No one’s ever called me “baby-killer.”
I never was “spit on” upon returning home to the United States following a year at war in Vietnam.
And, while friends and co-workers I met through the years may have thought it, none have said to my face they believed I was one of those “crazed Vietnam veterans.”
I’m grateful for this absence in my life, particularly after wondering the other day about all the names people have called me while growing up. I forgot about my military life, the three years I spent first as an enlisted man, and the two as a “90-day wonder” Lieutenant in the Army. And of course now, that I am one of the veterans with time on their hands to reflect and ponder life.
I believe the term “baby-killer” surfaced after Lt. William Calley, an officer serving in my old army division, the 23rd, also known as the “Americal,” led a platoon that decimated Vietnamese families in the Village of My Lai. He was in charge of men who lost their humanity and killed indiscriminately, taking the lives of some 300 people, mostly women and children as well as elderly men, with little or no proof they had anything to do with the killings of GIs days earlier, or the possible “aiding and abetting” of the Viet Cong. It’s true, some of the 26 men under Lt. Calley’s command, did kill babies. None were ever convicted of any crimes, save the young officer, who ended his silence the past year and offered his remorse for the actions of his platoon.
All servicemen seemed to have gotten painted with that broad brush by the Media and America’s collective consciousness shortly after the publicity of My Lai and its cover-up. No one pointed out what General Sherman said a hundred years earlier. And that is “War is Hell.” I might add, that all war is hell. Not only to the warriors, but to their families, as well as to the families of the enemies and the “enemy” we were ordered to fight.
When I came back to the States from Vietnam, I landed in Fort Lewis, Washington. No protestors greeted me. No one “spit” at me or anywhere near my direction.
And I don’t have any personal knowledge of any veterans who faced such behavior from the public. None ever mentioned it in the circles of vets I knew in college and at university. And I never heard it from any of whom I covered as a newspaper reporter, or served as a union representative.
Could it have been one of those “urban legends” you hear about, but lacks basis from any evidence? And what about the “crazed Vietnam veteran” label? I learned through a PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) clinic that it was hyped up by the press and Hollywood by good-intentioned liberals seeking to end the Vietnam War. They were in “cahoots” with activist psychiatrists and psychologists, as well as many others in the medical professions, who were against the war and used the term to scare America into ending it. Problem is, the term stayed in the collective consciousness and once again tainted all servicemen, even those that may have served as clerks or cooks in a combat zone, or no where near the scene of a battle. It got so bad, that many veterans refused to add their service record to their resumes, believing it would “turn off” potential employers.
A study done in the 70s showed that in most situations when a Vietnam veteran became the subject in the movies or on television, he was generally portrayed as a little “deranged” at worst, or a “loose cannon” at best. The term PTSD, however, had not yet made it into the mainstream. It wasn’t until the early 80s that the bible for mental disorders, the DSM-Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, first mentioned PTSD and its effects on veterans.
And so I am grateful. They could’ve called me a lot worse than they did. But, as “Contoveros,” the “singer of truth,” and a daily scrivener here, I hope no one ever calls me “forgetful.”
See original story at
Name-calling can get you kicked in the end
Great post, my friend. As a fellow GI, I appreciate your honesty and insight.
A lot of this stuff was just media hype, and as in all war, there were atrocities. Not that that justifies anything, but it’s the sad fact.
Isn’t it amazing that it took to the 1980s to recognize PTSD. In World War I, they called it “shell shock,” and swept it under the rug.
I love Donovan’s song, the ‘Universal Soldier.” It’s a koan that points to the final answer to war:
He’s five foot-two, and he’s six feet-four,
He fights with missiles and with spears.
He’s all of thirty-one, and he’s only seventeen,
Been a soldier for a thousand years.
He’a a Catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain,
A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew.
And he knows he shouldn’t kill,
And he knows he always will,
Kill you for me my friend and me for you.
And he’s fighting for Canada,
He’s fighting for France,
He’s fighting for the USA,
And he’s fighting for the Russians,
And he’s fighting for Japan,
And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way.
And he’s fighting for Democracy,
He’s fighting for the Reds,
He says it’s for the peace of all.
He’s the one who must decide,
Who’s to live and who’s to die,
And he never sees the writing on the wall.
But without him,
How would Hitler have condemned them at Dachau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone,
He’s the one who gives his body
As a weapon of the war,
And without him all this killing can’t go on.
He’s the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame,
His orders come from far away no more,
They come from here and there and you and me,
And brothers can’t you see,
This is not the way we put the end to war.
I can’t believe how prolific a writer you are and each time you post it’s so very interesting. While I realize war and soldiers are a necessary evil, as a mother it sickens me. I have two sons and can’t imagine them being shot at or killing anyone. Yes Americans have killed babies. Every country has killed babies during every war since the beginning of time, and now they have ‘babies’ fighting wars in Africa. I like to think that most people are good. It doesn’t surprise me that some people could go a little crazy under stressful circumstances. Obviously Calley’s men weren’t crazy when they enlisted, so something made them snap. This was a tragedy, and it saddens me that the many good men who served during Vietnam were tarnished with the same brush. I do believe we learned from that.
I hope that someday we would hear from Lt. Calley’s platoon members, perhaps even his radio operator who may have been eye-witness to the orders or lack of orders given those many years ago.
It’s time for them to forgive themselves. And for our leaders to never forget that “face” of war that is so ugly.
This subject always makes me sad, Michael–especially when something like My Lai comes up (I hadn’t heard that Calley had finally shown some remorse).
I don’t know about “crazed Vietnam vets”, but I know that there are so many of them still “out there” on the streets with addiction problems, depression, and, no doubt, PTSD. More and more it boggles my mind how a society can rationalize sending ANYONE–especially kids–into a situation like that and expect them to come out whole. There’s bound to be damage.
War may be the sickest idea this civilization has ever come up with.
Keep talking, Michael (while staying as “chill” as possible, of course! 🙂 ). People need to hear it from someone who knows; I’m sure that part of the reason you survived it all was so that you could speak the truth about it.
Your encouragement is all one needs for a common sparrow to sing a song of remembrance.