Arthur Miller here raises the problem of Americans' failing to draw the proper conclusions from their televised war-view- ing--even concerning such simple questions as, who is doing the burning? and Why?
Man's capacity for deluding himself has always been cited as one of the chief causes of war, but the reporting from Vietnam is making even a little honest self-delusion hard to come by. On television the other night they showed how another fifteen thousand Vietnamese peasants were forced out of their villages by Americans who then proceeded to burn down their thatched houses to deny shelter to the Viet Cong.
Watching this short piece of film, I thought once again how ineptly this era has been characterized. Nearly every play and novel is about the lack of human communication, the unreality of contemporary life, but here was the kind of incident visible to the whole world which in former wars would have been a state secret for fifty years after the war was over. Watching it, I thought that it was not a lack of communication we suffer from, but some sort of sincerity so breathtaking that it has knocked us morally silly.
The peasants involved here, the reporting disclosed, had not wanted to have their homes burned; our people had no land to give them to replace what they were being forced to vacate; and some of them had hat to leave so quickly that they left their working tools behind.
Horrible as the whole spectacle was, I could not help feeling for a few moments afterward that despite its clarity and completeness, something remained unspoken in it. And soon the question formed itself which, I think, now goes to the heart of the matter. How is it that we never see Vietnamese peasants burning down their own houses?