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Msg  260995 of 684935  at  10/15/2017 11:30:27 PM  by

Dimplesimon


Vietnam War..another point of view




I promised some of you a response to Burns and Novick's "The Vietnam War". Here it is:

The Vietnam War, A Different Point of View
By Tom Esslinger, USMC


As we have come to expect from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, The Vietnam War was well-made, entertaining and informative. It was also not the whole story, and not always accurate. I am here to set the record straight on a few important points.

First, allow me to establish my qualifications to make the following observations and comments. I was a student at Yale University from 1961-1966. In December 1966, I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, and in September 1967, I went to Vietnam. I commanded two Marine rifle companies. First, Mike Company, 3d Battalion, 26th Marine regiment on Hill 881 South during the Battle for Khe Sanh from January -April 1968, and then India Company of the same battalion from April-July 1968.

Burns epic pictures all of us Vietnam veterans as atrocity committing victims of the incompetent or evil politicians in Washington, DC, who then were against the war by the time we came home. Simply not true. Almost all Marines I know joined to serve their country and were proud of the opportunity to do so. We served honorably and even courageously in a difficult war against a formidable enemy. We committed many acts of great violence, but did not commit atrocities or war crimes. When our tour was over, we came home and went on with our lives. The much different image of us projected by The Vietnam War is the one created by those of our generation who wrote and controlled the social history of that troubled era of our history. They were able to do so because they had access to the media while we were off in the jungles of Vietnam, and they were anxious to control that narrative because they felt the need to justify their refusal to serve their country by declaring the war and its leaders as immoral. Their need for self-justification has created a false picture of us veterans that is demeaning and unfair. When they came back to the United States, Vietnam Vets were anxious to put the war behind us and get on with our lives. We did not seek to contest the image of us promulgated by those who protested and avoided service, because we thought that our honorable service spoke for itself. That was obviously a mistake on our part, because it left the writing of the story to those who had an interest in picturing us in a less than flattering light. We have been paying for that mistake ever since.

The Marines I served with were the heart and soul of America, who joined to serve their country as had their fathers and grandfathers. It was a tremendous honor and privilege to be permitted to lead them in combat. They deserved, and continue to deserve, the honor and respect of the countrymen they served, not the disrespect and derision they received. The great majority did not come home and protest the war. In fact, I have asked more than a hundred of them whether they would do it all over again, even knowing what they know now. More than ninety percent have answered yes.

A few more observations or comments:

1. During my years at Yale, and after the war, as a Marine serving at the White House, I got to meet Presidents Johnson and Nixon, as well as Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, William Bundy and Walt Rostow. These were all basically good men (even if more than a little arrogant and egotistical), who were trying to do the right thing for their country. They got involved in a situation they handled poorly, but they were not evil men.
2. Clearly, American troops committed some atrocities. This was always a failure of leadership. Weak leaders like Lt. William Calley, were in positions of responsibility because their better educated fellow citizens who were probably better qualified to be leaders ducked that responsibility. When you and your Marines suffer multiple casualties from a booby trap that you know was set by some residents of a nearby village, you thirst for revenge. If permitted to do so by their leaders, many would probably have been delighted to torch that village, even if it meant innocent victims, including women and children. But their leaders understood that these very young Americans were soon going to go home, and would have to live with what they did in Vietnam for the next sixty years of their lives. So they restrained their Marines.
3. Burns and Novick are critical of the fighting spirit and ability of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). My Marines made the same observation. I told them that, whereas we could go home after thirteen months, our ARVN allies lived in a country that had been at war for generations, and figured to continue to be at war for many years after we left. From that perspective, it was easier to understand why they were not particularly anxious to die today.
4. The Vietnam War makes it seem like war protests were an important component of the history of the Vietnam War era from the earliest days of the war. Not true. I was at Yale in the early and mid- 60s and never saw or was aware of any protests. Oh sure, a few radicals like William Sloane Coffin, Jerry Rubin and Doctor Spock made as much noise as possible, but they were largely ignored by their fellow citizens, including students. When I left for Vietnam in September 1967, the large majority of Americans supported the war. That changed dramatically in 1968 while I was gone. That is when the protest movement became a very important part of the Vietnam narrative.
5. Burns and Novick repeat the oft-stated conclusion that black Americans suffered a disproportionate share of the casualties America sustained in Vietnam. Not true. According to the VFW Public Information Office, 12.1 percent of combat deaths in Vietnam were black Americans at a time when black males of military age made up more than 12 percent of the U.S. population.
6. The Vietnam War did a good job of reciting the history of the creation of The Wall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The building of that monument was strife ridden, but in the end, Vietnam Veterans built their own monument to themselves and their comrades who did not survive. Some like to pretend The Wall was built by America to welcome home Vietnam Vets. Not true. It was conceived, created and largely financed by Vietnam Vets. It has proved to be much more than another stone war memorial. It is beyond my capacity with words to explain its value to our generation of veterans.
Thank you for the opportunity to present a fairer and more accurate view of the young Marines I am so proud to have served with.

Semper Fidelis, John T. (Tom) Esslinger, USMC


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261064 Re: Vietnam War..another point of view franciswool 8 10/16/2017 6:42:36 PM


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