Ukraine through the prism of lessons from Vietnam
I write this on Easter Sunday morning. Sixty-two years ago, on April 17, 1960, I was a member of the Hope College Chapel Choir who sang at a sunrise service at Radio City Music Hall.
We were mostly children from rural farming communities and singing in such an ecumenical event was a great thrill. Four years later, I was a young assistant professor teaching at this small, church-related liberal arts college in Michigan. At this point the battles in Vietnam started to get noticed by the press, and I had already been noticed a bit because I was one of 55 teachers to sign an ad in the Holland Evening Sentinel that day supporting Johnson Humphrey’s post.
I thought Barry Goldwater’s idea of using tactical nukes (whatever they were) in Vietnam was extremely dangerous. Over the next decade, more than 57,000 body bags full of young Americans would arrive mostly at an unknown airbase in Maryland. Seven of these bags were filled with the bodies of students I had either had in class or had been part of the various educational institutions where I taught or attended.
In the late 1960s, protests by minority members of Congress prompted two presidents to drag General John Hershey out of the trash can of retirement. Hershey managed the project during World War II and was brought into the Vietnam conflict. Dozens of students from this era were conscripted or chose to select other forms of public service. The press then paid attention to it; protests hit the streets and campuses; at the time I became a professor, the campus I was teaching on then, a large university, was periodically shut down by student riots, and some of the buildings where I tried to teach groups of young organic chemistry students were periodically closed by bomb threats.
Finally, the war that should never have become a loss in the eyes of the politician, Saigon fell and the United States would have lost. Years later, a former child prodigy who took on the responsibility of being Secretary of Defense during President Lyndon Johnson’s years has admitted he was blinded by the “fog of war” – a war that didn’t never should have been.
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I did not actively protest the war, but I certainly supported those who did. At the start of the war prosecution, a man with supernatural abilities, a senator from Arkansas, told the Senate that “if the government were not careful, the United States would be engaged in a full-scale ground war in Asia of the Southeast”. How prophetic Senator J. William Fulbright was, but it took hundreds of thousands of young men’s lives to prove.
There was really no reason for all 55,000 lives to be lost and a whole lives of others to be disrupted, other than the fact that the leaders of our democracy were just men (then) trying to protect the Americans of the evils of government models and economic forms. government so far (then) that we were drawn into a civil war in a country we had never heard of.
This month of February, world events have perhaps – somewhat – justified these battles of the time. Words from the mouths of some of the leaders, like Ed Teller who practically single-handedly pushed the United States to develop the hydrogen bomb while castigating the global “evil empire” – the Soviet Union, are beginning to make sense. contemporary. We can see the lives of Ukrainian civilians being sacrificed day after day on our television screens. And a whole new group of Americans – if they pay attention – may start to wonder “is this really what the world has come to?” … women and children buried in mass graves because missiles from the armies of a close neighbor took them out earlier? The irrepressible Polish lawyer Rapheal Lemkin called it “genocide” in 1946. Is it different now?
Years ago, an author came to Hope to talk about his latest book. He was, in fact, a world famous physicist. But as he pursued his craft, he saw warning signs that eventually all science would lead to annihilation or be beyond man’s ability to achieve. And he asked his readers about it by postulating that maybe when the limits of science are reached and the murders of too many little children remain in play, we will all take the most difficult step and most difficult to live together. He titled his book “A Step to Man”.
When my priest and I were talking about this also just after the Easter services on this Easter Sunday, I said, “I am worried about my country. Can it continue to exist?
She said, “I’m not worried. A miracle will happen and our political problems will be solved.
My priest reads CS Lewis. Perhaps the British nobleman knows more about ‘A Step to Man’ than the rest of us. Hope.
— Douglas Neckers is Distinguished Research Professor (Emeritus) and Founder of the Center for Photochemical Sciences at Bowling Green State University. He is the former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, NY.