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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Three Decades, Two Sides and One Country

(I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die-Rag by Country Joe and the Fish)

I've always been somewhat interested in the 60's/70's and hippie culture, even if I playfully poke fun by referring to them as tree huggers, dirt worshippers and birkenstock wearers (it's all in good fun, really).  My Uncle Lou was a self-professed member of the counterculture, having attended Monterey Pop in 1967, Woodstock in 1969 and sported hair so long, it practically went down to his waist.  I used to have chats with him when I was a teenager about what it must have been like to be around in the midst of so much social change.  As I've mentioned, I REALLY love music.  It's no wonder that I'm more than a little fascinated since so much important folk/rock/pop music was born during this time.

This past Saturday, I was relaxing at home, just reading my kindle and chilling out.  My husband came home from work around 2 p.m. and turned the television on (it's his way of unwinding).  After flipping channels for a little bit, he settled on Woodstock:  Now and Then, which is a documentary that was released to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the three-day festival in Bethel, NY.  I found myself watching the tv screen more and the screen to my e-reader less.  After about 45 minutes of this, I finally put the kindle aside and gave the show my undivided attention.

If you've never seen footage from Woodstock or heard the stories of some of the +/- 500,000 attendees, it's worth watching (it's a co-production of VH1 and the History Channel, so you're bound to catch it on one of these channels, particularly around August, the month the festival was held).  There are lots of good behind-the-scenes stuff from the organizers of the festival as well as recollections from the musicians who performed.  The Country Joe and the Fish tune in particular, (which was a huge anti-Vietnam War protest song) got me thinking a little about history.

About Vietnam, mostly.

I realized that, at the age of 39, I didn't really KNOW much about it.  I was born at the tail end of 1971 and didn't start school until 1976.  The war was over by then.  The textbooks I used in junior high and high school, at least to my recollection, didn't contain a whole lot about that particular period.  Maybe it was because it was "too recent" to be included.  I don't know how often books are updated/replaced in schools.

That could probably be a whole other blog post right there.

Anyway, it had aroused my curiosity.  Why it hadn't before now, I can't say.  When popular films that chronicled aspects of Vietnam like "Platoon" and "Hamburger Hill" were released in the mid to late 80's, I was not standing in line at the theater to see them.  They were both rated "R" and I wasn't old enough to get in anyway.  Even if I could have, I'm still not sure I would.  I never really enjoyed watching war movies.  Watching the media sensationalize events is one thing, but learning about how, where and why the war started is another.

So, I decided to give myself a little history lesson.  Before I started the reeducation of Cyndi Lou, I wrote down what I currently knew about the Vietnam War:

1)  There was a draft.

2)  There were draft dodgers who fled to Canada.

3)  Some people thought we shouldn't have been over there; that it wasn't our war to fight.

4)  Veterans were not given a heroes welcome upon returning to the states (probably because of #3).

5)  It started in the 60's and ended in the early 70's.  I think.

Now do you understand why I needed to do a little reading?  Not a whole lot there, huh?

As much as I am a retro girl and wave the flag of nostalgia, I also embrace the information/technology age in which I'm fortunate to live.  Instead of making a pilgrimage to my local library and burying myself in microfiche and encyclopedias, I can just type in "Vietnam War" in my Google Search Engine.

Which is exactly what I did.

In less than one second, it had found 36,300,000 results.  Pretty impressive.

Whenever I want to get more information about something, I go to Wikipedia.  It was the first link listed in the search results, so I'm sure I'm not alone in that choice.  I read that link first.  Here, I learned that the Vietnam War actually spanned almost twenty years.  It began as a Cold War era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  It was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and South Vietnam, supported by the United States (and other anti-communist nations).  To quote wikipedia:

"The U.S. government viewed involvement in the war as a way to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam and part of their wider strategy of containment. The North Vietnamese government viewed the war as a colonial war, fought initially against France, backed by the U.S., and later against South Vietnam, which it regarded as a U.S. puppet state."

I have to confess that I didn't know what the "wider strategy of containment" was, so, back to wiki I went:

"Containment was a United States policy using military, economic, and diplomatic strategies to stall the spread of communism, enhance America’s security and influence abroad, and prevent a "domino effect". A component of the Cold War, this policy was a response to a series of moves by the Soviet Union to enlarge communist influence in Eastern Europe, China, Korea, and Vietnam. It represented a middle-ground position between détente and rollback. The basis of the doctrine was articulated in a 1946 cable by U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan. As a description of U.S. foreign policy, the word originated in a report Kennan submitted to Defense Secretary James Forrestal in 1947, a report that was later dominated as a magazine article. It is a translation of the French cordon sanitaire, used to describe Western policy toward the Soviet Union in the 1920s."

Ah, okay.  Now, I'm starting to get it.

I read about North Vietnam, the Viet Cong, and Ho Chi Minh.  I learned that our involvement with the conflict began to escalate in the early 1960's and ended in August of 1973 due to the passing of the Case-Church Amendment by Congress.  This piece of legislation "prohibited further U.S. military activity in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. This ended direct U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War, although the U.S. continued to provide military equipment and economic support to the South Vietnamese government."  The war officially ended on April 30, 1975 when the North Vietnamese army captured Saigon, South Vietnam's capital.  North and South Vietnam were reuinfied the following year.

These are the facts I unearthed.  I learned the "how", and the "where" of the Vietnam War, which were two out of the three points of my research.

The "why" is not so easy to answer.  Some say it was to protect the people of South Vietnam.  On the flip side, a memorandum prepared by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Secretary McNamara (with an eyes-only copy to George Bundy) on US War aims: 70% to preserve our national honor,; 20% to keep South VN territory from being occupied by the Chinese; and 10% to the South VN to enjoy a better and freer way of life" (thank you, Wikipedia).

There will never be total agreement on a topic such as war, particularly one such as this.  So why revisit it?  Why talk about it?  What can possibly be gained?

To me, it's just another example of creating through contrast.  People in the 60's saw something they did not want:  WAR.  Sometimes, knowing what you don't want helps you to become clearer about what it is that you do want.  If you don't want war, you want peace; if you don't want hate you want love.

So, they focused on peace.  They gave their attention to love.

These pioneers created some pretty amazing music.  They drew their inspiration from the events of the day and used their creation to counterbalance all the politics and issues of control that surrounded the country of Vietnam while participating in a movement that has it's own important place in our history:  the peaceful gathering of a half million people on Max Yasgur's Farm.  They couldn't control the war, but they could come together and celebrate life.

I'm glad I read up on this topic.  It helped me understand the war a little better, but it also put things in perspective for me.  It also showed me just how far we have come.  When our military brothers and sisters came home from the Vietnam War, some of whom were wounded/disabled, they weren't shown the love and support that our troops get today.  In some cases, they were spat upon and disrespected.  I don't see that kind of thing happening now.  People that have been serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are welcomed home with open arms.  Not a day goes by where I don't see a "support our troops" bumper sticker that proudly displays a yellow ribbon.  Had we not gone through Vietnam, this might not be the case.

What started as a desire to learn culminated in a feeling of peace, acceptance and appreciation.

I wonder if that's what Woodstock felt like.

"I see light at the end of the tunnel." -- Walt W. Rostow, National Security Adviser, Dec. 1967

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