Monday, March 10, 2008

Why a hero?

Everyone, it seems, left, right, and center, seem to consider John McCain an "American hero" because of his service during the Vietnam War.

I'd love to hear some of the why/how of this story--especially from those of you who agree that he is a hero.

Please don't get me wrong. My own father is a Vietnam War Veteran, and I have enormous respect for my dad, and besides that, I rather like him a lot--He's a kewl guy--I like hanging around him, and I wish I was more like him in several ways, including that I wish I had even half of his hard work ethic and his ability to connect with and motivate people.

But from over here, it looks like the Vietnam War pretty much fucked up my dad's health permanently. He's now on 100% disability from the VA, including, I'm totally convinced, long lasting effects from exposure to agent orange, exposure to STD's, (look, let's not kid ourselves--it doesn't make my dad a bad guy--he was young, and ... a bit stupid. as were we all once) illegal pharmaceutical use, overconsumption of alcohol, undiagnosed and untreated (for the most part) PTSD, ... I could go on. To some extent this stuff was driven by the need to try to deal with the psychological effects of war.

So 4.1 million civilians died during the U.S./Vietnam War. And 1 million soldiers.

John McCain flew 23 bombing missions over Vietnam. What does that mean? It means he operated an aircraft from which, without any real understanding of or connection to the human cost of what he was doing, he could wreak death and destruction on human beings far below. He was an important part of the machinery which killed 5.1 million Vietnamese and American human beings.

In a larger context, what did those 5.1 million deaths accomplish? The Domino Theory of Communism turned out to not be true, since the U.S. *did* lose in Vietnam, and as it turned out, it *did not* lead to a Communist takeover of the whole world, leaving the U.S. all alone in a sea of Communist countries.

What about the aftermath? If we look at the conflict in the broader context of Southeast Asia, we ended up with Laos bombed back to the Stone Age fairly permanently, Cambodia completely and totally screwed up, The Hmong mostly screwed over by the U.S., etc. etc.

I'm just really confused about how being part of all this makes John McCain a hero.

Is it true that most American still aren't willing to admit, 40 years later, that something approaching genocide in SE Asia was a colossal screw up? Or is just that even if it was, the Americans who participated are still heroes somehow?

I don't buy this narrative. Calling John McCain a hero perpetuates a narrative which has clearly proven to be untrue: that America can, with military strength alone (that is to say, with violence), fix big problems in the world. This is a narrative which is deeply bound up in our psyche in this country--I mean we were birthed in violence, and we can't escape it, somehow. I don't buy it. It proves again and again to be untrue. And yet we continue to cast the story as if it were true. We're not telling ourselves the truth--imagining that we can avoid the pain of it by denying it.

And if I can just throw in one last little connection: this narrative is fundamentally and diametrically opposed to the legitimate Christian narrative. The Christian narrative is one where the founder thoroughly iterates by both words and actions that *perpetration* of violence is *not* the answer to violence, but rather *willing reception* of violence, with no response other than love, kindness, forgiveness toward the perpetrators. The American Christian myth of redemptive violence is thoroughly heretical, from my POV.


byron smith said...
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byron smith said...

America isn't the only place that believes in the myth of redemptive violence, but its history does provide some of the most explicit (recent) examples of state-conducted violence intended to solve violent problems (or sometimes, potentially violent problems). However, even before we get to discussing violence, I have often wondered whether the very idea of a hero can be Christian. The traditional category of "saint", while much misunderstood, is very different to that of hero.