Marvin Kalb and his daughter Deborah have written a book called “The Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama”.
I can give you one very good reason not to even bother buying or reading the book. It comes from an email interview Kalb did with TIME’s Battleland:
Why did you write Haunting Legacy?
The Vietnam War was the only war the U.S. ever lost, and it left a deep scar on the American psyche. From then on, American presidents, whenever faced with the need to send troops to war, worried about getting trapped in another Vietnam, meaning another war without a clear mission, without an exit strategy, without Congressional support. Deborah and I wanted to explore this crucial dimension of recent American history. That’s the reason we wrote the book.
Bullsquat. “Losing” a war usually means you were there to fight it and got beaten. That’s not the case with Vietnam, although it is a very persistent myth. If we lost anything it was the political war (and will), certainly not the war on the battlefield.
So someone who would make a statement like the first in that paragraph has zip for credibility with me. Our last combat troops left South Vietnam in August of 1972. Saigon fell in April of 1975. Who is the “we” that lost the war? I think we all know who that is and Kalb was right there with the bunch of ‘em painting a picture that wasn’t accurate and is still doing it.
I do get tired of these sorts of articles – this one in the New York Times. It is entitled "Boomers Hit New Self-Absorption Milestone: Age 65". The word I object too is "self-absorbed" as a description for an entire generation. It’s nonsense. My generation is no more self-absorbed than any other. Are there factions of it which fit the bill? Yeah, but they exist in every other generation as well.
The Times notes that today marks the first of my generation turning 65. Whoop freakin’ wee. The only one absorbed by that are the authors of the article.
Though other generations, from the Greatest to the Millennial, may mutter that it’s time to get over yourselves, this birthday actually matters. According to the Pew Research Center, for the next 19 years, about 10,000 people “will cross that threshold” every day — and many of them, whether through exercise or Botox, have no intention of ceding to others what they consider rightfully theirs: youth.
This means that the 79 million baby boomers, about 26 percent of this country’s population, will be redefining what it means to be older, and placing greater demands on the social safety net. They are living longer, working longer and, researchers say, nursing some disappointment about how their lives have turned out. The self-aware, or self-absorbed, feel less self-fulfilled, and thus are racked with self-pity.
Really? So "some researchers say" we’re "nursing disappointment about how their lives have turned out?"
That certainly doesn’t include me. Heck, I’m in the middle of starting a new venture and I’m excited about life. And self-pity is for losers. Life is life – you deal with it as it comes along. But do I feel less "self-fulfilled”? Uh, no. Have I had some set backs in life. Hasn’t everyone? I’ve also had some wonderful and unexpected successes as well. But I’m damn sure not to the point where I’m assessing my life – I’ll probably be working at something until I die.
And by the way, folks, I don’t chase “youth”. I chase “health”. Youth is fleeting and can’t be recaptured and I don’t see more of an “absorption” by baby boomers with “youth” than I saw with the so-called “Greatest generation” or with those now in middle age.
As for the “social safety net”, who the heck put it in place for the most part? It wasn’t Baby Boomers. And no one has mentioned any of the Greatest Generation turning up their noses at the net or not feeling some sense of “entitlement”. It was they and the previous generation who are mostly responsible for its existence, not Boomers.
The Times seems to realize it is in deep water with its attempt at generalization:
Ascribing personality traits to a bloc of 79 million people is a fool’s endeavor. For one thing, people born in 1964 wouldn’t know the once-ubiquitous television hero Sky King if he landed his trusty Songbird on their front lawns, just as people born in 1946 wouldn’t quite know what to make of one of Sky King’s successors, the big-headed H. R. Pufnstuf.
Yeah, I remember Sky King (and many others). But I also remember Vietnam and a large contingent who fought there because they were trying to live up to what the previous generation had done as a “duty”. And the reason I find these sorts of generalizations of my generation offensive is found in the NYT’s very next paragraph:
For another, the never-ending celebration of the hippie contingent of boomers tends to overshadow the Young Americans for Freedom contingent. After all, while some boomers were trying to “levitate” the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War, other boomers were fighting in that war.
That’s correct. And those same Boomers are responsible in large part for building the finest volunteer military the nation has ever fielded bar none. And some Boomers are still on active duty today. But this single paragraph best explains the problem I have – the Bill Ayers contingent of my generation does not represent me or the huge majority of my peers. What happened is the “never-ending celebration” of the “hippie contingent” – again something the Greatest Generation was responsible for – forever tainted my generation with the stereotype of the “self-absorbed” Baby Boomer (just as it did with any number of cruel myths about Vietnam and Vietnam vets).
Here’s another generalization:
Previous generations were raised to speak only when spoken to, and to endure in self-denying silence. But baby boomers were raised on the more nurturing, child-as-individual teachings of Dr. Benjamin Spock, and then placed under the spell of television, whose advertisers marketed their wares directly to children. Parents were cut out of the sale — except, of course, for the actual purchase of that coonskin cap or Barbie doll.
“It created a sense of entitlement that had not existed before,” Mr. Gillon said. “We became more concerned with our own emotional well-being, whereas to older generations that was considered soft and fluffy.”
Well much of this skipped my household. I was raised in a "speak only when spoken too" home. And while Benjamin Spock’s (another of the Greatest Generation) works were read and applied in some ways, my upbringing wasn’t at all like this generalization would like to pretend it was. And that goes with my peers – of course I was raised in and around the Army, so I can also say my upbringing might have been somewhat more "traditional" than that of others. But I’d never generalize about it.
And I never have had a "sense of entitlement" about much of anything – but to pretend it never “existed before" is to deny the existence of Social Security prior to the Baby Boom generation. It was created in 1935 for heaven sake and it established as much a sense of entitlement as has anything since. My generation had nothing to do with its beginnings nor have they been the first to demand this "entitlement".
But there’s a basis for the "sense of entitlement" as it pertains to Social Security or Medicare – government has been taking my money for both programs for decades. And while other, later generations may believe that neither will be available when they reach the age to benefit from them, don’t you even begin to believe they won’t have a "sense of entitlement" if they do.
As for the “soft and fluffy” nonsense, I’ll again point to the war in Vietnam. Not soft, not fluffy, 246 Medals of Honor awarded primarily to Baby Boomers in a 10 year war.
Every generation that I know of thinks the following generation is softer and more self-absorbed than they were. They all worry about “what will happen to the country” when the next generation takes over, yet somehow, we manage to find the grit, determination, leadership, and ability to see it all through.
And lord save us from the sociologists:
A study by two sociologists, Julie Phillips of Rutgers University and Ellen Idler of Emory University, indicates that the suicide rate for middle-aged people, notably baby boomers without college degrees, rose from 1999 to 2005. And Paul Taylor, the executive vice president of the Pew Center, summed up a recent survey of his generation this way:
“We’re pretty glum.”
This gloominess appears to be linked to the struggling economy, the demands of middle age and a general sense of lofty goals not met by the generation that once sang of teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony, and then buying it a Coke.
Bull squat. A paean to a tiny fraction of a generation that believed in unicorns and moon ponies. Most of the rest of us were and are pretty darn grounded in reality and aren’t’ glum at all. In fact, I’m elated each day when I open my eyes and am still among the living. It’s the start to what I hope will be a good day. Ok, I’m kidding about that, but you know what, I resent the hell out of some academic characterizing me as “glum” because I happen to have been born in a particular time period – like a characterization such as “glum” can be applied because we appeared in a particular span of time. That just a crock of academic crap.
My guess, given the “struggling economy” and how it has impacted lives all over the nation, we’d find parts of many generations “glum”.
So on this first day of the new year, let me start it out right – stick up you fundament, New York Times. Your article is BS and you know it – not that I’m particularly surprised. You’re in the middle of trying to perpetuate another myth. That three layers of editors sure are earning their pay, aren’t they?
In the wake of the Richard Blumenthal nonsense, Larry Pressler, former Republican senator from SD and a Vietnam vet writes a pretty good indictment of the deferment generation Blumenthal represents and how their thinking about war in general evolved from the time they’d have had to participate to the time when others would have to do so. Unsurprisingly they’re more for the latter than they were for the former.
But there was a line in his article that again perpetuates a myth about the Vietnam war:
The problem is that for every person who won a deferment or a spot in a special National Guard unit, someone poorer or less educated, and usually African-American, had to serve.
Let me say this very clearly: NOT TRUE.
Goodness knows there have been a number of studies that address this canard. And their findings do not support the contention. Here are the raw numbers:
Of all the men and women who served in Vietnam, 275,000, or 10.6%, were black. The remaining 88.4% were Caucasian. At the time of the Vietnam War, Blacks represented approximately 12.5% of the total U.S. population.
There is a persistent myth that Blacks were used as “cannon fodder”, being assigned to infantry units where they were forced to “walk point”. This is not supported by the casualty data which indicates that 86.8% of those killed in action were Caucasian, while 12.1%, or 5,711, were Black. Again, this number is approximately the same as the percentage of Blacks in the general population during the war.
Another study produced the same result:
Sociologists Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler, in their recently published book “All That We Can Be,” said they analyzed the claim that blacks were used like cannon fodder during Vietnam “and can report definitely that this charge is untrue. Black fatalities amounted to 12 percent of all Americans killed in Southeast Asia – a figure proportional to the number of blacks in the U.S. population at the time and slightly lower than the proportion of blacks in the Army at the close of the war.”
So put that one to bed if you hear it repeated. It’s simply not true. Nor is the “poor and less educated”. Perhaps in in the context that Pressler uses it (he’s talking about the “elite” in Ivy League schools at the time) it has some legs, but in the context of the force as a whole it doesn’t hold up:
Servicemen who went to Vietnam from well-to-do areas had a slightly elevated risk of dying because they were more likely to be pilots or infantry officers.
Vietnam Veterans were the best educated forces our nation had ever sent into combat. 79% had a high school education or better.
Certainly the military was strained then and those of us who served at that time remember the Cat IVs (if I’m not mistaken 100,000 were admitted and didn’t last long – they simply weren’t equipped to handle the military), but in general, it was, as General Barry McCaffrey notes above, the best educated force we’d ever fielded at the time.
There are a few other myths I’d like to see go away and now seems the perfect time address them with some statistics:
91% of Vietnam Veterans say they are glad they served.
74% said they would serve again even knowing the outcome.
There is no difference in drug usage between Vietnam Veterans and non veterans of the same age group (from a Veterans Administration study).
Vietnam Veterans are less likely to be in prison than the general population – only 1/2 of one percent of Vietnam Veterans have been jailed for crimes.
97% were discharged under honorable conditions; the same percentage of honorable discharges as ten years prior to Vietnam.
85% of Vietnam Veterans made a successful transition to civilian life.
Vietnam veterans’ personal income exceeds that of our non-veteran age group by more than 18 percent.
Vietnam veterans have a lower unemployment rate than our non-vet age group.
87% of the American people hold Vietnam Vets in high esteem.
Here’s one of my favorite myths – most Vietnam veterans were drafted:
2/3 of the men who served in Vietnam were volunteers. 2/3 of the men who served in World War II were drafted. Many men volunteered for the draft so even some of the draftees were actually volunteers.
Approximately 70% of those killed were volunteers.
And, of course, you’ve heard the one about the average age of the infantryman in Vietnam being 19? It wasn’t. It was 22.55 years old.
While I certainly agree with Pressler’s greater point about those like Blumenthal, he doesn’t need to use myths in place of facts to do so. The attitude toward Vietnam vets has changed significantly and for the better over the years. However, these myths, perpetuated by the anti-war crowd and the media have persisted and cast a shadow on their service. Time to put them to rest once and for all.
The arrogance of “art” or the artist, if you prefer.
Val Kilmer is thinking about running for governor of New Mexico. Says Kilmer:
He told The Hill at Monday’s Huffington Post party at the Newseum that he has been approached to run for the highest office of the state where he owns a ranch and has family roots.
“Actually, they’ve asked me to run for governor,” he said, not specifying who “they” are. “People seem to want me to.”
I bet I can name one group who doesn’t want you.
Veterans. Specifically, Vietnam veterans.
Why you may ask?
Read this from an interview in Esquire where the interviewer is asking Kilmer how he relates to the characters he plays:
[Klosterman]: You mean you think you literally had the same experience as Doc Holliday?
Kilmer: Oh, sure. It’s not like I believed that I shot somebody, but I absolutely know what it feels like to pull the trigger and take someone’s life.
[Klosterman:] You understand how it feels to shoot someone as much as a person who has actually committed a murder?
[Kilmer] I understand it more. It’s an actor’s job. A guy who’s lived through the horror of Vietnam has not spent his life preparing his mind for it. He’s some punk. Most guys were borderline criminal or poor, and that’s why they got sent to Vietnam. It was all the poor, wretched kids who got beat up by their dads, guys who didn’t get on the football team, couldn’t finagle a scholarship. They didn’t have the emotional equipment to handle that experience. But this is what an actor trains to do. I can more effectively represent that kid in Vietnam than a guy who was there.
Pompous ignorance. And the absolute certainty this poseur displays is laughable. He knows “absolutely” what it feels like to pull the trigger and take someone’s life” although he’s absolutely never done it.
And he “understands it more” than a combat veteran what it is like to have been in combat.
He crowns his burst of ignorance with a stereotypical but untrue characterization of a group he obviously knows nothing about. The disrespect he displays is both disgusting and inexcusable.
Let’s see, he played a fighter pilot once, didn’t he? Well let’s plop his rear-end in an Airbus A320 over the Hudson River at about 2500 feet, kill both engines and see if he can “effectively represent” former fighter pilot Sully Sullenburger, shall we?
Piece of cake, right?
Whatever happened to actors like Henry Fonda who when given an Oscar I believe, said, and I paraphrase, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I just pretend to be someone who really did something”.
That’s you, Kilmer!
New Mexicans, I love you, but if you ever elect this trumped up fraud to the governor’s office, I can promise you I will never, ever again step foot in NM for the rest of my natural life. And I’ll do everything I can to persuade others never to do so either. In fact, for all I’ll care, La Raza can have you.
Signed: Some poor borderline criminal punk who volunteered to go to Vietnam.
[There, I feel better.]