“Enduring Vietnam”: A war that got very personal in the 1960s; now we stare down North Korea

I recall as a boy, particularly one summer in grandma’s house in Kipton, Ohio, asking “Why do boys have to go to war?” (and not girls…).  My cousin and I would bang bass arpeggios on the upright piano in the den to simulate the sounds of airplanes and war, maybe the beginnings of composition.

I’ve described my own involvement with the Vietnam era draft in many places online, as well as in my books.  So I went to exhibit “Remembering Vietnam: Twelve Critical Episodes in the Vietnam War” at the National Archives in Washington (no indoor photography allowed) in late November, 2017.   The exhibit closely followed Ken Burns’s PBS series “The Vietnam War” (legacy review).  At the book store, I bought the historical narrative book by James Wright, “Enduring Vietnam: An American Generation and its War”.

The book provides a historical narrative of how American talked itself into the war, with many personal narratives and case histories, almost the way many AIDS books would be written in the 1980s.  The book provides a good sense of how the Baby Boomer (and slightly earlier, like mine) generation saw its prosperity against a simmering Cold War with Communism (“Duck and cover”), and the idea that people could be called upon to defend freedom, even sacrifice personally.  There are early gruesome narratives, like about Hamburger Hill, and how a lieutenant bleeds out from losing a leg and dies, as if he did not want to come back maimed.  LBJ seems to have been totally duplicitous, saying at first (in 1964) that no American boys should be offered up when the Vietnamese boys should do their own sacrificing. That would change very quickly with the increased draft calls in 1965.  And the idea of bringing an “enemy to its knees” quickly lost credibility against a guerilla enemy that saw individual human life as fungible.

Wright covers the agony of the military draft in Chapter 4 (“Receiving the Torch”) and discusses McNamara’s Project 100,000 on p. 121.  His account of the ruse is less critical than those of other books like “McNamara’s Folly” (January 16), although Wright often covers the disproportionate portion of the sacrifice borne by African-American (then “Negro”) and lower income men. (He never refers to the soldiers as “McNamara’s Morons”.) He also reports that a commission had reported back in 1967 recommending the ending of student deferments (as well as “oldest first” draft calls), but LBJ feared the political backlash from voters and didn’t go along. He notes the disruption that came as tours in Vietnam were individualized at one year.

A middle section of the book, in boldface, covers the 1968 elections (including the “Medium Cool” riots) and Nixon’s October ruse to interfere with any LBJ peace initiative.  I recall hearing Johnson’s announcement March 31, 1968 that he would not run when I was doing KP in Special Training Company, one of the bottom days of my own life.  He covers Nixon’s implementation of a draft lottery, which gradually increased the participation of the “college boys” in the draft.

The books covers the attitude toward evading the draft.  Some people went to prison for several years. Yet others saw soldiers who got drafted as “suckers”.  He covers the poor treatment of Vietnam veterans in the early 1970s.  In one case, a bank refused to accept a veteran’s business.

On p. 273, the author notes, in discussing the relationship between Nixon and Kissinger (the Ninth Street Center saw both as “psychologically feminine”) and the view of the war as the movement and possible sacrifice of a “chess piece”, that may have made the Cold War less immediately threatening to most civilians.  If the United States could maintain a ground game and was willing to endure the uneven personal sacrifice of a draft, the temptation to nuclear war might be reduced – yet the book reports that Nixon considered using tactical nuclear weapons against North Vietnam in 1972.

Toward the end, the book recounts the narrative of triple amputee Max Cleland.  There is an account of a soldier who lost not only both legs but part of his lower abdomen but somehow survived a while before dying before being moved out of Vietnam. All of this is difficult for someone who sees body sanctity as a personal value.  Before the war, on campus in the 1960s, I even heard people say they would shoot themselves on the battlefield if wounded rather than come back maimed and pitiful.    The book also recounts the crimes of Lt. Calley, which occurred while I was in Basic (in the infirmary) and which provide an example of a substandard officer who got promoted due to McNamara’s folly.

The author briefly discusses two important films, “The Deer Hunter” (1979, which I saw in Dallas in Northpark when it appeared) and “Apocalypse Now” (1979, and I saw a director’s cut in August 2001 in Minneapolis).

Pondering the Vietnam War seems critical now as President Trump seems to have trapped himself in a particularly dangerous position with respect to North Korea and Kim Jong Un, officially Communist (or post-Communist emperor). Again, American civilian society has a lot more to lose in a nuclear exchange (assuming North Korea’s missiles really can reach us or perhaps create EMP attacks too) than most North Korean civilians.

I can recall writing a letter to my church when I was a grad student at KU int he spring of 1966 (before my 1968 draft) and getting an answer that we had to trust our elected political leadership.

So the lesson of uneven personal sacrifice and bad karma and perhaps “purification” should not be lost on us.

Vietman village search, Wiki picture.

Earlier coverage, here.

Author: James Wright
Title, Subtitle: Enduring Vietnam: An American Generation and its War
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-09248-9 hardcover (also e-book)
Publication: Thomas Dunne (St. Martins), 445 pages, indexed, endnotes, bibliography, Preface (roman), Introduction, 9 chapters, maps
Link: Politics-Prose, Dartmouth

(Posted: Friday, January 26, 2018 at 2 PM EST)

“McNamara’s Folly”: How LBJ’s administration drafted low-IQ and other disabled men to protect student deferments, during the Vietnam War

Much of my own first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book (1997) played off the moral dichotomy of the Vietnam era draft, where college students by and large could be deferred (until 1969), with the particularly iconoclastic arguments of those who objected to allowing gays to serve in the military when President Bill Clinton proposed to do so in 1993. Much of Chapter 2 had dealt with the male-only conscription of the time, as did a fiction “story” (actually a chapter from an unpublished early novel “The Proles”, actually cursively handwritten as I lived in the barracks in 1969) in DADT III (2014).

Now there is a book by former Associated Press writer, Hamilton Gregory, with a very long title and subtitle: “McNamara’s Folly: The Use of Low -IQ Troops in the Vietnam War, plus the Induction of Unfit Men, Criminals, and Misfits”.

The narrative components include a summary of what the Folly was, with analysis of the moral dilemmas, many specific case histories, and, in the opening chapters, Gregory’s own experience when “enlisting” in 1967.  As a reviewer, I need to compare this with my own experiences.

The backcover of the paperback (e-book is also available) summarizes the Folly.  In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson and his dapper smart boy Robert McNamara, realized they could not draft enough men to support the war in Vietnam, without ending college deferments.  They had already ended most marriage and family-based deferments at one time proposed by Kennedy. They feared loss of popularity with middle class voters (and we can look ahead to see that Nixon actually took some credit for stopping the draft in 1973).  So McNamara came up with Project 100,000, implemented October 1, 1966, allowing the induction of lower-IQ men.  These men were given the uncomplementary group name “McNamara’s Morons”.   They also allowed the induction of men with various other quasi-medical problems and sometimes criminal histories.

Complicating this setup was the reality that many men enlisted to avoid exposure to combat arms and get an MOS of their choice, in exchange for longer enlistment terms.   Gregory himself went into military intelligence (as did a chess playing friend of mine at GWU, who wrote often after he joined in 1967). But low-IQ men often flunked the AIT and would wind up in infantry anyway. And Gregory analyzes many situations where lack of mental ability exposed men to increased risk of death and maiming on the battlefield, as well as endangering others in their unit. (Nevertheless one such man won a silver star for saving his lieutenant’s life by hovering over him in battle after leg wounding.)  Gregory gives particularly graphic explanations of “walking point” when on infantry patrols, usually every third night.

Obviously, as I argued in my own book, this poses multiple moral problems. The worst seems to be that, barely twenty years after defeating Hitler, we were implementing an Orwellian system that declared that some men’s lives were more valuable to protect than others.  Indeed, McNamara was said to be committing a crime against the intellectually disabled.  We also have the karma of some men living off the sacrifices of others, if you accept the Domino Theory that ground troops in SE Asia were necessary to halt Communism and eventual nuclear threat (all of this got covered in Ken Burns’s series “The Vietnam War” on PBS).

A flip side of the argument was that McNamara and his Nightbreed minions argued that military service would be a way to give the less well-off skills they could use in civilian life later (if they only could survive combat). McNamara even said that intellectual skills could be raised with “video tapes”.

The book starts with Hamilton’s own experience in Basic Combat Training. When he was going through processing in Tennessee, a sergeant asked for all the college grads to speak up.  He wound up being responsible for one of McNamara’s Morons through training, which was, obviously, very difficult. He would eventually collapse from heat stroke on a march, and wind up being recycled through Special Training Company.  This is the first time I’ve encountered Special Training Company mentioned in a book or movie, other than my own book(s).

At this point, a comparison with my own experience at Fort Jackson, SC starting in February 1968 is in order.  First, I had failed the physical twice (4-F in 1964, 1-Y in 1966) as a result of my own pseudo-psychiatric history over “latent homosexuality”. According to my own DADT-1 book (pp 66-67) the Armed Forces questionnaire had asked about “homosexual tendencies” in 1964 but had dropped the question in 1966.  So, in a sense, an informal “don’t ask don’t tell” was in effect because the Army needed the   I note that I didn’t see any discussion of gays in the military in the book;  I would have expected to find it.

I had requested retesting twice because, according to the values of the time, my own reputation had been damaged.  In August 1967 I was retested and found to be 1-A.  Very few people had gone from 4-F to 1-A (although J. D. Salinger – “The Catcher in the Rye”, had). By 1967, as Gregory notes, the Army (and even Marine Corps, which was drafting) seemed to be trying to take everyone.

I did answer an affirmative on a request for college grads when I arrived at the Fort Jackson Reception Station, but the only consequence was my supervising a printing operation for about 30 minutes before we were sent through chow.  That’s ironic, that 30 years later I’d be printing my own book. Later the subject came up favorably in the MOS interview.  I had enlisted for two years (“RA11937256”) two weeks before my induction date (very few people knew you could do that) and it seemed to work.

I failed the PCPT in the second week of BCT (the fireman’s carry had replaced the grenade throw), with a score of 190.  I was too thin and “weak” (although thin people can be very strong;  a quick look at some Major League Baseball, and basketball, players shows that).  I caught the flu during the end of the third week (on the first day of rifle range), and spend four days in the infirmary. When I came back, I was told I would be shipped to Special Training Company in a private meeting with the Captain after chow.

I spent three weeks there, but passed the PCPT with a 318 on the third try. The first week was actually “G-3” stuff, but I went into PT platoon the second week.  We were housed in tents, but the training was not as bad as in Gregory’s book (there were no log carries). While I was there, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and we were supposedly on “red alert”.  I would pass the PCPT with a 357 on the final with my second company, and I believe I scored near 100% on the G-3, which was graded very easy.   I then was safely assigned to the Pentagon as an “01E20” (mathematician) and was shielded from combat because of my graduate degree in math.  The rest of my story is in my books and blogs.

Conditions at Fort Jackson were not quite as brutal as at Benning (I remember many trainees from the Reception Station went to Gordon).  Lights out was at 9:30 PM and reveille was a 5:30. It’s true, on Sundays (unless you had KP) the chapel was a bit of the sanctuary. I played the organ (some music from the last movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony) by ear as a postlude for a service.

Gregory mentions another book: On p. 129, “Moron Corps“, by John L. Ward (Strategic Book Publishing), which I have just ordered on Amazon.

I tried the AFQT test in the appendix and actually missed the last spatial question (I got 10/11 or 91%).

The author notes that combat medics were sometimes unarmed because of CO (or they could be armed normally) but medics had some of the most dangerous jobs in the military in combat zones. Consider the film “Hacksaw Ridge” set in WWII.

This book appears to be self-published, but it sounds like something that today Milo Yiannopoulos with his “Dangerous” books might have considered.

I think this material lends itself to documentary film, like a PBS Independent Lens piece.  There is an hour long “amateur” video film, “McNamara’s Morons”  by Bill Dixon on YouTube which I reviewed here.

I would mention here a rather obscure Supreme Court ruling from 1981, Rostker v Goldberg (after the draft had ended, but was threatened again by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), accepting the constitutionality of the male-only draft. However, there have been some bills in Congress requiring women to register for Selective Service, just as there are others seeking to abolish registration.  See the table here after note 48b on the history of Selective Service deferments (Kennedy fathers, etc) from the notes on my own DADT-1 book.

Hamilton Gregory has an interview on “History Net” where he says he is working on a book asking whether we should bring back the military draft. (Again: “Milo-Dangerous”).  Right after 9/11, Northwestern University’s Charles Moskos, an “author” of Clinton’s “don’t ask don’t tell” wrote in favor of resuming the draft and dropping his own DADT.  Gregory also notes that the “Stop-Loss” policy in the Bush years with the volunteer military in Iraq amounted to a backdoor draft of less able men.

The author offers a note in the beginning about the use of certain terms common in previous generations but now seen as denigrating (or “dangerous”) to some people with disabilities, as Trump is finding out.

Author: Hamilton Gregory
Title, Subtitle: “McNamara’s Folly: The Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War, plus the Introduction of Unfit Men, Criminals, and Misfits”
publication date 2015
ISBN 978-1-4958-0548-6
Publication: Infinity Publishing (appears to be self), paper, 251 pages, six parts, 41 short chapters, indexed, prologue (roman)
Link: another review

(Posted: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 at 11:30 AM)

“Almost Sunrise”: two Iraq war veterans walk across America to raise awareness of “moral injury” from combat

Almost Sunrise”, directed by Michael Collins, written with Eric Daniel Metzgar, aired on PBS Independent Lens and POV Monday Nov. 13.  The film depicts a journey of two Iraq war veterans, Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson, on foot, across much of the country (from Milwaukee to Santa Barbara), to raise awareness of veteran PTSD and suicide, and particularly with the psychological issue of “moral injury”. That concept refers to the idea that when in combat soldiers engage in behavior that would be criminal or otherwise morally reprehensible in civilian settings.

But of course one of the points of international terrorism (especially some associated with radical Islam) is to blur or eliminate the distinction and vulnerability between civilian and military combatants.


The men gather support, including from those who find that some veterans’ families don’t get full benefits, as after suicide.   There is a home with a family of an affected veteran with a “no media” sign on the front door.

In Colorado they reach an ashram run by an unusual Catholic priesthood.  They explore some other forms of spirituality. In Utah, they go through some of the familiar scenery.

The film was funded by Kickstarter.

The film was accompanied by two shorts.  One of them, “Voices of Resilience: Insight from Injury”, by Veterans Trek and Pacific Islander.  The film presented a support group in Hawaii, where there seemed to be no VA hospital (Pearl Harbor notwithstanding). But there followed  panel discussion about the effect of a volunteer Army which almost seemed to beg the question of returning to conscription (including women, and making the now settled question about gays [don’t ask, don’t tell as repealed in 2011] and less settled issue of trans solders morally [aggravated by Trump’s tweets] relevant). The film said we have a warrior class of a small percentage of the people waging a war on terror of unprecedented length. It is also a problem that civilian citizens act as if military and foreign policy should not be their concern.

The program also presented a very short animated film “Tom’s War” where Tom visits the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC.

Name: Almost Sunrise
Director, writer:  Michael Collins, Eric Daniel Metzgar
Released: 2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  PBS POV 2017/11/13
Length:  98
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Thoughtful Robot Productions, PBS POV
Link:  official PBSofficial

(Posted: Tuesday, November 14, 2017 at 12 noon EST)

“A Troublesome Inheritance” still provokes controversy, but over eons environment does affect the genetics of different peoples

Nicholas Wade (science reporter for the New York Times) created controversy and anger with his 2014 book, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History”.  Right away, I wonder if this is the conservative-to-libertarian answer to Al Gore’s idea of “An Inconvenient Truth” as a book and movie title.

Let’s go over his basic argument.  Mankind originated in Africa (we are all “black”), and a mass migration north split off into two groups:  one group, gradually becoming Caucasian, settled Europe, the Middle East, and India. Another, becoming “oriental” settled East Asia, centered on China.  More recently further splits led to separate groups in Australia (aborigine), and the Americas (across the Bering Strait).

Mankind started out living in tribal groups with very close association with biological kin, as is common among other primates and many social animals.  First in Asia, and later in Europe, as populations increased and faced a “Malthusian trap”, populations had to organize into larger social and political groups (sometimes mediated by religion) to feed themselves.  Gradually, as social structures became more complex, society started to reward deferred gratification and individual problem solving. Families who were good at these skills, compared to using short term use of force and tribal violence, tended to prosper, especially as commerce developed. They had more children.  So in some parts of the world people are better adapted to modern civilized living than in others.

Africa, by comparison, did not have the population growth and geography that favored the growth of modern states, and colonialism intervened before it had time to catch up.  Likewise, smaller populations in the Americas and Australia did not have as much population mass to build modern states, although it seems to me that the Incas and Maya indeed built impressive civilizations.

For other reasons having to do with geography and the relative safety from invaders, Europe went through a second wave of innovation and developed openness to modern science (and balancing the power of the centralized state with other institutions) that led to technological superiority.  This is not always connected to “white people”.  Muslim populations in the Middle East often maintained tribal ways for geographical reasons, and tended support religious fundamentalism in a tribal context.  In China, innovation did not continue as quickly because the state became too centralized and conformist.

Wade has a lot of discussion of genes, alleles, and the statistical nature of how these are distributed.  At an individual level race may mean nothing as to innate capacity.  But in the aggregate, aggregate small differences in some psychological traits associated with genetics can wind up having profound political consequences.

Some reviewers have criticized Wade’s analysis of genetics (like on a final exam in Biology 101).  He gets into the issue of IQ, and notes that by some measures East Asians measure the highest, then Europeans, and then Africans.  But the work of others “A Path Appears” by Nicholas Kirstoff, would claim that the relative intelligence of groups in different parts of the world has a lot to do with child medical care and the availability of early learning. But Wade maintains that it is not easy to teach “western values” to tribal populations.

Wade also goes into detail on the relative success of Jewish populations in intellectual and artistic pursuits, and hints why western classical music sounds richer and more nuances than tribal or folk music of many parts of the world.

I think that Wade’s comments on the values of tribal societies are very interesting. Tribal groups (most of all, hunter-gatherer) are both egalitarian within and authoritarian. The values behind some kinds of religious social conservatism (like “The Natural Family” by Carlson and Mero) reflect extended familial or tribal values.  In tribal culture the nuclear and extended families develop slowly as social constructs, with many rigid rules about gender.  It takes many generations for nuclear families to develop and it may venture toward polygamy, favoring more powerful alpha males; in the beginning, most men interact with women and protect them from rival tribes collectively.  Sexual intercourse is strictly about procreation and, when in marriage, is connected to local privilege over the lives of others in the family.  Family values evolve from a system where most men had to be good at warrior behavior to protect the women and children in the tribe.  The refusal for a man to sacrifice himself when required to do so for the tribe is considered cowardly, and Wade bluntly points this out.  That relates to the practice of military conscription of men by more advanced states. It also helps explain “homophobia” (and now “transphobia”) and why modern gay rights seems so recent and so dependent on modern civilization.  But the practices of some native tribes would refute that claim.  In any case, personal morality is about a lot more than just making wise choices according to consequentialism.

Modern neuroscience does support the idea that various personality traits are influenced by genetics (and for sexual orientation and sometimes gender identity, epigenetics — I won’t get into how traits that seem to hinder procreation remain persistent here).  Sometimes these can become pathological or destructive, as in various recent violent events related to mental illness and probably somewhat to genetics.   Indeed, the existential “combativeness” of young men in tribal cultures seems hard-wired to a degree shocking to people who have grown used to openness.  So it seems reasonable that over time, characteristics that promote individual competiveness in an open society, rather than just following the group, could be favored and become more common in an advanced culture.

There’s one other thing to say “in favor” of tribalism, as it occurs in nature.  I think there are reasons that it may connect to “the afterlife” (through genetics) better than a self-directed individual’s own “soul”.  I’ve covered this recently on my News Commentary blog. Ponder again, the big cats: lions are social, tigers are not, and in a pride the alpha male lion guards his own lineage first.

Author: Nicholas Wade
Title, Subtitle: “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History”
publication date 2014, 2015
ISBN 978-0-14-312716-1
Publication: Penguin, 278 page, paper, indexed, 10 chapters
Link: Charles Murray review

(Posted: Saturday, June 24, 2017 at 3:45 PM EDT)

“Churchill” dramatizes the British Prime Minister’s nervous waffling before D-Day

Churchill” (2017), directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, re-enacts four days in Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Chuurchill’s (Brian Cox) life, his retreat to the bottle well handled by his dedicated wife (Miranda Richardson), as he challenges the Allied Command, especially Dwight Eisenhower (John Slattery) and the plans to make a concentrated D-Day attack across the English Channel in early June 1944.

Churchill has been called “the Greatest Briton of all time.” He doesn’t act like it in his personal life in this film, like when he screams at a female typist for double-spacing a memo. It turns out the typist has a fiancée midshipman who will participate in storming the beach.

Churchill doesn’t want all the Allies’s eggs to stay in one basket. He wants another initiative in the Mediterranean at the same time. But the Command says there are not enough resources to do everything. The film script leads one to believe where the real legal authority to order D-Day resides.

Eisenhower calls the troops back once for weather. But then the storm has a lull, after a warm front moves through, leaving a window of calmer weather. Eisenhower says “Let’s go!” My father used to say that Ike ordered “Let ‘em rip!”

What followed, as we know, was like a pawn storm against a castled position in a chess game (where the two sides are castled on opposite sides of the board, like in a Dragon Sicilian). Tens of thousands of men, many draftees, were lost. Churchill has a beach conversation with Eisenhower where Churchill questions the morality of leaders ordering other men to sacrifice themselves when the leaders stay behind in safer quarters or bunkers. Ike says, “It’s their job. It’s not yours.”

The film never shows the actual attack (like “The Longest Day”, by Zanuck based on Cornelius Ryan’s book, 1962).

When I lived in downtown Minneapolis 1997-2003, I lived in a downtown modern highrise called “The Churchill”.

I have visited a D-Day landing site once, near Bayeux, France, in May 1999.  “The Cross of Sacrifice” (wiki).

Churchill visits the troops in Normandy (wiki).

Name:  “Churchill”
Director, writer:  Jonathan Teplitzky
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2016/6/2, late, I was the only person in the auditorium, showing just for me!
Length:  98
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Cohen Media Group
Link:  official

(Posted: Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 4 PM EDT)

“Mad Dog” Mattis: “Warriors and Citizens”: how distinct should the military be from civilian society?


Author: James Mattis, editor
Title, Subtitle: Warriors and Citizens: American Views of our Military
publication date 2016
ISBN 978-0-8179-1934-4
Publication: Hoover Press, 360 pages, 11 chapters, hardcoer and Kindle, indexed, endnotes each chapter
Link: official site

President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of former Marine Corps general James Mattis (“Mad Dog”) for Secretary of Defense has drawn attention to the book which he just edited, “Warriors and Citizens: American Views of our Military”. Perhaps it is fitting to review this book on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

The book has essays by various contributors, including Rosa Brooks, Lindsay P. Cohn, Matthew Colford, Thimas Donnelly, Peter D. feaver, Maj. Jim Golby, Jim Hake, Tod Lindberg. MacKubin Thomas Owens, Cody Poplin, Nadia Schadlow, Kiro Schake, Alec J. Sugarman, Benjamin Wittes.


The last essay, “Enduring a Civil-Military Connection” is co-authored witk Kori Schak, and it pretty well summarizes the basic moral paradoxes that American civilian society and leadership must face in managing its military. In some ways, the tone and even some of the arguments remind me of my own writing, particularly in Chapter2 (about the military draft during Vietnam) and Chapter 4 (about the military gay ban, into the early years of Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”). Mattis is said to have read almost every book ever written, so maybe that includes mine.

Mattis insists that the civilian public understand that the military world is very different in many ways from the customary civilian society: it is responsible for winning wars against enemies who don’t play by the same rules. It needs personnel who bond together in “unit cohesion” in a warrior culture, as offensive or personally problematic as “warrior values” are to many civilians. Several of the other essays mention the early days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. One mentions that President Clinton lost the initial round in Congress (to Sam Nunn, influences by Charles Moskos) even when he controlled the House. Another essay criticizes Colin Powell and others for threatening to resign over Clinton’s plans. One essay notes well the resistance of many American campuses to allow ROTC and military recruiters, and traces the history particularly at Stanford. (It’s interesting to remember that Mark Zuckerberg was a freshman at Harvard when the ROTC controversy was all over campus; something he would have known about during the year before he started Facebook.) Mattis does not call for overturning the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” or blatantly refuse to allow women in combat, but he does suggest that the civilian leadership will need to defer more to military leadership when facing an asymmetric enemy with such horrifying values (although we can wonder if ISIS is more terrible than Nazi Germany, whom we faced before). He (as do several other contributors) discusses the cost of an all volunteer military (which, remember, President Kennedy had said in 1961 would become an “all black Army) but he does not take up the possibility of reinstating a draft nor does he take up the opposite idea of abolishing the Selective Service System. He also says that American civilians don’t grasp what it would be like to lose a war, although we did “lose” the Vietnam war, as political support failed after 1973.


In fact, one of the reasons why the “military ban” matters (and why I re-entered the debate in 1993) is that war can affect civilians who are used to peace and separation from geo-politics. Someone who excluded from “duty” or risk-sharing due to a purported or speculative character defect may well experience loss of opportunity in other areas of life. Furthermore, cherished ideas like freedom of speech (and on social media as we know it know) can be undermined by necessary government reactions to an enemy that places ordinary civilians in the crosshairs as if they were combatants (unwilling but somehow complicit).

Along those lines, Colford and Sugarman, “Young Person’s Game: Connecting with Millennials”, suggests that ROTC or service academy graduates could serve alongside civilians in areas like the CIA or NSA (they already do), or in community activities like teaching disadvantaged youth. That’s actually an idea that is important in a retrospective early chapter of my novel draft “Angel’s Brother”.

Lindberg discusses the public reaction to some movies, especially the reaction of the Left to “American Sniper” (2015), even inovling Michael Moore, before mentioning some other movies, like “Mister Roberts”, “South Pacfiic” (the likeable Joe Cable is killed), “Catch 22”, “The Caine Mutiny”, “The Naked and the Dead”, “From Here to Eternity” (my parents’ favorite), “Mash” (with all the gore), and of course “Patton”.

Brooks notes the earlier attitudes toward the draft, that men were fungible (an idea of George Gilder in “Men and Marriage” (1986)), but young women were more vital to keeping the family or tribe going — almost feeding the “demographic winter” argument that the alt-right likes today.

Several authors note the Clausewitz belief that war, politics, and civilian society in practice are more like a continuum, with blurred boundaries.

(Posted: Wednesday, December 7, 2016, at 3:45 PM EST)

“Hacksaw Ridge”: a monumental film about sacrifice, service, conscientious objectors, faith, and the horrors of war


Name: Hacksaw Ridge
Director, writer:  Mel Gibson (wr; Roger Knight, Robert Schenkkan)
Released: 2016/11/4
Format: 2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2016/11/5, fair audience
Length 131
Rating R (prolonged graphic war violence)
Companies: Summit Entertainment; Cross Creek
Link:  official

Hacksaw Ridge” (directed by Mel Gibson – “The Passion of the Christ”) presents the moral dilemma of sharing personal sacrifice during war, which overrides even the movie’s obvious focus on the “conscientious objector” issue, which sometimes got expressed again during the Vietnam era draft.


The film begins around 1928 or so, when Desmond Doss , as a boy, almost kills his brother with a brick in a fight.  At the time, as recompense, his particular Seventh Day Adventist instantiation of the Sixth Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, starts as he reads a mural in a family room in his Virginia home.


Years later, in 1942, Doss (now played by Andrew Garfield) saves another man’s life after a car mishap, and meets his future bride, a nurse, as he gives blood.  He goes through the usual learning curve of dating and approaching a future wife (Dorothy Schutte).  He also develops, to the chagrin of his father (Hugo Weaving) who had lost other relatives to World War I, a feeling of duty to serve his country as a medic in the Army but not to carry a weapon, in honor of the Sixth Commandment.

The film plays up the sacrifice issue well here, as it covers the idea that Doss could have gotten a “deferment” with a military munitions plant job. He takes Basic at Dort Jackson, SC, which is where I took Basic Combat Training myself in 1968. The post looks a lot “simpler” in the film than it did in real life.  In fact, the three fiction portions of my “Do Ask Do Tell” book certain in some way around my own experience, which would be quite interesting to recreate as it was during Vietnam in a film.  I describe how to do this in a couple places (“Two Road Trips”  and an account of the Fort Jackson Basic Combat Training Museum ).  We did have the horizontal ladder, but we did not have to climb walls, and the night infiltration course (and “individual tactical training”) did not include making ).  the sand underneath the wires wet and muddy.

The Post cadre at first try to bully Doss into rifle training (M1’s then; I trained on the M14);  he avoids court-martial at the last minute only under last-minute intervention form his dad, who still has some connections.  The movie turns to its second act, lasting well over an hour, which comprises the battle of Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa (Urasoe Mura).

As presented, the battle is one of the most violent and graphic ever shown on film.   Soldiers are burned alive by flame throwers, and amputations occur on cameras.  Many half-bodies are shown, with varmin eating the remains.  It would have been impossible to honor all of those fallen properly; surely the remains of many soldiers lost were never found to be buried.  Doss, who, despite skinny build, has shown himself the physically strongest soldier of all, almost like superman, repeated rescues many comrades in all sorts of perilous sequences.  He even treats the enemy, as dictated in the Bible. After being bullied earlier in BCT by his unit (the whole “unit cohesion” issue)  Toward the end, the Japs fake a white flag surrender and then counter-attack, and Doss is finally significantly wounded, but will recover.  In keeping with Gibson’s own faith, he does become an inspiration for the troops.   Garfield’s own charisma increases throughout the film.  “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The film was shot in Australia (Gibson’s home), with Australian financing.  But a few scenes in Virginia really do like the Blue Ridge (the Old Rag area

(Published: Sunday, November 6, 2016, at 5:15 PM EST)