Elections Do Matter

50 years ago, 1968: By now, ML King was dead, Bobby Kennedy was dead….The Tet Offensive was building, 250 young Americans a WEEK were being shipped home in pine boxes, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese were being killed, College campuses were beginning to explode in protest.

LBJ, who had been elected in a landslide, had some of the lowest popularity numbers in history.

The Democratic Party, that was still riding the momentum of the New Deal, saw LBJ’s War on Poverty crash and burn leaving holes in medical care that still exit today.

And the nation looked into the future of war and a resurgent Conservative Movement, pro-war, anti-liberal, and regressive.

Richard Nixon, who had lost the race for California governor, in a very red state, remarkably had his political career rejuvenated by the literal break up of the Democratic Party.

The Civil Rights and Voter Rights Act had broken the unholy alliance of liberals and Dixiecrats in the Democratic Party, leading to a “southern strategy” by the cynic Nixon, a Quaker with a strong abolitionist past, to invite segregationists and racists into the Republican Party. This unholy alliance persists today, leading to the racist deadlock in Congress, and straight up fascism today.

And the young, who still had to wait until they were 21 to vote, didn’t. They stayed at home, or voted for Nixon, because he cynically declared he had a secret plan to end the war. He didn’t!

About five years ago, classified documents were released that show Nixon sent people to the peace talks that LBJ had started with the promise to end the war. Those peace talks were making progress and LBJ was rushing to get them concluded before the November election.

Nixon had his people promise the North Vietnamese a “better deal” if they waited until he was elected. The Watergate Break-in that happened about three years later, was aimed at finding documents that showed this treason; Nixon purposefully sabotaged the peace talks, lengthening the war and over 30,000 G.I.s died and over two million Vietnamese died, in succeeding years after 1968. Nixon’s documented horrible secret of treason was what the Watergate burglars were looking for at the Watergate.

And Nixon won the 1968 election. The Republican Party took in the segregationists who were white supremacy and fascist already; and the country went straight to hell.

The Vietnam War has been universally condemned by historians, political scientists and a consensus as a wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. It accomplished absolutely nothing.

As it turned out, it was a war for national liberation. As it turned out, history proved no “domino effect” in fact the Soviet Union collapsed on its own weight, and Nixon famously visited China while the war was still gong on, opening up its markets to bring unrivaled consumer goods to Americans. While Nixon broke bread with “the Communist Threat, American GIs were dying to “contain Communism”

And we realized that Vietnam was not China backed, as a mini-war broke out, as it always had, on the China-Vietnamese border. Every single prediction the anti-war left made came true….as the war was exposed for the series of hopeless lies it really was.

A wall was built, not like the lunatic fringe one Trump uses to hypnotize his followers, to memorialize America’s stupidest war. And my generation was permanently scarred, with the knowledge that our patriotism was cynically used by cheap politicians for political gain alone. One thing a left and the right of my generation can agree on, we all were betrayed by our leaders during the Vietnam War.

Nixon resigned as President because of his successful efforts to suppress the truth; that he had sabotaged LBJ’s peace talks, purposefully lengthened a very unpopular war, to build a conservative (yes fascist) base that plagues us to this day;

And most of my friends, who were also 21 to 30, stayed home and did not vote in the 1968 Presidential Election.

Elections do have consequences. When you get a letter from your draft board telling you that you are 1-A and duty calls, for a war that everyone hates; then you realize too late that elections have consequences. I faced that reality in 1972, when the war was finally in decline, and joined. As it turned out the Vietnam War was fading, but we didn’t know that then.

Today, that is not the case, and young people still don’t vote! About 1% serve in ANY capacity, there is no draft…we have an all volunteer Army. Reserve units now regularly are called up to serve in Afghanistan in a war that is undeclared and about as justified as the war in Vietnam was; not being able to prove any national interest. But at least it is being fought with “volunteers” who know what they are getting into.

In 1968, the height of the Vietnam War was going on, it was being fought by draftees. I found out, in my service, that there were many ways to avoid getting sent to Vietnam that existed in 1968; just give the Army one more year, and you would probably be sent to Korea or Germany. Draftees fought the Vietnam War, usually very young, usually uneducated, victims of a war machine that old men would not or could not turn off.

Now remember, however, the Cold War was still going on. Crises happened that could have made that “decision” that avoided Vietnam into serving in a “hot zone”. And we knew that. And we served our country knowing that combat still was a reality; even if you weren’t in Vietnam. When you serve you do what they tell you…And to not do so, will land you in the brig.

But the war didn’t occur. And millions served, who are now veterans, who never heard a shot being fired in anger. The Vietnam “War” saw about 5% of those who served in any branch of the service, be in a combat zone. Many who were assigned to their “year” in Vietnam never even heard a shot, being in a non-combat support zone. The navy for example was offshore, supporting Air Craft Carriers, who performed sorties over Vietnam but those support personnel were only in danger of accidents; now the navy was not alway so combat free; sorties were staged up the Vietnamese Rivers delivering troops to hot zones. I have a Navy veteran friend who was a medic, figuring on a hospital ship duty, who decided to step forward when he should have not, and wound up in a Marine Unit “right in the middle of the shit”…who carried a M-16 for 12 months and got shot at all the time.

In short, combat as in all war, was a matter of bad luck for some, a matter of “it happens to someone else” for the many; with the Civil War, WWI and WWII notable exceptions.

As Veteran’s Day gets close, service to our country is something to be celebrated. But it needs to be celebrated with this realization: every heavy combat veteran I have known, and the greatest generation had quite a few, hated war. They would break into tears, and these were battle hardened veterans who saw the horrors of war, and would not talk about “it” to their dying day. They almost always said, “I hate war”, or “I lost a lot of friends”, and then get real quiet. The more combat they encountered the less they talked about it.

PTSD was not a diagnosis in those post WWII days, psychology called it “battle fatigue”; a lifelong affliction that drove many to suicide and alcoholism years after the war.

War is not glorious, it is not a lot of things. It tears the human psyche apart, it ruins lives, years after. It is total breakdown of civilization that right now threatens mankind’s very existence.

Finally I must say I get a little cynical as I hear, “Thank you for your service” as I remember mine, and the horrible position the Vietnam War put my generation into. There are conservatives to this day, who bemoan the protests that occurred during the war; who blame the “defeat” on those protests. But the statistics and history do not lie. The deaths were in vain. The cause, like many causes of war, was not just and cynical politicians like Nixon and even LBJ used it….and betrayed veterans trust!

After WWI the reaction against the war was so strong that countries disbanded their Armies and Navies. America was one of them; leaving a opening for the rise of fascism in Italy, Germany and Japan that led to the worst war in less than 15 years after “The Great War to End All Wars”, that killed 50 million people.

And TODAY, as I write this, fascist movements, the exact thing that drove WWII, are building again in Europe and tragically in the United States.

True insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

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Greg Beale

Stanford grad, BA Political Science, MA from Sac State in Government. 36 years in public education as teacher, coach, athletic director, and administrator.