The Rise And Fall of America?

A Short Essay

The 50's, 60's and early 70's would have been not unlike any previous decades had it not been for our conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. World War II gave the United States a sense of purpose and of power. Before WWII, the United States had the 18th largest army in the world. (Yes, that's 17 other countries with more powerful armed forces than the United States.)

When Korea came along, we were still flexing our muscles at having been the little guy who won the big one on two fronts. We were big, powerful and ready to pick a fight. We pushed North Korea back across her borders and we were invincible.

Vietnam changed all of that. We thought it was Korea all over again, and we moved in with men and machinery and found ourselves outmatched because of our arrogance and misunderstanding of not only the enemy, but of their country. We sent in tanks that sank in the rice paddies. We dug trenches against and army with no front lines, and most of all, we forgot that Generals should run wars, not politicians.

Let's not debate the politics of the war. It can be pretty safely said that we probably should not have been there at all. But for the sake of argument, since we had committed to it, we should have fought it like war, not like a debate.

The worst thing for any organized group is uncertain leadership. If the boss doesn't know what he is doing, the workers will be ill content, and the results disastrous. This was the downfall of the United States during the Vietnam era. Because our leadership, from Eisenhower to Nixon, could not agree on how to conduct the war, the entire country felt ill at ease and fractionalized. War protesting was not only a right, it became the fashion. Kids (like myself) walked a picket line with a peace sign on their shoulder one day, then found themselves drafted and walking guard duty with a rifle on their shoulder the next.

Then there was the media. By the 1960's, television was permanently ensconced in every home in America. So not only did we get Howdy Doody, we got the war beamed right into our living rooms. Did you know for instance that David Morell was a graduate student working on his thesis with the TV on, but the sound turned off when he noticed a visual of fighting in Vietnam followed immediately by a war protest rally. The juxtaposition of the images inspired his first and hugely popular book, First Blood, which set the stage for the entire Rambo phenomenon that followed.

Because if the media attention that none of us could avoid, politicians began to question our role in Vietnam. Debates raged and to keep the peace in Washington, the President (all four of them) capitulated to the loudest squeaky wheels. They shackled the Generals, which increased our losses, which fed the media, which inflamed the citizens and congress, which perpetrated the vicious circle of confusion, which ultimately lost the war. Then the public tried to place the blame on the common soldier who didn't really want to be there in the first place but was trying gallantly to fight like the hero his father had been in World War II.

Pete Seeger wrote in his poignant ballad,

Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone? Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone? Young girls picked them every one
When will they ever learn, oh when will they ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone? …
… Gone to young men every one

Where have all the young men gone…
…Gone to soldiers every one

Where have all the soldiers gone? …
… Gone to graveyards every one

Where have all the graveyards gone?…
… Gone to flowers every one

Where have all the flowers gone?...
…Young girls picked them every one
Oh, when will they ever learn, oh when will they ever learn?

The circle is complete in all things…

You can apply this lesson to every trial we face today.

When will we ever learn?

Michael Hager