Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam

By Christian G. Appy | Go to book overview
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I should make it clear that while I have tried here. . . to understand the arguments of those who are called enemy, I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armiesface each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for our troops must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create a hell for the poor. -- Martin Luther King, Jr., April 1967

A War for Nothing

For soldiers, war is a directly confronted reality, not a theoretical abstraction. Their primary concern is survival, not salvation. They value quick reaction over thoughtful reflection, and with good reason: in a war zone, philosophizing can be dangerous. A soldier pondering the meaning of his experience might not see the trip wire across the trail or the sapper crawling through the weeds, and the risks are psychological as well as physical. What happens to the mind of a soldier who constantly tabulates the dangers besetting him, or who cannot stop wondering whether he is fighting for a cause that is just or worthy of the sacrifices made and the lives lost? Those who dwell on such matters risk more than increased anxiety, doubt, frustration, and guilt; they court insanity. 1

Critical thought can also lead to various forms of dissent: desertion, rebellion, outright mutiny. Soldiers who question the meaning or purpose of the war they are ordered to fight might avoid combat, shirk their duties, or join with others to resist orders. However, dissent in the military has a high price. Even to question orders can lead to official reprimands and demotion in rank, and more serious challenges to authority risk court-martials and imprisonment. In addition to punishment, the military


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Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam


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