We learn more from history's disasters than its celebrations
March 29, 2023
What those of us who lived through the Vietnam War era know is that our government lied to us. Over and over. About body counts. About whether the U.S. was winning. About how long the war would go on. This was true of our government no matter who was president, Democrat or Republican. You could look it up.
One result was predictable -- many people lost their trust in the government. Keeping trust in others is one reason the great religions of the world are consistent in promoting the high moral value of speaking truth.
I raise the ghost of Vietnam today for a couple of reasons. First, as this History.com site reports, it was on this date in 1973 that "the last U.S. combat troops leave South Vietnam as Hanoi frees many of the remaining American prisoners of war held in North Vietnam. America’s direct eight-year intervention in the Vietnam War was at an end."
Well, "direct" intervention, maybe. But it took until April 1975 before "the last few Americans still in South Vietnam were airlifted out of the country as Saigon fell to communist forces."
So there's that terrible history and the role lies played in it.
But, by coincidence, today is also the date in 1971 when Lt. William Calley was found guilty of premeditated murder at My Lai (pronounced, appropriately enough, "Me Lie") in Vietnam by a U.S. Court Martial. Again, as this History.com site reports, Calley, "a platoon leader, had led his men in a massacre of Vietnamese civilians, including women and children, at My Lai 4, a cluster of hamlets in Quang Ngai Province on March 16, 1968." (The photo here today shows the memorial that's been built at the My Lai site.)
Thank goodness for the work of investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who broke the My Lai story. And thank goodness also for William G. Eckhardt, who, as part of the U.S. Army's Judge Advocate General's Corps, successfully prosecuted the case of Capt. Ernest Medina for his important role in the My Lai Massacre. Bill Eckhardt, later on the faculty of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School, now is a member of the congregation of which I'm also a member.
I know all of us, including me, would prefer to remember anniversaries of joyful happenings -- weddings, birthdays (my Uncle Lawrence Tammeus, brother of my late father, will turn 101 tomorrow, for example), discoveries, sports victories and on and on. But, in the end, I think we learn more about ourselves and the world in general by paying attention to anniversaries of catastrophes, when evil seemed to carry the day.
If you insist on marking a joyful event today instead of the two I've mentioned above, it was also on this date in 1982 when North Carolina freshman Michael Jordan made the final shot that gave his team a 1-point victory over Georgetown in the NCAA men's basketball championship. And I'm sure you're taking today off to celebrate.
But over the years I've learned a lot more about human nature from what happened in Vietnam than from any basketball game. Sigh.
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A NEW EFFORT TO STOP ANTISEMITISM
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has established a new $25 million “Stand Up to Jewish Hate” campaign through his Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, this RNS story reports. Good for him, but how sad that it's even needed. And yet we know that resurgent antisemitism is here and it's one more iteration of what's been labeled the world's oldest hatred. I wish I had more confidence that spending this money would change hearts. But, as we all know, silence in the face of oppression means taking the side of the oppressor. As the RNS story notes, the campaign’s launch comes after the recent "release of a report by the Anti-Defamation League asserting that antisemitic incidents in the U.S. rose 36% in 2022." If you aren't already a supporter of agencies that work against this and any kind of hatred, please join. In the Kansas City area, they include the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, the SevenDays organization and the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee. I serve on the boards of the first two agencies.
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P.S.: If you missed my latest Flatland column when it posted on Sunday, it's right here. And free.
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ANOTHER P.S.: At 3 p.m. Central time today, a newly formed "Noose to Needle Project" will host a virtual panel discussion called “How Slavery, Lynching and Racial Terror Birthed the Modern-Day Death Penalty” as part of its official project launch. You can register for the free event here. Sorry for the late notice but I just received word about this yesterday.