Thursday, March 11, 2021

Forever Falling

11 March 1971.  James Deacon was killed today.  Fell off a helicopter.  His is the only death that I have ever actually witnessed.  It's not a memory that goes away.



I really never knew him but he has been my companion for many years.

Someone said he was an asshole jerk. I can't say.

All I know is that the brief time we were together left a lasting impression.

You see, I saw him die.

His death was not dramatic or heroic. Just dumb.

An accident in a war filled with many accidents.

The difference was that I saw it happen.

I saw him die.

He fell out of a helicopter that was his ticket to safety.

A medical evacuation for a minor cut,

Hardly even a wound,

A convenient excuse to get out of the jungle.

But nobody expected him to die.

We watched him rising toward the chopper

Envying his good fortune, each of us

Wishing that we were ascending in his place.

The chopper's big rotors slapped the air

As it hovered above the moutainside.

Its turbines screaming,

Waiting to carry him back to safety.

I saw the medic lean out of the door,

Reaching to pull him in.

I saw him put his feet on the skids.

And I saw him fall away from the chopper.

He fell abruptly, violently.

No slow motion effect. No eternity to reach the ground.

Just a rapid free fall and a bone crunching thud.

Mere seconds ended his life at 19.

His buddies wrapped him in a poncho

And hooked him to the cable again.

This time he made it,

Boots pointing upward as they disappeared into the open door.

But this time was too late.

The chopper carried away a corpse,

Leaving us to our thoughts, black and evil.

No one wanted to trade places with him now.

All these years I've remembered his fall

And seen his body break upon that mountain.

All these years his death has been my companion.

I did not know him well

But he remains with me still.

Even now all I really know is that I saw him die.

That seems more than enough.


Sometime later, we were given a demonstration of aerial medevac procedures to reassure us that it was safe.  A couple of our lieutenants were hoisted up to make the point.  One LT went up, like Deacon, on a jungle penetrator which was for casualites who could still function.  Unlike Deacon, the LT did not fall.   



The second LT went up strapped into a stretcher.  He did not fall either.  


I never again saw another medevac but Deacon's was hardly the last.  As far as I know no one else fell during an evacuation.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021





No doubt in my mind, Donald Trump is responsible for the Capitol Insurrection on January 6. He told his supporters that they had been grievously harmed by a stolen election and called for them to march on the Capitol to encourage them to prevent Congress from certifying his defeat. And they did. Now, he did not exactly tell them to occupy and ransack the Capitol. Nor did he tell them to detain and execute the vice-resident and members of Congress. He didn’t have to. The crowd had long been prepped for violence.

Trump has been feeding that monster nonstop from his earliest days as a candidate. He encouraged participants at his rallies to attack counter protesters and the press. He suggested that police rough up (“not be so nice to) criminal suspects. Neo-Nazi rioters in Charlottesville were “fine people”. Mass murderers from Pittsburgh to New Zealand have launched their massacres listening to Trump’s voice in their heads. He has broadly characterized Black Lives Matter and other police reform advocates as thugs and looters who should be shot. On January 6 he told an angry mass rally that the Deep State has robbed them of his landslide re-election victory and that they should do something about it. Trump has been piling up tinder for years now. Last week it erupted in flame.

While Trump sparked last week’s conflagration he’s had plenty of help from Republican elected officials and right-wing media that largely ignored his fascination his influence on the violence that seems to always follow in his wake. “It’s just Trump being Trump” has been the typical excuse when Trump’s words result in mayhem, injury and death. Somehow that is OK. Even now his apologists try to separate Trump’s exhortations to the crowd--”be wild”, “march to the Capitol”, Giuliani's call for “trial by combat”—as not really calls for violence. Bullshit! Trump yelled “Fire! In a crowded theater and is responsible for the chaos and death that ensued. His orcs, minions and catchfarts who’ve acquiesced and remained silent in response to his calls for violence and refusal to accept the results of an election that was by all accounts one of the best administered in recent history (despite the springtime problems caused by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic) share a large portion of blame as well.

That said, Trump and his enablers are not solely to blame for the disaster at the Capitol. Congressional authorities responsible for Capitol security also failed miserably. Twenty years after the 911 attacks that supposedly “changed everything” an inchoate mob can storm, occupy and vandalize the Capitol of the United States. Like 911, intelligence an information indicating the possibility of and attack was available and either ignored or dismissed. Last week’s failure may exceed 911 in that the evidence was more specific as to time, place and the intent of the more violent factions within Trump World. Reading the accounts of the online chatter leading up to January 6, it seems pretty clear that violence at the Capitol was a very real possibility and yet Capitol security was wholly unprepared for what happened. I can’t pinpoint who did or did not do what—responsibility for and coordination of security around the Capitol is shared among Congress, DC government and the federal executive branch (mainly the Department of Defense, I think)—but the bottom line is eminently clear: the citadel of American democracy was successfully attacked and disabled. The success was only temporary but the damage to America will be permanent.

Trump’s refusal to accept the election results and commit of a peaceful transfer of power clearly violates his oath of office. So, too, does his incitement to violence. I don’t know if this is a cynical Trumpian ploy to avoid accepting defeat or if he truly believes that he won by a landslide. Either way, he is clearly unfit for office (disclosure: I’ve never considered him fit for office) and should be removed from office immediately. I realize his term ends in a few days but I sure as hell do not want him to continue to have sole authority to launch nuclear weapons one minute more. But the VP and cabinet are unwilling to act and Congress has impeached the president for a second time. Inciting a deadly riot more than meets the requirement of “high crimes and misdemeanors”.

At best, impeachment will be a permanent record of Trump’s cancerous presence in office. Whether Congress can proceed with impeachment against an ex-president is an open legal question and also raises complications for the incoming Biden Administration which would prefer to have Congress focusing on confirming appointments and addressing Biden’s initiatives on the pandemic, economy and the other fires set by the Trump Administration as they exit.

Impeachment is a very blunt instrument. Apparently that is the only thing likely to make a dent in Trump’s oversized ego.

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Friday, January 01, 2021

Following a Trail of Tears

My 2020 reading ended with an interesting juxtaposition:  Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory by Claudio Saunt and An American Sunrise by Native American poet and current Poet Laureate of the United States Joy Harjo.  The former presents in some considerable detail America's efforts under Andrew Jackson to remove Native Americans from the eastern US.  The latter reflects in poetry and vignettes on the indigenous experience during the removals and how that experience continues to inform contemporary Native America.  The two books offer what I would call a full spectrum understanding of a very ugly event.   


 Unworthy Republic--the title comes from an opponent's description of the removal policy--documents the motives, methods, financing and multi-pronged attacks on Cherokees, Chickasaws, Creeks and Seminoles who stood in the way of the expanding southern slave labor empire.  It's a pretty grim read.  History already tells us how it turned out but the detail shows that it was not simply the inevitable result of expanding "civilization" but rather a murderous land grab that dispossessed many tens of thousand Native Americans of land and property.  Author Claudio Saunt notes that America's Indian Removal Act provided the model for the 20th century's mass deportations.  The only uplifting aspect of the entire affair is the principled and determined resistance of the Native American communities.  And in the end the resistance could not overcome capitalist greed and American military force.


An American Sunrise speaks to these same events but from a personal perspective.  The effects of the Removal still haunt Native America in the 21st Century.  As a member of the Creek Nation, Harjo is no stranger to the inequity between Native America and the rest of America.  She is also acutely aware that the Removal turned her ancestors from a self-sufficient people deeply rooted in the places they lived into dependent refugees in an alien land.  Harjo gives voice to the refugees who confronted the hardships inflicted by the dispossession and removal.  An American Sunrise also speaks with a modern voice, articulating not just the difficulties that plague Native America but also indigenous resilience and connection to their ancestral lands and heritage.


One theme that runs through both works is connection to the land.  Another is resistance.  Where Unworthy Republic informs about the tribes' various efforts, ranging from learned legal and moral arguments to armed resistance, An American Sunrise reminds us that Native America is still very much a part of America. 



Friday, December 18, 2020

2020 Best Reads


I read a bunch of books this year. Mostly new stuff, about equally divided between fiction and non-fiction. Since I rely primarily on the library for my reading materials, the pandemic shut down in March caused a bit of disruption. I had fortunately picked up three books just before the doors closed. When those ran out I fell back on the books that I had saved from triage to keep me occupied until the library re-opened for picking up holds at the front-door and more recently, allowing pickup inside the library, which I am sure the staff appreciates on these chilly, wet late fall days. I've managed to build up a reserve of books I've read about in various sources and using the hold suspension feature can wait for my turn to come around so that I can usually make my hold request for an item where I am first in the queue. So I no longer have to browse the shelves looking for something I might like to read. Even so, I miss being able to spend time in the library.

So much for introductions. Here are my favorites from 2020.



Hunter’s Moon: A Novel in Stories, Philip Caputo (2019)

Seven short stories, all but one set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, offer glimpses of characters coming to terms with past and present.  As a former Marine, Caputo portrays the varied nature of the post-Vietnam veteran experience that ranges from success to traumatic re-engagement. But Vietnam is only part of the story—the dynamics of life in a remote, rural area and human nature are also well represented. As much as any of the individuals, the UP is a constant presence in all of the stories, it’s rugged and wild spaces provide a sometimes somber, sometimes dramatic setting for the human struggles of the stories.

The King at the Edge of the World, Arthur Phillips (2020)

Set in the transition from 16th to 17thcenturies, this story follows Mahmoud Ezzedine, physician to the Ottoman sultan, as he is exiled by a rival to England and Scotland following his service on a diplomatic mission to the Court of Queen Elizabeth.  All of this comes into play during Elizabeth’s final years as English Protestants look for clarity about the religious preferences of the most likely successor, King James VI of Scotland. Arthur Phillips tells the tale well. He sets a good scene and contrasts Ottoman and English societies with the former usually coming off looking better.

The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich (2020)

Based on the author’s grandfather’s experience fighting the Congressional attempt in 1953 to terminate the treaty between the US government and the Chippewa tribe, this novel encompasses the entire range of Native American life in the early 50s, from the politics of federal-tribal relations, cultural adaptation to reservation life, human sex-slave trafficking and the interpersonal, intertwined relations among a close-knit community struggling in a challenging economic climate and harsh environment.

Squeeze Me, Carl Hiassen (2020)

Hiassen writes crazy, funny stories. In Squeeze Me former wildlife officer Angie Armstrong, who lost her job when she was convicted of feeding a poacher’s hand to an alligator, works as a “discreet wildlife remover" in the Palm Beach area which includes a famous resort owned and often frequented by the President of the United States. The plot involves the disappearance of a local socialite, a growing number of large pythons, the presidential tanning bed, the First Lady’s affair with her Secret Service escort, a scapegoated immigrant, shady rich people and their not-too-bright minions in a series of wildly improbable, sometimes laugh out loud, events.


Dad’s Maybe Book, Tim O’Brien (2019)

O’Brien, author of some of the best Vietnam War fiction, became a first-time father at age 58 followed by another child two years later. Knowing that he may well not live long enough for his sons to know him and that his participation in their lives would be limited, he began writing notes to them, speaking to them as if they were adults. Over the next 15 years the project recorded a wide range parental experiences and hopes, exploration of the author’s relationship with his own father and some reflections on military service and Vietnam. The book also thoughtfully explores the relationship between the author and his two children, the craft and challenges of writing, literature and the reality of aging and death.

Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, Pekka Hamalainen (2019)

This history follows the Lakota migration from living as a marginal band in the Great Lakes area to their expansion and domination of the Missouri River drainage and farther west into the plains. Along the way Lakotas manage their way against French and British colonialism and later American expansion. The Lakotas come across as shrewd diplomats and fierce warriors whose growing numbers, ability to to master the horse and modern firearms, and clever adaptability created an empire that stymied US plans to settle the west, yielding only when starved into submission by the US military and the corrupt system of Indian agencies. Although the detailed history ends shortly after the Wounded Knee massacre, Lakota America shows that Lakota identity and culture has survived and adapted into the 21st century.

All My Rivers Are Gone: A Journey of Discovery Through Glen Canyon, Katie Lee (1998)

Katie Lee discovered the Colorado River and Glen Canyon in particular during rafting trips during rafting trips in the mid-1950s. Finding and exploring the exquisite beauty of Glen Canyon, the Colorado River that carved it and the many side canyons, Lee became forever married to it all. That experience, followed almost immediately by the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam which drowned its namesake under the waters of Lake Powell, made Lee the canyon’s archivist, balladeer and defender. All My Canyons Are Gone lyrically tells the story of how she came to love Glen Canyon. Lee’s words evoke a loving relationship that fed her soul and her mind. By the end of the book, the reader knows how and why Katie Lee became one of the river’s most articulate and determined advocates.

Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood, Colin Woodard (2020)

As a nation formed from scattered outposts of early European exploration of North America and peopled by immigrants (some by choice, others by force) the United States appeared in the world without a strong national identity or longstanding connection to the land. Colin Woodard traces the development of America’s story through the lives and writings of key 19th and early 20th century figures who articulated competing narratives that culminated in the white ethnonationalism that characterized American society without challenge until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and continues to reverberate to this day. Union is a fascinating discussion of the competing ideas of American nationhood which remains a work in progress in the 21st century.

The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War, Fred Kaplan (2020)

An in-depth look at how America’s leaders have wrestled with the dilemmas of nuclear weapons. Beginning with the firebombing of Japan and General Curtis LeMay’s philosophy of “bomb” everything, America’s policy for using nuclear weapons has lurched from launching total Armageddon to looking for ways to fine tune strategies to use these weapons to some advantage without risking wholesale destruction. The great secret of nuclear history was that despite all of these policy changes beginning in the 1960s, the US had only one real option: Massive Overall Attack. Also secret but not at all surprising is the revelation that attack plans were highly redundant with multiple weapons aimed at individual targets which were often located within the destruction radius of each other. Kaplan concludes that the presidents of the nuclear age managed to keep the weapons locked up for over seven decades during some exceptionally dangerous times, ...not through ignorance or innocence but rather by immersing themselves in the bomb’s logic, scoping out full depths of the rabbit hole, and comprehending, with calm urgency, the need to find a way out.”

Different Ways: Revealing the Feminine, Cile (2020)

And a shout out to my good friend, Cile, who wrote this honest, insightful memoir of her life and struggle to find a place in the world where the odds are stacked against you and you stumble along, at risk from others and your own unfortunate choices. Looking at your own life can be daunting.  Writing about your life for others to read even more so.  Cile casts a cold eye on her past and tells her story with insight.




Sunday, June 21, 2020

Confederate Necrophilia

Homage to a Confederate Icon

Growing up in Virginia in the 1950s and 60s, I drank a lot of Confederate Kool Aid. I was not a southerner by birth. I was born in Pennsylvania but I have no memory of living anywhere prior to Danville, Virginia where my family moved in 1949. Danville is located on the Virginia-Carolina border in what I call the Deep South part of Virginia. Then as now the area had a significant African-American population and was strictly segregated during my youth. Confederate symbols and mythology were everywhere during those years. The public library was housed in the mansion where Jefferson Davis took refuge after Richmond fell;   a Confederate flag flew alongside Old Glory until the 1960s. In that environment my “Yankee” heritage faded as I simply tried to fit in with all of my friends. I revered Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and the entire panoply of Confederate icons and could argue that the south did not actually lose the Civil War. And somehow all this fit with being a patriotic American. When African-Americans began demanding their civil rights I was as hostile to them as any native-born Virginian. Fortunately, I never acted out that hostility—it was all talk—but it’s not something I’m proud of. The Kool Aid was all around and I was intoxicated with it.

The scales began falling from my eyes in college at the University of Virginia during the late 60s. Which is kind of surprising since UVA was a pretty conservative place in those days. But the times were definitely changing, even in Virginia. Nationally the growing opposition to the Vietnam war along with urban unrest and riots raised serious doubts America’s commitment to equality, justice and international law. Courses in history and political science helped me understand the dynamics of American culture and public policy not addressed in my pre-college education. By the late 60s I had given up on the Confederate cause and was feeling increasingly alienated from America as I knew it. In contrast, the moral authority of the civil rights movement and growing demands for economic justice looked very much like the true embodiment of the American ideal.

The doubts and questions might not have loomed so large in my mind had I not ended up in the Vietnam war after college. That experience cemented any doubts I had about my country. I returned skeptical of all war, suspicious of men who would lead us to war and questioning the economic system that supported war. When I moved to Richmond in 1974 I began seeing the Confederate statues in a new light. Since the the Monument Avenue statues had always been part of Richmond that I knew from earlier visits , their presence wasn’t unusual or surprising, just part of unique urban landscape with lots of greenery and open space. But the more I reflected on their history the statues seemed like an anachronism, a testament to an ideal that never existed and the lies that perpetrated that dubious ideal. As I came to know the city better I became acquainted with statues not part of the Monument Avenue. They were seemingly everywhere, commemorating a Lost Cause that was somehow noble.

About that same time I came across The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society by Thomas Connelly which challenged the notion of Lee’s near sainthood in the American mind. Connelly argued convincingly that Lee’s image was enhanced by secessionist politicians and inept Confederate generals as cover from the opprobrium of launching a failed and devastating war. After all, if the noble and gifted Robert E. Lee supported the war, how could it be wrong? The statues were part of that deception as Virginia sought to establish the Jim Crow laws that would remain in place for the next half century.

My awareness did not assess how all of this Confederate imagery would look to an African-American. I did know that it seemed hollow and not right. That feeling extended to military base names. I probably would not have thought about bases at all if I wasn’t a veteran but that experience made me cognizant of many things military about which I had not previously thought. Fort Lee was just down the road near Petersburg and I wondered why the Army would name a fort after someone who renounced his allegiance to the US Constitution and led a secessionist army. From there it wasn’t hard to question Forts Bragg, Jackson, Polk and on and on. I know now that the naming privileges were given to the local governments when the military was building bases for World War 2. Naming the bases for Confederate leaders was just another way of normalizing individuals who would otherwise be regarded as traitors. I realize that reconciliation is necessary after a civil war but honoring the leaders of an insurrection is overdoing it, especially when it comes at the expense of a significant portion of the populace. White southerners at the turn of the 20th century, of course, weren’t concerned about that latter cost.

Richmond's Confederate statues are part of a grand urban landscape but they are not particularly good art. They are mostly just a guy on a horse on a pedestal. The only one that has any life to it is the Jeb Stuart statue—at least he looks like he’s doing something. Lee and Stonewall Jackson just sit on their mounts. The former looks stoic and determined while the latter looks beautific.  Until recently Jefferson Davis pontificated in front of a semi-circle of columns and a towering central column that rendered his effigy somewhat inconsequential. Obscure naval geographer Matthew Fontaine Maury sits in front of a towering globe and looks nothing like his fellow Confederates. Elsewhere, A.P. Hill stands with his sword over the intersection of Laburnum Avenue and Hermitage Road where his remains are buried.

The statues may not be good art but they are historically significant. They represent a form of southern heritage that contemporary America can do without. Neo-Confederates can claim the statues as homage to their ancestors but that legacy comes with a heavy dose of slavery—America’s original sin—and racism that persists into the present. While we need to be cognizant of the racism that underlay the slavery, the Confederacy and the ongoing social and economic discrimination faced daily by African-Americans and other persons of color, honoring Confederate leaders in our public spaces is not appropriate. If not recast into something more honest, those effigies need to go to a museum where the viewers can learn their complete history.

Removing Confederate statues does not “erase history". Removing them expands history by wiping away mythology and sentimentality that cloaks a war to maintain a slave labor economy and white supremacy with a whitewash of faux nobility. 


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Sunday, May 31, 2020

An Encore Read

With the library shut down due to the pandemic I am forced to rely on my own personal book collection for reading material which means I am re-reading books that I thought were worth saving during recent years’ culling. My first selection was Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation by Myra McPherson. The book grew out of a series of Washington Post articles McPherson wrote about Vietnam veterans in the late 70 and early 80s. It examines the war’s impact on not only the soldiers who served but also the impact on all who were forced to make difficult decisions about an unpopular war. Soldiers, draft-dodgers, exiles, women and minorities all tell their stories and illustrate just how all-encompassing the Vietnam war was for the generation that came of age during the war years. A best-seller when published in 1984, Long Time Passing was the first major work to recognize and explore the impact of post traumatic stress on returning veterans and their re-entry into civilian life.

I read the book when it came out and thought it spoke accurately of my own experience and understanding of the war. It’s remained a fixture in my bookcase along with other Vietnam literature. Reading it a second time after 36 years I’m struck by how little detail I remember. The only image that has remained clear in my mind is the draft resister who chopped off a finger to avoid military service. The rest is almost as if I was reading for the first time. My perspective has changed with the added years but my original judgment stands. Long Time Passing remains an important record of America’s difficulty in reconciling itself to its war in Vietnam.

Long Time Passing is encyclopedic in its scope with extensive interviews to provide detail. The interviews, along with McPherson’s research and commentary highlight the differences and conflicts within the Vietnam generation—the changing context of patriotism, how the war pervaded all aspects of life for the (mostly) men and (many) women of that generation—and the varied backgrounds and experiences that led individuals to make choices about military service, resistance and flat out avoidance. Early on, McPherson admits that she came to the task largely ignorant of the war and its impact. She described herself as too old to be among the generation at risk, too young to have military age children and consequently, not directly affected by the war. As the war and its controversies spilled into Americans’ consciousness, McPherson realized that she had no personal contact with anyone affected by the war.  Long Time Passing shows that she made those contacts and developed an intimate understanding of the war’s the enormous impact on the men and women who came of age in the mid-1960s and early 70s.

McPherson is a good listener and conduit for the multitude of stories she presents, stories that come from all sides of the war’s many controversies and illustrate the widely varied experiences of the many who were affected by the war. Her subjects are not archetypes meant to represent an entire group but rather they illustrate the thoughts and feelings of the people as they weighed options and made choices. She doesn’t rely on single sources but usually offers multiple examples and background research to present a broad overview. McPherson presents all of the perspectives without judgment. That’s not to say she is uncritical—she often follows up with questions and examines how the individual experiences compare and contrast with others. She never simply dismisses the stories out of hand but draws her own conclusions.

Not surprisingly, much of the focus is on the draft, military service and resistance which served as a crucible of fire for military age males, their parents, wives and girlfriends. One section includes chapters on the draft and the many ways men found to avoid service. Another section focuses on the soldiers who served, including discussion of post-traumatic effects. Other sections examine military resistance and the role of women in the war and resistance. Throughout, McPherson seems favorably inclined toward veterans but not slavishly so and not at the expense of non-veterans.

My initial reaction to Long Time Passing after 36 years was that it seemed like a period piece with its intense focus on the controversies surrounding the war and its veterans. These days it all sounds like ancient history even though the war’s consequences continue to reverberate into our present. At the time, however, the Vietnam war and its myriad wounds were still quite raw and McPherson was among the first to explore the issues in such detail and scope. Veterans in particular felt wronged by the entire experience, whether it was disgust at America’s failure to fully prosecute the war, serving in a war they opposed or the wholesale characterization of veterans as dangerously on edge. McPherson doesn’t challenge or question that veterans were often ill-treated after returning from Vietnam but she correctly identifies the alienation that many felt.

Perhaps the the most important service of Long Time Passing is the clear demonstration that much variation exists within the Vietnam generation, simple stereotypes mask the nearly infinite versions of peoples’ experience with the Vietnam war and the draft. McPherson comprehensively shows that “hero versus coward” and “baby killer versus principled objector” tropes often used to reduce the complexity of individuals weighing values and beliefs as they faced life-threatening choices are essentially meaningless. In 1984 McPherson’s words were revolutionary; in the years since they have become, if not common knowledge, at least recognized by historians and analysts.

Long Time Passing is 620 pages which makes for a long read. Like any work that attempts to deal broadly with America’s war in Vietnam, it goes in many directions and sometimes feels as endless as the war itself. On the other hand, the interviews are compelling and honest, even when McPherson suspects they might be a bit iffy. The interviews and background research illuminate the passions, conflicts and aftermath of a very ugly war.

The one aspect that stood out to me personally was veterans talking about indifference and sometimes hostility from (both anti- and pro-war) civilians and and institutions, especially veterans' organizations like Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion. Many veterans who attended college following military service said they felt alienated by the antiwar movement; even antiwar veterans expressed little affinity for their non-veteran fellow students who opposed the war. Veterans  who did not attend college also dismissed opposition to the war by civilians who lacked war experience. And virtually all of the veterans interviewed noted how different they felt from their civilian counterparts. I can relate to the alienation. I’ve felt different ever since returning from Vietnam. I never experienced any ill treatment or hostility, just indifference. While I was in service I was always uneasy wearing a uniform in civilian society, largely because I felt guilty about serving in the war. No one ever hassled me about it, though, and some people were actually kind.

When Long Time Passing was published In 1984 America was still trying to come to terms with defeat in Vietnam. Recriminations, blame and anger still dominated the discussion. Who did what? Who was a coward? Who, if anyone, was a hero? The war left America with doubts and uncertainty that ran counter to our national belief in our good intentions and reliance on common sense and practicality. All those wounds werestill quite raw and controversial then. McPherson was among the first to examine the many threads of that uncertainty; her signature contribution was to give voice to the motivations and beliefs of the many paths people chose in making decisions about the war. Long Time Passing did not put an end to the bickering and blaming about the war in Vietnam but it offered thoughtful and nuanced insight into the full range of dilemmas confronting the Vietnam generation and how their choices affected their lives and America's collective memory in the years following the war. 

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Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day 2020

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
                                          I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
                                          What place is this?
                                          Where are we now?

                                          I am the grass.
                                          Let me work.

--Carl Sandburg