Home > History > “Yours was the Greater Love” Belated Vietnam Veterans Day 3/29/14

“Yours was the Greater Love” Belated Vietnam Veterans Day 3/29/14

I’m a history professor and I have to teach the Vietnam war in both US and World history classes. I have spent a lot of time studying the war from a number of viewpoints from its anti-colonial roots to its devastating conclusion. As Americans we like to paint things in black and white. We either support the American intervention and paint ourselves as the “good guys” and the NVA and Viet Cong as the “bad guys,” or we buy the alternative fiction and see US intervention as Capitalist Imperialism against peace loving freedom fighters. One of the things I have to teach my students is that history is much more complex than that. In the end, I believe, if you consider the various actors in the drama, you have to conclude that there weren’t any good guys. They were all bad guys. And that is what I have taught over the years.

But I have come to believe that there were indeed some “good guys” in this situation. The good guys were the American servicemen who sacrificed so much because they believed in the ideals espoused by Kennedy, that liberty was at stake and that it was worth suffering for. These good guys were despised by the people they were sent to protect, misled and misused by the military leadership, abandoned by the politicians, and spit on by their countrymen.¬†Philip Caputo, in his reflection on his experience in the Vietnam War A Rumor of War, wrote this to his friend who had died in Vietnam. I think we can apply this to the Vietnam veteran:

So much was lost with you, so much talent and intelligence and decency. …[Y]ou embodied the best that was in us. You were a part of us, and a part of us died with you, the small part that was still young, that had not yet grown cynical, grown bitter and old with death. Your courage was an example to us, and whatever the rights and wrongs of the war, nothing can diminish the rightness of what you tried to do. Yours was the greater love. You died for the man you tried to save, and you died pro patria. It was not altogether sweet and fitting, your death, but I’m sure you died believing it was pro patria. You were faithful. Your country was not.

So much was lost. We struggle still to come to grips with it. It will remain a defining moment in our national life, for good or ill. But let us now at least honor those who answered the nation’s call. Those who were faithful, even though we were not. Yours was the greater love.

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