Fred Malo Jr. Not for depressives
Having been diagnosed as depressive, watching Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 10-part documentary on the Vietnam War was not particularly therapeutic. However, as an antiwar protester at the time, I felt obligated. It was our war. The one we lost.
As always, Burns was brilliant and very thorough. He filled the 18 hours with information I had not known before and some previously unseen and horrific footage.
I was particularly struck by the North Vietnamese footage of Capt. John McCain, who was shot down on a bombing mission to Hanoi and broke his leg and both his arms. They filmed an interview with him because he was the son of a Navy admiral and beat him afterward because he did not thank North Vietnam for their hospitality.
I thought of what he went through as I recalled the sniveling coward who said he likes “the guys who weren’t captured.” Burns asked McCain if he would do an interview for the documentary and he declined. I understand that more than I understand the ones who agreed to relive the nightmare.
There were a couple of items I was looking for I did not see. In 1968, Henry Kissinger told the South Vietnamese delegation to walk away from the peace talks because they would get a much better deal when Richard Nixon took office. They did, and five years and thousands of lives later, Kissinger signed the exact same deal that was available in ’68.
So they give Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel committee also gave one to Yasser Arafat. No wonder Bob Dylan dissed them.
North Vietnam was a country very much dependent on a series of dams. They provided all of their power, fresh water and farmland. We bombed Hanoi, but we never touched those dams. That tells me our political and military leaders not only didn’t know how to win that war, they didn’t want to.
Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman would’ve been appalled. Attack the infrastructure, he said. Make it so the enemy has nothing left to fight for. By doing that, Gen. Sherman brought that prolonged war to an abrupt end and saved thousands of lives, union and confederate.
I recently went back to Munster, Indiana, for my 50-year high school reunion. A couple of classmates and I went to the town’s War Memorial. It’s a long winding trail that goes around in a loop commemorating all our wars from the Revolutionary War on with plaques and monuments to the fallen. A couple of our classmates’ names were on those monuments.
It was exhilarating and deeply depressing at the same time. Just one war after another, all of them supposed to be the war to end all wars and none of them were. And it’s still going on. Kids are being sent overseas and coming back all screwed up or not at all. The lyrics of John Prine’s “Sam Stone” came rushing back:
“Sam Stone was alone when he popped his last balloon
Climbin’ walls while sittin’ in a chair
And they played his last request
As the room smelled just like death
With an overdose a hangin’ in the air
But life had lost its fun
And there was nothin’ to be done
But trade his house that he bought on GI bill
For a flag-draped casket on some local hero’s hill.”
Fred Malo Jr. lives in Carbondale.
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