And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! We’re all gonna die.— Country Joe McDonald
Few argue that the war was a good idea.
But some believe it is a young man’s duty to fight whenever the Deep State asks… even with no vote in Congress and no chance that the enemy would ever pose a threat to the homeland.
In any event, whatever the U.S. military was trying to prevent happened nonetheless… and why ever it was trying to prevent it, it turned out not to matter anyway.
About three million people died. (The number of Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodians killed is very uncertain.)
People are neither pure cowards nor undiluted heroes. It depends on the circumstances. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was surely a coward for not coming forward and telling the nation the truth when it might have done some good.
In 1968, he accepted his medals – the Medal of Freedom and a Distinguished Service Medal – as a hero. But he didn’t mention that the war for which he was largely responsible was a mistake, even though he said later he had already come to that conclusion. At least another million people died in the war after he left the Pentagon.
It was nearly three decades later that he found the courage to tell the public, with tears in his eyes, that it was “wrong, terribly wrong.”
(Additional footnote: He went on to serve the Deep State as head of the World Bank.)
Judging from our Mailbag comments [scroll down for today’s batch], half our readers agree with him; they believe the Vietnam War was a mistake… and anyone who went along with it was a fool.
The other half doesn’t believe we should think about it at all; you did your duty… or you were a traitor. That was all there was to it.
“What do you think?” we lobbed a softball at a cousin who had done two tours in ‘Nam.
“I think I was an idiot for getting mixed up in it. The smart boys stayed in college… or went into the National Guard… or found some way to dodge out of it. I went in because I didn’t have anything better to do.
“But your readers should give us all a break. Most of us didn’t know what the hell we were doing. We did what we were told. We did what we had to do. Or we did whatever we could get away with.
“And you never know what will happen. I was a lieutenant in the Army. I was an engineer. I was supposed to be building runways and roads.
“Like Ali said, I had no quarrel with the Viet Cong. I didn’t want to be there. And I damned sure didn’t want to get in a fight with them. But you never know…
“One time, we were coming back from a patrol. I was leading it. We had just three Jeeps… four men to a Jeep. It was supposed to be a safe area. But I knew something wasn’t right. It was too quiet.
“Then we came around a bend… I heard shots…. and all Hell broke loose. One of my men slumped over. We couldn’t tell where the shots were coming from. It was a jungle on both sides of the road. So we just blasted away with everything we had.
“Then I noticed that one of the guys behind me was just sitting there. It was the strangest thing. The middle of a firefight… and he was just sitting there.
“I yelled at him, ‘What’s the matter with you? Help us out here!’
“He said he couldn’t. He said he was a conscientious objector.
“What the hell? How did a conscientious objector end up in my Jeep with the VC shooting at us? It took me a couple seconds to process that information.
“Then… my gun barrel was red hot from shooting. I pressed it to his forehead and I told him that if he didn’t pick up his gun I was going to blow his head off.
“People are funny. I think I would have done it. And he got the message. He started firing his gun. I bet that to this day he’s got a circle on his forehead.
“Patriotism? Fighting Communism? It’s all bullsh**. We fought because we had to. Or we didn’t know any better.”
BY CHRIS LOWE, EDITOR AT LARGE
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More great feedback today on Muhammad Ali and the Vietnam War.
But first, one of our favorite pieces of reader feedback ever… in response to yesterday’s issue on what Congress really thinks of voters.
Sometimes I cry after reading your letters; today I puked. Keep up the good work.— John D.
Now, back to your thoughts on Ali, war, and the Deep State…
Anyone who can dare say Ali was a coward should be hung by his feet. Ali was the bravest of the brave and proved it all through his life.— Doug C.
I do not admire Muhammad Ali for refusing to serve his country in the Vietnam War. I also was called to serve there. I could have run to Canada and turned my back upon my duty. I went. I served.
One time I turned a “crashing” RF-4C into a limping plane that flew back to base safely. That is what true heroes do. We turn potential tragedy into success and make it look easy.
Six crews sought a target over the north. None came back with it. I went and came back with the target and made it look easy. It was not easy. I shivered in my bunk – in fear – most of the night before the mission. The gunners missed that day.— Carl T.
Mohammad Ali was one of few elite athletes (or any professional athlete, for that matter) who was bigger than his sport.
Whether you agree with his causes, this is the measure by which he should be judged… not whether he “did his duty,” as defined by the jingoists and sycophants of the day, and all those too timid to think for themselves.
Viet Nam was a foolish disaster. Get over it.— Dave H.
When Ali refused to go into the military, yes, it made headlines. However, there was a group that refused military service and you never heard anything about them – Jehovah’s Witnesses.
These young men who stood up for what they believed usually went to prison. Just thought you ought to know this.— Brenda M.
Mailbag insults come from locked-minded individuals who hold their personal experiences above others, which was not like Ali.
WWII was the last war in which this country was engaged. Everything since has been the work of political puppeteers.— Price M.
Two comments on Mohammed Ali and those that call him traitor…
The first is from Sir Thomas More, who was executed by Henry VIII for refusing to sanction one of Henry’s marriages. Said More: “In matters of conscience, the loyal subject is more bound to be loyal to his conscience than to any other thing.”
The second is from Junius: “The subject who is truly loyal to the chief magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures.”— Charles M.
Do draft-supporters realize they are supporting involuntary servitude? An evil even (especially?) if a government does it.
The U.S. fought two wars (1812 and “Civil”) against slavery; why would anyone think such a government has any right to impose it? Nothing can be more American than standing up to government injustice.— Robert R.
Thanks, Bill, for your spot-on comments on Ali. He was brave in pointing out the remoteness of the Vietnamese threat and, by extension, the lack of credibility in the government’s “domino theory.”
He also stood throughout his life as an example of the peaceful influence of the Islamic religion.— Gary M.
All wars are asinine – especially Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, where we have sent men to fight with one arm tied behind their back. Idiot politicians have sent many of our best and brightest people to die on the battlefield supporting some ignorant cause.
Did our sacrifice in ‘Nam bring them freedom from Communism? No. Just death and misery. Did our sacrifice in Iraq or Afghanistan bring freedom there? No. Just more death and misery, and the rise of an even more evil government (ISIS).
All we have done is bankrupt ourselves, killed and maimed our citizens, and made the world worse than before. If we, the citizens of this country, do not stand up and resist this corrupt government of ours, then we are fully responsible for the hatred and distrust that other people have for our country.— Karl S.
About Ali, alias Cassius Clay… Having lived in Kentucky during Clay’s growing-up period and enduring all his glorified escapades over the years I am amazed that he is being held up as some kind of hero and roll-model.
In fact, many of his "I’m the Greatest" antics displayed by many of today’s athlete mirrors what is detestable in sports. Of course, our popular press conveniently ignores – or “white washes” – the blatant disrespect he showed for any kind of authority and our laws.— Dana S.
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – It is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country.
The old lie. I can’t fault Ali – or anyone – for calling it what it is. Barring an immediate physical threat to person or loved ones (or maybe property), is there such thing as a genuinely productive use for inter-human violence in the world?
State sponsored violence seldom – if ever – meets the criteria for simple defense of its people… and so is fundamentally disrespectful to life, violating the basic principle of natural law: Do not infringe on other persons or their property.
Government equals force. And no matter how much politicians or media heads or university professors or angry readers try to dress that truth in lies, I’m fairly certain Mr. Bonner is going to see right through it. Thanks for keeping it real.— Kevin H.
I’m amused at those who demand that you “cancel my subscription” in their diatribes against your columns. Apparently, they need to demonstrate their indignation rather than drop to the bottom of the page to graciously click on “To cancel your subscription…”
If you write anything that I disagree with, I must confess that it has made me rethink my beliefs. It’s a shame, however, that others are too willing to write you off because their belief system has been challenged, or to accuse you of being "unpatriotic."
I thank God that you’re not perpetuating the drivel that allows venal politicians to send unsophisticated young to fight in wars over property, oil, dogma, etc.— Patrick D.
When I returned from Vietnam as a Marine “grunt” (infantryman) I was surprised at the animosity shown toward me by my country. I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong.
When I graduated from high school, I did what most men before me seemed to do and joined to defend the world from Communism, fascism, the emperor and so on.
I was 17 and had values instilled in me as a patriotic American. I still have those beliefs and share them freely with others. Needless to say I am not the life of any party.
I looked up to MLK for taking a stand. I looked up to Ali for the same reason. He did what he thought was right and took the consequences. I couldn’t understand why people couldn’t separate the man from the cause, though. They screamed and spit on the soldier, sailor, Marine, etc. We were just doing what our county leaders asked us to do.
I disagree with a lot of your ideas (beliefs), but I listen to your side. I want to learn as I grow older and wiser. You help me do that. Please continue by using me as a sounding board. You confirm my humanity by reading your thoughts. Someone once said, “Reading is merely thinking thoughts beyond oneself.” I’m reading your mind.— Gene D.
Like Bill, Jim Rickards is a longtime believer in higher gold prices. But now Jim says he’s got a new way to play the coming price rise.
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