Growing Up with Vietnam


I grew up with the War in Vietnam. Some of that personal history I am not proud of. My only defence is youth and ignorance. Not a strong defence perhaps, but it’s the best I’ve got and as I’ve learned many times–you gotta go home with the girl you brung.

When I was young I was a devoted follower of Ayn Rand. Today I blush at the thought. Again I rely on my only defences–youth and ignorance. As a follower of Ayn Rand I was required to be an enemy of international Communism. It stood for the death of personal freedom and imposition of dreaded socialism.

As a result of these fundamental principles I had a ready answer to anyone who wanted to talk about the war in Vietnam. The US was on a holy mission to eradicate Communism and halt the spread of this vile contagion. I really believed that stuff.

In fact as a young grade 12 student I had an opportunity to enter a public speaking contest. The top prize was $40. That was not chump change in those days. I could use that money to support my bad habits: pool and cigarettes. I learned very few had entered and my chances were good. In fact I won the prize

I picked as my topic, the war in Vietnam. I chose to explain to the masses how Communists were bent on world domination and had to be stopped or they would take over Southeast Asia and from there, the world. I accepted the domino theory.

Eventually I learned better. I would say I got older and smarter. Some might disagree about the latter. Early on in my first year of University I started to learn more about the world and what the Americans had been trying to persuade. My views changed completely. Soon I was opposed to the War in Vietnam and could not understand any more how I could ever have thought otherwise.

My views changed in part because of a book by a new hero–Bertrand Russell. The book was called War Crimes in Vietnam. The issue of the war burned hotly on university campuses around the world in 1967, when I first attended the University of Manitoba. There were numerous educational talks and rallies in support of the war and in opposition. It was the issue for college students of my generation, for a while. I learned a lot and I learned it fast.

Many students supported the Americans in the war for reasons similar to the ones the motivated me. However a growing number of students were beginning to realize that this war made no sense. It was unlikely to be successful, but much more importantly it was morally wrong. The Americans did not belong I Vietnam and we should not support them and in fact we should try to encourage them to give it up.

I joined the opposition to the war early on in my first year. Now I would say, it did not take long for me to come to my senses.

Eventually the Americans abandoned the war, but not before nearly 59,000 Americans had died, and more than a million Vietnamese people. And all those lives were sacrificed for nothing. The deaths were futile. I felt sorry for the men and women who died on both sides of the war. It was a horrible waste. It was a permanent stain on the United States of America.

Years later I read another book this time by Barbara Tuchman called The March of Folly. One of the follies she described so well was the folly of America in Vietnam and how America had betrayed itself there. I agreed wholeheartedly.

Now, in 2017, there is a PBS film limited series produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick called The Vietnam War. It is showing each night on PBS as I write this and I have only seen half of it, but I am enthralled. It tells about the war in great depth. More importantly it tells about the war with video, photographs, learned opinions, and most importantly interviews with people involved on both sides of the war–Americans as well as North and South Vietnamese people. It is outstanding television. I strongly recommend it to everyone. To me, it is woken me from my slumber. I intend to comment on aspects of it in this blog.

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