But why all the hand-wringing? Why the obligatory shot of the boonie-hat-wearing mustachioed vets hugging and crying on one another's shoulders at the Wall? Why the Agonizing Reappraisal & Analysis Ad Nauseam? Why was it seen as necessary to send poor Matt Lauer to Hanoi? What the fuck was special about the war in Vietnam, anyway?
Let us count the ways that it was like every other war that has been fought over the last, say, 2500 years. 1. One side would win. The other side would lose. 2. Great distances (10,000 miles) were traveled to wreak havoc upon a people who were not only far from us, but no threat to us (cf: the Crusades). 3. More of them died than us. 4. God was on our side. 5. Field troops slept under ponchos. Their generals slept under sheets. 6. Field troops ate cold field rations. Their generals ate hot meals. 7. Field troops wanked off to Playboy. Their generals shacked up with hootch girls. 8. Gigantic errors of strategy and tactics that cost thousands of lives were made by generals on both sides. 9. Not one general lost his life because of one of his own errors. 10. While more than 58,000 Americans too young to vote or drink died, thousands of drunk, voting Americans profited on war-related stocks. 11. When the war was over, everyone went home. 12. By the time the next war came along, the lessons of the last war would be forgotten.
Yeah, we were just repeating history, heading down blind alleys on moonless nights with blinders on. But there was something different about Vietnam. World War II works for Brokaw or Jennings or the History Channel because it was our fathers' war, or our grandfathers' war, and we've got warm memories of familial codgers?bad breath, ear hair and all. But Vietnam was different, which is probably why you'll never live to see Brokaw at the Amazon.com slot machine, pocketing quarters from exploiting a not-so-great generation.
Vietnam was a woman's war as much as it was a man's war. I'm not talking about the small number of women who served as nurses in forward area field hospitals, some of whom were wounded or killed, and whose names are on the Wall in Washington, DC. I'm talking about the women who fought the war at home. The women who protested the war. The women who had sons whom they helped avoid the draft. The women whose sons were killed in Vietnam who turned against the war. Women were on the front lines of the antiwar movement only as privates, and that fact, as much as prejudice in salary and hiring at work, drove them to make demands that are unresolved even today. That's what I remember about the Vietnam War years: the huge turning point we were coming to between the sexes. Susan B. Anthony and the rest of them be damned. Women started to win the war between the sexes during the Vietnam War years. Women of the Vietnam generation turned the Rosie the Riveter myth inside out. This time, while "the boys" were away at war, Rosie filled a job she would refuse to leave when "the boys" came home from war. To compound matters, having contributed to the war effort, instead of slinking barefoot back to the kitchen, Rosie would demand to be paid the same as "the boys."
The late 60s and early 70s must have been hell on Earth for the Establishment. From estates in Foxhall Road, Darien, Grosse Pointe, Shaker Heights, East Hampton and Oak Park, they were losing a war to a third-rate peasant rabble. Sons were growing long hair, declaring themselves gay and going to Canada. Daughters with Ivy League advanced degrees were chopping off their hair and attending consciousness-raising meetings and marching in the streets. Former cheerleaders in pleats and pompoms were now clad in jeans and boots, chanting, "Ho-Ho-Ho Chi Minh! The NLF is gonna win!" Once a war of insurgency and counterinsurgency, like Vietnam, the war between the sexes was now a conventional war between armies of interest groups.
You would think that Vietnam would be like other wars, with winners and losers, heroes and villains. But Vietnam wasn't a "Greatest Generation" war. Its "winners" have been largely forgotten. Its "villains," like Jane Fonda, are more memorable than its "heroes," like Westmoreland. If women were so important in the fight to end a war, shouldn't we get the message that women could be just as important to fighting a war? Maybe that's the legacy Vietnam has left us: The war between the sexes is a draw. One day women will be drafted.
Lucian K. Truscott IV is at work on his new novel, The Boys of St. Julien, which will be published in May 2001 by William Morrow.