The Best of a Generation

Last weekend I was dispatched to the big corporate chain book store in the capitol to pick up one last gift for a brother-in-law. I ran across David Maraniss’s They Marched into Sunlight, a history of the riots at the University of Wisconsin and of the ambush of a battalion of the First Infantry Division, both in October 1967. The First Infantry Division unit was the Second Battalion, Twenty-eighth Infantry. I had been in that battalion and trained with it in 1965. Even though all the men I had know two years before had left the unit and the men of the battalion were strangers, seeing the book hit me like a baseball bat to the chest. I actually had to find a chair so that I could sit down and collect myself.

Not coincidentally, Saturday marks the 35th anniversary of the death of Bill Higgins, a friend and classmate who was shot down on Christmas Day, 1969, while on a medical evacuation mission into a hot fire zone. He was as good hearted a man as I have ever known and had all the equipment of brain and wit to be a real contributor to this State. He died, however, as his father had died in 1945, doing his country’s bidding.

Some Beatnik poet said that he had seen the best of his generation destroyed by madness and narcotics. I saw the best of my generation destroyed by Vietnam. My father’s generation survived the Great Depression and World War Two. I’m not sure mine has survived that damned unnecessary war and the arrogance that took us there. I’m less sure that my children’s generation can survive this war of commercial imperialism and hubris. Damn the political leaders that took us into Vietnam. Damn the fools and opportunists and liars that have carried our children into a war in the Middle East. Damn the political leaders that took us into Vietnam. Damn the fools and opportunists and liars that have carried our children into a perpetual war in the Middle East.

I wish we had a forum called “Great Amens”, then I would have something more to say.

Amen, brother. Hope remains, not so much a comfort as a challenge.

Santayana was off a bit. Even if you can remember the past, you can still be condemned to repeat it.

May God bless all the Bill Higginses whose lives have been wasted by those less worthy but more powerful than they.

Howl, by Allen Ginsberg.

Thank you, Spavined Gelding. That post should be copied and sent to all the people who are leading this country.

[QUOTE=Spavined Gelding]
Damn the political leaders that took us into Vietnam.

And damn the political leaders (esp. Neville Chamberlain) who thought Hitler was a harmless buffoon.
War is hell.
But sometimes justified.

The problem is deciding whether Hitler (or Saddam Hussein) is a buffoon.
It’s easy to know who was right–but only 20 years later.
And in the meantime, a lot of fine men die in combat.

Comment by my father, in re the cafeteria bombing. “Yeah, that’s why we didn’t eat with the ARVNs, or let them in our bases. (Except for the mama-sans) Idiots. They’re making the same damn mistakes all over again.”

I am disturbed by how history not only is remembered but, that the lessons which history teaches are distorted.

The fact that Hitler was appeased and allowed build an incredible military is now an excuse to “preemptively” attack another country.

I wish that we American’s would engage in little more self examination and realize which nation was appeased but still attached with out regard for international opinion.

-Were those Americans who died in Vietnam somehow better than the rest of their generation or were they the “best of their generation” by vitue of having died in 'Nam?

-Does the fact that many US soldiers in Vietnam were drafted make a difference? That their being there was due to random circumstance, not a conscious decision?

-What exactly were they the “best” at? The best minds? The best looking?

-Can you really make a comparison between soldiers sacrificing themselves for their country and a bunch of spoiled Beatniks craping away every opportunity life has given them with drugs?

-Are the acomplishments of all the engineers, machinists, construction workers, and so on who build this country lessened because they did not serve in a war?

-Did the 47000 US killed in Vietnam really make a dent in the population of your generation (compared to say the 2 million Vietnamese)?

I think msmith537’s points are valid and not merely argumentative, so I’ll address them. Rare among message boards, the SDMB has many qualified experts as members, but I’m not one of them on any subject whatsoever. I can only offer personal insight, but at least in a polite manner.

When I served in the military in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, we were hardly the best and brightest of our generation. in fact, we were constantly reminded by our superiors that were were a bunch of shitheads who’d sought refuge in the military because we couldn’t find jobs. The kids who had kept their noses clean enough to get in on a waiver enlisted, while a lot of the friends they left behind slid into the criminal justice system. A friend of mine calls this “The Backdoor Draft” (I go him one further and see enlistments and thereby casulaties tied to income level as an acceptable way for Republicans to terminate unwanted pregnacies).

As far a Vietnam, I’d have to see some statistics that show that John Kerry wasn’t the only Ivy Leaguer serving in combat before I can agree with the “Best and Brightest.” I was too young in the 1960’s, but from what I’ve read, America wasn’t hit by the Vietnam War as Great Britain had been by World War One, which left the lecutre halls at Oxford as equally empty as the streets of Manchester of young men.

So with all due respect, I have to debate the “Best and Brightest” label not qualitatively (I know - if Sir Douglas Haig and Robert S. McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld are the really best and brightest, why don’t they take care of their people as well as the average buck sergeant?), but rather with the same reservations I had about mourning Laci Peterson as a murder victim based on how much prettier she was than the average murder victim. Even if they aren’t your best and brightest, it’s wrong to put your kids into meat grinders. “That which you do to the lesser of your brothers, so you also do to me” as a major Republican campaign supporter (co-opted) once said.