I am not anti-American. I love almost all Americans that I have met. I visited the US for extended visits for 5 or 6 years in a row. But I do not want to hesitate to criticize them when necessary. I know Canadians have problems too. Our impact is just so much less than our neighbours to the south because we are so much smaller.
The US as the richest and most powerful country in the world has to be able to take criticism. I ask no more of them than to uphold their own ideals enshrined in their own public documents and public statements. They constantly claim to be the best country in the world. So understandably we tend to expect they act accordingly.
John Musgrave, an 18-year old American soldier did not know what to expect when he came to Vietnam. As a result he was scared to death of the Vietnamese. As Musgrave said, “I hated them so much I was terrified of them. The scarder I got, the more I hated them. I was so scared I thought I was hanging on to my honor by my fingernails the entire time I was there.”
I found this surprising. Soldiers from the richest most powerful country in the world were scared of the Vietnamese! How could that be? I think this fear is central to America’s role in Vietnam and also in the world. They seem so strong and secure and certain, yet they are filled with wild fears. I think that is why they spend more on their military than the next 9 countries ranked in military expenditures, put together! That is why they have more guns per capita than almost any other country in the world. That is why they want to build walls to keep out the rapists and murderers.
Fear is corrosive. It can destroy the best of motives, the best of intentions, and the best of people. In the case of Americans I have found, as Musgrave hinted, that their own ideals however are often corroded by fear. It is very difficult to be your best when you are scared.
As a result when Americans go to war they have to go in to the fullest. No half measures. They have go in with what Colin Powell later called “overwhelming force.” That was the Powell doctrine in a nutshell. Some have always felt the US failed to do that in Vietnam. They had too many rules about what they could and could not do. For example, General Curtis Lemay was said that the U.S. should have “bombed the North Vietnamese into the stone age.” He denied that he said that, but certainly some did believe that.
I was surprised to learn from this television series that one of the reasons Americans held back from using overwhelming force was fear of what Russia and China would do in response. American political leaders did not want another war like the one they had just finished in Korea. As a result, they got drawn into an even worse war in Vietnam. That’s what fear does. It shreds reason.
John Musgrave proudly became a Marine in 1967 but that experience changed him forever. When interviewed nearly 490 years later for the show, he said he was still scared of the dark and still has a night-light on when he goes to sleep. 50 years later he is still scared.