Dumb question

I’m about to show my youth and ignorance here with regard to the Vietnam War (’cause even though I lived through it, I was truly a child then). But first, let me back up a bit. Mr. Bookworm rented Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a film with an interesting conceit: Ms. Taymor takes 33 of the Beatles songs and interweaves a story around them. As a musical, it’s pretty successful. Bucking trends in musicals for the last 40 years, she chooses actors who actually have really good singing voices. Also, showing her background in theater and puppet work, it’s a visually impressive movie, if you don’t mind that she goes over the top sometimes. That’s the praise.

Now for the criticism: The movie is set during the Vietnam War era and is totally anti-War. American soldiers are shown as brutal robotic types who work for a military that takes sweet, innocent young men and throws them into the maw of hell. Anti-war protests are shown as seminally important events that simultaneously reveal the grossness of American policy in Vietnam and that allow wholesome, moral young Americans to find a place for themselves in opposition to the evil war. In this regard, the movie is both a babyboomer nostalgia trip and a nudge-nudge wink-wink anti-Iraq War movie. So, even as the movie is beautiful to look at and lovely to hear, it offends me. It’s blithe acceptance of the 60s Leftist tropes is so facile as to be almost grotesque — but it did leave me thinking.

The street protest I mentioned above culminates with a speaker talking about American imperialist aggression and Americans as baby killers. What I wondered very much was how and where this angle on the war started. Truth to tell, it sounds precisely like the kind of talking points you can see brooded over by a handful of people attending some secret Communist meeting in a grimy NY basement apartment.

Looked at objectively, from the point of view of a whole nation, the “our nation is evil” idea is kind of fringey. That being the case, how did it gain so much currency? Why did Americans embrace this paradigm about the war instead of viewing the War — as John F. Kennedy, their hero, viewed it — as a necessary (for America) way to stop worldwide Communist aggression and as an act of decency to keep the Vietnamese free? Where did Americans get the idea, stated in this movie, that the Vietnamese wanted us to go? Maybe the North Vietnamese, who were Communist puppets did, but I was under the impression that the South Vietnamese were desperate for us to stay there and protect them from a Communist takeover — a takeover that, when we pulled out, was even more horrific than anyone had anticipated. (One of my most vivid pre-teen memories is of the extraordinary panic on the ground, amongst ordinary Vietnamese, when the Americans pulled out.)

In the current War, from the first second, the Leftists just leapt upon the Vietnam War template, dragging their old signs out, and replaying the identical scenario, with a sympathetic media to help out and spread it amongst people who normally wouldn’t give too much of a rat’s ass one way or another. It’s been like watching a re-run. But who created the original 1960s script, and how did it spread so rapidly and effectively that it became the accepted view that our American men and boys were brutal, imperialistic babykillers — end of story?

Did the original script come from the Kremlin, which was gleefully spreading misinformation, or was it an organic, homegrown Leftist process? Was it embraced so quickly because, after the Korean War, we were sick of getting involved in jungle fighting in the Far East? Or was the draft the problem, with articulate, well-read, generically liberal/Leftist students suddenly having a vested interest in saving themselves — and shooting further Left in the process? And if it’s the latter explanation — that is, the draft created self-interested young people who would rather attack their own nation and leave the Vietnamese in hell than put themselves at risk — why didn’t the draft create precisely the same problems with WWII?

I know I’m asking a lot of questions, but it suddenly occurred to me that, while I’ve always seen the end result of anti-Vietnam War agitation, I’ve never understand how the theme came into being and how it got a toehold in the American psyche and the American body politic.

UPDATE: I’ve switched to a new server, so you can feel free to look around here or check out my new site, which not only has the old stuff, but also will move forward into the future with all my new material.

More media attacks on vets *UPDATED*

The media supported the troops when they felt they could attack the War. Now that the Surge is working, with dramatic downturns in overall violence (setting the stage for political stability), making attacks on the War somehow doesn’t work anymore, so the media has found a tried and true target: the troops themselves. The first salvo was the NY Times “troops as killers” tripe, which Iowahawk skewered. Round two in the media’s undeclared war is “the troops as insane, drug addicted homeless people,” an attack emanating this time from AP. What’s marvelous (in a twisted way) about the AP report, is how it relies on the media’s original myth about insane, drug addicted homeless Vietnam Vets to support its central tenet. Thus, after one anecdote about a poor, lost soul, the report hits its stride:

This is not a new story in America: A young veteran back from war whose struggle to rejoin society has failed, at least for the moment, fighting demons and left homeless.

But it is happening to a new generation. As the war in Afghanistan plods on in its seventh year, and the war in Iraq in its fifth, a new cadre of homeless veterans is taking shape.

And with it come the questions: How is it that a nation that became so familiar with the archetypal homeless, combat-addled Vietnam veteran is now watching as more homeless veterans turn up from new wars?

What lessons have we not learned? Who is failing these people? Or is homelessness an unavoidable byproduct of war, of young men and women who devote themselves to serving their country and then see things no man or woman should?

(Incidentally, Erin McCalm, the author of this “report,” repeats this myth again later in the article.) Pardon me while I take a short trip to the vomitorium to purge myself of that kind of trite psychobabble.

I’m not someone who deals comfortably with numbers, so I’ll leave it to you guys to tell me what’s wrong with these:

For now, about 1,500 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have been identified by the Department of Veterans Affairs. About 400 of them have taken part in VA programs designed to target homelessness.

The 1,500 are a small, young segment of an estimated 336,000 veterans in the United States who were homeless at some point in 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

And yes, I am willing to bet that this minuscule statistical sampling is somehow very wrong. That is, I’m assuming that if someone compares Vet homeless figures to general homeless figures for young men and women in the same demographic, the numbers will be the same or, as seems often to be the case (whether the subject is alleged rises in Vet suicide or murder) lower.

Anyway, Ms. McClam, isn’t really interested in actual numbers. She’s much more interested in predicting imminent social breakdown because of the return of vast numbers of dysfunctional vets:

Still, advocates for homeless veterans use words like “surge” and “onslaught” and even “tsunami” to describe what could happen in the coming years, as both wars continue and thousands of veterans struggle with post-traumatic stress.

People who have studied postwar trauma say there is always a lengthy gap between coming home — the time of parades and backslaps and “The Boys Are Back in Town” on the local FM station — and the moments of utter darkness that leave some of them homeless.

In that time, usually a period of years, some veterans focus on the horrors they saw on the battlefield, or the friends they lost, or why on earth they themselves deserved to come home at all. They self-medicate, develop addictions, spiral down.

How — or perhaps the better question is why — is this happening again?

“I really wish I could answer that question,” says Anthony Belcher, an outreach supervisor at New Directions, which conducts monthly sweeps of Skid Row in Los Angeles, identifying homeless veterans and trying to help them get over addictions.

“It’s the same question I’ve been asking myself and everyone around me. I’m like, wait, wait, hold it, we did this before. I don’t know how our society can allow this to happen again.”

I suspect that poor Mr. Belcher can’t answer the question because it’s probably not happening again, just as it didn’t happen before.

And so the article goes. Broad, unsupported conclusions, breathless anguished questions, a complete absence of hard facts. This is not reporting. This doesn’t even rise to yellow journalism. This is so bad Ms. McClam couldn’t even make it as the writer of daytime soaps — the audience would expect more in the way of plot development and verisimilitude. This is the stuff of 1930s Hollywood spoofs about bad female journalists, trafficking in breathy innuendo, emotions and fantasy.

(The picture at the top, by the way, is of a Canadian homeless man.)

UPDATECurt, at Flopping Aces, is doing the math:

If my math is right (and there no guarantee it is, jarhead remember) those numbers work out to be .004% of the veteran homeless were from the Iraq/Afghanistan war.

So .004% is worthy of a 1,947 word article from the AP? This article from the NYT’s in November puts the number of Iraq/Afghanistan homeless veterans at 400. In two months it went up 1,100. That’s some jump.

And how about that 336,000 number. HUD reports that in 2006 the number of homeless in the United States was

The number of chronically homeless people dropped from 175,900 in 2005 to 155,600 in 2006, according to data collected from about 3,900 cities and counties.

Anyone see a problem there? This article from HUD puts it at 744,000. Pretty big discrepancy there. It even says 41% of that number are whole families which means only 416,000 are singles. I’m thinking that most of these veteran homeless are not taking their whole family with them so the majority of single homeless are veterans?

Any other math work from readers will be much appreciated.

The finest minds and their games

Although I’d willingly vote for him if he were the Republican candidate, I’ve never liked McCain as a politician.  To me, his “iconoclasm” (which is how the Press has always labeled it), hasn’t been the sign of an independent mind but a lack of fixity of purpose.  Having said that, though, I’ve always strongly admired McCain the man.  What he went through in Vietnam doesn’t bear thinking about, and the fact that he returned and went on to a normal and highly successful life is a testament to his strength and resilience.

There’s one statement in the above paragraph that isn’t true.  I said that what he went through in Vietnam “doesn’t bear thinking about.”  In fact, it’s something we should think about, because it helps us understand that nature of freedom’s enemies, then and now; it helps us appreciate the strength of our American military, then and now; and it shines a light on McCain’s character.  So, if you would in fact like to think about these things, I urge you to check out this article in Leatherneck, the Magazine of the Marines, describing life for American POWs (including McCain) in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”  And as you’re reading it, do keep in mind how the Vietnam-era anti-War activists gave hope to the Vietnamese Communists and enabled them to maintain their continued attacks on their prisoners.

Hat tip:  Paragraph Farmer

Exhibit A for capitalism

The New York Times has never met a capitalist country it likes, but that doesn’t stop it from occasionally observing the unpalatable truth:

Nearly four decades ago, South Vietnamese leaders mapped out their battle plans inside the presidential palace here. When they lost the war, the palace became the base for the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee, which worked to impose tight Communist control.

But in September it was the scene of a very different gathering: a board meeting of the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank.

In the three decades since Vietnam has gone from communism to a form of capitalism, it has begun surpassing many neighbors. It has Asia’s second-fastest-growing economy, with 8.4 percent growth last year, trailing only China’s, and the pace of exports to the United States is rising faster than even China’s. (Emphasis mine.)

Hmm. Maybe capitalism is good for more than oppressing widows, orphans and Third Worlders. Maybe, just maybe, it is the approach that best benefits those for whom the liberals weep.

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