Wednesday, September 08, 2004

returning home

Blackfive has some depressing stories about Vietnam vets returning home after their service. I don't know what was more shameful about that era, the way people treated the vets or the way they abandoned the Vietnamese to thugocracy and slavery.

What fueled the hatred toward returning vets? Why did they assemble at airports to spit at returning vets? Was it all the slander about war crimes? I doubt it. Even if the spitters actually believed the accusations, they didn't get so worked up about horrors committed by communist governments over the same period. So what was the cause of the hate?

Did the spitters hate the vets for their courage? Many men dodged the draft or found legal deferments because they were afraid to go. While friends and fellow students were doing their duty and risking all to protect their country, other men were shirking. Were they shamed by this?

Not openly, of course. They managed to pick a political position to justify their acts, but surely there was some doubt about their motives, their sincerity. Perhaps, perhaps they even doubted their own courage. They had reason.

So they shouted in anger, staged violent protests, and defied police and other authority figures. Where these acts of pseudo-bravery intended to compensate for the ultimate act of cowardice in refusing to help defend their country?

And when the vets returned home, did the spitters hate them because they were more noble than the spitters? Or was this just their chance to show that they had the courage of a soldier? They would defy and assault the very men who had the courage to go to Vietnam when they didn't. Would that not prove that they were braver than the vets?

Perhaps it was because they were young that they didn't understand the difference between courage and honor. Stalin had courage. So did Mao. So did Genghis Kahn and Bonnie and Clyde and Jeffery Daumer. The men and women who murdered hundreds of children in Russia just last week had as much courage as anyone. They knew they would likely die.

To many people think that courage and honor are the same thing. They aren't. And although it's unusual to have honor without courage, it is common to have courage without honor. Risking your life to become a dictator or to get money or to fulfill some sick sexual fantasy is not honorable. Neither is courage expressed for no other reason than to prove your courage.

And you can't steal the honor of a vet by spitting on him. But back in the sixties, a lot of young men seemed to think they could do that. Sadly, judging by the Democratic party today, a lot of them still think they did.

No comments: