In troubled times as these we should look back into fairly recent history and ask what are we coming to? The president of the United States can refer to other nations and people by foul names and he can insinuate that if you are not white, and preferably rich and white, you are not worthy and not be immediately censured for it. Oh, it can all be explained away or ignored as simply inconsequential in the bigger picture. Or maybe it’s about time we “Americans” stood up for ourselves. And get over it, it’s just his style.
Yes there is outrage at President Trump’s “shit hole remarks” referring to nations in Africa and parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, populated primarily by people with darker skin than his own (than my own too), and where there is abject poverty and often lawlessness and corrupt governments (gee sounds like home). Even so, in all it seems a bit muted.
I just watched a documentary on the May Lai massacre in which during the Vietnam War American soldiers wantonly killed 500 civilians in a couple of small villages, including babies and their mothers and old people. The Army tried to cover it up. But a year or so later word got out and there was public outrage. But there was also public outrage when the powers that be tried to use one lowly army lieutenant as a scapegoat (evidence shows he was guilty but it also showed he was not the only one and that the orders came from higher up the chain of command — but he was eventually freed and no one ever faced punishment, except for a few months in the stockade for the lieutenant).
Anti-war people along with much of the general public were outraged that a solider following orders in what had become known as a pointless and unjust war would be made to take the blame. Even people whose proclivity was to support our country right or wrong could not stomach it all anymore.
And what of the men who mowed down the innocents? Even though no one of us would ever want to think that we could do such a savage thing, think about it. You are in a foreign country and you may never see home again. Your fellow soldiers have been picked off by landmines, booby traps, sniper fire — no head-on engagement. You know that at times civilians are complicit in it all. And then you get the orders: you are going into a “free fire” zone — everyone is a target.
(Faulty intelligence supposedly indicated that only Viet Cong soldiers and no innocent civilians would be present — very confusing in that the Viet Cong were guerilla units that dressed in black pajama peasant garb — but they were certainly not babies. Yes, I know, there were reported instances in that war where bombs were attached to toddlers who approached unsuspecting GIs, but that is bedside the point here.)
I know the official government line back home here was that we were helping the people of South Vietnam fight off foreign aggression, a communist takeover — of course it was all very complicated. You had what amounted to an ongoing civil war aided and abetted by the old Soviet Union, primarily, as well as neighboring communist China. But before that they were fighting off their French colonial masters, and then the Japanese, and of course not everyone in Vietnam was on the same side. But our soldiers were dumped into the middle of it all and soon all of the Vietnamese were just “gooks”. Once you put that label on, once you dehumanize them, I guess it’s easier to rationalize brutality against innocents. I guess.
Now supposedly you even as a lowly private are not required to follow illegal orders. But what is an illegal order? You can’t just pick and choose.
I was reminding one of my daughters the other day that although I was in the army during the worst part of Vietnam I served in Germany, or in the “Beetle Bailey army” as I termed it. But I still vividly recall our one class on following orders in basic training conducted in a little garage-like building at North Fort Lewis, Wa. The young lieutenant told us that we were not required to follow an illegal order — the only example I recall he gave was if we were ordered to march off a cliff. But he cautioned us: if you choose not to obey what you believe is an illegal order you are still subject to courts-martial and punishment if the tribunal decides it was a legal order. Or as one participant in the May Lai massacre asserted in the documentary: there is no such thing as an illegal order.
Now, still, at least a couple of others in the documentary claimed that they willfully refused orders to kill civilians (and we are talking women and children, including babies) or somehow dodged them. They said they were not sure whether they themselves might be shot for disobeying an order in the middle of a combat operation. And since then, they said, they have always anguished over the thought was there something they could have done?
And before I get too far away from my original point, it was scary how the army seemed to implicitly threaten the soldiers in the May Lai incident that if they leaked a word of it they too might be up on charges for the atrocities themselves. They were told directly to say nothing to anyone.
But the mentality that sees everything in black and white, we are the good guys, they are the bad guys, and the mentality of people who don’t question their leaders even when the reality of right and wrong is staring them in the face leads to the horrors of May Lai, the atrocities of German soldiers in Word War II (not the only ones that ever happened in any wars, just examples), and some of the things that have happened in our more recent military engagements in the Middle East.
But May Lai was a turning point I think. There was public outrage, and from then on support of the war withered away.
Somehow I don’t see enough outrage over the vile words and actions of Trump.
Personal greed, distrust among races and social classes, political expediency, and apathy have supplanted morals in our culture.
Perhaps what I have written is making kind of a stretch or is a false analogy. But what I am trying to say is how can we claim the moral high ground when we have leadership that is so low? Or have we lowered ourselves? Or do enough people care?
And I did not address all of Trump’s vulgarity, his disgusting behavior around women. I myself am neither a prude nor pure, and even President Jimmy Carter, a church pastor himself, allowed as how he “lusted in his heart”, but we are talking of how a president of the United States comports himself in public, how he projects himself to the world, while representing our nation and all of us. I really am not sure we can survive this. If we do, we are going to have a lot to atone for.
And one more thing: whenever I refer to the Vietnam War, in general, I am not criticizing you who served. You were duty bound. I will always have more respect for those who actually served than those who simply talk tough but skipped out (oh, would that include Trump?).