TIMES-DISPATCH GUEST COLUMNIST
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Since I was otherwise occupied as a POW in Hanoi and wasn't able to observe firsthand, I suppose it was a '60s thing -- when everybody who was anybody was or deeply aspired to be a victim. And, later, when the soldiers who'd fought valiantly in a war they actually won handily en route to defeating an entire evil empire demanded the same respect given every other element in society -- deserving or not -- they were accorded their own category of victimhood and enshrined in the most out-of-sight, obscure memorial in Washington, D.C.
The re-writing of history to correct the many historical perversions has been very slow in coming.
I remember writing one of my first Op/Eds about the Vietnam "Wall, " which reminded me then of a big hole in the ground or a large open mouth? la a contemporary actress/ally of our enemy. But it was a nice gesture. Although it tended to patronize the suddenly glamorous former "baby killers, " most of our contemporaries in military service shrugged it off as a belated, sort-of thanks from a grateful nation.
From my first days in the military, I was taught that our job was to serve; there would be tough times but keep a stiff upper lip and press on. And enjoy the good times and camaraderie that military life -- almost exclusively -- engenders. Most movies back then had male heroes who sucked up adversity and pressed on. Mothers encouraged their daughters to marry the strong, silent types -- like John Wayne.
On my return in 1973, being greeted by crowds and overuse of the sobriquet "hero" was embarrassing and confusing. The words and articles written about our incarceration in the filthy, miserable dungeons of communist Vietnam were laced with the term "heroes" -- and there were, in fact, a few of those. But it became apparent, early on, that by hero the writers and speakers and extollers usually meant victim -- as in you poor guys. There was obviously a confusion of terminology! In fact, the roles had been reversed. At Home, the Same Spin
During my entire time in the infamous Hanoi Hilton POW compound, I felt like Winston Smith in Orwell's 1984 as the North Vietnamese propagandists talked about their glowing victories and mocked American efforts as the ignominious defeats of the U. S. aggressors and their lackeys. Now that I was home, I began to feel that propagandists in our country had developed their own strain of Newspeak to justify their weak arguments.
When we POWs were released in February 1973 after the crushing B-52 raids and crippling of North Vietnamese commerce, I thought we'd won. Imagine my surprise when many Americans apparently indoctrinated by academia and a powerful media seemed to think we'd been routed.
Fast forward to 2007. Reading the generally unbelievable mainstream media, one would suspect that unemployed communist propagandists had found a new home -- as journalists. Their endless agonizing over American losses omits any mention of the good things that are happening throughout the Middle East or even the crippling losses of the other side! Embedded in the safe Green Zone, reporters write damning articles that cannot be corroborated.
I'm almost glad this is happening because I can now see with my own eyes what transpired here in the 1960s while I read between the lines in Vietnam. From the condescending words used to describe the fighting forces, to outright exaggerations and lies, efforts are made to transform our servicemen into "victims. "
Regardless of how it started, the assault on America by our own tenured, unassailable academy, by our own "free" press and politicians for personal gain is undone by e-mails from actual soldiers and Marines in harm's way. But the true story usually fails to gain traction. It's much easier to manufacture hand-wringing bad news to weep and wail and whine about our valiant troops/victims than it is to find something interesting to report about our successes. Call it the Dan Rather/Jayson Blair School of Journalistic Integrity -- it has a deleterious effect on those who never cross-check the stories. It's a good reason that polls can swing up and down by 10 percentage points on the basis of an unreliable but sensational story.
Military Doesn't Need Sympathy - Our armed forces are not victims. They are not in Iraq because they're dumb. They are performing selfless acts on behalf of all Americans, and they don't need sympathy. That, simply, is what they do. Proudly. And justifiably so. Always have, always will. It's something the Hate America crowd will never understand. Frankly, most of those serving don't care what their de facto domestic enemies think of them. But, if those ungrateful Americans ever need help, their armed forces will be there serving proudly.
A Richmond resident, retired Navy commander and attack pilot Paul Galanti was a prisoner of war in Vietnam from 1966 until 1973. He is currently the chairman of the Board of Veterans Services for the commonwealth. His Commentary Columns regarding veterans appear regularly on the Back Fence.