This article originally appeared at earthairwater.blogspot.com.
Fifty years ago, in March 1965, the big news across America was that the Marines had landed in Vietnam. For many in the news media, the landing of two Marine battalions at Da Nang was the beginning of the US war in Vietnam. A better way to put it is that in 1965 Uncle Sam’s secret war in Southeast Asia emerged out of the shadows.
In an attempt to provide some historical perspective, the Obama Administration began commemorating the 50th anniversary of the war in Vietnam on Memorial Day 2012. This means that the Pentagon’s official history now says that the war started in 1962.
Having arrived in Vietnam in December 1962 to report to an Army aviation unit that flew Special Forces teams on secret missions, I’m curious to know exactly when the war started. In any case, by the time I arrived, the US government had implemented a memo circulated at the Pentagon in January 1962 that proposed developing a “suitable cover story” for our escalating military operations in Vietnam, in the words of Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric.
That cover story, maintained for years, was that US military units were not engaged in combat but were “advisors” to the South Vietnamese military.
These official twists of semantics are still being used in Iraq and Afghanistan as cover stories for secretive combat missions by US forces. Indeed, much of what the US government did after getting militarily involved in Southeast Asia in the 1940s is still taking place as secretive, official policies.
Despite the fancy proclamation signed by President Obama in 2012, the cover up of the falsehoods of the Vietnam War and disastrous aftermath continues.
Obama’s proclamation of the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War states that “In recognition of a chapter in our Nation’s history that must never be forgotten, let us renew our sacred commitment to those who answered our country’s call in Vietnam…” by staging “a 13-year program to honor and give thanks to a generation of proud Americans who saw our country through one of the most challenging missions we have ever faced.”
How cruel these words must sound to the ghosts of tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans who died of suicide, drug overdoses, cancer and other illnesses likely caused by exposure to Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals used in the war; who ended up homeless, imprisoned, beset by post-traumatic stress disorder and other disorienting illnesses that for decades the United States government denied acknowledgement of or treatment for.
For a great many Vietnam veterans, their treatment at home by government agencies was worse than what they endured in the war zones. But that is not what the Obama Administration is calling attention to in this 13-year-long public relations campaign to tidy up the horrendous history of the Vietnam War.
Across the country, veterans (military and civilian) of the Vietnam peace movement are organizing teach-ins and other educational actions to challenge the Pentagon’s multi-million dollar propaganda campaign, which Obama inexplicably endorsed. Apparently, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate president never read what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said about the disasters of the Vietnam War being visited upon Americans at home.
“The time has come for America to hear the truth about this tragic war,” King said in a widely quoted sermon in April 1967. “Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hope of the poor at home. It was sending their sons, and their brothers, and their husbands to fight and die in extraordinarily high proportion relative to the rest of the population.
“We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem,” King continued. “So we have been repeatedly faced with a cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same school room.”
Perhaps by the time this Vietnam War-camouflage campaign winds up in 2025, the next president or two will have learned something about how to truly honor real work for peace and justice in Vietnam, at home and around the world.