Thursday, June 21, 2007


Fabulous documentary. One morning really early, I couldn't sleep and started flipping the TV, just as I'm about to go to music, I run across this documentary, Hollywood Vietnam. It is how Hollywood deals with war. What was absolutely mesmerizing is the fact that I'm looking at this while we are at war in Iraq. The documentary was made during Iraq and makes no reference to it. Openings were everywhere to show the insaneness of war and especially in light of what a mess we are in in Iraq, Nada.

The documentary uses comments from those like former Georgia Senator, Max Cleland, one of my heroes. I could not help but think of how he was unseated in his bid for a second term in the Senate. Mostly it was a smear campaign by the right wing, mainly those like Anne Caulder who has now been mostly discredited by anyone who thinks. Her outrageous statements are designed mainly to build her bank account. During the campaign, she said that Cleland should not be considered a war hero because what took his legs and arm was a routine accident. Many Georgia voters apparently bought her rantings. I would love to know where those voters stand now in light of Iraq. Probably at the same place: don't confuse me with facts, my mind is made up. Shameful.

Lee Ermey, who was the drill sergeant, in the best movie I think about Vietnam, Full Medal Jacket, and was killed in the movie by one of his crazed recruits. Matthew Modine was really good. There's one scene where some Colonel accosts him in Vietnam. Modine is wearing a peace symbol. The Colonel lets go with a barrage of typical stuff: do you love your country, etc.; Modine comes forth as a very respectful Marine and says something like, "the symbol is about the duality of man. A Jungian thing." Funny!

Bobby Muller, founder of Vietnam Veterans of America, was very eloquent. I've read about him for years. I was a VVA member for awhile and probably still would be if they had been better at marketing. Senator Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam vet, with somewhat political babble talked about a more balanced view of the Vietnam vet and issues of an Army out of control.

Hollywood Vietnam shows the transitions of what we see in war and in Vietnam in particular. We start off with the heroism of War, the WW ll movies, Sands of Iwo Jima, John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Battleground. We want to translate that to Vietnam and in the beginning Hollywood depicts just that, i. e., Green Berets with John Wayne. It's kind of heroist but not totally: movies like, Boys in Company C, Purple Hearts which single out individuals but still with some degree of positive.

The country changes and movies take on more a flavor of negativism and surreal existence: Apolcalyse Now and Platoon. In Apocalyse Now, there's one telling scene that Frances Ford Coppola insists upon to tell the story that he wants to tell: the boat crew suddenly stops a boat of Vietnamese and ends up killing them. It is a kind of MyLai right in the middle of the movie.

Next Hollywood begins to depict the returning vet as some sort of crazy. America is tired and wants to get out. LBJ says, "I can't be the first President to lose a war."

Then there comes more of a sympathetic view in movies like, Coming Home and the Deer Hunter. Ten years after the 1968 Tet offensive which most Americans viewed as the turning point of the lost war--the Vietnam war was a loser, therefore Vietnam vets became losers. Hollywood is not left with any real winners as they see it and so they have to find some stories where there's personal winners: movies like, Born on the Fourth of July. Ron Kovics, the writer, played by Tom Cruise in the movie makes a pivotal speech that is so applicable today; basically that the government is not the people. These are angry guys from Vietnam with a cause.

In Hollywood Vietnam, someone says vets need a parade--we put you through this and as a society, we owe you a parade. We never did that with Vietnam vets. The War at Home and other movies began to depict the hair trigger nut. Vietnam vets who were nutso. Nutso Vietnam vets in movies like Black Sunday. Gardens of Stone, Rolling Thunder, and even comedies like Caddy Shack, with Bill Murray, a Vietnam vet who was unhinged.

Then, there's the kind of redemptive movie or attempts at it where Jon Voight says, "I'm not the enemy, the enemy is War." Deer Hunter was another of those attempting to be sympathetic while telling a story, sometimes inaccurate, i. e., the crazy Russian roulette scene which never was.

Movies were primarily the media that informed America about Vietnam. In movies like, Flight of the Intruder, people are dying for nothing. America wanted to believe if you just had Chuck Norris, Syvester Stallone. just the right mix--Special Forces. Look at Iraq, still searching for a stragedy, with the seeming idea that if we can just find the right mix. Forget it! Often, movies had nothing to do with reality.

There seemed to be some sort of evolvement; instead of the crazed, there's a flesh and blood, hero in the movie, We were soldiers.

Is it that we have a love of war? Can't learn from history, My favorite depiction in Hollywood Vietnam is one where Bruce Willis in, In Country, is facing the Vietnam Memorial in contemplation, he leaves a Bronze Star Medal and a pack of camels--this is his closure. We wish it were that easy.

What I came away from this accidental viewing of HOLLYWOOD VIETNAM is sadness: a sadness that as a country, we never learn. The undeniable stupidity that we are at war after having the experience of Vietnam is almost unbelievable. If we had a Vietnam vet president, I doubt seriously that we'd be in Iraq but we know that story, right?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Deja vu

When I was watching this movie, I immediately thought, "Wow, what a concept for Iraq." The basic story is that Denzel Washington is an ATF Agent and is called to the scene of an awful terrorist attack. A group of sailors on leave on a ferry boat, along with scores of other innocents, are blown up.

Denzel is one of my favorite actors, always good and cool. In the process of his investigation and in cooperation with the local gendarmes, he is introduced to what he thinks is an intricate surveillance system, only to discover that it can actually recreate the past. Do you see where I am going here? He recreates the past, discovers the culprit and someway sends himself back into the past to prevent the terrorist act and save the girl. I love movies/books/tv, they can make what they want happen. Always.

Apply this to Iraq. Let's go back. Saddam: let's keep containing him, getting good intelligence. We turn back the clock before 9-11, Afghanistan. See what I mean? The movies can do what they want. Real life just ain't so. God bless us.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Harry Reid, the majority leader of the Senate isn't serving himself well by badmouthing the military in the form of General Paetraus and the ousted Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Pace. I want to see Reid's "military record." Then and then only can Reid be even close to criticizing Pace. And, to blame Pace for the debacle in Iraq is about the epitome of stupid. Maybe Pace was not as forceful with Rumsfelt or now with Gates as possible but he's served his country well and has now been treated shabbily.

I really don't know what someone like Pace could do. Well, he could have resigned, I guess and yet, in the big picture what would it have served? Rumsfelt although a Patriot, still operated with a "I have my mind made up and so don't confuse me with facts." I'll bet you that Gates wishes he was back at Texas A and M. Replacing Pace is a long shot from making any difference in Iraq as if anything could short of rewinding and hanging on to Saddam.

In a recent survey of Americans on who they trusted most? (Although I'm not all that big on surveys--much has to do with how questions are asked). Question was, who is most trustworthy? It ain't the President and surely not Chaney; of the fifteen folks trusted, Chaney is fifteen and the President is next to him. Got to love it! Guess who was number ONE, uno--Patreus. People trust him and Reid even put the bad mouth on him because Pretraus said some places in Iraq had improved. And, they have and Paetraus may be able to bring this "quagmire" home but it would take five to ten more years minimum, plus lots of pain.

Reid is not serving his party well or maybe those of us who care. One of the only positive thing about Iraq happens to be the soldiers. And, this is no small thing, believe me. And, When Reid, representing the Majority party blames the military for the morass in Iraq, we have got to think that he is maybe suffering some TIAs or something. More likely, he was speaking to a bunch of left wing bloggers and was warming to his audience. Politicians do it all the time. They get in trouble by listening to the enthusiasm of a bunch of zeolots and the first thing you know, they've transferred into stupid.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


I'm sure that General Pace won't quite feel it like many of my Vietnam vet buddies who were summarily fired after surviving several tours in the Nam. Many had shed their life's blood and Uncle Sam called them in and said, Sayonara. Officially it was called a RIF (reduction in force) and later downsizing. But, any spin you put on it, call it fired.

Thus far, I've not been a fan of General Pace or his boss, Gates. Let's call it what it is, politics. And, all generals above the 1 star are political or else they would not be where they are. As they face the tribunals for promotion, they have to have a sponsor, somebody already there, sometimes even a politician who makes sure they are afforded all the necessary considerations. And, so it is that Pace is where he is because of some element of politics. This does not mean he is not a good leader and honorable man; simply, it means that ascendancy just didn't occur on his good record alone. Scores of others whose records were equally as good were not chosen.

I feel bad for him. In his present job, he has not distinguished himself other than somewhat of a "yes" man. But, this is understandable. Military people learn to say "yes" to superiors, it is in their nature. Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full! We would like to think that the good Marine General, at some point, behind closed doors said to Gates and surely to Rumsfelt before him, "You are full of it." I've always felt that generals at the top levels need to be advocates for soldiers. Here we have a military with legions of problems: military recruiting, equipment being run in the ground, multiple tours at war, lack of preparation for returning vets--the list is endless. Advocacy at the top level is what is needed, not compliance.

Gates fired him pretty publicly even while killing him with kindness: he no longer can leap tall buildings with a single bound but is good at small ones. Politics really did General Pace in and in a sense, nothing to be done about it. Here's what I think would have given him a lasting legacy: be courageous in the same way he was while a combat Lieutenant in Vietnam. He's been talking to politicians who want to blame you for the debacles of Iraq. Most wouldn't know a pair of combat boots if it ran over them. To hell with them, Pace is better off and his firing won't solve Iraq.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


The not so secret saying among Vietnam vets during the aftermath of Vietnam and our shabby treatment was, "What we need is a war." To vets this meant that with war comes attention to the vet. This is exactly what we are seeing now with the emphasis by the Congress on veteran treatment. If the Vietnam vet has any legacy, it has to be that Americans who care never want to see the present day vet treated as badly as we were.

As most of us search for anything positive about Iraq, I think I might have found something. The thought was given me by this doc I was with in Vietnam. He said something like, "What most people don't realize is that those of us who served in Vietnam and came back and made a life for ourselves in medicine are usually 10 times better and more experienced docs than those who didn't have Vietnam". Why? Mainly it's the experience. Just think about it as my bud went on to say, "had we been in the states in an emergency room or going through some sort of specialty training, we would have seen the normal sorts of medical difficulties. In Vietnam, we saw everything and had to do things that we'd never have gotten a chance to see or do as civilians. I discovered that I was so far more advanced than other medical types when I returned. Where they might see two or three cases a day of a particular trauma, I would be involved in 25."

THINK IRAQ. Based on my friend's comment, imagine what we are and will be seeing from our present war. For one thing, a flood of wounded GIs, those who would probably have died on the battlefield but now because of technology and new techniques and the ability to get to wounded soldiers almost immediately, many are saved that would have otherwise died. And, this doesn't even account for the traumatic psychological wounds that will inevitably result.

The "bean counters" are already tallying up what it's going to cost. For us vets, we "get it" better than most. Think of this. After Vietnam, vets had to fight for every single thing: many dying before their claims could even be processed. It was shameful and like all wars, when Vietnam was over, the mantra was, "let's shrink the military and send the soldiers home and forget about them."

Already Congress has appropriated over 6 billion for vets benefits and claims. It appears like we have at least learned a few things.

There's great lessons in all of this. When a country goes to war, they don't think about the aftermath. We've learned that for many combat soldiers, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) occurs long after the combat is over. I've seen many of my buddies, now 40 plus years after Vietnam, who still suffer the traumas of war and many of them are still dealing with it on their own. WHY? Well, there are lots of reasons, mainly among Vietnam vets, the feelings of old about how much a hassle in trying to get anything out of VA. VA has changed for the better, however, but still, the future for Iraqi vets is NOW and we must prepare. Us vets are watching.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


When the Bush team mentioned that our debacle in Iraq might well be another Korea, it was all I could do to keep from losing my breakfast. I have resisted saying that our Leader is out to lunch, honestly, but where he gets such notions is beyond me. And, I can't figure that others who should know better about history don't jump up and say, "Are you kidding me?" It is not about staying in Iraq that is even plausible, it is in thinking that we could replicate what happened in Korea to Iraq. This must drive athopologists crazy. Imagine trying to compare the Koreans to Iraqis.

Korea is homogeneous

Simply this means that the people are culturally mostly the same. For God's sake, they only have about five or six surnames, Kim, Lee, Hwong, Yu, a few others. Their very nature is based in Confucianism which is mostly a philosophy. In Confucianism, it is mostly three common things: authority over subject, father is over the son, the husband is over the wife. Have you ever wondered how someone like Kim, Il Jong has been able to subjugate the people of North Korea. In many ways, it is in their nature. King over subject.

South Korea or called by its official name, Republic of Korea, is a fascinating country. They are Buddhist, even though the largest Christian Church in the world is in Seoul. However, even Christianity is practiced with a Confucian/Buddhist flavor. South Korea has a great sense of country and regardless of all else practiced, at their core, they are very much alike with a national identity.

This is very simplified but basically right on. Iraq is a tribal country, plain and simple. Loyalty is to the tribe. They will never get past this if we stay there a thousand years. To even suggest that we can keep or maintain soldiers in that country indefinitely is about as stupid as anything I am yet to hear.

South Korea would not even exist today had not we come to their rescue in 1950. How much this plays a part in our still being there eludes me even. I have advocated for some time that it is pretty foolish to keep the level of soldiers in Korea that we have. The ROK has the absolute best ground army in the world, spare none. They are extremely well trained, disciplined, and they are very much a homogeneous force--they are Koreans. Consequently, keeping a Division (20,000 or so troops) on the DMZ is to me, simply not very bright.


The powers that be have long ago, to be precise, over 4 years ago let go of a realistic view of what is going on in Iraq and what the prospects are. As we've often said, they seem to exist in parallel universes. And, the mere mention of a model as in a Korean standoff has to come from somebody on too much of the weed. It is the only explanation I can see.