America’s Memory of the Vietnam War in the Epoch of the Forever War


H. Bruce Franklin in The LA Review of Books:

Teaching students in the 21stcentury — including the combat veterans, National Guard soldiers, and reservists in my classes at Rutgers University, Newark — I have to keep reminding myself that they have lived their entire conscious lives during America’s endless warfare. For them, that must seem not just normal, but how it has always been and always will be. Is that also true for the rest of us?

I had to rethink this question a few months ago, when I woke one day to discover that I was 80 years old. For more than half a century I’ve been involved in struggles to stop wars being waged by our nation or to keep it from starting new ones. Before that, in the late 1950s, I had spent three years in the US Air Force flying in Strategic Air Command operations of espionage and provocation against the Soviet Union and participating in launches for full-scale thermonuclear war. Some of these launches were just practice, but a few were real war strikes that were recalled while we were in flight just minutes before it would have been too late. (I recall with embarrassment that I never had a flicker of doubt about whether I should be participating in the start of a thermonuclear Armageddon.) And before that were four years of ROTC, which I joined during the Korean War, a war that had started when I was 16. From age 11 to 16, I had bounced right from the Victory Culture at the end of World War II into the repression and militarization of the early Cold War years.

So it dawned on me that living one’s life during America’s Forever War is hardly unique to those millennials I’m teaching. How many people alive today have ever lived part of their conscious lives in a United States of America at peace with the rest of the world? Would someone even older than I am have any meaningful memory of what such a state of peace was like? How many Americans are even capable of imagining such a state? I can remember only two periods, bracketing World War II, when I believed I lived in a nation at peace. And even these were arguably just childish illusions.

More here.