On this day, November 15, 1969, between 250,000-500,000 demonstrated against the Vietnam War (ahhhh, “conflict”) in Washington, D.C. Since we are in the middle of an even less justifiable war, I thought it might be fitting to meditate on a few related quotations.
Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America–not on the battlefields of Vietnam.
–Marshall McLuhan, 1975 (That’s why we don’t see Iraq)
Vietnam was the first war ever fought without any censorship
–Gen William C Westmoreland, US Army
The biggest lesson I learned from Vietnam is not to trust government statements. I had no idea until then that you could not rely on [them].
–J William Fulbright, US Senator
Vietnam was what we had instead of happy childhoods.
–Michael Herr, 1977
I’m not talking about confusion and inefficiency, which to a certain extent are products of all wars, but about muddle-headed thinking, cover-your-ass orders, lies and outright foolishness on the very highest levels.
–Cdr James Meacham, US Navy
Vietnam presumably taught us that the United States could not serve as the world’s policeman; it should also have taught us the dangers of trying to be the world’s midwife to democracy when the birth is scheduled to take place under conditions of guerrilla war.
–Jeane Kirkpatrick, 1979
One who comes to the Court must come to adore, not to protest. That’s the new gloss on the 1st Amendment.
–William O Douglas, Associate Justice, US Supreme Court
We should declare war on North Vietnam. . . .We could pave the whole country and put parking strips on it, and still be home by Christmas.
–Ronald Reagan, 1965
The war against Vietnam is only the ghastliest manifestation of what I’d call imperial provincialism, which afflicts America’s whole culture–aware only of its own history, insensible to everything which isn’t part of the local atmosphere.
–Stephen Vizinczey, 1968
I predict you will sink step by step into a bottomless quagmire, however much you spend in men and money.
–Charles de Gaulle, President of France
There is the guilt all soldiers feel for having broken the taboo against killing, a guilt as old as war itself. Add to this the soldier’s sense of shame for having fought in actions that resulted, indirectly or directly, in the deaths of civilians. Then pile on top of that an attitude of social opprobrium, an attitude that made the fighting man feel personally morally responsible for the war, and you get your proverbial walking time bomb.
–Philip Caputo, 1982
Above all, Vietnam was a war that asked everything of a few and nothing of most in America.
–Myra MacPherson, 1984
[They] acted like used-car salesmen rolling the mileage back.
(On military personnel who calculated enemy strength in Vietnam)
–Greg Rushford, investigator for US House Select Committee on Intelligence
The war was won on both sides: by the Vietnamese on the ground, by the Americans in the electronic mental space. And if the one side won an ideological and political victory, the other made Apocalypse Now and that has gone right around the world.
–Jean Baudrillard, 1986
I was proud of the youths who opposed the war in Vietnam because they were my babies.
–Benjamin Spock, 1988
I’m not a pacifist. I was very much for the war against Hitler and I also supported the intervention in Korea, but in this war we went in there to steal Vietnam.
(After indictment on charges of aiding and abetting resistance to Selective Service laws, news summaries 5 Jan 68)
All the wrong people remember Vietnam. I think all the people who remember it should forget it, and all the people who forgot it should remember it.
–Michael Herr, 1989
The Vietnam War required us to emphasize the national interest rather than abstract principles…. What President Nixon and I tried to do was unnatural. And that is why we didn’t make it.
The stench of death massaged my skin; it took years to wash away.
Within the soul of each Vietnam veteran there is probably something that says “Bad war, good soldier.” [Only now are Americans beginning to] separate the war from the warrior.
(On dedication of Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington DC, Time 22 Nov 82)
–Max Cleland, former head of US Veterans Administration, and recent victim of political smear campaign
Hey, hey, LBJ, how many boys did you kill today?
–Chant of protesters picketing White House during Vietnam War, quoted on Lyndon Johnson PBS TV 8 Apr 87
I ordered the spraying of Agent Orange.
–Adm Elmo Zumwalt Jr, former US Chief of Naval Operations
I am a lawyer and I don’t think I could prove in court … that Agent Orange is the cause of all the medical problems … reported by Vietnam veterans, or of their children’s serious birth defects. But I am convinced that it is.
–Lt Elmo Zumwalt 3rd
And in that time
When men decide and feel safe
To call the war insane,
Take one moment to embrace
Those gentle heroes
You left behind.
–Maj Michael Davis O’Donnell, First Aviation Brigade, US Army
From a 1970 poem written three months before his death in Vietnam, chosen for inscription across top of NY Vietnam War Memorial