Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 14)

Chickenhawk (100% completed!)
In the final parts of this book we hear another couple stories of close calls and friends dying. Mason is becoming increasingly unstable in that he is anxious, can't sleep without pills and is irritable. He has finally finished his tour and returns to the US from a long Saigon flight. He has been away from his child for half the child's life and his wife seemed surreal.
Mason describes the troubles he had integrating into society and he came to realize he, like many Vietnam veterans, was suffering from PTSD. Mason was labeled a partly disabled veteran due to the cognitive/physical complications he was enduring.
There were odd jobs, moving to different places, but his mood was still off, he still need tranquilizers to sleep and he was drinking heavily at points (over a bottle of whiskey a day). His relationship with his wife was strained, to an almost terminal point. He did go back to school and learned more about the protest movement (as the war was still going on) and he came to believe he hadn't really fought something worth fighting.
Mason and his wife almost ruined themselves while he wrote this memoir. At the end of the memoir we don't know if the book is published but we do know Mason was arrested for marijuana trafficking; he being as surprised as anyone that he ended up in such a position.
Subsequently, one can know that "Chickenhawk became a New York Times best-seller in 1984, and remained on the list for 17 weeks."
I've also rarely seen such a distribution of customer reviews on Amazon.
Mason describes a chilling recurring nightmare he would have: He was in a compound of sorts and a truck would be backing up. The door would open and it was filled with dead babies. The driver asked how many he would like. Mason would say 200 pounds and the man would start using a pitchfork to transfer them. But Mason noticed that babies were actually alive as they were being stabbed and placed on a scale.
Regardless of his other problems, I am happy that Mason eventually realized his problems were not to due to an inherent, individual inferiority, but the experiences he had while in Vietnam.

The Vietnam Wars - Chapter 7 (1964-1965)
We read about how the NLF wants self-determination and the US is opposed. They argue for 'neutralism' and the US opposed it because the result wouldn't be what they wanted.
As Young states, "The dilemma Johnson faced was painfully clear; Kennedy had faced it before him, Nixon would after him. Any government in Saigon that aspired to popular support was likely to seek peace with the NLF an in time probably reunification as well." (p.126)
There was an increased US desire to extend the war but lacking decent rationales and rarely a dissenting voice (George Ball seemingly being the only exception)
A new tidbit was that in mid-1964 de Gaulle renewed his call for neutrality and urged reconvening the Geneva conference of 1954, and the Secretary General of UN (U Thant) urged direct negotiations between the US and the North and began to arrange them, but waited for the US election. The North was ready but the US didn't respond, so U Thant publicly criticized the US in Feb 1965.
We also hear of proposals following the Goldilocks principle: One too soft, one too hard, one just right, but all them military. The US thought of its bombing of the North as a bargaining chip. Johnson's people kept pushing him to increase military action, so he eventually green-lit operation Rolling Thunder.
Problematically, it was found (even near the time) that the bombing just increased the NLF's determination to overcome the US imperialism.
In Feb 1965, Ambassador Taylor warned about involving US troops on the ground as it would be full of complications. Also around this time, the NY Times ran a piece that showed a map of the worldwide demonstrations against US policies.
The US had now expanded the war to the North, established a friendly government in Saigon, had their own troops under their control, in short, what many had always wanted. But things still didn't work out, this is almost obvious when you read stories about Marines in helicopters mowing down villagers simple because they run from a helicopter (which I imagine, after it happens once and their is a witness it would be hard not to run if know the helicopters will kill you).
There is also more content of how the US treated villagers, how the villagers felt about that, how the ARVN wasn't fully supporting US efforts and didn't rally want to fight the VC (many desertions).


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