Haunted by Vietnam

Roundup
tags: Vietnam War



Staughton Lynd is an American conscientious objector and tax resister, Quaker, peace activist and civil rights activist, historian and professor, author and lawyer.  His book "Doing History from the Bottom Up: On E.P. Thompson, Howard Zinn, and Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below" was published in December 2014 by Haymarket Books and a new edition of his "Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below," with an introduction by radical labor scholar and activist Immanuel Ness, will be published by PM Press in Spring 2015.  He can be reached at salynd@aol.com.

Christian Appy is the author of two splendid previous books about the Vietnam War:  Working-Class War and Patriots.  Patriots was extraordinary in that it offered oral histories by soldiers on both sides of the conflict.

The main argument of Appy’s new book, American Reckoning: the Vietnam War and Our National Identity, is that “the Vietnam War shattered the central tenet of American national identity,” namely, faith in “American exceptionalism.”

Appy defines exceptionalism as the belief that the United States is a “unique force for good in the world, superior not only in its military and economic power, but in the quality of its government and institutions, the character and morality of its people, and its way of life.” American presidents tend to lapse into exceptionalist mode at the end of important addresses, as in referring to the United States as the “indispensable nation” or otherwise suggesting that ours is the best country in the world.

This book, with this central theme, could not have appeared at a more appropriate moment. The United States government has initiated a program, planned to extend over several years, to celebrate the Vietnam War. The emphasis, as Appy incisively observes, will be not so much on the war itself, because this country lost that war, and not at all on the catastrophic harm inflicted by the American invasion on the Vietnamese people and the very ecology of Vietnam. Rather our government will seek to stir up positive sentiment about the valor and sacrifice of American soldiers. In this way, it is apparently hoped, the Vietnam syndrome of disillusionment and suspicion of government undertakings abroad can at last be overcome. ...




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