Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Faceless Others

Trey Smith

There are more than 30,000 books on the Vietnam War in print. There are volumes on the decision-making of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, grand biographies of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, rafts of memoirs by American soldiers -- some staggeringly well-written, many not -- and plenty of disposable paperbacks about snipers, medics, and field Marines. I can tell you from experience that if you read a few dozen of the best of them, you can get a fairly good idea about what that war was really like. Maybe not perfect knowledge, but a reasonable picture anyway. Or you can read several hundred of the middling-to-poor books and, if you pay special attention to the few real truths buried in all the run-of-the-mill war stories, you’ll still get some feeling for war American-style.

The main problem with most of those books is the complete lack of Vietnamese voices. The Vietnam War killed more than 58,000 Americans. That’s a lot of people and a lot of heartache. It deserves attention. But it killed several million Vietnamese and severely affected -- and I mean severely -- the lives of many millions more. That deserves a whole lot more focus.

From American histories, you would think the primary feature of the Vietnam War was combat. It wasn’t. Suffering was the main characteristic of the war in Southeast Asia. Millions of Vietnamese suffered: injuries and deaths, loss, privation, hunger, dislocation, house burnings, detention, imprisonment, and torture. Some experienced one or another of these every day for years on end.
~ from Who Did You Rape in the War, Daddy? A Question for Veterans that Needs Answering by Nick Turse ~
In reading Turse's article, I thought about the recent 10-year anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Just as with Vietnam, almost the entire focus on that "war" is from the US perspective.

The main focus by those to the left of center is that President Bush lied to us. We were deceived and we are not happy about it.

I don't have much sympathy for all the folks out there who claim they were deceived. Why? Because the lies were exposed in real time! Countless individuals and commentators made very strong cases that what Bush and his minions were saying wasn't true and yet the vast majority of our elected leaders PLUS the American public supported the invasion of Iraq. Bomb them back to the stone age was a familiar retort.

Even today people who claim they were deceived still believe that, while the war was prosecuted under false pretenses, one wonderful thing came out of it: We got Saddam. In getting Saddam, we freed the Iraqi people.

What chauvinistic dribble!

While there can be no question that Hussein was a repressive tyrant, the standard of living under his regime was far better than it is today. Back then, Iraq had a functioning electricity grid and working water sanitation facilities. Hospitals were equipped with the latest in technology. Schools operated at near capacity. And most people went about their daily business without fear of being shot, bombed or kidnapped.

Today none of these things is true. In "freeing" the Iraqi people, we decimated their infrastructure. Even worse, the violence didn't magically end when the majority of our troops left. Iraq today is a shell of its former self and a good deal of the population lives in communities that closely resemble ghettos.

Oh, but we don't like to talk about such negatives.

No, if we're going to talk about negatives, then it's about the number of our service men and women who were killed, injured or psychologically crippled. It's not that our people don't deserve compassion and sympathy -- it's more that our numbers pale in comparison to the Iraqi people. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, injured, psychologically devastated and/or displaced from their homes and yet they barely get a mention. It's enough to make an average Iraqi feel as if Americans only see worth in American lives and no one else.

War is hell, but the worst hell occurs where the war is fought. Almost all modern American wars are fought somewhere else. It is because Americans don't experience war in their face that it is easy for us to embrace jingoist and sanitized versions of what actually took place. It is why we listen to American voices and don't even notice that the people who suffered the most are not represented.

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