The "V", and the "T", Words

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by Daithí Mac Lochlainn

…from the Telegraph:

"Iraq is becoming the new Vietnam, claim opponents of President Bush's plan to send more troops. There is no comparison, say his supporters. So is history repeating itself?"

I cannot tell you when I first heard the name “Vietnam”. As a young boy I assumed that there was always a war raging there and that I would eventually go there myself, toting a rifle.

The news reports were filled with dispatches from the battles, starting each night’s broadcast with a U.S. body count. I knew that my uncle was there and many of my friends had older brothers there.

We heard the adults around us discuss it often, at the dinner table, on the radio and television, in songs, in schools, in churches and in the streets.

The “V” word was the background music of our young lives.

Then it ended. I remember a classmate who remarked to me,
“Do you realized that this war was going on for our whole lives up until now?”

It seemed that mention of it ended just as thoroughly.

Up until then, we had “our” childhood war, as our parents had “theirs”, and we were well aware of both.

We were taught about life on the homefront and abroad during World World II.

We heard it at supper, at family gatherings and its fine points were formally taught in school.

We heard the music of that era and watched the films. I myself read William Shirer while still quite young. What I had read became too real for me every time I caught a glimpse of blue numerals tattooed into an elderly person’s forearm (and I still gasp as I type this).

The same can’t be said about the current time. It seems that the youth today are not aware of “our” war as we were of our parents’, if they are aware at all.

Today, I often meet well-educated young adults who are completely ignorant of the Vietnam War.

It wasn’t taught to them as WWII was taught to us in our history lessons.

How could it be, really? Unlike WWII, Vietnam divided us and continues to do so.

Vietnam strikes a raw nerve in America.

Unlike the name “Vietnam”, however, I can, in fact, remember the very moment that I had first encountered the “T” word, “terrorism”.

It was during the Vietnam era (as was the most of my childhood) and from what many today would consider an unusual source, Doonesbury!

I would devoutly read the comics daily, especially Peanuts, to catch up on the undertakings of Snoopy and Woodstock.

On the opposite page (pertinently, on the left) was Doonesbury, a rather sophisticated looking serial.

I had heard that it was “controversial” (another new word in my growing lexicon) and mentioned often in the news.

Well, at the time, I was undecided as to whether it was “controversial”, but I knew for sure that it was bold as brass!

It rocked and I liked it!

I continued to read Doonesbury. As Snoopy and Woodstock pondered the literary themes of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Honey Huan and Uncle Duke were, for a shorty while, discussing “terrorism”.

Another “-ism” word, I thought. Hence, I concluded that “terrorism” must be a belief of sorts, like Communism, Catholicism or Conservationism; an ideology, a religion, a popular cause or a social movement, albeit unfortunately named.

I put down that newspaper and walked across the room to look up “terrorism” in my parents’ copy of Noah Webster’s Dictionary. While I was at it, I also looked up “controversial”.

I immediately learned that terrorism was none of these things. It is a technique or strategy for waging violent conflict. Hence, it would not be something solely identifiable with a class or body of adherents, such as the Party or the Church.

What a tragedy for America, Iraq and indeed the whole world, that George, Sr. and Barbara had neither Gary Trudeau’s comic strip nor Noah Webster’s opus in their home during little Georgie’s formative years.

From then on, I took more notice of the word “terrorism” whenever I heard it. Yet, while I felt certain that I would experience Vietnam, I believed that I would never really experience terrorism. How very wrong I was, on both counts!

Honey and Duke’s conversations about terrorism, of course, were in relation to the Viet Cong, the insurgents of that day.

There were sharp conflicting views about Vietnam at that time, alongside the lies from Washington.

The motives were questioned and reasons were offered.

However, no one pretended that the United States was fighting a “War Against a Combat Strategy”.

Like the Iraq War, terrorism was a real phenomenon in the Vietnam War. However, it was never offered as its raison d’etre.

The answer to the above question is an absolute “yes” and terrorism is yet another element common to both then and now.

The only variation, other that the location and people, is that we are so much more stupid this time around.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~ George Santayana.

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