Wednesday, August 3, 2011

As The Cookie Crumbles (8/3): War Story

(WWH) The difference between a war story and a fairy tale? Fairy-tales begin "Once upon a time..." War stories start: "No shit, man, I was there..."

The day, August 2, and tomorrow, August 4, in 1964, were days fraught with then-unknown significance to the members of my--early--cohort of the Baby Boom. It's the dates of the so-called "Gulf of Tonkin Incident," when two US Navy destroyers (which were inside North Vietnamese waters, doing ComInt, and one of which, the USS Turner Joy, is pictured on the left) falsely reported they had been attacked by North Vietnamese "gun-boats." The war-hawks in Congress, eager to once again liberate the free-flowing expenses (and profits) of war, immediately, and furiously, demanded LBJ "do something."

Johnson launched air attacks on the North, and announced a troop build up. And thus began the escalation (later, and elsewhere, called a "surge") which would put nearly 200,000 troops into Vietnam within 17 months, and more than TWO MILLION of them eventually--among them, for a very brief and uneventful term, y'r ob'd't S'v't. In the end:
9,087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the Vietnam Era (5 August 1965-7 May 1975)

3,403,100 (including 514,300 offshore) personnel served in the SE Asia Theater (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, flight crews based in Thailand and sailors in adjacent South China Sea waters).

2,594,000 personnel served within the borders of South Vietnam (I January 1965 - 28 March 1973)

Another 50,000 men served in Vietnam between 1960 and 1964

7,484 women served in Vietnam, of whom 6,250 or 83.5% were nurses.
The number KIA (Killed In Action) keeps creeping up. Through foresight or inadvertence, there was space left on the Wall for later additions. (The number has risen from 58,178 to 58,212 since 1997.)

I was sitting beside the little, postage-stamp pool at La Fonda hotel, keeping watch, and admiring the pleasingly round bottoms of several sorority sisters from Texas Women's University, when I heard about the Tonkin Incident in the hourly headline news on the radio, and I knew something was afoot. It was my job to lounge beside the La Fonda pool; I was the life-guard. It was my duty to oversee the tanning and occasional dips in said postage-stamp-sized pool enjoyed by the coveys of round-bottomed Dallas beauties who came there with their parents--or, often enough, without them--for summer vacations. I had enlisted in the USAF after high school, in May of '64, but deferred induction til after the summer (you could do that then; I dunno today), so that I could spend my "summer of 64" in just such hedonistic pursuits.

When I enlisted, in May, I was not terribly attuned to the world, as a callow youth, in a dusty backwater town in the desert of the Southwest. But things were pretty quiet. Student anti-war demonstrations had begun, back east, but I was unaware of 'em. I was not then considered prime college material: I had the test scores, but had seldom notched a grade above a C in my entire high school career (marks of what is now called ADA/ADHD, was then called "Great Potential"). I cannot say then that I thought the war would grow. I was just looking for a way to hang out for a while, and avoid the draft. Four years didn't seem like that long a time. I HAD thought of it as an adventure.

By July, '64, there had still been fewer than 400 KIA in Nam, in total. And probably pretty few of them had been Air Force. So enlisting seemed like a pretty good deal. And it was; I freely admit that I had sweet duty, pretty much the whole time. My life was never once in any serious danger for enemies of any kind. I had some incredible experiences. I learned a new language (German), and saw most of the sights thought worth seeing in post-war Western Europe. I was in England, in Liverpool, the day they won the Cup; the town went fuuking WILD. I saw Jim Clarke race at Nurburgring. I walked through Mozart's house in Salzburg. I was in an orgy in a hippie hostel in the Montrieul section of Paris, and saw sun-rise in the Bois du Boulogne. I skied in the Alps. I dallied with numerous women in and around the Saar region of Germany. Oh, yeah: I engaged in mundane, tedious tasks associated with gathering and processing data related to Soviet (and other) air-traffic communications, too.

In '64, sometime after I enlisted, but before I was inducted, I sent a letter to the local paper in which I extolled the nobility of the cause of anti-communism and pledged myself to propogate it. Then I went off and did. And I dodged the bullet. A lot of my friends were not so fortunate. So on days like this, when the reminder pops up like the bobber on the end of s fishing line, I think about them, and the millions of others, Americans and Asians, who died, or were sorely injured, and writhe, inwardly, still, in the knowledge that it was ALL a a conscious, deliberate fucking lie.


Someone on the F-Book today was bemoaning the fact that "social issues" seeme to get in the way of possible cooperation among different cultural sects and cults. I sympathized, but:
All "social issues" are at base "political issues," about the appropriation and distribution of power. I.e..: Abortion is an issue of phallo-centric physical power--the power to compel childbirth; religion is about the imposition of psychological power--to compel "belief" and obedience. Wealth is ALL about the power to command the profits of communal efforts. Rights are about the power to live without fear of the majority. It's ALL about power, so it's ALL "political."

I couldn't make common political cause with a person or a group who worked to outlaw abortion, or to unregulate industry, or to haphazardly invade distant "enemies." I wouldn't have anything else in common with 'em, assuming there were one thing that might unite us in the first place.

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