United States National CemetaryToday, May 29, 2017, is Memorial Day in the United States. Designated a national holiday in 1971, most Americans probably don’t see Memorial Day as much more than the beginning of summer and don’t know the roots of how this annual day of commemorating those who’ve died in military service to this country originated.

The American Civil War claimed more lives in combat than any other American conflict. In the years after the Civil War ended (1865), Americans began to memorialize the dead soldiers from that war in a ceremony known as Decoration Day.

Occurring in late spring, many Americans began to go to cemeteries to remember those killed in the Civil War by putting flowers on the graves and saying prayers.

As American found itself increasingly involved in the horrific global military conflicts of the first 50 years of the 20th Century, Decoration Day ceremonies became more widespread across the country, including in national cemeteries, with the prayers gradually abandoned for the most part and flowers replaced with miniature American flags.

Until the “military action” of the Korean War (1950-1953), the American public generally was in agreement with the American government’s decision to enter war to, as the ostensible reason given for every conflict that the American military has been committed to, safeguard democracy.

The Korean War began the great public divide between American politicians and the American people as to the necessity of war and exactly how much the government could be trusted that they were being honest and above board about the reasons for war.

Not that there hadn’t always been unrevealed motives and deals by the American government to initiate war.

The Civil War was an incredible spin job on both sides in many ways to get support for a call to arms.

There is also ample evidence that Franklin Roosevelt was so eager (both to jump start the economy after the Great Depression and to openly arm the British instead of surreptitiously doing it through the Lend-Lease Act) to enter World War II that, although he knew the Japanese planned to bomb Pearl Harbor several days beforehand, he allowed the Pacific naval fleet to be demolished and 2403 (2335 military personnel and 68 civilians) people to be killed so that he could claim that the United States had been attacked and had no choice but to enter the conflict.

And there had also been small and isolated pockets of dissension about American military action, going as far back as the Revolutionary War.

However, the Korean War marked the beginning of a turning point for America in escalated levels of dishonesty from the government and opposition to military action from the people.

The Korean War was a Cold War conflict. It had little to do with Korea, per se, but everything to do with China and the American government propaganda campaign about communism (this was the same period in which Joseph McCarthy was looking for communists in every nook and cranny here in the United States and, in the process, ruined many reputations and lives).

For the United States’ boots on the ground, the Korean War was brutal.

The winter of 1950-51 came early and was intense. The U.S. Army was not prepared and the infantry suffered greatly from the extreme cold. Frostbite and amputations were common. Food rations were quickly depleted and new shipments were delayed, leading to near-starvation for soldiers who still expected to go into battle every day. 

The veterans who came home were more disillusioned with their government and less convinced that they had partaken in the sort of noble cause (in reality, no war is noble – it simply represents the failure of human nature to do the right thing, no matter what – so, as quintessential leaders, we should never glorify war as something positive because it never is) that seemed to be the justification for entering World War I and World War II.

About ten years later, though, the Vietnam War marked the hinge of the turning point when the American public realized that the American government could not be trusted and dissension against all American involvement in war became more widespread.

America had no business being in Vietnam (just as we have no business in Iraq or Afghanistan or, frankly, anywhere in the Middle East).

Vietnam was created during France’s colonialism period. In 1882, France invaded the northern part of Vietnam. In 1883, France forced the Vietnamese emperor to accept French control over central and northern Vietnam, which gave France control over the whole country until the Japanese gained control of the county during World War II. 

Just after the end of World War II, on August 19, 1945, Vietnamese nationalists overthrew the Japanese, and on September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh officially established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

France then tried to regain control of Vietnam by invading the country in December 1946. The result was an eight-year war in which the Vietnamese nationalist forces, led primarily by the Vietnamese communists (Viet Cong), finally forced the French out in late 1954.

In the early 1960’s, once again the political machine of the government (led by the CIA) used the Cold War propaganda of the threat of the global spread communism as its premise for engaging in military conflict in South Vietnam.

It was a fiasco from the beginning for a lot of reasons (much of that related directly to dishonesty), but one was particularly ironic.

Like the British military who came to the American colonies trying to fight war the traditional European way (rather idiotic, in my opinion, when you think of just lining up facing each other to be brutally slaughtered) only to find the terrain inhospitable and that the colonists had developed a different and unbeatable way of fighting, the American military faced the same situation in Vietnam.

The American not only couldn’t find a way to eliminate the Viet Cong, but the casualties (dead and wounded) were amassing rapidly.

It was an unwinnable war (it had been from the start).

Lyndon Johnson had a perfect out of the war when he took office as president of the United States.

As John F. Kennedy’s replacement after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Johnson could have simply called Vietnam Kennedy’s war and disowned it himself and brought all of the American military home.

But instead of doing so, Johnson (on the advice of the CIA) chose to escalate American involvement by instituting the military draft and drastically increasing the number of American military members in Vietnam.

At the same time, the truth about and the reality of the Vietnam war were becoming public knowledge because of advances in the media (television had a national audience by this time), the increasing difficulty of hiding and/or obscuring government secrets, and a faster news cycle.

The Vietnam War broke the trust in American government: its policies, its cover stories, and its politicians.

As trust failed, opposition and dissension, especially among American Baby Boomers who were on the front lines of the draft to go to Vietnam, increased, leading to riots, protests, draft dodging, and then the more violent radicalism of the 1970’s and early 1980’s that emerged from that time.

That trust has never recovered. In fact, from my generation (GenX) on, mistrust is all we’ve ever known. And it’s not just of the American government, which we know never tells the truth about anything, but its a lack of trust in general of institutions and organizations because we’ve seen nothing but dishonesty and deception in all of these since the day we were born.

We start assuming we’re not being told the truth. Then we prove that we’re not being told the truth.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t a few individuals in our lives that we have trust relationships with, but those are because these few people are quintessential leaders and they have proven their trustworthiness and integrity over time.

Trust, once broken, cannot be regained. It’s that simple. To deny that fact is to deny truth.

As quintessential leaders, being trustworthy in all our words and actions – in who we are at the very core of our beings – is not optional. It is a must.

How are we doing?

 

 

Comments
  1. Martha Peeples says:

    This is as extremely interesting take on America’s involvement in war and it’s often dubious reasons for entering into military conflict. Looking at the history of wars from the Revolutionary War to the present wars being fought in the Middle East, it’s easy to see why subsequent generations of Americans are increasingly distrustful of the government and its spin on military intervention. Obviously we have yet to learn from past mistakes, and Memorial Day is a sad and tragic reminder of this.

    Like

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