[Note for TomDispatch Readers: The paperback version of Nick Turse's bestselling book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (with a new afterword), has just been published and for a $100 donation to this site -- the sort of contribution which, believe it or not, helps keeps us afloat, doing useful, provocative work -- you can get a personalized, signed copy for yourself with our eternal thanks! Just check out this new offer at our website by clicking here. And let me remind those of you who are Amazon customers: if you want to buy Nick's new paperback or anything else, book or otherwise, at that site and arrive there via a TomDispatch book link like this one for Kill Anything That Moves , or the via the linked book cover image in any article, we get a modest cut of your purchase at no cost to you. It's a great way for Amazon buyers to support this site regularly. Either signed or unsigned, by the way, Nick's book should really be on your bookshelf. Tom]
Call me human. It turns out that I'm no better at predicting the future than the rest of humanity. If as a species we were any good at it, right now I would undoubtedly be zipping through the gloriously spired skies over my hometown, New York City, my jet pack strapped to my back, just as I was promised by those imagining the future in my youth. I've been an editor in the book business for almost four decades and I still wouldn't put a buck at decent odds on my predictions about which books will make it. When it came to Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, whose focus is American war crimes in Vietnam, I spent years assuring its author, Nick Turse, that in the America we both knew, the odds were it would promptly fall into the abyss where unnoticed books go to die. Mind you, I never had a second's doubt that it would be a great book -- but a great, ignored book was my best guess. Of course, as most readers of TomDispatch know, it hit the New York Times bestseller list.
It was published in January 2013 and it's fair to say that my predictive inadequacies have been brought home to me in the most literal way every single day since. I've never had an experience like it. Because Nick is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and, as today, often publishes his work at this site, it's natural that people would often write him about his book care of TomDispatch. Nonetheless, in the last year plus I doubt a single day has passed without at least one such email, and often a slew of them, arriving at the site. Thirteen months and still going.
Sometimes book editors work their whole lives on manuscripts they think the universe needs to read and never quite see how the books they've shepherded into existence settle into our world, how reading them touches, affects, changes lives. It's been a rare honor to be a sideline witness to exactly that through those emails. My role since publication has fallen somewhere between messenger boy and peeping Tom. I always at least glance at them, since from the subject lines it's seldom initially clear what they are, and I have to say that they have been eye-opening. Many come from Vietnam vets, who want to thank Nick for documenting their war, for confirming their own experiences or those of their buddies. Some want to tell him stories -- horrors, really -- they witnessed, experienced, or committed more than 40 years ago as exceedingly young men in "Nam" and have been living with ever since. Often, by their own accounts, until writing Nick they have been incapable of confiding in a soul, including their own wives and children. There were also letters from those children, letting Nick know that, thanks to his book, they finally understood what their silent, unnerved, disturbed dads had gone through in lives shadowed by, or even cut short by, the pain of memories that remained unbearable and acts, witnessed or committed, that were worse.
If I didn't admit that these have been moving private accounts to read, I'd be a liar. I've never quite seen anything like them, nor while working on the book did it ever cross my mind that such a thing might happen. The new afterword to the just published paperback of Kill Anything That Moves focuses on the emails, letters, and encounters that followed publication of the hardcover. Nick writes: "I had spent years painstakingly tracking down witnesses, victims, and perpetrators. Now, people with stories to tell were finding me."
In his book, Nick has created a one-man Grand Guignol of the real American war in Vietnam. Admittedly, it's not the sort of thing that countries like to commemorate when they hand out medals, pump up their populaces, or "remember" their wars. A series of visits Nick paid to a website billed by the Pentagon as a 50th anniversary commemoration of Vietnam makes the point well. (And by the way, 1962, the year chosen for the beginning of that commemoration, ludicrously enough, was the anniversary of nothing, neither of the end of the war and a staggering defeat nor of its beginning and the sad path ahead.) Tom
Misremembering America's Wars, 2003-2053
The Pentagon's Latest "Mission Accomplished" Moment
By Nick Turse
It's 2053 -- 20 years since you needed a computer, tablet, or smart phone to go online. At least, that's true in the developed world: you know, China, India, Brazil, and even some parts of the United States. Cybernetic eye implants allow you to see everything with a digital overlay. And once facial recognition software was linked to high-speed records searches, you had the lowdown on every person standing around you. Of course, in polite society you still introduce yourself as if you don't instantly know another person's net worth, arrest record, and Amazooglebook search history. (Yes, the fading old-tech firms Amazon, Google, and Facebook merged in 2033.) You also get a tax break these days if you log into one of the government's immersive propaganda portals. (Nope, "propaganda" doesn't have negative connotations anymore.) So you choose the Iraq War 50th Anniversary Commemoration Experience and take a stroll through the virtual interactive timeline.
Look to your right, and you see happy Iraqis pulling down Saddam's statue and showering U.S. Marines with flowers and candy. Was that exactly how it happened? Who really remembers? Now, you're walking on the flight deck of what they used to call an aircraft carrier behind a flight-suit-clad President George W. Bush. He turns and shoots you a thumbs-up under a "mission accomplished" banner. A voice beamed into your head says that Bush proclaimed victory that day, but that for years afterward, valiant U.S. troops would have to re-win the war again and again. Sounds a little strange, but okay.
A few more paces down the digital road and you encounter a sullen looking woman holding a dog leash, the collar attached to a man lying nude on the floor of a prison. Your digital tour guide explains: "An unfortunate picture was taken. Luckily, the bad apple was punished and military honor was restored." Fair enough. Soon, a digital General David Petraeus strides forward and shoots you another thumbs-up. (It looks as if they just put a new cyber-skin over the President Bush avatar to save money.) "He surged his way to victory and the mission was accomplished again," you hear over strains of the National Anthem and a chorus of "hooahs."
Past is Prologue
Admittedly, we humans are lousy at predicting the future, so don't count on any of this coming to pass: no eye implants, no voices beamed into your head, no Amazooglebook. None of it. Except, maybe, that Iraq War timeline. If the present is any guide, government-sanctioned, counterfeit history is in your future.
Let me explain"
In 2012, the Pentagon kicked off a 13-year program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, complete with a sprawling website that includes a "history and education" component. Billed as a "public service" provided by the Department of Defense, the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration site boasts of its "resources for teachers and students in the grades 7-12" and includes a selection of official government documents, all of them produced from 1943-1954; that is, only during the earliest stages of modern U.S. involvement in what was then called Indochina.
The Vietnam War Commemoration's educational aspirations, however, extend beyond students. "The goal of the History and Education effort," according to the site, "is to provide the American public with historically accurate materials and interactive experiences that will help Americans better understand and appreciate the service of our Vietnam War veterans and the history of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War." To that end, the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration offers an interactive historical timeline.
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