In the wake of Sen. John McCain’s death, I have seen many posts and tweets celebrating his military service. I have seen just as many posts and tweets condemning his military service. The latter usually progress into damning all those who served in the Vietnam War. I don’t believe this is right, just as I do not believe glorifying the war is right either.
Many claim that every man had a choice. They could dodge the draft one way or another, or challenge it and go to jail. Any of that would be better than serving in America’s imperialist war in Vietnam. So they say.
My main issue with this is that those who speak that way are operating under a completely different context than those young men living in the 1960s and 1970s. The distrust in government, the widespread questioning, that we experience as part of every day life now was only because of the Vietnam War era. Nor are we a golden superpower still riding the high of winning WWII and the incredible boons that rippled through a large portion of American society in its aftermath. It is easy to say now what people 50 years ago should have done because we cannot understand that context completely without living it ourselves. And we cannot do that.
This is to say nothing of the fact that many drafted likely could not afford to abandon families or spend time in a prison cell. The military would offer a paycheck, housing, food. Then there is the simple fact that to stand up against the US government, the US military, requires a strength of conviction that most don’t have. I certainly don’t have that.
I’m not saying anyone has to respect those who served in the war, but I am saying you have to respect context and reality.