Vietnam, the Flag, and Me

 

There are still a lot of old leftists who are proud of the anti-Vietnam War position they held in the nineteen sixties and early seventies. One can only wonder how they might react to PBS’s recent airing of a series on the Vietnam War produced by Ken Burns.  PBS and Burns are hardly "conservative," but the series ended with the release of over 500 POW's by the North Vietnamese. When I saw the happiness of these men being reunited with their families, and being on a plane rejoicing in their freedom, my tears flowed along with theirs. And you won't be surprised to learn that American flags were everywhere. They were draped on coffins, they were waving "Welcome Home," they were on walls. Black and white prisoners were free, hugging each other, rejoicing together. Seeing these scenes of happiness, all my old conflicts about that war flooded back from the recesses of my memory.

Although in the decades since the Vietnam War, I had moved away from my anti-War activism, many of the old leftists from the sixties and early seventies have not changed. They are still proud of their anti-Vietnam War position. It was then that they formed the idea that saying the Pledge of Allegiance, especially with one’s right hand over one’s heart, was totally inane and out-of-date. One colleague told me that it was mere symbolism, and that one could be patriotic in one’s heart without engaging in these superficial tributes to the Flag.  He never stopped to consider that the enemies of the USA were not within one’s mind and heart, but were real, external threats – the Nazis, the Japanese, the Commies, and now the Islamic jihadists. We fight these enemies in a real way for the sake of a real country (not just an attitude or a feeling) under a Flag that expresses that reality.

These same educators are quite comfortable with teaching in high schools in New York City where the Star Spangled Banner is sung only at graduation, where students are allowed not to stand and not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance if and when it is broadcast over the public address system, and where “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” and “My Country Tis Of Thee” are never sung (not even once during my twenty-one years in the New York schools).

Yes, they are still proud of their anti-Vietnam War position. But what in God's name are they proud of? The communist takeover of Indochina? The millions of South Vietnamese sent to "re-education" camps? The killing fields of Pol Pot in Cambodia? The experience of one of my colleagues who, as a little boy, was put in a boat in Vietnam by his parents along with his brother and many other children, a boat that drifted into the lonely darkness to finally end up in a refugee camp in Thailand? Many of those children didn't survive!

I had also supported the anti-War movement, but upon seeing these consequences, upon seeing the ascension of the Left in America with a Jimmy Carter presidency, the error of my thinking became quite apparent. The reds had not only won in Vietnam, but had made a giant step forward in U.S. politics. And those flag hating, America hating brigades of leftist egotists -- with hearts and minds filled with grievances -- hearts and minds lacking gratitude for the blessings of this country -- are still here in greater numbers, taking a knee (not in prayer), supporting those taking a knee, and wallowing in a leftwing self-righteousness that is truly ignorant.  It is a rejection of a living patriotism and the dead who kept us going.

When the Vietnam War was over, everyone was relieved it was over, but we did not anticipate the travesties imposed by the North Vietnamese that were about to happen.  Nevertheless, the flag was still flying. America was still America the beautiful. But we had lost, no matter how hard we tried to put a good face on it. Those little guys in the jungle took us down. It hurt then, and it still hurts, especially when seeing the way South Vietnam was treated with millions persecuted, and then the killing fields of Cambodia where death in the name of communism rained down under the auspices of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge. The domino theory that was scoffed at by the Left during the War proved to be at least partially correct as Indochina (Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam) went communist.

In Burns’ series on the Vietnam War, the image of the flag remains a unifying symbol, a ray of hope. It had been there for the former captives to remind them that their country had not abandoned them.  No ignoramuses with shoulder pads, millions in the bank, and mile high chips on their shoulders can change the fact that love of the flag sustained our POWs and our troops until 1973, and eventually brought them home.

E. Jeffrey Ludwig has taught at Harvard, Penn State, Juniata College, the City University of New York, and in the New York Public High Schools. He is author of The Catastrophic Decline of America’s Public High Schools: NYC, A Case Study available at www.amazon.com

 

There are still a lot of old leftists who are proud of the anti-Vietnam War position they held in the nineteen sixties and early seventies. One can only wonder how they might react to PBS’s recent airing of a series on the Vietnam War produced by Ken Burns.  PBS and Burns are hardly "conservative," but the series ended with the release of over 500 POW's by the North Vietnamese. When I saw the happiness of these men being reunited with their families, and being on a plane rejoicing in their freedom, my tears flowed along with theirs. And you won't be surprised to learn that American flags were everywhere. They were draped on coffins, they were waving "Welcome Home," they were on walls. Black and white prisoners were free, hugging each other, rejoicing together. Seeing these scenes of happiness, all my old conflicts about that war flooded back from the recesses of my memory.

Although in the decades since the Vietnam War, I had moved away from my anti-War activism, many of the old leftists from the sixties and early seventies have not changed. They are still proud of their anti-Vietnam War position. It was then that they formed the idea that saying the Pledge of Allegiance, especially with one’s right hand over one’s heart, was totally inane and out-of-date. One colleague told me that it was mere symbolism, and that one could be patriotic in one’s heart without engaging in these superficial tributes to the Flag.  He never stopped to consider that the enemies of the USA were not within one’s mind and heart, but were real, external threats – the Nazis, the Japanese, the Commies, and now the Islamic jihadists. We fight these enemies in a real way for the sake of a real country (not just an attitude or a feeling) under a Flag that expresses that reality.

These same educators are quite comfortable with teaching in high schools in New York City where the Star Spangled Banner is sung only at graduation, where students are allowed not to stand and not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance if and when it is broadcast over the public address system, and where “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” and “My Country Tis Of Thee” are never sung (not even once during my twenty-one years in the New York schools).

Yes, they are still proud of their anti-Vietnam War position. But what in God's name are they proud of? The communist takeover of Indochina? The millions of South Vietnamese sent to "re-education" camps? The killing fields of Pol Pot in Cambodia? The experience of one of my colleagues who, as a little boy, was put in a boat in Vietnam by his parents along with his brother and many other children, a boat that drifted into the lonely darkness to finally end up in a refugee camp in Thailand? Many of those children didn't survive!

I had also supported the anti-War movement, but upon seeing these consequences, upon seeing the ascension of the Left in America with a Jimmy Carter presidency, the error of my thinking became quite apparent. The reds had not only won in Vietnam, but had made a giant step forward in U.S. politics. And those flag hating, America hating brigades of leftist egotists -- with hearts and minds filled with grievances -- hearts and minds lacking gratitude for the blessings of this country -- are still here in greater numbers, taking a knee (not in prayer), supporting those taking a knee, and wallowing in a leftwing self-righteousness that is truly ignorant.  It is a rejection of a living patriotism and the dead who kept us going.

When the Vietnam War was over, everyone was relieved it was over, but we did not anticipate the travesties imposed by the North Vietnamese that were about to happen.  Nevertheless, the flag was still flying. America was still America the beautiful. But we had lost, no matter how hard we tried to put a good face on it. Those little guys in the jungle took us down. It hurt then, and it still hurts, especially when seeing the way South Vietnam was treated with millions persecuted, and then the killing fields of Cambodia where death in the name of communism rained down under the auspices of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge. The domino theory that was scoffed at by the Left during the War proved to be at least partially correct as Indochina (Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam) went communist.

In Burns’ series on the Vietnam War, the image of the flag remains a unifying symbol, a ray of hope. It had been there for the former captives to remind them that their country had not abandoned them.  No ignoramuses with shoulder pads, millions in the bank, and mile high chips on their shoulders can change the fact that love of the flag sustained our POWs and our troops until 1973, and eventually brought them home.

E. Jeffrey Ludwig has taught at Harvard, Penn State, Juniata College, the City University of New York, and in the New York Public High Schools. He is author of The Catastrophic Decline of America’s Public High Schools: NYC, A Case Study available at www.amazon.com

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