Last stop was Viet Nam…

First off, a shout-out to the men in my life for a lovely Mother’s Day weekend. The Eldest’s first rock concert, in Canada no less, coincided, so I didn’t see much of her, but I agree with my sister: When they treat you well all the time, Mother’s Day doesn’t carry the pressure. Eldest and I will have a good chinwag soon, I have no doubt. Meanwhile, the spouse and Youngest got me flowers, cards, took me on a nature walk and then ice cream cones. On Saturday, the youngest and I spent a couple hours at the library and then a book store – in other words, heaven. Other than church, I could just be lazy all weekend, and it was just lovely. Thanks, fellas.

The laziness included spending a couple hours with Fiasco, Thomas Ricks’ excellent book on Iraq. I had to return The Looming Tower, about the formation of Al Qaeda, to the library before I could finish it, but it’s back on the reserve list. It’s not exactly a walk in the park, but knowledge, as usual, is power.

I also watched 3 documentaries. Spouse and I started with Howard Zinn’s You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train. Zinn has been my hero ever since I read this amazing essay in The Zinn Reader. The documentary is a bit misty-eyed, but it’s hard not to get that way with Zinn. He’s one of my heros, a former bomber pilot who understands and teaches about peaceful resistance, that it’s extremely active, takes hella courage, and that small individual actions accumulate into something big that works (see Denmark’s resistance in WWII and the Civil Rights movement for two shining examples).  Any teacher would be blessed to have a hundredth of his impact.

Then I watched In the Year of the Pig, a 1968 documentary about Viet Nam. There are shots in it that are pretty much verbatim out of Apocalypse Now, so I’m guessing Coppola saw it more than once. Icy and detached, Godard-like editing, it’s a good primer on Viet Nam from the earliest American involvement all the way back in 1954. The most chilling thing about it is hearing politicians of the time use exactly the same rhetoric used to justify Iraq today; exchange “communism” for “terrorism,” or, in Bushspeak, “terrists,” and it is both nauseating and immensely depressing to see how little things change. Released as the war continued to rage, it’s probably not possible to know the movie’s impact. ’68 was one year before Karl would have been drafted – his mom sent him to Portugal that year to be safe – and he said that by then, everyone was against the war. Sadly, it wouldn’t end until 1975; all that was accomplished was death. When I asked my class how much longer the current war would be, most of them guessed between 2 and 6 years. The one Iraq vet shook his head and said, “20. If that. We may never get out.” God, I hope he’s wrong. But history’s making him look right.

Last night, I watched the 1972 Winter Soldier, basically nothing but talking heads as Viet Nam vets describe to a panel on atrocities what happened over there. I was struck by how articulate all of them were, across class/ethnic lines; I dunno if people are a lot less articulate today or if maybe we just don’t give them chances to really talk. We do seem as a nation to be a lot dumber and more superficial. There’s a whole lot of reasons for that, but I think one of the biggest is the insatiable appetite for fluff. As part of the machine that feeds that appetite….I dunno what to say. At least, not in a short post. But the powers that be have done a brilliant job of implanting a combination of insatiable greed (through advertising) and a desire to stay as numb as possible (endless opportunities to argue about stupid shit rather than facing reality).

What’s the point of spending a weekend watching/reading admittedly depressing material? I have nothing against happy endings. I like a good fluffy movie as much as the next person any day of the week, which is why I watch Best in Show when it’s on TV even though I own the DVD. But you know what? My life is a happy ending right now. I have a good job, a wonderful family who I get to see every day – I don’t have to worry if they’ve exploded on the way to school or work or been kidnapped – enough food, running water, money to buy ever-increasing gas so I can run around doing stuff that makes me happy. I think people here and in other parts of the world deserve that as much as I do, instead of the shitty nightmare that is their typical day, sometimes but not always US-created. Part of the cost of living in relative luxury is bitter reality pills – not as penance, but in order to constantly remind ourselves that most other people aren’t so lucky. The only way to even begin to address these problems is to learn about them. I can do that in my comfy bathrobe on my reasonably comfy couch, and then maybe get just uncomfy enough that I’ll get my fat ass moving. Giving the big picture, my discomfort, whatever the degree, is a price so small it’s not even worth mentioning.

2 thoughts on “Last stop was Viet Nam…

  1. As always, the best thing you do for me is to make me think, which makes me uncomfortable as hell once in awhile, but it jabs me hard enough to move. Thanks. I did hear one knowledable person say, ‘we are still in Korea after 40 years with troops who are a long way from home and I see no reason on earth why we won’t be in the middle east until the whole thing goes up in flames.’ I’m off to the library today to get a couple of books you mentioned…GS

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