Sarah Palin & the Vietnam War Era: Shall we reduce our history to bumper sticker slogans?
I figure I can keep prefacing my posts with this anecdote until it no longer applies: I once knew a man whose parrot could say “shit.” While the bird had no idea what the word meant, it nonetheless spent its days repeating, “shit” (along with “open the door” and “what’s up?”) daylong, come rain or come shine.
Sarah Palin is like this. Her scriptwriters have given her some zingy speeches, phrases and one-liners, which she delivers with a fair degree of skill. Problem is, she hasn’t the foggiest idea what she’s talking about. It’s one thing to memorize the facts. It’s another thing, entirely, to understand those facts — and particularly to understand them within their historical context.
Oh, that the lessons from the ugliest chapters in our national history could be reduced to bumper sticker slogans, which we could forever intone in times of trouble, to save us from all future calamity. The world doesn’t work that way. Anyone who thinks so is just plain wrong. And any national leader who thinks so is just plain dangerous. In this vein, I feel compelled to set the record straight on the Vietnam War era, which served as the backdrop to those notorious and violent protests of William Ayers that have recently become the subject of Sarah Palin’s bumper-sticker slogans — those carelessly delivered slogans that carry the same potential for deadly violence as any of the Weathermen’s bombs.
The Vietnam War Years: some sorely needed perspective on those horrible times
William Ayers’ activities with the Weathermen were abhorrent, no matter that he committed them in the cause of ending the war in Vietnam. I can state, without a doubt (and even lacking statistics) that nearly all Americans were opposed to bombing government buildings in protest of the war. It would be a lie, however, to say that Ayers was out of the mainstream in his beliefs that the war was wrong and needed to end.
The fact is, during the height of Ayers’ anti-war activities, the majority of Americans were of the same mind as Ayers in opposing the war in Vietnam. Depending on the age group, the opposition ranged from 66% to 77% of Americans opposing the war in Vietnam War.
Again, we can all overwhelmingly agree today that William Ayers’ violent methods were wrong (wrong, wrong, wrong). But let’s be clear. It would be a lie to say that his opposition to the war was “un-American” as Sarah Palin would like us to believe, unless you’re the sort who believes that the majority opinion, within a democracy, is undemocratic, or that citizens who protest when they believe their government is wrong are “unpatriotic.” Because, if you’re that sort, then you’re also the sort who would paint as treasonists and terrorists men like Patrick Henry, Paul Revere, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson…..
The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. — Thomas Jefferson
During the height of the Vietnam War, millions of Americans took to the streets in protest against the war, with the majority of violent acts being committed — not by the protesters, but by law enforcement. Even this is an over-simplification. The point here is that Sarah Palin knows shamefully little about the history of the country she’d like to rule, much less the rest of the world. In this vein, I offer, below, an exceedingly brief historical context of the Vietnam War era, because it seems history’s been re-written into things that were and were not.
My effort here will no doubt inspire the wrath of some. I suspect this is why we don’t see an outpouring of such efforts, even as there are no doubt countless millions in this country who would agree with what I’m saying. I’m of the mind that, lest we remember the lessons of our history, we will be forced to relearn them over and over. Ain’t no bumper sticker can save us from ignorance. I am particularly mindful and fearful of this when I hear the hateful, violence-inciting vitriol of Sarah Palin’s stump speeches.
ABOVE: A May 1964 conversation between President Lyndon Johnson and his National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, one year before the fatal escalation of troops. Here, Johnson voiced his strong reservations about escalating this war: Looks to me we’re getting into another Korea. It just worries the hell out of me….. I don’t think it’s worth fighting for, and I don’t think we can get out, and it’s just the biggest damn mess that I ever saw….. It’s damned easy to get into a war, but it’s going to be awfully hard to extricate yourself if you get in.
ABOVE: Four years after this conversation, Walter Cronkite denounced the war in Vietnam in a broadcast that effectively put an end to Johnson’s aspirations for re-election. Would that we had, today, such journalists of integrity.
ABOVE: For those who didn’t live through the Vietnam years, this is a sampling of what we saw on the evening news. For those who did live through those years, but have forgotten the national climate at that time, here is a sampling of the 66% to 77% of Americans who, like William Ayers, were opposed to the war. This footage at least shows us that the Bush Administration took one lesson from the Vietnam War — namely, that if you shut out the media (don’t show the slaughtering of women and children, and don’t show those coffins arriving home) you can keep the American public in the dark about the realities of a war and, thereby, reduce the level of negative opinion and protest. (note: the sound quality on this video is uneven — scratchy, then loud, then soft — but well worth the 10 minutes to watch).
Leave no authority existing not responsible to the people. — Thomas Jefferson
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