want strictly a defensive force, the strategic nuclear forces, a couple divisions on each coast, one in Hawaii would more than suffice. No particular need for a surface navy except for convoy duties, a fraction of airlift and sealift. We could get rid of most of the airforce as well except for fighters.

But one man's imperialism is another person's humanitarianism. No doubt it is expensive, dangerous, and generally a pain in the ass to be Team America:World Police. On the other hand, I sure wouldn't want to have a world, where the Milosevic, Ghaddifi, Taliban, Assad, Khomeini, Charles Taylors, Kim Jung family, Saddam, and a dozen other ruthless dictators had no force to keep them in check.

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Old 06-16-2012, 09:22 PM   #11
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It seems to me that if we want strictly a defensive force, the strategic nuclear forces, a couple divisions on each coast, one in Hawaii would more than suffice. No particular need for a surface navy except for convoy duties, a fraction of airlift and sealift. We could get rid of most of the airforce as well except for fighters.
I don't have a clue what the size of the force should be, other than big enough for everyone to get their turn at watchstanding, operating, and maintenance. Having two crews sitting around to operate one ship is a short-term savings but it's very expensive when you try to ramp the training back up to two ships.

The submarine force size is predicated on all the cool things that submarines can do, not on the necessity of the tasks that can only be accomplished by submarines. But I'm not sure that logic applies to surface ships or the logistics chain.
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Old 06-16-2012, 11:13 PM   #12
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It seems to me that if we want strictly a defensive force, the strategic nuclear forces, a couple divisions on each coast, one in Hawaii would more than suffice. No particular need for a surface navy except for convoy duties, a fraction of airlift and sealift. We could get rid of most of the airforce as well except for fighters.
We did start to go down that road under the "New Look" national security strategy. We found out that bluffing with nukes didn't work, and we didn't like the idea of having two options: "do nothing" or "read me the launch codes." But, there's no doubt that having a large, capable, mobile force tempts politicians to put it to use. And because there's no conscription there are fewer adverse domestic political repercussions to using military force these days.
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Old 06-17-2012, 07:08 AM   #13
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We consider Conroy a native son and I appreciate the article link. He has a lot of internal conflicts, which serve to make both his novels and his non fiction more interesting. I hadn't seen this before, but I remember him being a very lone voice as a Citadel alumni who supported the admission of women when very few others felt that way.
Now it is all water under the bridge, but he once said he was holding meetings of the like-minded Corp alumni in a phone booth on Colonial Lake (a small body of water in downtown Charleston).
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Old 06-18-2012, 11:10 AM   #14
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Every once in a while a thread like this (or something else) reminds me of many things to be thankful for. I'm thankful that after I passed my draft physical in 1969, I drew a high draft-induction lottery number. I'm thankful that I live in a country in which people can disagree vehemently about the morality or wisdom of any/all military interventions (aka wars). And I thank God that (with the exception of a couple of lunatic fringe movements) we no longer treat our military members like dog s*** just because we disagree with our government's use of those military personnel.

To those of you who served I say "Thank you". To those of you who served in VN, I say "Welcome home!" I know this subject tends toward the political, so I will add YMMV.
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Old 06-18-2012, 01:12 PM   #15
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Maybe when there is a Secretary of Peace.

peace_sign-2202.JPG
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Old 06-18-2012, 02:05 PM   #16
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Like many who have served in uniform it's difficult to say what our country sends it's armies to do could ever be wrong for fear it would be viewed as unpatriotic. But I just recently (June 4th) met my son at Ft. Hood the day he returned from a deployment to Afghanistan. His second combat deployment, the first was to Iraq. But this one was much different than his first, I could see it in his eyes. He lost at least thirty pounds that he didn't need to lose, his whole mood and attitude is much more subdued. He is different. He's 31, an officer and a pilot and has seen more in his eight years of service than I saw in over thirty years on active duty. This generation, at least the ones that are willing to serve in the military are bearing an unbelievable burden. And this country just does not get it. We as a nation are not at war. Our military is but not the country. And until the "country" wakes up and fully understands the total impact of sending our youth to an unwinable war young kids will die for nothing. Either fight this war as total war or not at all, take the gloves off and let our Soldiers fight like our fathers did in WWII.
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Old 06-18-2012, 02:18 PM   #17
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Like many who have served in uniform it's difficult to say what our country sends it's armies to do could ever be wrong for fear it would be viewed as unpatriotic. But I just recently (June 4th) met my son at Ft. Hood the day he returned from a deployment to Afghanistan. His second combat deployment, the first was to Iraq. But this one was much different than his first, I could see it in his eyes. He lost at least thirty pounds that he didn't need to lose, his whole mood and attitude is much more subdued. He is different. He's 31, an officer and a pilot and has seen more in his eight years of service than I saw in over thirty years on active duty. This generation, at least the ones that are willing to serve in the military are bearing an unbelievable burden. And this country just does not get it. We as a nation are not at war. Our military is but not the country. And until the "country" wakes up and fully understands the total impact of sending our youth to an unwinable war young kids will die for nothing. Either fight this war as total war or not at all, take the gloves off and let our Soldiers fight like our fathers did in WWII.
You are a sensitive, observant father who loves his son. I hope God is with both of you, and I 100% agree with your analysis. Our combat military today is being treated like the Romans treated their mercenaries. It is immoral, and very destructive to troops, and ultimately to the entire country.



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Old 06-18-2012, 02:58 PM   #18
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Tim O'Brien once said that he was a coward for going and that he should've had the courage to resist and be a draft dodger. He also wrote,
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Can the foot soldier teach anything important about war, merely for having been there? I think not. He can tell war stories.
Likewise with a friend. He went because his dad was some muckity-muck in the military. His older brother was shot down before he enlisted. He still regrets going.
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Old 06-18-2012, 03:27 PM   #19
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Tim O'Brien once said that he was a coward for going and that he should've had the courage to resist and be a draft dodger. He also wrote, Likewise with a friend. He went because his dad was some muckity-muck in the military. His older brother was shot down before he enlisted. He still regrets going.
Being raise half Methodist half Quaker I lean towards pacifism and I have no experience of serving in the military I have worked on some projects that involved military scientists and engineers and I've always been impressed by their training and the way the military works. But after working on those first defence related programs I changed my career path as I felt a bit of a hypocrite.

I think I would have fought in WWII, but nothing since. I'm not a total pacifist, but most wars are about money and power and I would choose not to participate in those. I feel for those that fall for the propaganda of the military or have to sign up because they have few better options. I feel sympathy for them rather than any thanks for "their service". I would certainly never feel a coward faced with someone who had served in the military.
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Old 06-18-2012, 05:28 PM   #20
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I feel sympathy for them rather than any thanks for "their service".
Should you express your sympathy to some vets for having had to serve I sure hope you'll post here to let us know how it works out.
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