The year was 1967. I was just 17 years old and already a freshman at Lafayette College, a decidedly patriotic institution of higher learning. The Vietnam War was in full swing and as such, all incoming students were required to take at least one year of Reserve Officers Training (ROTC). While only that one year was required, the army officers in charge strongly suggested that we take all four to become Second Lieutenants when we got shipped off to the bush. They reasoned that we’d get paid 7 G’s a year instead of the paltry grunt pay the have nots earned. It was all stated in monetary terms.
Here’s what they didn’t tell you: In addition to being reviled by the troops who saw the newly anointed officers as privileged pussies, Second Lieutenants in Vietnam had the highest mortality rate of any rank. They weren’t just killed by the enemy as they led men into battle. Their own troops were known to frag them from behind using the heat of battle to excuse the “mistake!” Yeah, whatever!
At that time, I wasn’t for or against the war. That wasn’t even an issue. I just smelled bull shit from a mile off. The point was moot anyway. After freshman year, I transferred to a different college – a more progressive university which didn’t require its students to take ROTC.
Honestly, I don’t remember a whole lot about the “Military Science” classwork from my freshman year. But one moment in time remains vivid in my mind. Captain Bockoven was lecturing us on the subject of the incredible M 16 – the US Army’s basic weapon of war. Almost drooling at the thought of the awesome power of the rifle, he frothed about the spinning projectile it spat which would “tear into the flesh of the enemy leaving a gaping whole as it existed their bodies.” The look on his face was ugly. Like he enjoyed killing. Dude struck me as a US Army-sanctioned psycho.
Last Sunday while I was watching “FACE THE NATION, KEN BURNS came on to hype his new Vietnam War documentary. During the presentation, an American veteran lamented that while the Russian-manufactured AK 47 the enemy employed was a first-rate weapon, the M 16 the Americans used was – and I quote – “a piece of shit that constantly jammed in the middle of battle.” Funny how the Cap’n back at Lafayette neglected to mention that crucial fact!
Well anyway…these are just two instances when our government tells us a bunch of bull shit as if we’re too stupid to see it for what it really is. And if you watch Ken Burns’s special, you will come to discover via audio tapes he found, that both Kennedy and Johnson knew there was no way for the US to win that war. Which is not at all the way the situation was portrayed by our leaders.
Even as the US negotiated a “peace with honor,” it was difficult for anybody in his right mind to view that preposterous euphemism as anything but hogwash as TV film showed Vietnamese clinging to aircraft flying off the roof of the US embassy in Saigon as North Vietnamese soldiers began entering the compound. “Peace with honor.” Yeah, right! How’s about “We got our asses kicked and 58,000 American kids died at an early age for what reason history has difficulty rationalizing!” Shit our government tells us. That’s all I’m sayin’.