“Every Man Should Have His war”

by Mark Chmiel

One of the best books I’ve ever read is by Gloria Emerson, Winners and Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses and Ruins from a Long War. A major themes in the book is how the Vietnam War affected Americans (or how it didn’t).  Here’s a sample of passages:

Each year that it lasted Americans who took opposite sides on the war seemed to hate each other more than the Vietnamese who opposed us. 37

In 1976 she was given a large black-and-white poster of Ho Chi Minh, sent from Bangkok, which she put up over her desk. The face of the dead Vietnamese so upset one of the older women that it had to be taken down. 53

“What have any of us done to be tired?”  58

The Department of Defense does not give a breakdown of the serious injuries, so no one knows how many blind, how many burned, how many paralyzed, how many amputees they were. 59

Many Americans cannot pronounce the name of the race.

“I hated them,” he said of the Vietnamese. He meant all of them, expect for a few prostitutes. One girl had given him a thin metal bracelet which he still wears. The women gave him decent memories; with them there were lots of laughs, he said. 72

“I think I can be very truthful. I think most people will tell you the same. We realized there was a war on, we thought it was horrible, but actually you don’t realize how horrible it is until it involves one of your own. I think any mother will tell you the same thing. Even the people in Westborough didn’t realize the horrors of the war until Teddy was killed.”  83

More than 750,000 persons were in need of a universal and unconditional amnesty after the decade in Vietnam, the ACLU said, but only 137,000 were eligible under the Ford Plan.

In Texas, in Iowa, in New Jersey and in New Mexico I went to them, pushed on by the sentimental persuasion that these men, above all others, would see the cruelty of driving the Vietnamese from their land and water and rice into the towns and cities where they were degraded and lost. I was quite persuaded that American farmers would not approve of the forests and farms and rice fields of Vietnam being put to death. 171

The cruelties were so constant, the weapons so huge, the victims so many, as the war drifted everywhere, that no one could pay much attention to a single incident. 202

“They can tell you someone’s batting average from 1948, or who hit the big homer in the 1932 World Series, but they don’t know the difference between the NLF and the NFL.” 207

The Americans and the Germans were much more alike than the Americans and the Asians, the doctor said, because Asians had little regard for human life. Everyone knew that.  “What about the six million Jews?”  237

I have been thinking about it, needing to explain why even the most well-meaning plans and gestures did not help the Vietnamese, since, nearly always, it was we who had injured them and made them helpless. 242

All that was certain was the great wealth, power and the strangeness of the foreigners who were at the same time persuaded of their own kindness while being persistently cruel. 242

Hickey on the young activists: “The war is over. There’s a kind of funny letdown. I think they’re at loose ends. It was such a high period for them in terms of commitment and meaningful behavior. Now there’s a kind of low. They don’t know if they can ever achieve that again or even come close to it, caring so much about anything.” 290

“I don’t really see that we’re the bad boy.” 297

“Why should I feel responsible?”  298

David Sulzberger: “But the thing which I think I will remember about Vietnam when I am a hundred years old and will talk about it with my grandchildren is the countryside, how beautiful the women looked, and the food.” 319  “When I left Vietnam, I had an enormous awareness of the right and wrong in terms of myself, of what I liked, what I disliked, what I felt, what I didn’t feel. I mean, you know, even things like food….” 325

Mrs. Sulzberger: “every man should have his war.”  328

His was a Vietnamese world; so well did he speak and write their language, he could make jokes in it. 343

Sometimes, on a single day, [Don Luce] had as many as sixteen meetings. 350

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