April 24, 1971, ​A Nation Divided

Forty-eight years ago a few hundred thousand people descended on Washington DC to protest the War In Viet Nam. At the time it was said that it was the largest demonstration in DC history.

The War In Viet Nam divided this country more than any issue in modern times.

Fathers who fought in World War II didn’t understand their sons who didn’t want to fight in Viet Nam. The fathers remembered a time when to be patriotic was not a virtue it was simply what one should be.

Being patriotic meant that you went to war when your leaders said you should. Don’t question the President just do your duty.

Worthy sentiments, indeed, when your President was FDR and the enemy threatened the annihilation of civilization. In 1971 things were not so clearly defined.

While we hadn’t yet learned that President Lyndon Johnson’s reason for escalating the war was a political decision to offset the Hawkish Republican challenger, Barry Goldwater,  and not a military decision many, nevertheless, came to believe that the war was a failure of American policy and that it was an unwinnable war. We never won the Korean War so what made Viet Nam different?

America was still reeling from the Kennedy Assassination and, while the nation appeared to mourn together, whatever unity may have existed was short lived.

While LBJ may have faltered when it came to waging war on Viet Nam, his War On Poverty and enacting the Civil Rights Ace were noble achievements.

On the homefront,  LBJ was a master statesman. But still, a sizable portion of the American electorate was not happy. Illustrative of a great divide is the fact that in the 1968 Presidential election George C. Wallace, the hero of segregationists, was able to win five states and thirteen percent of the popular vote, over nine million votes.

In a year when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were both assassinated, a segregationist could muster thirteen percent to support him.

Enter Richard Nixon and his Peace With Honor campaign which included invading Cambodia.

While Nixon cannot be blamed for being the first President to send troops or “advisors” as Kennedy called them, nor was he the one who had first sent thousands of more soldiers. Nixon, was, however, the President who was in charge for most of the time America waged war on Viet Nam.

Peace with Honor was proving hard to come by.

So, to say that in 1971 America was a nation divided is no exaggeration.

Many American grew tired of watching a scroll of names every Friday evening listing the brave soldiers who gave their lives in Viet Nam. Sadly many of the returning war heroes were never acknowledged for their service or their loss. It took nearly twenty years to recognize these brave soldiers with a monument in Washington DC.

Today we are bombarded with Politician testimonials regarding the service provided by veterans. Ignoring that so many suffer from PTSD and so many are homeless, these politicians proudly proclaim that we love our Veterans.

It must be a kind of tough love.

It takes more than words to thank these brave men and women for what they have done and for what they have sacrificed.

We are greatly divided today, perhaps even more than in 1971. Can’t we at least agree that our veterans deserve much more than we are giving them? Can’t we have a government that can at least accomplish something for them?

 

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