I’m the first to admit that I came to care about the war in Viet Nam very late, and only when there was the possibility that I might be touched by the draft lottery.
My number was never called. Here, in this wealthy portion of the Midwest, that war touched me only tangentially. As far as Vietnam was concerned, this was truly flyover territory. I lost no immediate family to that war, and only a few in the town in which I now live died there.
I was not prepared for the flood of emotions as Janine and I watched the series the Ken Burns produced about that chapter of our history.
As we approached the end of the series and the events and thoughts related to that crept closer to this time, I found myself ever more affected. The section in the 10th installment about the effects of the war finally resulted in tears. I couldn’t hold them back hearing the veterans conclusions, the scenes of people flocking to the memorial in Washington, D.C., war veterans, hearing the sheer number of soldiers and support personnel lost in the fighting and seeing former enemies getting together to nurture the kind of healing that can follow such horrific times.
We cannot forget that sad time and other horrific war-time chapters of our young history.
I was also struck by the music woven into the effort. I had never heard the popular music of that era superimposed with the history of that war. I think I have a better sense of the disquiet the permeated the music performed by musicians and made popular by the American public. That music made a perfect bed for the documentary.
And, knowing that Trent Reznor, lead singer of fellow creator of Nine Inch Nails, a razors-edge rock group, as well as Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, musicians with classical training moving into eclectic areas, were part of the production, helped keep me watching.
I am at sea, though, with the thought that this adolescent nation learned from the death, sickness and deep divisions created among peoples, cities and families. It seems to me, that we should have learned lessons from the frightful losses from wars waged in the name of our country. Human beings can be savages in wartime. We recruit young fighters who have yet to mature but are ready to lay down their lives in firefights. We make enemies arch-enemies and heroes super-heroes. We elect and appoint people who do not tell the truth to the people they govern. We keep developing technology that has the capability to wipe out large areas of our globe, maybe even with the potential to reduce civilization to cockroach status if it gets out of control. We imperfect human beings develop imperfect artificial intelligences and turn over important functions to those artifices.
I’m convinced (we have to factor in the current political climate, too) that we have a very long way to go. I’m not a pessimist. I’m not an optimist, either. I just hope we can keep this thing called “humanity” together and pray that our democratic experiment hangs on for as long as it can.