Vietnam: A Retrospective

An Uneasy Peace

by Margaret Wyles

May 1, 2000


Vietnam. That we've never come to terms with this event is evidenced by the fact that, even now the word engenders deep feelings, controversy, discomfort and has the power it had then, to destroy friendships and rip families apart.

Like the hideously deformed relative that unexpectedly emerges from the confines of his subterranean prison, Vietnam is our dirty little family secret exposed to the light of day. Which is not to say that we had never allowed our little embarrassment out at night, under cover of darkness, into covert actions in Guatemala, Cuba, the Philippines. We often speak of Vietnam, when we do, in digestible terms - as an aberration, an unfortunate mistake, as though it were a family argument at the Cleaver home suddenly spun out of control, rather than part of a continuum of warring ventures that would make us the most powerful country on earth.

We recoil from the truth as we recoil from any truth which would dismantle the secure image we have of ourselves; the embarrassing truths that would unlock the lies that cement the foundation of our denial. All that's needed is a confession, but it's exactly that we avoid. But how does one confess to the deaths of 4 million Vietnamese, confess to having been defeated by a small country whose most formidable weapons were spirit and resolve?

In the midst of the war, those of us who fought against it with our black armbands and mass rallies, imagined the future would be a continuation of the opening that had begun as people mobilized forces against the lies, the racism, the hypocrisy. That the movement didn't last, that it was resolutely dealt with by reactionary forces was as much our fault as theirs. We hadn't done our homework. We imagined years of oppression and imperialism could be turned around with posters and good intentions. Free of the burden of continuing the struggle in less glamorous times, we returned to our lives, our moods tied to the rise and fall of the stock market rather than the death tolls.

Having exposed the family secret, we allowed ourselves to be put on the defensive. For their part, the powers-that-be quickly reassessed their strategy and regained control. Reagan was elected to restore order - to gather the forces of the old ideology and shove our still simmering outrage back into the box. Our energies were channeled into a more fruitful, more personal direction - into business, careers, the security of our families and homes.

Having betrayed our own idealism, we have tacitly agreed to turn our heads - in Iraq, in Kosovo, and now in Colombia. We have agreed not to pursue the given rhetoric with disquieting questions. In exchange, they have agreed not to involve us personally or bring home our citizens in body bags. It is an uneasy peace. As Leonard Cohen sings, there is a crack in everything. That's where the light comes in. At least one can hope.


Vietnam: A Retrospective

Introduction - by Gilles d'Aymery
Prism And Touchstone - by Rick Rozoff
The Road to Wisdom - by Aleksandra Priestfield
Through the Eyes of a Child - by Jan Baughman
The Trauma of Coming Home - by Doug Baughman
Reflections on the War in Vietnam - by Mac Lawrence
Making Sense out of Senselessness - by Eileen Rinde
Myths and Reality - by Antony Black
Stay Under the Radar Screen - by Milo Clark
Conclusion - by Gilles d'Aymery


Published May 1, 2000
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