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By Mike Meyer
I remember learning about the bravery, honor and honesty brought to a brutal war in Europe by the US volunteer soldiers. Just regular guys who sold tires or worked in a factory but learned to carry a gun to stop the horrible machine that was the German Army. That was long over when I saw it but the movies on TV in the ‘50s were often WWII propaganda movies with Wallace Beery and other plain spoken heroes. The Russians were going to drop atomic bombs on us and everyone else, “duck & cover” would save us, unless we worked hard to stop this terrible thing. The transition from German to Russian was nearly seamless to me as a kid in those ‘50s. It all blurred together.
The side note was the horrible war in the Pacific with definitely non-human Japanese killing Chinese, who, if we managed to save them, would manage to starve to death anyway. Eat all your peas, there are people starving in China. None of them valued human life the way we did but we were going to save them anyway, or kill them, as the case may be.
It was easy to get confused. There always seems to be a level of confusion in American culture about saving or killing. Sometimes you have to kill them to save them. Another thing that showed up later in the Vietnam war with a long ugly history. Kill them all and let god sort them out. And that made sense to a white American boy who grew up on a farm and went to, what we now would call, a fundamentalist school. In those days it was just a church school and in that world that kind of killing almost made sense. Maybe we had to do it or burn in hell. Ok, I understand but there is something really, really wrong here that no one will explain.
Europe was a little simpler, those folks were kind of backward, compared to us, but they were related and sometimes ok. Except for the Germans who kept getting bad doses of monster injected into their veins by horrible, screaming leaders. Or something. Beginning to plant the million seeds of irony that have produced the only flowers that can grow here now.
Then Vietnam came along and that was a different thing as the draft came back and I had to register. Knowing a lot more history after two years of university and, somehow, the right didn’t seem to be on our side but I grew up respecting the responsibility to duty. My older brother had been a Marine Raider injured in a hand grenade throwing competition in the first wave on Iwo Jima. History is a force that pushes you.
So operating from a secret (joke) airbase in Thailand as an intelligence operations guy, mostly issuing maps and crypto pads, but reading all the classified intel and sit-reps, etc. I’d been doing that for two years along with the bad habit of reading all publications that were part of any intel office even if you were far away in a tropical jungle. And the stories didn’t match. We had papers along with the journalistic ‘sources’: UPI and AP tickers back then. But no one wanted to talk, we knew our job and what was there to talk about? I did and got in trouble for it but not bad. The colonel happened to be black and what I had said happened to be true but he was a professional and I thought it seemed to go harder on him than on me.
The Paris peace talks with the North Vietnamese were ongoing and Kissinger would announce a halt in bombing to give the North Vietnamese a chance to see that we meant well. In my real world the operational updates were always for an immediate increase in bombing with new targets. Meanwhile the US was denouncing as lies the accusations that the US had expanded the war inside Cambodia (the old name for the Khmer Republic). We, of course, were debriefing operations related to that bombing. I’d been actually targeting those bombing missions in Cambodia (the border looked like a parrott’s beak so it was known as that) when I was on Guam with the old B52s the year before.
In Gaum I also had the job of building the general’s briefing slides for the next day and I would plot the bombing coordinates on the slide showing where in Cambodia the bombs fell. The next day the slides would come back from the briefing, these were fairly high level so there were often guests, with all the bomb sites moved back into South Vietnam. The major who gave that part of the briefing and I only talked about those changes once the first time I did the slide. I said, was I wrong? He said, no. We never mentioned it again. I also learned not to see the things that changed.
This is ancient history. Not important. Stories of a war long ago. The majority of people now weren’t even born then.
Then I spent some years studying history and Asian Studies, I had discovered I liked the cultures of those people better than my own and wanted to know more. History is a terrible thing to study. Eventually you stumble on bare facts that have been, somehow misplaced, ignored . . . not seen?
Those movies that shaped me as a kid. The brave GI Joes saving the Europeans from the German panzers. Good thing we won. Yes, we know what was happening that many Germans didn’t know or managed to not see. One little fact: The Allied forces in Europe outnumbered the German forces by 34 to 1 at the start of 1944. Long pause . . . shit!
Of course, that’s a military goal. Don’t fight unless you're sure to win. But, my heroes as a kid were really just a big gang beating up a little gang. Where do you look for heroes in that situation? Add to that the lies about bombing things we said we weren’t. The easy background use of racism that made a joke of civil rights in the ‘60s. Black guys in the same uniform were saying things about that then and we would try to talk but it was hard. Almost no common language. But we all understood the same music telling us that something was wrong. What’s going on? In the end for most of us that music was the only link. But it wasn’t strong enough to hold us together and it became oldies radio except a lot of it didn’t. You don’t change the world because of oldies radio.
Fifty years later and we are now a country sick with violence, ugly shouting bullies lead us, lies are the new truth and no one pretends anymore. We constantly promote the sale of weapons used to gun down children in schools because that’s the American way to “freedom”. The lie is so big it has replaced everything we have ever done. America is now covered in floral fields of irony and its scent is one of bitterness and blood. Irony is good as a spice, but makes a thin and ultimately poisonous diet.
I’ve lived my life watching this land grow into all the things I hate. But not really. We’ve been fed a lifetime of lies so many of us can no longer figure out the truth and none of us were immune. The truth is in the trash we don’t discuss. That’s the American Way.