As American soldiers returned from Vietnam in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, they were met with scorn, spat on in airports, and called “baby killers”. The anger directed towards them came from an enraged and educated opposition that had gradually become aware of the injustice and sheer criminality of the wars being waged.
In their passion, progressives in those times went too far in blaming the soldiers, yet were entirely right in insisting that the men and women who pulled the triggers, who opened the bay doors of the planes and dropped the napalm, were also responsible. Carnage doesn’t just happen by itself, and the criticisms and accusations back then were calls to awaken the conscience of the soldier and the nation- they were cries for justice, for humanity, and for an end to the cruelty and abomination of wars of aggression.
Many veterans themselves, aware that they had been deceived, turned into activists against the war. The picture that emerged over time was then one of a public, reunited with the foot soldiers, against the American empire that had used our resources and men and women’s lives for geopolitical ends, in immoral and unjustified wars. There was a period of grief and remorse for blaming the soldiers, for criticizing them so harshly when they too were among the manipulated. The administration didn’t care about their lives either. Looking back, we can say that those in the armed forces during that time were victims as well. These military men and women, however, were not held up then as heroes, or exalted for their sacrifice.
Fast forward to 2015. Since the end of the Vietnam War, the United States government has continued its role as the aggressor in one war after another, and there is now a new extreme in what remains of the American Left. Whereas before we had soldiers vilified for their actions – today there is no criticism of them at all. Instead, many of the leading voices of the public Left are either silent, or have nothing but reverence for the modern soldier. They praise their courage and sacrifice, as if these were virtues all by themselves. In the American Left, there is now a vast gulf between opposing modern wars and any sense that the military men and women are responsible for heinous, criminal acts. The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction –from condemnation of deceived victim-soldier all the way to praise and honor and deference being given them for their dedication, as separate from the particular wars we are now engaged in in the Middle East.