War fatigue
June 8, 2014 10:47 AM   Subscribe

The young men and women enlisting in the armed forces now were in pre-school on 9/11. "As a nation we have internalized our longest military conflict; it has suffused the social, political, and cultural body. The war is not something the nation is doing; it's simply something that is." Vox on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, from Jessica Lynch to Bowe Bergdahl. posted by roomthreeseventeen (91 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
It doesn't seem that long ago when I was watching coverage of the 9/11 attacks from my dorm room at the University of Missouri--- now I'm looking at eight years (enlisted) in the U.S. Army in August, nearly halfway to retirement if I so desire.

I'll say nothing more except to say that so much has changed, while so much has stayed the same. Neither happened to the half I was expecting.
posted by SeanMac at 10:56 AM on June 8, 2014 [11 favorites]


I'm too young to remember much of Vietnam, much less Korea. Were they the same way, with bits and pieces in the news and basically no effect on folks who weren't directly involved in the military?
posted by immlass at 11:09 AM on June 8, 2014


I'm too young to remember much of Vietnam, much less Korea. Were they the same way, with bits and pieces in the news and basically no effect on folks who weren't directly involved in the military?

I was born in 1980, but from what my parents and husband have said, Vietnam was completely inescapable if you watched TV or read the papers at all, and almost everyone watched Cronkite or Reasoner.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:13 AM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Vietnam was on the news every night. The first war beamed directly into America's living rooms. Also, there was the draft. The war was not merely some awful thing happening on the other side of the world. It was an awful thing that was likely to reach out and grab you and drag you over there if it didn't end before you turned 18. At least if you were male. Put the two together and it was awfully hard to stop thinking about the war every day.
posted by Longtime Listener at 11:18 AM on June 8, 2014 [24 favorites]


Vietnam had the draft, and sustained troop levels above those of Iraq/Afghanistan for over 3 years, plus the huge war protest effort at home and 10x the war casualties. Iraq/Afghanistan has dragged on longer, but Vietnam was definitely more pervasive.
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:19 AM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


So much of that disconnect must be due to the end of the draft, no? "The war" wasn't something that affected only certain classes or certain people from certain parts of the country. I imagine a military that drew rather more equally from America's youth would be more front-and-center in the nation's psyche. Chalk it up to unintended consequences.

On preview: what Longtime Listener said.
posted by Bromius at 11:22 AM on June 8, 2014


It's funny how you almost never hear anything about Iraq in the news. I wonder how they are doing these days? I suppose the region is stable now, what with Saddam out of the picture, but you'd think they'd let us know that.
posted by thelonius at 11:23 AM on June 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


I suppose the region is stable now, what with Saddam out of the picture

I honestly can't tell if this is sarcasm.
posted by Justinian at 11:24 AM on June 8, 2014 [47 favorites]


Vietnam was always on the news. Walter Cronkite reading out the daily casualty counts.
posted by Windopaene at 11:26 AM on June 8, 2014


I'm going to give Thelonius the benefit of the doubt because it reads like sarcasm to me. Lower your hackles, Justinian. Down boy.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 11:27 AM on June 8, 2014


I suppose the region is stable now, what with Saddam out of the picture

I honestly can't tell if this is sarcasm.


Mefi has you covered either way, previously; and previously.
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:30 AM on June 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


Good thinking. You don't want to mess with people named after Martin Amis characters, or Stevie Wonder songs.

Seriously: have I missed all the follow-ups? Last Spring was 10 years since the invasion, was there a special Sunday edition of the paper or anything? What was it all for?
posted by thelonius at 11:33 AM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Vietnam was definitely more pervasive.

But so much shorter. I'm sure it seemed endless then (I can only just barely remember the news of the withdrawal), but it was short and intense compared to the endless background grind we see now.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:33 AM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


For nearly 25 years, the United States went through a period of downplaying the regular military service. While there were conflicts and a standing volunteer force, the average person likely did not know anyone who was serving in one of the branches. From the end of Vietnam to 9/11, with a small window for the first Gulf War, we were largely de-militarized as a population.

I know that the country spent a great deal on weapons and constant building up of defense, but the average person didn't have to worry about it as part of their daily life.

However, the last 13 years have changed all of this. Younger people are growing up with the military as part of their everyday understanding. If you go back to look at pictures from the Civil War, some of them might look similar to those of veterans who lost limbs in Iraq or Afghanistan.
posted by jwt0001 at 11:38 AM on June 8, 2014


It's funny how you almost never hear anything about Iraq in the news. I wonder how they are doing these days? I suppose the region is stable now, what with Saddam out of the picture, but you'd think they'd let us know that.

Sat Jun 7, 2014 4:55pm EDT
(Reuters) - A wave of car bombs exploded across Baghdad on Saturday, killing more than 60 people, and militants stormed a university campus in western Iraq, security and medical sources said.

posted by Auden at 11:48 AM on June 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


War without end, amen.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:51 AM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm sure it seemed endless then (I can only just barely remember the news of the withdrawal), but it was short and intense compared to the endless background grind we see now.

Part of the problem is that this grind is essentially background noise, even within the military itself.

Before 2001, I worked for a guy (twice) who had been the desk officer at the Pentagon who compiled casualty reports for the entire U.S. Army each day. One or two soldiers die every day even when the Army isn't doing anything. Training accidents, off-duty accidents, illness, etc. etc. ... one or two people, every day, just because the Army is hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom do fairly dangerous things just to get ready for doing even more dangerous things.

Total number of U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last 12.75 years? 6,717. Divide that down and you get less than 1.5 dead per day (Vietnam averaged 11; many more during the time when the American public was paying attention), which is to say nearly the same fatality level as when the Army wasn't doing anything. Given that the Army has been larger throughout pretty much the whole post-9/11 time than it was in the '90s, and it's basically less per capita.
posted by Etrigan at 11:53 AM on June 8, 2014 [10 favorites]


I was born in 64. There used to be only four channels on tv until the mid-seventies and the nightly news featured footage from Vietnam and the daily death / casuality toll in white letters at the bottom of the screen with Walter Cronkite narrating in his inimitable voice. Walter Cronkite was instrumental in ending the war, or perhaps acknoweldging the reality of the situation. Here is his famous broadcast.

They learned. Now reporters are "embedded" and you get a controlled narrative with Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman.
posted by vapidave at 11:54 AM on June 8, 2014 [15 favorites]


I was born in '64, and I had a clear sense of the vietnam war going on. But I have no basis for comparison with any other childhood.

On the other hand, my mother told me years later how glad she was that both the war and the draft were ended.
posted by lodurr at 11:54 AM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Vietnam was definitely more pervasive

But so much shorter.

...what? The Gulf of Tonkin Incident was in 1964. The last American troops didn't leave Vietnam until 1975. And we were (arguably, depending on your definition) fighting that war well before that.
posted by tzikeh at 11:55 AM on June 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


What we've got now much more closely resembles the ongoing colonial wars of 19th century Great Britain than it does any previous thing in the American experience.
posted by lodurr at 11:56 AM on June 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


The War on Drugs provided the prototype for the never-ending war.
posted by telstar at 11:57 AM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


10x the war casualties

I think you may mean fatalities rather than casualties. The casualty numbers for the War on Terror are actually still pretty high relative to Vietnam but the improvements in medical treatment, body and vehicle armour mean that you are far less to die once you are a casualty (1 in 7 chance versus a 1 in 3). I can't be arsed to work out the troop deployments and calculate rates from the raw counts to see the difference in casualty and fatality rates but I'd interested if somebody else had the numbers. I vaguely recall some stats on the USSR/Afghan casualty rate being pretty close to the US / Vietnam numbers but I don't fully trust my memory.
posted by srboisvert at 12:15 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


I was born in 1959, and I remember the nightly news always being all about the Vietnam War when I was in grade school, and then even in junior high I remember the William Calley conviction being big news. Vietnam permeated so much of every day life back then, much more than the first Gulf War did, and more than today's conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan (even with the Internet added to the equation). The Draft was active then, and the lottery drawings were broadcast on TV. Years after that War had ended my Dad would still gripe every time he saw actor George Hamilton on TV how Hamilton had evaded the draft by dating LBJ's daughter. Even this 1966 Parade profile of the then-new group The Monkees mentions the military service/draft status of each member of the group, so enmeshed was that war with daily life and popular culture at the time.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:18 PM on June 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


Total number of U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last 12.75 years? 6,717. Divide that down and you get less than 1.5 dead per day (Vietnam averaged 11; many more during the time when the American public was paying attention), which is to say nearly the same fatality level as when the Army wasn't doing anything. Given that the Army has been larger throughout pretty much the whole post-9/11 time than it was in the '90s, and it's basically less per capita.

This is not insignificant. A lesser-known fact of the Vietnam Era is that, while about 110,000 American military folks died during that time, only some 58,000 of these deaths were attributable to the Vietnam War. The other 50-odd-K people died because military is a fairly dangerous job. Now, were you a Vietnamese, you would be looking at deaths numbering in the millions. Some of the Vietnamese fighters in my era came from families who were in the field during WWII, grandfathers fighting the Japanese, fathers fighting the French. They had, in effect, been at war for three generations.

I imagine the countries in the Middle East who are on the pointy end of our foreign policy have a different picture of war than do we.

They are training our children to be cannon fodder. Whoever "they" are, they are coming at us sideways. War (said Clemens) is how Americans learn geography. We are killing folks in countries that most Americans don't even know exist. The pendulum truly has swung to the right.
posted by mule98J at 12:24 PM on June 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


If this country learned anything from Vietnam it was how to hide an ongoing war from the general population.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 12:27 PM on June 8, 2014 [21 favorites]


more closely resembles the ongoing colonial wars of 19th century Great Britain than it does any previous thing in the American experience

We have done this before. There was the lengthy fight to subjugate the Philippines. Multiple invasions and interventions in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Central America, occupied Veracruz, participated in the western response to the Boxer Rebellion, ran Cuba as a pseudo-colony. This is the stuff that led Smedley Butler to proclaim "War is a racket." and kept the US involved in low-level wars and occupations from 1898 onwards.
posted by honestcoyote at 12:28 PM on June 8, 2014 [18 favorites]


Want to end this and other covert wars? Make it illegal to profit from the manufacture of goods sold to the armed forces. Make it illegal to contract military and police services.

The second you have companies "being drafted" to make munitions the war will end. (Want to end the drug war? Make it illegal to seize property, especially from third-parties.)

These activities are hugely profitable and disproportionally grind the "undesirables" in our society. It's a capitalist's wet dream.
posted by maxwelton at 12:41 PM on June 8, 2014 [27 favorites]


born in '57 - it's my impression that many americans have somehow learned to pretend that this war isn't going on; partially because it isn't as intense as the vietnam war was, partially because the media is much more diffuse and not as dedicated to covering it, and partially because our young people have to volunteer to be in this war instead of being drafted into it

in fact, the hamms bear, i'd say the best way to hide an ongoing war is to make sure the general population isn't worried about their children having to fight it

it was impossible to avoid the war when i was growing up, partially because so many people were vehemently against it - it caused division and rebellion, it's left a psychic scar in my generation that is still having consequences these days

back then, it was the anti-war baby boomers who were most vocal and most socially and politically influential, even though they were in the minority

now, of course, it's the pro-war part of my generation that is prominent with their tea party politics and feeling that we ought to get back to the old america

you can't really understand people in their late 50s and 60s without taking a look at how the war affected us

nowadays, it seems like our current war is more like something we pay attention to only when we feel like paying attention to it, which isn't often - how deeply it's going to affect today's young people is something i'm not sure about, but i don't think it's going to define them
posted by pyramid termite at 12:41 PM on June 8, 2014 [13 favorites]


Want to end this and other covert wars? Make it illegal to profit from the manufacture of goods sold to the armed forces. Make it illegal to contract military and police services.

Define "profit." You can easily not make a profit on a contract while still making a lot of money.

For that matter, define "military and police services." Is cooking in a war zone a military service? Is construction? IT? Medical services? Diplomacy? Agricultural training? Infrastructure and economic development? These are all things that the U.S. military does, often with the assistance of civilians both public and private. Are you saying that no one else should be allowed to do these things, or just that no one should be allowed to get paid to do them?
posted by Etrigan at 12:53 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Pyramid, I absolutely agree.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 1:04 PM on June 8, 2014


The pendulum truly has swung to the right.

??? Who's been in charge of the pendulum for the past six years? (For that matter, who was in charge of the pendulum during the escalation in Vietnam? Or Korea?) A pox on both their houses.

Here's a fun list. Not saying they should have gone, not saying they didn't want to. Just noting that they didn't. Even when social class would have all but guaranteed soft service behind a desk. Which is defensible, but there is always the fact that your deferment means someone else less quick and connected is going instead. Tough choices.

you can't really understand people in their late 50s and 60s without taking a look at how the war affected us


My recollection is that people forgot about it pretty quickly once we pulled out. Bicentennial and all that. Occasionally you heard about people in boats and more scuffles between Vietnam and her neighbors, but other than that, it was disco time in the USA.

Your Memories May Differ.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:16 PM on June 8, 2014


It's funny how you almost never hear anything about Iraq in the news.

Carnage Across Iraq Leaves 184 Killed, 183 Hurt is the top headline on antiwar.com right now.
posted by bukvich at 1:18 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


swlabr linked to the restored 1968 Vietnam War documentary In The Year Of The Pig, Oscar nominated and directed by Emile de Antonio, free to watch on Youtube, in this AskMe. Really fascinating to see it from the perspective of partway through the war instead of entirely in the rearview mirror, and it fleshed out for me much of what preceded the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which my high school history teachers would sort of vaguely handwave their way through because there wasn't enough time in the school year.
posted by XMLicious at 1:28 PM on June 8, 2014


A big part of why Vietnam was covered so publicly is that the men in positions of cultural and political power in our country had come out of the World War II era. During World War II, the war was the main thing everyone talked and thought about. Everyone wanted to know what was happening on the front lines, most of the nation was involved in the war effort (you could be cut dead socially for being an able-bodied young man visibly not in the services), kids kept maps of Europe and the Pacific on their walls, and the news published death tolls and munitions figures. That war was "in your face all the time," and the expectation in the '60s was that this one would be like that too, a cultural commitment. (Cf. Oriole Adams's comment about newspapers printing pop stars' draft status.) Vietnam wasn't that kind of war but it was covered like that, by older people whose formative experience was the sort of well-defined totalizing War that can be won and followed by Peace. Nobody on either side of the debate these days seems to expect Peace.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:51 PM on June 8, 2014 [9 favorites]


Aside from massive differences in fatalities and the fact that today we do not have a draft, the economic costs (pdf) of post 9/11 military action at its peak was about half as large as was the cost of Vietnam at its peak as a percentage of GDP. According to the linked report, in 1968, at the peak of spending in Vietnam, total defense spending cost 9.5% of GDP. By contrast, in 2010, total defense spending came to 4.9% of GDP. For some perspective, in 1945, WWII spending came to 37.5% of GDP.

I don't think that people becoming inured to the war is due to any one factor alone, but when you combine together lack of attention from and to large, traditional media, the small costs we are paying in terms of money and lives relative to previous wars, and the concentration of military service burdens among the poor and minorities ... then you have a compelling story.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 2:02 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


My recollection is that people forgot about it pretty quickly once we pulled out.

they stopped talking about it - that's not quite the same as forgetting it - i think the bicentennial, disco and even reagan's election was a collective effort to forget the 60s had ever happened

and when you consider the conflicts that decade was about - many of us are still trying to pretend it never happened
posted by pyramid termite at 2:06 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


they stopped talking about it - that's not quite the same as forgetting it - i think the bicentennial, disco and even reagan's election was a collective effort to forget the 60s had ever happened

Enh, I remember this country being highly allergic to war, almost isolationist, in the post-war 70s. Even people who had felt we ought to stick it out until victory in Vietnam didn't want us getting pulled into something new. I wonder how long that would have lasted if Iran hadn't happened (the hostages, the Shah, the Ayatollah). I figure Grenada as the critical point of starting to unlearn the lesson.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:18 PM on June 8, 2014


Walter Cronkite reading out the daily casualty counts.

God, this. Every night. The high numbers of the Viet Cong, the relatively low numbers of the American soldiers.

Does anyone still listen to Hair? The soundtrack was on high rotation in our house during the late 60s, as it was amongst my parent's pacifist friends. I remember note for note the anti-war set piece, Three-Five-Zero-Zero, which broke into this lament at the climax: "Two hundred fifty-six Viet Cong captured". The song's a pastiche of media soundbites, and this was the Cronkite moment. (It's at 1:09, here; song continues on with a quote from Ginsberg which uses the word n****r, just to note). (Aside: times really were different; who today would let their eight year old daughter listen obsessively to a record which included a song entitled "Sodomy"-- first line, "Sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, pederasty"-- which my mother sternly told me I had to stop singing at school because I didn't understand the words and shouldn't be using them.)

Anyway in my memory the movie version of Hair, released 10 years later in 1979, downplayed this song and removed most of the anti-war themes, even though the main character's dilemma involves whether or not to flee the draft. Once the helicopters left Saigon, and the Khmer Rouge moved into Cambodia, the war fell off the TV screens and only returned in movies, in elegiac or metaphorical form (Deer Hunter, Taxi Drive, Apocalypse Now, even the Ewoks fighting the Empire with primitive technology, which Lucas himself stated was a deliberate reference). The draft ended and attention returned to the state of America, to inflation and OPEC and why wasn't Jimmy Carter more of a hard ass. America doesn't necessarily do self-examination very well, and there was a lot of discomfort, followed by a swing towards Reagan's shiny fabula and Morning in America! and so on.
posted by jokeefe at 2:21 PM on June 8, 2014 [9 favorites]


The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:24 PM on June 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think you may mean fatalities rather than casualties. The casualty numbers for the War on Terror are actually still pretty high relative to Vietnam but the improvements in medical treatment, body and vehicle armour mean that you are far less to die once you are a casualty (1 in 7 chance versus a 1 in 3). I can't be arsed to work out the troop deployments and calculate rates from the raw counts to see the difference in casualty and fatality rates but I'd interested if somebody else had the numbers. I vaguely recall some stats on the USSR/Afghan casualty rate being pretty close to the US / Vietnam numbers but I don't fully trust my memory.

I don't know how much to trust Wikipedia on this, but according to their page on U.S. military casualties of war, about 58,000 soldiers died and another 211,000 were wounded in Vietnam; whereas, about 6,700 have died and another 51,000 have been wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. I have no idea what that says about casualty rates, but it does say that there have been many, many fewer casualties post 9/11 than there were during Vietnam.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 2:30 PM on June 8, 2014




Vietnam was so ubiquitous that my friends and I (all of us about six years old) used to play "TV reporter aka Walter Cronkite interviews villagers whose homes have been napalmed" after school. My parents were divorced and my dad and I would send "talking letters" (tape recordings) back and forth. One time my mom taped Judy and Dori and me playing our game, and decades later, after my dad died, my stepmom found that tape and sent it to me. I'm not sure if today's six-year-olds are aware of the war(s), unless they have a parent overseas in the military.

It was on the news every night, usually with footage from a reporter in the field.

My mom also used to take me to anti-war demonstrations at the University of Hawaii, where she was in grad school. She stopped after Kent State.
posted by rtha at 2:33 PM on June 8, 2014 [9 favorites]


Aside from massive differences in fatalities and the fact that today we do not have a draft, the economic costs (pdf) of post 9/11 military action at its peak was about half as large as was the cost of Vietnam at its peak as a percentage of GDP.

It is the status quo, the new world order, to borrow a phrase. A nation at war, always on patrol, with remarkably low casualty rates, and if I may be so bold, we're making money, not losing it. It is important to note that the FAS report linked above does not include "assistance to allies," which is fancy-pants for "arms sales," and is in my opinion, a pretty glaring, albeit incalculable, omission. Because it's pretty clear we've made a killing protecting the Saudis.

"As a nation we have internalized our longest military conflict; it has suffused the social, political, and cultural body. The war is not something the nation is doing; it's simply something that is."

As for the cultural body, I hate it when my granola roommate is right, but movies like Edge of Tomorrow (saw it last night, enjoyed it) introduce world armies and "merciless," "non-human," "limitless" off-planet threats "that can't be killed or negotiated with" and the public doesn't even question the premise. It eats it up. Washington and Hollywood alike have learned to capitalize on our irrational fears. Given how big our toys are, the correction will come far too late and be far too devastating.

As I've mentioned before, for the military, Vietnam wasn't a mistake, it was the playbook.
posted by phaedon at 3:02 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


and if I may be so bold, we're making money, not losing it.

That is indeed a bold claim. Particularly as I believe it's extremely incorrect. Your assertion is that arms sales by the United States government over the past decade is ten trillion dollars +?
posted by Justinian at 3:29 PM on June 8, 2014


Hell, I'll even give it to you at five trillion which would only cover the direct costs of Iraq and Afghanistan.
posted by Justinian at 3:30 PM on June 8, 2014


I think one big reason is that iraq's not really a war. there's no "army" fighting us. a few u.s. soldiers have been killed by bombs or snipers, but no rational human thinks there's any kind of "contest between military forces" happening here, of the kind that have traditionally constituted a war. we occupied iraq and afghanistan, and a few of us have been killed by people resisting that occupation. but do you know anyone not in the armed services who is actually worried about the result here? this is more like the imperialistic "pacification" of the middle east by the british & french in the first half of the 20th century.
posted by facetious at 3:30 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


That list of deferments is a little misleading, although it notes that despite deferments, some may have served. That would include Al Gore and Bob Kerrey, the latter having lost part of his leg in Vietnam.
posted by etaoin at 4:18 PM on June 8, 2014


Hell, I'll even give it to you at five trillion which would only cover the direct costs of Iraq and Afghanistan.

I'm no economist, but there is I think, without a doubt, an economic engine driving modern armed conflict. I'm just not prepared to concede that American intervention in the Middle East is driven by altruism, or even that is represents a great economic sacrifice. Sure, you can isolate tax-funded "military operations" and talk about how much American is spending and chalk it up as a loss. But the US has, relatively speaking, massive and essential private and public economic interests, pre-existing relationships and opportunities in the Middle East, whereas in Vietnam it did not. So the "relative cost of the war" cannot be measured in bullets and blood.

Also, feel free to overrule me on this, but the FAS report has total military spending in the decade following 9/11 at $1.147 trillion.
posted by phaedon at 4:21 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Jonathan Livengood: "I don't know how much to trust Wikipedia on this, but according to their page on U.S. military casualties of war, about 58,000 soldiers died and another 211,000 were wounded in Vietnam; whereas, about 6,700 have died and another 51,000 have been wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. I have no idea what that says about casualty rates, but it does say that there have been many, many fewer casualties post 9/11 than there were during Vietnam."

Wikipedia seems to be correct. According to the FAQ for the Vietnam Memorial wall there are 58,286 names on the wall.

I'm a Vietnam Vet. U.S. Navy 1965-1975 including two years in country (on and off). As much as that war messed up it's veterans, I'm not looking forward to the the next 30-40 years.
posted by jgaiser at 4:23 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Perhaps it's because of where I live (Long Island) now as opposed to the industrial area of Ohio during the Vietnam war, but I don't see nearly the same obvious, positive (as in jobs) economic impact of the war.

I grew up in a steel town that thrived thanks to the war in Vietnam, not to mention multiple other industries--shipping, heavy machinery, autos-- also benefiting directly and indirectly.

Is it geography or is it that the "benefits' are spread out across a wider area?

And yeah, the war in Vietnam lasted a long time. In fact the first American troops went to Vietnam in 1950 and though I don't believe they were directly engaged in fighting until the 1960s, we were there quite some time.

You could not escape awareness of the war if you were of a certain age. You were getting drafted or trying to avoid it as the draft moved from Selective Service boards to lottery based on your birthday. Sometimes certain categories of young men--college students, married, those with children, etc., would win exemptions but the rules changed. Somewhere in the mid-1960s, newspapers published photos of people lined up to get a quicky wedding in Nevada so the men could stay out of the draft because the marriage exemption was about to end for those not grandfathered in.

What I don't recall from the time was the same civilian commitment to the war effort that our parents experienced in World War II. They could tell stories about rationing, limits on changing jobs in certain industries, the cold shoulder to people not doing their bit, etc.
posted by etaoin at 4:33 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


etaoin said: I grew up in a steel town that thrived thanks to the war in Vietnam, not to mention multiple other industries--shipping, heavy machinery, autos-- also benefiting directly and indirectly.

I've got the flu and kind of a wicked headache, so forgive me if I don't sound as coherent as I should ... my father worked as a federal employee for the Navy during most of Vietnam, and he was in procurement and logistics, so buying airplanes for the Navy among other things. He said something to me once about the the downside of a war-fueled economic boomlet like the Vietnam years, and what he said was that (even setting aside the terrible human cost of the war) this economic boom was only temporary, not of long term benefit to the country, because we were mostly making things that were being sent overseas and destroyed, and spending lots of our money to do it. We were making bombs, and planes and helicopters and guns and bullets (and on and on) that were shipped out of the country and used up and blown up and worn out. We weren't making things that benefited the country long term, like infrastructure and building bridges or highways, or building factories for war materiel that could then be repurposed for peacetime uses, or making much that could be turned to profitable peacetime use (mostly a bit of tech), or investing seed money in developing stuff that would benefit the economy long term. And, a tremendous amount of resources, including even things like metal and fuel, were shipped overseas and lost (i.e. no long term return). His point was that if all the money we spent on Vietnam had been put to other uses, we would have had a different country, and the '70's was basically when the bills came due after the war ended and the war manufacturing ceased, and the old industrial areas of the NE went bust.
posted by gudrun at 5:05 PM on June 8, 2014 [15 favorites]


Those who profit from the war own the mass media which narcotizes its viewers on the issue of war. Those who profit from the war recycle some of their war profits through the political system [which continues the war] to assure the war continues. There is a constant patter in the war profiteer owned media of the sound of the manufacture of 'new' enemies so that 'war' is permanent and yet largely invisible except when referring to war can generate new war. Cheney's company's profits [$35B] are almost exactly equal to the 'cost' but not the 'value' of the gear being left in Afghanistan. War is the US federal political system's junk and it is in constant search of a fix.
posted by SteveLaudig at 6:21 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Re. whether or not we've 'made money' from the war on terror: you're both right, for varying values of 'we.'

You, I and the US government: No.

A large number of corporations that are integrated with the terror-industrial complex: Yes.

[spelling edit]
posted by lodurr at 6:32 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm so old, I can remember when the Iraq war was gonna pay for itself.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:36 PM on June 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


Oh, shit, that was one embarrassing argument in its favor. I can remember just having to perpetually pick up my jaw off the ground, and still all I could say was "Really? You really think that's going to happen? Really?!"

12 years on and only you me and the fencepost even remember that was a thing.
posted by lodurr at 6:41 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


We have done this before. There was the lengthy fight to subjugate the Philippines. Multiple invasions and interventions in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Central America, occupied Veracruz, participated in the western response to the Boxer Rebellion, ran Cuba as a pseudo-colony. This is the stuff that led Smedley Butler to proclaim "War is a racket." and kept the US involved in low-level wars and occupations from 1898 onwards.

Oh sure. But what those wars had in common was that we ignored them. To be a "China Marine" in the 30s or a soldier back from the Philippines in the 20s was not at all a noble thing in the American public imagination. We kept those empires out of the public imagination. But to fight for the British Empire was honorable, in a way that's similar to the honor that comes with fighting in Afghanistan or Ghana or wherever: people hit the pro-forma notes (and in many cases actually feel like they mean it), though in practice you're still kind of screwed -- you just got 'honored' for the privilege.

So when Butler came back and proclaimed that "War is a Racket", he did so in an environment where those particular wars he knew so well had never been canonized, because the racketeers that contracted for them had never wanted them brought into the public imagination. The British Empire, by contrast, had transformed the racket into patriotic duty -- much as we've done.
posted by lodurr at 6:52 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


DEATH TO OCEANIA!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:38 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think part of the difference of how we feel the war in our daily lives now compared to then was in the Vietnam era all Americans got their news from the same limited channels. Today sources are so fragmented and people pick ones that deliver what fits their personal narrative. So some folk are likely to get their war news from places that will likely report casualties while other folk may hang out around sources that mainly speak of the war mainly with reports of heroism and feel-good human interest stories.
posted by sourwookie at 7:48 PM on June 8, 2014


We've always been at war with Eastasia
posted by Renoroc at 8:41 PM on June 8, 2014


We've been fatigued with this "war" for a decade now.

The gross unfairness of an all-volunteer Army.

Anyone have any stats about how many conflicts the U.S. Army engaged in pre- and post-draft?

I couldn't find any numbers, but I would bet dollars to donuts that we've been engaged in a lot more military conflicts after the draft was abolished.

Also, any stats about how many members of Congress have children serving in the armed forces? ...

Absence of America's Upper Classes From the Military
posted by mrgrimm at 9:06 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Are there any good interviews with 18-year-old soldiers out there?

Do they think Afghans destroyed the World Trade Center?

Do they know about Colin Powell's WMD presentation to the UN?

Do they even have a clear idea what happened on 9/11?
posted by miyabo at 9:20 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Vox article gets the Jessica Lynch story completely wrong. It further supports its claims by linking to a BBC article that is also wrong in a lot of important details.

The story went from being a heroic fable about Lynch -- wrong -- to a cautionary tale about military propaganda -- also wrong.

The Pentagon PR apparatus didn't say anything about Lynch -- In the heat of unfolding events, the people there just didn't have any facts to work with. They themselves were still gathering information and trying to figure out what happened. They elected to play it conservatively, and not say anything. (And yes, I do know some of the people involved there at the time. I wasn't one of them.)

The author of the story has gone on record saying it was NOT the Pentagon that gave him the initial, overblown story. In fact, he says his complaint is that the Pentagon wouldn't tell him *anything.*

I don't have time to dissect the whole thing bit by bit. But take the BBC article. The author, John Kampfner, thinks it is just delicious that the Americans fired on the ambulance carrying Lynch, forcing it to turn back to the hospital. Except that's not what happened. The driver *heard* gunfire ahead, and turned back. There is no evidence he was actually under fire at any time, much less from the Americans.

I just hate to see this kind of stuff get perpetuated.
posted by Alaska Jack at 10:19 PM on June 8, 2014


Followup - I realize most Mefites aren't going to be big fans of Instapundit, but here are some links (some appear to be dead) he rounded up regarding that BBC story.

That was more than 10 years ago.
posted by Alaska Jack at 10:26 PM on June 8, 2014


So my little brother (20) just contracted with the army. He's actually in Louisiana right now training with his guard unit (it's associated with the military academy he attends); he's doing guard and then joins regular army once he graduates.

He is a smart kid. He knows what's up. He got good grades in high school, studied modern US history, reads newspapers, is a member of metafilter (though hasn't posted yet), voted for Obama, is a feminist, is a licensed EMT, and is majoring in Chinese at school. He has not been brainwashed. He knows the difference between the Taliban and Afghanistan. He does not think the US should have been in Iraq, though he has mixed feelings about the troop drawdown in Afghanistan. He was 7 on September 11, 2001 and has very clear memories of a lot of it because we were in NY for a family wedding the following weekend. He had teachers who fought in both wars with their Guard units during middle school and high school. He organizes a memorial march for some alumnae of his university who were killed in Iraq and works closely with their families during the planning process. I don't really get why he joined the military, but then, he doesn't really get why I study monkeys. He's a lot like my students who are Iraq/Afghanistan veterans, and a lot like rising juniors with no connection to the military. 20 year old boys are 20 year old boys, and I suspect you'd get a pretty similar range of answers to those questions regardless of whether you asked a kid in the Marines or a kid at UNH or a kid working at a drug store somewhere.

I think that the mutual contempt and lack of understanding that military and civilian populations have for eachother helps fuel the War Machine in the US. The sergeant of his guard unit thinks we're all pussies for sitting back and letting a group of people most of us don't know and don't particularly care to know do the dangerous work of carrying out the consequences of our nation's foreign policy. We think they're bloodthirsty, dangerous, and at least a little brainwashed because they're willing to carry out the consequences of our nation's foreign policy. Keeping them from talking to us keeps their consequences as just sad or interesting stories, and makes it easier for them to wave away civilian concerns about how our military is being used. If there was actually some meaningful cross talk, I suspect you'd get some sort of populism springing up that might actually have the power to reevaluate US foreign policy.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:42 PM on June 8, 2014 [11 favorites]


Anyone have any stats about how many conflicts the U.S. Army engaged in pre- and post-draft?

I couldn't find any numbers, but I would bet dollars to donuts that we've been engaged in a lot more military conflicts after the draft was abolished.


That was one of the reasons Dick Nixon wanted to end the draft - the thought was that children of wealthier Americans would stop protesting if there were an all-volunteer army.

My personal experience is that I came of draft age in 1973, when things were winding down. I had a relatively low lottery number of 52, but by then they were just going through the motions of drawing numbers just in case they needed to ramp things up. Fortunately for me, they didn't. I had more than a few returning veterans as college classmates. That was back when the GI Bill was actually worth something positive for vets.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:04 AM on June 9, 2014


The sergeant of his guard unit thinks we're all pussies for sitting back and letting a group of people most of us don't know and don't particularly care to know do the dangerous work of carrying out the consequences of our nation's foreign policy. We think they're bloodthirsty, dangerous, and at least a little brainwashed because they're willing to carry out the consequences of our nation's foreign policy.

I think they're mostly people looking for a good deal who think they see a way of doing that and helping their country at the same time. They're not incentivized to think about it deeply, so they don't, and they mostly never realize that the foreign policy they're 'carrying out the consequences' of is not a foregone conclusion or even a very good idea.

The us military is not itself an evil organiztion. It's full of people who try hard to do the right things. But it's fundamentally an enabling device for force-based foreign policies.
posted by lodurr at 3:20 AM on June 9, 2014


The story went from being a heroic fable about Lynch -- wrong -- to a cautionary tale about military propaganda -- also wrong.

I was stopped on the street by a local news crew, who were asking people if the rescue of "Private Jessica" changed their opinion of the war. Someone was catapulting the propaganda.
posted by thelonius at 3:48 AM on June 9, 2014


I hear the hive keep mentioning the daily TV coverage of Vietnam. A huge difference between now and then is that now there is no freedom of the press to cover the war. There are only approved and embedded reporters at best. Most maneuvers are not allowed any coverage. At least for US news agencies. That's why so many look to Al Jezeera. 1984 was just 30 years late.
posted by 3.2.3 at 4:52 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


The feeling I got from the 'private jessica' coverage was that the Army was mostly just grinning and bearing it. From the media's perspective, if you weren't playing in that game, to a large extent you weren't playing.

which raises the point that while members of the military -- and even highly visible members, like their PR flacks -- may not want to play the jingoism game (and they often don't), they are still part of the system that relies on it. To the extent that they're good soldiers and can stomach it, they'll go along.
posted by lodurr at 5:22 AM on June 9, 2014


I was born in 1958 and yeah a kind of awareness of Vietnam was sort of omnipresent. My dad quit the reserves somewhere around 1962-3 because he had two young kids and he was afraid of being called up. In grade school what seemed like a fair number of my classmates sported these silk jackets their older brothers had sent them from Vietnam that had an embroidered map of the country on the back. Walter Cronkite EVERY night as previously mentioned. If you want to see what that was like there was a parody in the movie The Groove Tube where they turned Vietnamese sounding place names into sexual innuendo. It was a comedy routine but it was pretty much dead on as far as what the nightly news was like.

Then of course there was the draft. And the protests. Intense coverage of the draft lottery because it affected everyone.

Then of course there was High School in '70's. Pretty much everyone knew someone who's older brother was in Vietnam at some point. The nightly news and the protests ground on and made more sense to us. Nixon bombing the crap out of Cambodia. The constitution was changed, if 18 year olds were old enough to be sent to war they should be old enough to vote. Most state laws changed. If 18 year olds were old enough to be sent to war, they should be old enough to drink.

Then the war ended, kind of suddenly when I was 17. Then the draft ended. I fall into a weird gap where I never had to register to for the draft. Had I been a year older I would have had to. My brother, 2 years younger did. I did consider joining the service, but I had friends who were 4 or 5 years older than me that had been to Vietnam who convinced me that I had to be out of my f*****g mind if I did. I regret not doing military service.

On to college. I went to a state college and you could spot the Vietnam vets on GI benefits because they wore fatigue jackets and hung out together. I started in January '79 so this was almost 4 years after the war ended.
posted by lordrunningclam at 5:30 AM on June 9, 2014


This is about Militarization of everyday life. I first read that concept in an article that described it as a sign of emerging facism. The Military always gets priority. It infiltrates and colors everything. I noticed how bad this was becoming when I started seeing camouflage used in fashion. Then it really struck me when I was at the grocery store and saw containers of Jiffy Pop popcorn in dark green camo colors, which was stupid because it had the same old bright color logo on top of it, it wasn't camouflaging anything, it was a fashion statement.

This militarization of American life has been going on since the first Iraq war. Notice how at xmas holidays the local news is full of little clips of soldiers stationed at foreign military posts, saying hello to their family. Back in the 90s this was the only way for the families to see them. Now they have skype and video conferencing and it is no longer needed.. unless you want to drive a point home that these soldiers are making a sacrifice for YOU. Bullshit.

Now in my town, they are having one of those stupid campaigns where they made a hundred fiberglass statues of the local sports mascot and let local "artists" decorate them. I notice that almost all of them are military uniforms. Sure sports (football in this case) is barely disguised militarism. But I do not need to have an 8 foot tall statue of a cartoonish Marine in dress uniform, stationed 100 yards from my front door.

I am sick of all that crap. I want to live in a country that isn't being constantly admonished to worship the military. I want my country back from the warmongers.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:34 AM on June 9, 2014 [5 favorites]




In the Viet Nam War, reporters were independent, they were not embedded, and reported what they saw. It was the 1st time a war was on tv, and the Pentagon learned that Americans weren't going to tolerate war in our living rooms. Mainstrean media was the only media, and huge numbers of people watched the evening network news. Ask any guy who had a draft number; he'll still remember the number. A lot of people knew someone who'd been killed or wounded in Viet Nam, and most people knew someone who'd either been drafted or enlisted with a low draft number, to get a preferred assignment.

The Bush war in Iraq, based on lies, de-stabilized a relatively stable country, albeit with a vile totalitarian dictator. The war in Afghanistan at least had a specific purpose - the 9/11 attackers trained there - though we've learned what everybody learns about fighting a war in Afghanistan. My son was deployed to Afghanistan for a year, and I was shocked at how little news of the war there is. It's hard to know how much, if any, success the war has had against terrorism. These wars cost in the trillions of dollars and far too many lives.

Yeah, I'm still bitter about George W. Bush and Dick Halliburton Cheney.
posted by theora55 at 8:04 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was born in 1970, and my father served a (luckily noncombatant) tour of duty in Vietnam. Even as a small kid, I remember it being all over the news and talked about all he time. And as a teenager, I knew lots of guys my dads age who were veterans. And as others have mentioned, there was the draft. At my dad's 60th birthday party a few years back, he and a whole group of his friends wound up in a discussion about those days, they alll remembered their draft numbers and status and they all knew people who went there who didn't come back. (My mother's hometown, a tiny place in Vermont lost three men).

This last war, seemed more divorced from the general public, unless you had family or friends there (which was slanted heavily towards the working class and poor) or were an active part of the anti-war movement, it seemed to be happening "somewhere else."
posted by jonmc at 8:20 AM on June 9, 2014


> But so much shorter.

As tzikeh says, this is nonsense. I was born in 1951, and U.S. involvement in Vietnam had already begun; per this timeline:
1950     First shipment of American military aid to the French colonial administration in Vietnam arrives
The first Americans were killed in 1959, and the first Special Forces troops arrived in 1961. It went on for a long, long time.

One of the best sf war stories I know (hell, one of the best sf stories period) is David I. Masson ”Travellers Rest” (1965); it was apparently based on his experiences in WWII, but when I read it it already seemed like it was about Vietnam. I can read the whole thing at this Google Books link; if you can't, or even if you can, you should run out and get the book, which is a collection of his (sadly few) sf stories—they're all worth your while.
posted by languagehat at 8:56 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


As tzikeh says, this is nonsense.

No it's not. Large scale troop deployments in Vietnam lasted from 1965 to 1975. We invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 and still aren't fully extricated. And as we pull out of those places we are building our military involvement in places like the Horn of Africa. Taken as one continuous military engagement, the "War on Terror" is rolling along just fine.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:26 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


> My mom also used to take me to anti-war demonstrations at the University of Hawaii, where she was in grad school. She stopped after Kent State

My school photo from 1976-ish shows the principal's young son wearing a Kent State T-shirt. I can't imagine a similar shirt showing up in one of my kids' class photos now.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:35 AM on June 9, 2014


I love the sound of goalposts moving in the morning.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:36 AM on June 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


No it's not.

The DoD disagrees with you:

"Due to the early presence of American troops in Vietnam the start date of the Vietnam War is a matter of debate. In 1998, after a high level review by the Department of Defense (DoD) and through the efforts of Richard B. Fitzgibbon's family the start date of the Vietnam War according to the US government was officially changed to 1 November 1955.[32] U.S. government reports currently cite 1 November 1955 as the commencement date of the "Vietnam Conflict", because this date marked when the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Indochina (deployed to Southeast Asia under president Truman) was reorganized into country-specific units and MAAG Vietnam was established.[33] Other start dates include when Hanoi authorized Viet Cong forces in South Vietnam to begin a low-level insurgency in December 1956,[34] whereas some view 26 September 1959 when the first battle occurred between the Viet Cong and the South Vietnamese army, as the start date.[35]"

I mean, I don't think there's really much point in a pissing contest of who wins the "longest war" contest because ewwww and also, nobody wins that, but "Large scale troop deployments" is not how anybody counts the start of American warlike activities in Vietnam, including (especially) the Vietnamese.
posted by rtha at 10:23 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


> No it's not. Large scale troop deployments in Vietnam lasted from 1965 to 1975. We invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 and still aren't fully extricated.

So you're comparing "Large scale troop deployments" to "aren't fully extricated"? Ah, honesty in argument, what a beautiful thing.
posted by languagehat at 11:27 AM on June 9, 2014


In person, we'd be grabbing the second round of beer or coffee and having an interesting conversation at this point. The textual jump to claims of bad faith isn't nearly as interesting.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:47 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Second? Third, at least! And by now we'd be trying to figure out where to go get some food. Burritos, anyone?
posted by rtha at 3:45 PM on June 9, 2014


I was born in 1980, but from what my parents and husband have said, Vietnam was completely inescapable if you watched TV or read the papers at all, and almost everyone watched Cronkite or Reasoner.

Dude, you need to realize that in most of the country there were exactly 3 TV stations available. Four if you lived in a relatively large population center that also had a UHF station. At 6:30 there was literally nothing else to watch except Cronkite or Huntley-Brinkley. I really don't remember Reasoner.
posted by lordrunningclam at 5:06 PM on June 9, 2014


> The textual jump to claims of bad faith isn't nearly as interesting.

If you want nuanced, interesting discussions, maybe it's best not to start off "No it's not." I'd be happy to have a beer or three and shoot the shit about all this, but I still feel pretty strongly your "Large scale troop deployments" vs. "aren't fully extricated" was dishonest. Compare apples with apples, amigo.
posted by languagehat at 5:11 PM on June 9, 2014


The first Americans were killed in 1959, and the first Special Forces troops arrived in 1961. It went on for a long, long time.

Even longer than that - linked via Wikipedia, two Air Force pilots were shot down and killed during Dien Bien Phu in 1954 where they and 35 other Americans were flying supply runs in CIA-owned aircraft disguised to look like part of the French forces. And in the sources I'm coming across they're just named as being among the first U.S. casualties in Vietnam, not necessarily the earliest.

Vietnam War Allied Troop Levels 1960-73 indicates there were officially 900 Americans there in 1960; compare to "about 1,300 soldiers, marines, and Special Forces in Afghanistan at the time of Tora Bora."

So if Vietnam was "short" Iraq and Afghanistan have been even more so.
posted by XMLicious at 5:52 PM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


5 Americans are reported dead in Afghanistan. I'm sure glad this war is over.
posted by Justinian at 12:43 PM on June 10, 2014


It's funny how you almost never hear anything about Iraq in the news. I wonder how they are doing these days? I suppose the region is stable now, what with Saddam out of the picture, but you'd think they'd let us know that.

Charles Pierce: The Legacy
posted by homunculus at 4:26 PM on June 11, 2014


In other "Iraq is stable" news, in the last 72 hours since that comment was made the word is goodbye Anbar province.
posted by XMLicious at 7:25 PM on June 11, 2014






« Older Supercomputer fools Kryton from Red Dwarf   |   Project Mogul Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments