Veteran’s Day in America, 2022.

November 11, 2022 is Veteran’s Day in America, but you’d hardly know it by reading the corporate press; there’s not a single mention of it on the “Google News” web page. To honor the veterans of all wars fought by the United States, Veteran’s Day is celebrated annually in November. It is a day of reflection, contemplation, and gratefulness. Many fought and persevered, numerous others joined the fallen, we should hold them all in the highest esteem.

Most often the battles were a righteous cause, sometimes they were misguided, or even dare I say, immoral. Even so, from the US Civil War to Iraq, our soldiers sacrificed, bled, and died for what they believed was the struggle for liberty under the banner of freedom. There was nobility in that belief, even as it was betrayed by the “eternal war” cabal that roosts in Washington D.C.

Remember, it was the Republican President Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower that issued a dire warning to the American people in his farewell speech from the White House on January 17, 1961:

“We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”

What would ol’ Ike have thought of the forever wars of Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq? Trillions in profits were made on the production and sale of sophisticated armaments. Millions of people perished in those catastrophes; including the deaths of thousands of American soldiers. Each war ended in complete tragedy and disaster for the US due to the venality and corruption in Washington D.C. And yet, here we stand once again, ready for war with Russia over Ukraine; only this time Mr. Potato Head will march the troops to the glorious battleground.

I’m old enough to remember the Vietnam war as it unfolded, it was a war that shaped my consciousness and world view. I started to read about Vietnam in 1963 when I was 10-years-old, and by the time I was a teenager I was well versed in Vietnamese history and could tell you the names of Vietnamese political figures. The draft ended just weeks before I was old enough to be inducted; though I didn’t serve in the armed forces, I feel like a veteran of that war. I was obsessed with the conflict and its national and international implications.

“Vietnam War Dead.” Mark Vallen. Pen & ink. 1970. After Ron Cobb.

I’m illustrating this Veteran’s Day post with drawings from my high-school sketch book. The drawings were made in 1970 when I was 17-years-old; they exemplify my concerns and misgivings about the war. My Vietcong Guerrilla pencil sketch was based on a news clipping photo, and the pen drawing was after a cartoon by the fabulous Ron Cobb, who at the time I idolized as one of the best political cartoonists in the US; his works only appeared in underground newspapers.

This Veteran’s Day I’m left wondering, what do we remember about Nam? Do you recall the meaning of “fragging,” “punji sticks,” “Tiger cages,” “Rolling Thunder,” “Daisy Cutter,” or “Puff the Magic Dragon”? Who can tell me about the Buddhist crisis, Ngo Dinh Diem, Nguyen Cao Ky, or Madam Nguyen Thi Binh? What happened during the 1968 Tet Offensive, or My Lai? What was the National Liberation Front? Who were the ARVN?

“Vietcong Guerrilla.” Mark Vallen. Pencil on paper. 1970.

As Americans we should recognize that these expressions, names, and events are part of our history—but what do you say when the words draw a blank. The aphorism of “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” is attributed to philosopher George Santayana. The words certainly apply to the Vietnam war, but to the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts as well. They are also a caveat for US military action in Ukraine.

A fellow named Joseph Allen McDonald served in the US Navy and was trained as an “approach controller” for US Navy aircraft carriers at sea. In 1965 he received his honorable discharge, and ended up in Berkeley where he fell in with the flower power crowd and subsequently founded the psychedelic rock band, Country Joe and the Fish.

The band is best known for their anti-Vietnam war anthem, I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag, but in 1986, Country Joe as a solo performer put out Vietnam Experience, an album of songs about the Vietnam war from a soldier’s perspective. It is a sympathetic and surprising collection of songs; Agent Orange is a tear-jerker and Foreign Policy Blues is a dark, shell-shocked jingle. I decided to celebrate Veteran’s Day by publishing the words of Joe McDonald’s song Vietnam Never Again, which seems most fitting for those of us with historic amnesia and a zest for war in Ukraine.

I’l like to be a General, in the Pentagon
instead of a foot soldier, here in Vietnam
I’d like to be a Congressman in Washington D.C.
instead of at a firebase, surrounded by VC
I’d like to be a business man, selling guns and planes
instead of in this bunker with rounds coming in
I’d like to be the President, talking to the press
instead of here in Khe Sanh, with shrapnel in my chest

Ah Vietnam… you took my heart and mind
Ah Vietnam… you made me old before my time
Ah Vietnam… I still can’t explain
Ah Vietnam… if I should, maybe I could
do it all again.

I’d like to be a doctor, with a practice way down town
instead of standing here in blood, on the killing ground
I’d like to be an RN, in a quite nursing home
instead of with the wounded, hearing them scream and moan
I’d love to be an actor, in a film about Vietnam
instead I’m in this hole, with punji sticks in my arm
I’d like to be a Hippie, thinking love with prevail
instead of a grunt with an attitude, locked in the Long Bình Jail

Ah Vietnam… you took my heart and mind
Ah Vietnam… you made me old before my time
Ah Vietnam… I still can’t explain
Ah Vietnam… if I should, maybe I could,
never do it again.

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