For the average citizen, Memorial Day and July 4th are associated with sales at box stores and family picnics. I had intended to go to the Wall on Memorial Day to read poetry with other veterans, as I have done several years previously. But when I learned that Rolling Thunder was planning a 25th Anniversary ride throughout Washington to include the Wall, I changed my mind. Being in the presence of thousands of pot-bellied, gray ponytailed, right wing vets was not my idea of honoring the Vietnam War dead. There would also be the wannabe vets, who in their doddering old age believe they missed out on a requisite rite of passage half-a-century ago to truly be a man. You know, man?
So I went to the Wall a couple of days later in the middle of the week.
I never cease to be moved by the “1,000-yard stare” of the three vets in Frederick Hart’s statue, as they look down a green slope at the 58,282 names currently engraved on the Wall. I much prefer to go to the Wall, when it is not so inundated with visitors. My favorite time to visit is late at night or in the early morning hours, just before dawn.
Several days later, I read Jack A. Smith’s June 7th Counter Currents article, “Reversing the Vietnam War Verdict.” Then I learned that President Obama had given a speech at the Wall on Memorial Day. Supposedly 2012 is the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War. The primary purpose of his speech was to formally announce the Vietnam War Commemoration passed by Congress in 2008. Whew, I really dodged a bullet there!
Obama’s speech was a doubled-down fluff of doublespeak. It was as virulent an example of patriotic propaganda as ever given in our long and ignoble history of militaristic adventures. GWB would have been proud, though I doubt he listened to it. I don’t know the source, but a fellow vet on the VVAW listserve made mention recently that during our 236-year history we have been at war for 210 of those years!
The speech was interrupted many times by cheers and rousing rounds of applause from the large number of properly vetted Vietnam Vets in attendance. They were on a special White House invitation list. No doubt many members of VVA, VFW, AMVETS, and the most wannabe heroes of all, those of the American Legion, were there. Their cheers and applause were especially raucous, when with rhetorical flourish, Obama paused and solemnly intoned the signature salutation of us vets to each other, often cynically exchanged in the 70s and 80s in darkened bars: “Welcome Home, Welcome Home, Welcome Home, Welcome Home!” Yup, not once, but four separate times he welcomed those at the Wall home to mounting rounds of whoopee.
We, the founding contributors of ITMF, are greatly concerned that the primary goal of the legislation establishing this so-called Vietnam War Commemoration is to turn the legacy of the Vietnam War from the unmitigated national tragedy that it was into another grand and glorious venture of American militarism, for the noblest of noteworthy causes — ever, of course! Not for our political masters and the corporate hacks who hire them, mind you, but for us the seething, unseemly rabble of the 99%.
As a matter of fact, the revision of history has already begun: The involvement of the US in Vietnam began much earlier than 1962. The OSS, the precursor to the CIA, assisted Ho Chi Minh by arming the Viet Minh in their guerrilla war against the Japanese during World War II. However, President Truman refused to recognize Ho Chi Minh’s nationalistic efforts to create an independent Vietnam. Instead, he dispatched military advisers to Vietnam in 1950 to assist our NATO ally, the French, retain their colonial possessions in Vietnam. Further, the US paid for 80% of the war materials used by the French during their losing effort, which ended in 1954. The first name on the Wall, Richard B. Fitzgibbon, of North Weymouth, MA is listed by the Department of Defense as having a casualty date of June 8, 1956! For PR purposes, however, the 50th Anniversary is much sexier than the 62nd or 56th anniversary.
The Heart of Darkness and American Youth
But, let me get to the heart of this essay about the latest iteration of Darkness. Nope, I don’t want to discuss either the political rhetoric of Demopublican Obama nor his likely Republicrat adversary, Mitt Romney; instead, I want to address the virulent war propaganda targeting our youngest citizens. I recently became aware of the latest rendition of combat video games to hit the market, Spec Ops: The Line, released June 26th.
I have five grandchildren, including three juvenile young boys, age 8 to 13. I recently spent a couple of weeks visiting them where they live in an upscale suburb of Frederick, MD, itself a suburb of our Nation’s war capitol. For several hours during my stay the boys, sometimes with neighborhood friends, were boisterously involved with multi-player battles of several of the 14 versions of Call of Duty. This series of video war games are hugely popular among teenage and 20/30-something males. I tried to instill in my grandsons some sense of realism about combat, so different from that being garishly displayed on their widescreen HDTV. Mostly I failed.
I did, however, pique their curiosity when I informed them that their video games give no sense at all of the awful, terrible smell of battle. “Whadda ya mean?” one queried. I asked them if they had ever smelled dead, rotting flesh. “Uh-huh.” How about vomit? “Sure.” And diarrhea? “Yeah.” Well, imagine them all mixed together ten times stronger than anything you have ever smelled, in addition to the pungent smell of gunpowder, smoke grenades, napalm and congealed blood. “Ewwwww!” I suppose I could have also gone to the opposite end of the spectrum and told them about the military aphorism of “Hurry up and wait” and the majority of wartime duty that is entailed in performing boring, repetitive tasks, such as filling out paperwork, loading sandbags and what not. I could have shown them this hilarious send-up of the so-called ultra-realism of combat video games. It would really be funny, if it weren’t so tragic!
Spec Ops: The Line is rated Mature for individuals 17 years of age and older, due to “Blood and Gore; Intense Violence; Strong Language”. No doubt, however, eleven year-old Camden will plead and badger his recently divorced Daddy enough to purchase a copy for him. Sometimes, “Daddy” even joins his son in the make-believe mayhem. He, too, screams, curses and throws his controller at the flat screen when he is snuffed. Camden was shocked when he heard a word he rarely hears, “No”, when I wouldn’t buy him a replacement controller for the one he broke throwing it in frustration against a wall. At least he knows better than to throw it at his HDTV!
Just as in real war the level of destructive violence has steadily escalated, so too in the world of video combat games. With Spec Ops: The Line, this escalation takes a decidedly abhorrent twist. Instead of killing cartoonish Ragheads, Sand Niggers, Gooks, Dinks, Slopeheads, Chinks, Japs, or Krauts, even Zombies, the shooters in Spec Ops: The Line combat a rogue US Army Colonel and his renegade troops.
The storyline follows the basic schema of Joseph Conrad’s novella, Heart of Darkness, also followed by Francis Ford Coppala’s Apocalypse Now, to which not-so-subtle references are made. After a devastating sandstorm that killed thousands, maybe millions, a crack US Army infantry battalion goes into the city mostly covered with sand dunes. Their mission is to search for and rescue survivors, but instead they enter yet one other heart of darkness. A portion of the Battalion led by Col. John Konrad (wink, wink) goes rogue. They “terminate with extreme prejudice” the good, valiant American forces in the Battalion.
A small Delta Force unit, led by Captain Martin Walker (get it?), is dispatched into a seemingly deserted Dubai to find Col. Konrad, a military hero and veteran of Afghanistan, hopefully to rescue him. Instead Captain Walker and his troops, the players who are the shooters, unfortunately find themselves in a raging battle to the death. They, too, descend into darkness. The battle turns into the mother of all heart of darkness battles against Konrad and his renegade troops. They must kill Konrad and each rogue member of his battalion, or be brutally snuffed by them.
A further twist of the script, making it more authentically like real combat than other video games, is many civilian casualties occur in the various battle scenarios. In previous combat games, the players were penalized for civilian casualties. Not so here; the civilians are just there in the battle zone. When they are killed or grossly wounded, they become so-called collateral damage, which civilian casualties have euphemistically been called since Vietnam. The New York Times review reports that one character coldly quips to another as scavengers pick at a corpse, “At least the ravens aren’t going to starve.”
When I read Chris Suellentrop’s New York Times review, my first thought was, “Uh-oh, the Pentagon and the miltainment industry are desensitizing young American men, perhaps women too, to wage war against their fellow Americans.” After all, during the past decade or so, many of the personal liberties that middle-class Americans my generation and older — at least those of us who are Caucasian — presumed to be inviolate have been largely rendered defunct. Why not also the most basic right to live?
During this past year the Occupy movement gained impetus and was brutally routed by heavily militarized local police forces. Citizens discovered it is unlawful to sleep or stay indefinitely as a protest in city parks and other public places. Occupy protestors in New York, student protestors at the University of California, and protesting citizens in Oakland were brutalized by local police forces. For the moment, the Occupy movement’s momentum from last fall appears to be dulled; an American Spring did not happen. However, if economic conditions continue to erode for the masses of us who comprise the 99%, it likely may once more rise up.
If so, and our corporate masters and their politician minions feel threatened, I have no illusions that the 1% would have scruples about unleashing our military might against “we the people,” just as in my adulthood they have done to the people of Vietnam, Central American, Bosnian, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. This short video about Memorial Day depicts such genocidal behavior on the part of rulers in the American oligarchy. It is as much a part of our 236-year history against us, as their using the mainstream press they own to convince us of our so-called freedoms. Whatever freedoms we do enjoy have only been won at great cost in hard fought struggles against their power.
Our popular literature, perhaps more adequately than formal historical tomes, depicts the injustices of rule by oligarchies. Books, and often the movies made from them, such as Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm and V is for Vendetta portray the ravages of tyranny and successful rebellions against oppression. The current teenage/young adult smash hit, The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins deals most successfully with this age-old theme.
At first I cavalierly rejected Hunger Games as another adolescent pop-fantasy series of books similar to the Harry Potter phenomenon. However, some folks whom I greatly admire and respect suggested I give them a try, and most grateful I am that I did. I found the trilogy, and the film of the first book, riveting. As well, the trilogy is a most adroit satire of the more venal and banal aspects of American society and culture. In addition, it gives me great hope, which is a quality I increasingly depend upon as I descend deeper into my elder years. I need all the hope I can muster to offset my deeply cynical default mode.