I hugged Ray one last time when he made a quick stop to see me at the apartment I had in Pasadena before flying out to Vietnam with the US Air Force, during July of 1968. We were both 19. My grief was deep and destructive. I wouldn’t begin to understand myself until years later.
At the time, I was working for a defense contractor, Electro-Optical Systems. Although I worked in the budgeting department, colleagues in manufacturing made sniper viewers that were used in the war the US was waging against self-determination in Vietnam. Ray and I were both giving our bodies to the war.
For Eisenhower’s domino theory, for the fear that there was a poisonous ideology arising in Vietnam that would spread it’s pernicious influence unless it was smashed, he flew to Vietnam and took part in bomb and napalm dropping and agent orange spraying, while I helped compute the costs of manufacturing infra red sniper scopes so my company could bill the US government for the weapons it delivered.
Four years earlier, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution had been passed, almost unanimously, by Congress, with only two senators casting dissenting votes. President Johnson had thereby been enabled to ramp up the war effort as much as he wanted. The story of the Tonkin Gulf incident had been almost totally fabricated by the the military and the media. The public, having received what amounted to blatant propaganda, had been behind Johnson’s escalation. President Eisenhower had warned about the military industrial complex in his farewell speech in January of 1961, yet three and a half years later, the US Congress and President Johnson would cut it a blank check with the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. The Pentagon has continued to get an enormous budget with little to no accountability. Endless wars keep the deep state going and the deep state keeps the US in endless wars.
Pro war propaganda was and is transmitted directly from the military to the news networks with little or no checking on the part of the news media. Any news source, other than the military “talking heads,” are vigorously double checked, but military talking points, such as the greatly exaggerated attack on a US destroyer in North Vietnam’s Tonkin Gulf by the North Vietnamese, are swallowed whole by the media, then distributed to the public unchallenged.
So many men in my age group were going to Vietnam it was depressing! While in high school and community college, I would go to my room in my parents’ rural home, grip my guitar, and screech Bob Dylan’s, Masters of War over and over.
Everyone except the rebel fringe said the US military was over there fighting for freedom. Freedom for who? How does bombing and shooting people half way a across the world turn into fighting for freedom?
“The press is so powerful in its image-making role, it can make the criminal look like he’s a the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal…. If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Malcolm X, December 15, 1964, four months after the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, spoke at a rally of the Organization of African-American Unity at Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. He had returned to the US a month earlier, after his pilgrimage to Mecca, at which time he had become a Sunni Muslim, having broken with the Nation of Islam movement.
Sadly, this voice of truth was snuffed out two months after that speech was made. I had been a junior in high school when Malcolm X was assassinated, in February of 1965, by Nation of Islam members, gunning him down as he again addressed the Organization of African-American Unity at Audubon Ballroom in New York.
Little over a year earlier, the most shocking assassination of my time, that of President John F. Kennedy, had taken place. An acquaintance at school told me Kennedy had been shot in the head and killed. Because she and I had argued about politics a few days prior, when I had supported the president and she had supported Barry Goldwater, I didn’t believe her. Then we were called to a special assembly and I learned it was true. I wept most of the rest of the day.
While President, John F. Kennedy had spoken at the United Nations, in 1961: “For in the development of this organization rests the only true alternative to war—and war appeals no longer as a rational alternative. Unconditional war can no longer lead to unconditional victory. It can no longer serve to settle disputes. It can no longer concern the great powers alone. For a nuclear disaster, spread by wind and water and fear, could well engulf the great and the small, the rich and the poor, the committed and the uncommitted alike. Mankind must put an end to war—or war will put an end to mankind.”
I was born in early November of 1948. The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, in late January 1948, in India, probably occurred around the time I became pre-natal. Mahatma Gandhi gave the example of a nonviolent revolution in India which was emulated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States.
“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.” From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence, delivered April 4, 1967, Riverside Church, New York City.
During the year Ray and I met, fell in love, and saw each other for the last time right before he left for Vietnam (1968), there were two shocking, public assassinations. In April, exactly a year after the speech, excerpted above, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a sniper’s bullet in the face while standing on the balcony of a Memphis motel. He had planned on speaking in support of striking garbage collectors in that city the next day.
Robert F. Kennedy, brother of the former president, was a candidate for president in the 1968 election. He was outspoken against the dramatic escalation of the war in Vietnam that was taking place under President Johnson. In his final Senate speech on Vietnam, prior to announcing his candidacy for president in March of 1968, Robert Kennedy said, “Are we like the God of the Old Testament that we can decide, in Washington, DC, what cities, what towns, what hamlets in Vietnam are going to be destroyed?… Do we have to accept that?… I do not think we have to. I think we can do something about it.”
Then in June, Kennedy had just won the Democratic primary in California and had just spoken in Los Angeles, when he was gunned down by a disgruntled Palestinian, as the story goes, as he exited the hotel.
For me, it is completely possible to believe there was a greater conspiracy to silence four of the most outspoken critics of the war culture.
Imagine there’s no country,
It isn’t hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
No religion too,
Imagine all the people
living life in peace….
You may say I’m a dreamer,
but Im not the only one,
I hope some day you’ll join us,
And the world will live as one.
John Lennon’s, Imagine seems to place the goal of a lasting world peace within reach. Lennon too was assassinated, in New York in 1980, by a lone gunman.
Actress Jane Fonda visited North Vietnam in 1972. While there she was manipulated into having her picture taken while seated on one of the missile launchers that had been used to shoot many American-made planes out of the sky. Like many Americans at the time, Fonda was tired of the loss of life and the lack of any progress toward meaningful goals. Antiwar sentiment was very high in the United States that year.
In the 1960s, the Soviet Union had supplied North Vietnam with state-of-the-art equipment for shooting down planes. By the end of September, 1968, 900 U.S. aircraft had been shot down over North Vietnam since Johnson’s inauguration. Johnson’s war was looking like a meat grinder for the men in my generation.
South Vietnam was an outpost of French imperialism. It was carved out of Vietnam by France and it’s imperialist allies, including the US. The puppet government, installed by the imperialists, was corrupt and brutal. This is the element that asked for and received our help. This imperialist state is what all those US lives were expended to defend! Anyone who breathed a word of the truth was branded a communist — or worse. War served the functions — as it always does — to destabilize a region, creating and motivating a workforce that will work for almost nothing — and to sell armaments to both sides — all to the benefit, and the freedom, of the imperialist-capitalist class. (Weapons of death is a huge industry in this country.) My love didn’t sacrifice himself for my freedom, but for the freedom of the capitalist class! Sadly, he wasn’t a hero, he was a fool, duped into serving the oppressor. He didn’t fight for the liberation of people, he fought to keep people in bondage. What a war of propaganda was waged by the corporate class, the elected and appointed governmental officials they had bought or threatened, and the media!
Youths from 18 through 20 represent a large portion of the military and were voraciously conscripted during the Vietnam era. This age group did not receive the right to vote until July of 1971. Four years after that, the US would finally pull out of Vietnam.
Black voters, Asian-American voters, Latino voters and Native American voters have been suppressed for generations. At stake in Vietnam was a white vs. brown issue. The white controlled US government under President Truman had refused to recognize a brown controlled Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh, independent of a white France, in 1945. From there it only got worse, but from the start, and though out, it was white against brown. The white Soviets appeared to help the brown north Vietnamese, but they may have also been spreading their ideology and had their own version of exploitation. There may have been a bit of the capitalist ideology vs. a more socialist ideology present in the struggle, but never freedom against totalitarianism, as we were told, except in the reverse of what we had been told, since we were actually backing an unpopular, oppressive government, while suppressing democracy.
Pulling out is better than continuing to wage war. This at least allows the region to begin to recover. However, there is a growing segment of society that wants to wage peace in an active way. I don’t know what that would look like, but I’d like to see it.
I’d like to see the world John Lemon described in Imagine. I would like to live in a self-sufficient community growing its own food, manufacturing it’s own products, educating it’s own young, entertaining itself, all living life in peace and prosperity. Sociopaths, psychopaths and narcissists would receive treatment instead of being put in charge of the military, the government, the corporations and the police.
I don’t know what happened to Ray. I don’t know if he never came back, or he came back incapacitated, or he didn’t look for me, or he was unable to find me. I felt fairly certain that he would have contacted me if he had returned. I did date a Vietnam veteran for a short while a decade and a half ago. I did not have enough compassion for his many physical and emotional maladies. I just walked away while he called out in neediness. How many more human beings will we destroy with our wars?