Moving Wall a strong symbol

In July, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall will come to Amherst and be set up in a large field at Souhegan High School.

It is called the Moving Wall, because it travels around the country from place to place, but it is moving emotionally, too, especially for those who served in Vietnam, who came back scarred, or who had friends who either never found their way home or who came back only to be buried.

It is moving, too, for those who never served in Vietnam but who had friends or loved ones who did – friends or loved ones who came back scarred or who never found their way home or who came back only to be buried.

Vietnam scarred everyone who, during those years, was old enough to understand what was going on or who were old enough to understand that they had no idea what was really going on. Young men and women were dying thousands of miles away for a reason few of them knew, young men and women were protesting the war here in the states because they believed it was wrong, but they didn’t really know what that “wrong” was. Their “wrong” was a philosophical one, an anti-war in general “wrong,” for the most part.

It was only decades later that we came to know – far too late – that we the people had been scammed by our government, a government that knew, long before the war ended, that we couldn’t win it. Yet we continued to send our young people in battle and often to death.

To see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall, or the permanent Wall in Washington, is to see more than 50,000 names of young people who gave their lives for what ultimately turned out to be no good reason. It didn’t end Communism, it didn’t curtail China, and it certainly didn’t stop the North Vietnamese from taking what Ho Chi Minh believed was historically theirs — an entire country.

We went into that war after the North Vietnamese had chased the French out of the country, slaughtering them at the battle of Dien Bien Phu when Viet Minh forces, aided by China, forced the French to surrender, ending an eight-year war.

But the United States, under the direction of President Kennedy, sent, first, “advisors” to Vietnam and then, especially under President Johnson, sent thousands of troops. We learned nothing from the French defeat, perhaps believing that our soldiers could do what French soldiers couldn’t. We learned the hard way.

But as is the case with all governments, the people sending troops to war had, and still have, little at stake. They aren’t taking up rifles. They aren’t sending off their children to fight and perhaps to die.

As Phil Ochs wrote, “It’s always the old to lead us to the war, always the young to fall.”

Yes, but not their young people. During Vietnam, when there was a draft and you went if your number came up, their kids got deferments. We had a vice president who got five; we have a president who got five. And we still send young people off to fight and perhaps to die.

As Pete Seeger wrote, “When will they ever learn? Perhaps never. It’s far too easy to sit in a big office, to be one of Dylan’s “Masters of War,” and send others out to fight.

Perhaps everyone who has that power should be required to read all the names on the Wall, moving or permanent, and to think about what it means to go to war.