namese sources on the war, he bases his own account entirely on pre-published materials \(admittedly, he seems to have absorbed virtually everything original interviews, no investigations by the author, no attempts to interrogate or confront the managers who invented Technowar or the soldiers who fought it the book lacks a human center, a core of affirmation, and moves only under the power of exploding lies. It functions, not by asserting that reality was one thing, but denying that it was another; The Perfect War teaches by negation. Still, it is a measure of Gibson’s honesty that he faces down these limitations in the remarkable closing appendix, “The Warrior’s Knowledge,” in which he celebrates the memories, novels, and oral histories of the Americans who fought the war, while weighing those “amateur” narratives against the endless studies and apologias of military historians and retired bureaucrats. The central element of the popular and personal accounts is their irreducible confrontation with death, a confrontation which Gibson openly disavows in the final passage of his book: ” . . There are important aspects of the warrior’s knowledge that do not lend themselves to theoretical appropriation . . . it is difficult to convey the full presence of death.” In a moment of ringing self-criticism, Gibson concludes: “The present analysis of the war is just that, an analysis. . . In this corpus men and women live and die; the stories of their lives and their deaths have truths beyond incorporation in any theoretical arguments.” In death begins responsibility, to paraphrase Yeats. The issue of responsibility hangs above The Perfect War like a guillotine. Anyone who has written about Vietnam before knows the emotions still invested in the war, and knows how the struggle for the right to interpret the war swings back and forth between progressives and reactionaries in this country. As Gibson points out, since the war was lost there has arisen an accepted, liberal interpretation of our experience in Vietnam: the war was a mistake, not because we were wrong to try to inflict our vision of reality on an underdeveloped country halfway around the world, but because we didn’t fight the war the right way we tried too hard, or we didn’t try hard enough. Vietnam was a “swamp,” a “quagmire,” all of which meant that militant anti-communism was the right policy, but Vietnam was the wrong place to fight for it. The political mainstream used these rationalizations to assimilate 20 NOVEMBER 20, 1987 and defuse the implications of the Vietnam war. Among all this intellectual debris wander the veterans themselves. Once outcasts, the combatants have lately become almost glamorous. Charlie Daniels and Bruce Springsteen \(neither wrote hit songs about veterans, a genuinely beautiful monument to the war dead was put up in Washington, and suddenly it was acceptable to have fought in the war. A number of rising young politicians \(Senators Albert Gore of Tennessee and John Kerry of Massanam service as a sign of. authenticity. Yet, as readers of The Perfect War will recognize, there are suppressed truths lurking behind the new Vietnam chic. Anyone who goes to war for their country has a moral obligation to assess the ends of that conflict, both before they go and during their service. And The Perfect War makes clear that any intelligent, morally alert person who studied the history of the war, or, once in Vietnam, observed the events around him would have concluded that our perpetuation of . the conflict was an abomination. It is simply not possible for “rational people to disagree rationally” about the effects of our intervention. Whatever the theoretic justifications for the war, the historical fact translated into mindless carnage that had no real goal other than to maximize the slaughter of a sovereign people in their homeland. Anyone who participated in this slaughter bears a share of the blame. Social realities, however broad, can present themselves only on an individual level, within the concrete lives of actual ‘men and women. One cannot argue, as William Broyles did recently in his selfinflating memoir, Brothers-in-Arms, that the war was wrong, but that fighting in it was honorable. The infamy of the war can be located in the actions of the men who went: bombs don’t drop themselves; villages don’t burn themselves; peasants don’t massacre themselves. Furthermore, locating responsibility is a crucial historical task, because moral societies appear only wherever people assume responsibility for their acts. Social conditions can mitigate individual responsibility, but not eliminate it. Obviously, the personal burdens of this history lie most heavily on the generals and bureaucrats who knowingly distorted their reports and representations of the situation in Vietnam. And yet I know men, infantry-level soldiers once, who now freely admit they are ashamed of things they did in Vietnam. They don’t talk about presidents or generals; they talk about themselves. This ability to feel guilt is one of the most profound and transforming hurnah experiences. It is also a fundathental psychological element of a free society, for if democracy demands anything, it demands honesty about what we have seen, what we have done, what we have allowed others to do in our name. And I have known too many assured and unrepentant veterans, have heard far too much from Oliver North and his “brothers-in-arms,” to think that the moral issues of the war can be safely put away. Before anyone would write in to say what a sanctimonious son of a bitch the reviewer is, I hope they will do two things: first, to understand that this. is not an argument for neglecting or ostracizing veterans indeed, as Gibson argues in the close of his book, our veterans have become the keepers of a genre of invaluable knowledge; they form an existential contingent among the more quiescent and provincial ranks of society \(and when I say society I include my generation, which came of age after Willson, ..who recently lost his legs during an anti-intervention protest at a munitions depot in California, obviously has a deep moral experience to convey, and should be acclaimed for this gift. Second, I hope anyone who objects to my interpretation will first read The Perfect War, and then respond to this assertion: the disaster in Vietnam was possible only because millions of Americans, from Lyndon Johnson down to the most ragged buck private, allowed their experience to be distorted for the sake of a vision of triumphant capitalism, a vision which was manifestly corrupt in its conception and unbelievably cruel in its application. I am not questioning the bravery or the sincerity of the men who fought the war; I am questioning their innocence. When a country wages a lawless war, everyone who does not speak out, who does not protest, who does not cry “Murder!” shares in the blame. And blame there is: The Perfect War is a long, accusatory rumble that carries us back into blood, willingly spilt, years and worlds away. Correction Due to a typographical error, the meaning of a sentence in Thomas Ferguson’s article on economics and the stock market \(TO, The sentence should have read: “Specifically, the White House has been pressing the Germans and the Japanese to reflate their economies and buy more from the rest of the world, allowing the U.S. to reduce its trade deficit without a fall in total world demand.”
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