Friday, May 07, 2010

From Kent State to Dien Bien Phu (OK, so that's backwards -- sue me)


DIEN BIEN PHU 3 days/2 nights by plane: This trip enables you to enjoy the beautiful scenery and popular hill town of Dien Bien close to the Laos border. The trip includes a visit to the historic battlefield of Dien Bien Phu, where the French, after nearly 100 years of colonization and nine years of war, were defeated in 1954 by the Viet Minh, lead by Ho Chi Minh. Also included are the hill tribe villages of the Tai, Thai and H'mong peoples.

by Ken

Of course "From Kent State to Dien Bien Phu" is backwards. Do we Americans know any other way of looking at history?

But the anniversary (40) of the massacre of students Kent State University in northeastern Ohio happened Tuesday, while the anniversary (56) of the defeat of the French by the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu in northwestern Vietnam is today.

Oh wait, I see in Wikipedia that apparently we're not supposed to refer to what happened at Kent State as a "massacre." "Kent State shootings" is apparently the acceptable term. After all, no less a figure than the Ohio National Guard's adjutant general "told reporters that a sniper had fired on the guardsmen."

Wikipedia adds, "[This] remains a debated allegation." I gather than "debated allegation" is a fancy way of saying "fairy tale," or "lie."

The following sentence in Wikipedia is: "Many guardsmen later testified that they were in fear for their lives, which was questioned partly because of the distance between them and the students killed or wounded." And then as now, there are many Americans whose hearts went/go out only to the fraidy-scared National Guardsmen -- you know, the guys with the guns, as opposed to the DFHs (fairly well-scrubbed DFHs, but then, this was northeastern Ohio) protesting the Vietnam War.

I was rightly chided for letting the Kent State anniversary pass unnoticed. All I could say in my defense was that it's not an anniversary I've got on my regular holiday schedule. The defeat at Dien Bien Phu either, except that I heard was quite a long report this morning on NPR's Morning Edition. Featured in the report was Ted Morgan, who has written a book on the subject, Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu That Led America into the Vietnam War.This is good news, because Morgan not only is an excellent author-reporter but once upon a time was Sanche de Gramont, and presumably brings to the project a French-educated historical awareness of his native country's involvement in Southeast Asia, a perspective that most of us Americans conspicuously lack.

Dien Bien Phu may be only a name now, but for Americans it was pretty much only a name when we were getting sucked into that pointless hell of a war. My understanding is that President Eisenhower, after all a trained military man, indeed had some sense of the hopelessness of the French colonial position, and was appropriately wary of an American military commitment in Vietnam. And then came, in David Halberstam's immortal phrase, "the best and the brightest" who advised Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Making it just a matter of time before Richard Nixon came along, claiming to have a secret plan to get us out out of Vietnam, which he couldn't share because then it wouldn't be secret, and of course he couldn't share his real secret: that he was ensuring that no peace accord could be reached before he could be elected. It wasn't the crimes he was committing that he was so shy about. It's more likely that he thought his election prospects might have been adversely affected if voters knew that he was actively conspiring to prolong the war.

Is it any wonder that Nixon died in disgrace in prison? (What? You mean he didn't? You're kidding me.)

Since Tuesday I've been asking myself what I would have written if I had written something about Kent State. And it always comes back to the same one story: It was the horror that turned my parents against the war in Vietnam.

At the time I was, if I recollect correctly, still a prime draft-eligible college graduate, having graduated from student-deferred draft status the previous June. And I knew that my mother in particular had two seemingly incompatible attitudes toward the war. On the one hand, as an ordinary American, she supported the foreign policy of the president, even if the president was the reviled Nixon. (And, I should add, as long as that foreign policy was sufficiently pro-Israel.) However, when it came to the subject of my personal participation in that war, she was an absolutist: uh-uh, no way. (This is, of course, why the war enthusiasts who like taking the country into undeclared wars will never allow reinstatement of the draft. Voters whose offspring are on the war profiteers' chopping block tend to be less pliable on the subject.)

And then on the evening news she had to watch uniformed Americans shooting and killing and injuring American students. Quite rightly, she allowed no mitigation. This was an America she had no possibility of recognizing or acknowledging.

And so began Richard Nixon's inexorable march to disgrace and prison.

He didn't? Are you absolutely sure? How can that be? What I'm being told is that in fact Nixon went right on with his "secret" plan to end the war, which seemed to consist of getting us in deeper and deeper. By the time he did leave office in disgrace, owing to his being not only evil but insanely paranoid, he was able to hand the war off proudly to his successor, Jerry Ford, leaving it to poor Jerry to preside over the turning of American tail that Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon had worked so hard to make inevitable.

So the lessons of Kent State remain deeply confused. Whereas the lessons of Dien Bien Phu we continue to do everything we can -- as in Afghanistan -- to ignore. "Know what you're getting into before you get into it" doesn't sound like a controversial proposition. However, it's apparently deeply un-American.

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At 8:36 PM, Blogger Bruce said...

One thing that doesn't get talked about and hasn't been talked about almost from a week after the murders at Kent State is the reaction of Republicans from the disgustingly vile then Ohio Governor Rhodes on down. Repug bloodlust was not satisfied by the deaths of only four students. I clearly remember the new Republican slogan of the day as news cameras showed Ohio drivers flashing 4 fingers out of their rolled down car windows calling for "Four More! Four More!" I personally saw the same thing in Washington, DC. where I lived at the time. It doesn't take much imagination to wonder how Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, and their fellow slugs would be covering the story if it happened today. It would be high fives all around at Rupert Murdoch land. The Republican solution to any conflict often comes, not through intellectual reasoning, that reptilians are incapable of, but through the barrel of a gun and Ohio was no different from Mississippi where two more students were shot IN THEIR DORMS, 11 days later. It's not too late to put some of the guilty guardsmen on trial. After all, we're still hunting down German criminals from WWII. Why do American criminals from 1970 get a free pass? Oh, I suppose Repugs would defend them by saying the guardsmen "were only following orders".

At 8:43 PM, Anonymous Bil said...

I am just loving Grayson but not ready to move to Orlando.

Truly a sad sudden day, becoming part of a shocked generation that knows it has been lied to.

Neil Young...4 dead in Ohio

At 9:20 PM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

Bil, I suspect Dorian Lynskey at The Guardian would agree with your choice of music.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's remarkable single is arguably the perfect protest song: moving, memorable and perfectly timed. Shortly afterwards, the NME's Ritchie Yorke predicted: "There will almost certainly be a trend towards very politically oriented pop acts in the very near future. Entertainment for the revolutionary troops, so to speak." But Ohio turned out to signify the end of the fertile period of political songwriting that had begun with Bob Dylan, rather than a thrilling rebirth. Only a few months earlier, Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman had declared: "Rock musicians are the real leaders of the revolution." By the end of 1970, that was shown to be a hopeless delusion.

...In Ohio, not a word or note is wasted. There's the cold, accusatory refrain of "Four dead in Ohio"; the gutsy, precise naming of Nixon and the "tin soldiers" of the national guard; the sudden shift from the perspective of an outsider reading the news to that of a mourning friend crouched over a victim's body. The wrenching guitar solo incarnates all the anger and grief of the subject at hand. The only problem with it is the first-person plural: We're on our own; soldiers are cutting us down. There was a big difference between the Kent State students and a bunch of  rock stars.

Future Devo member Gerald Casale was a Kent State student who witnessed the deaths of Krause and Miller, both of whom were his friends (fellow student Chrissie Hynde also saw the shootings). At the time, he told Jimmy McDonough, "we just thought rich hippies were making money off of something horrible and political that they didn't get. I know there were big, screaming arguments in SDS [the radical group Students for a Democratic Society] meetings about Young being a tool of the military-industrial complex."

At 12:13 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Second that Howie, so sad. It could been any one of us on any one day.

I thought Keni would like it too, Stills is a long hair:)

Whenever I think of Ohio I STILL think of Kent State as well as wonder if Schwartzenegger regrets campaigning for The Decider there..? I WANT to see somebody ASK HIM....

At 8:27 AM, Blogger Serving Patriot said...

Thanks Ken for the post and the Grayson clip.

Oh how I wish we could clone him and populate the Congress with many, many more Graysons.


At 10:06 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Just for the record, in the interest of giving credit where credit is due, it was Howie who added the clip. This is one reason it's so handy to have him on the premises!



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