Dean Barnett, "The 9/11 Generation: Better than the Boomers". Weekly Standard, July 30
IT'S already dealt with by better blogs than this one here and here and here and here and no doubt many others; I had an internet-free weekend and I'm still catching up. And one might, in fact, simply invite all the kids in the block over, show 'em that cover, and let everyone write his own critique; there's nothing in Barnett's piece that furthers the argument beyond its title. Or, to be more precise, which makes the argument. (We'd begin with an old favorite, that the Standard's warflogging editor [born December 23, 1952] repeatedly told a CSPAN audience that he "was too young for Vietnam", or that Bartlett's c.v. modestly avoids any mention of his own service. But then, we've always liked to lob a few at the broad side of the barn to warm up.)
In the 1960s, history called the Baby Boomers. They didn't answer the phone.
Over two million Americans served in Vietnam. Two-thirds of them were volunteers. (Compare WWII, where 2/3 of the sixteen million in service were draftees.) Of course they were not all Boomers; the first of those wasn't eligible for military service until 1964. We don't know how many Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan (at times it seems like the same 250,000 have simply shuttled between the two), but we know that the National Guard and Reserves account for roughly 40% of the their number, and that their recruitment figures are abysmal, and have been since the debacle in Iraq became clear. So either our standard is "some people showed up", in which case The Boomers wind up lookin' pretty good, or it's "some people didn't", in which case the so-called Nine Eleveners don't. And either way Barnett eats a shit sandwich.
Confronted with a generation-defining conflict, the cold war, the Boomers--those, at any rate, who came to be emblematic of their generation--took the opposite path from their parents during World War II. Sadly, the excesses of Woodstock became the face of the Boomers' response to their moment of challenge. War protests where agitated youths derided American soldiers as baby-killers added no luster to their image.
Okay, the monumental stupidity of the thing has been taken care of elsewhere, and the obvious response--that those who came to be emblematic of the Republican party escaped this "duty" with such frequency that today one may refer to them by a contemporary nickname (that would be "Chickenhawk", Mr. Barnett) and not by appeals to attendance at a forty-year-old concert--is, well, obvious. So let's ask about that "generation-defining conflict" business, shall we? Ready?
Who're you, Dean Barnett, who hasn't put your meat on the line in defense of a war you find vital to Our Very Survival, to tell me how I was supposed to feel about the Cold War or Vietnam? Because you've got a quiverful of third-hand opinions about them?
It is no longer necessary to try to talk sense in response to this. Even if people such as Barnett are too young to realize the truth about Vietnam and too lazy to learn, or too scared to be fully appraised, Iraq has clearly dispelled every last cherished fable about US military invincibility laid low by Fifth Columnists. The Vietnamese were hardened fighters and experienced insurgents, having fought the Chinese, the Japanese, and the French before we volunteered. Compare the mass of Iraqi citizens who at first welcomed us as liberators. The Viet Minh were ultimately supplied by the Soviets, but in the early stages of US involvement they operated a cottage armaments industry to buttress, then replace, their old French weapons. Later their main source of supply was the U.S.--chiefly through black market sales of equipment we'd given our "allies". Compare a U.S. military force driven by a single-minded administration with a rubber-stamp Congress, pulled into a quagmire by improvised devices. If in the former case we were laid low only by protesting hippies, how the hell'd we lose this one?
SOMEHOW the great proxy wars of the Cold War era were fought using very few actual Soviet troops, while the US death toll reached 90,000 in Vietnam and Korea, where we continue to support a large tripwire military presence into infinity, apparently.
For the sake of domestic politics and the liars who profit from them. One needn't actually crack a history book to understand this stuff, Mr. Barnett. No dominoes fell in SE Asia. Soviet tanks never came across the Fulda Gap. They knew--and plenty of people on our side knew, too--that they could never hope to compete long-term with the economic and military might of the US, and that a post-nuclear world wasn't worth dominating. The Cold War, from a US perspective, was the result of ideological anti-Communists gaining control of State, Defense, and Harry Truman's ears, and using a largely fictitious threat of Soviet aggression to maintain power. Its great accomplishments were the support, even the installation, of brutal military dictatorships in Greece, Turkey, and on Formosa, the propping up of the old Colonial system in Asia and Africa, and, possibly, a two-generation prolonging of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Those weren't issues I personally felt a great urge to go kill someone over. The great "generation-defining conflict" of my day was thermonuclear war. And it was clear by the late 60s, Mr. Barnett, that one did not do anything to respond to, certainly not to lessen, that threat by blindly siding with successive US administrations which fueled the conflict.
It's funny how things work out: in the horrid 60s a common refrain from the Right was that it didn't oppose government do-goodism because it disliked the poor and minorities, but rather because its intellectual superiority allowed it to predict the Unintended Consequences of such acts, which were uniformly unfortunate. Not only has that second sight been lost, (and it seems always to have had a blind spot where banging the table about military action was concerned), the ability to see actual results has abandoned them. It's curious that your Standard types never seem to catch on to this, isn't it? The older guys, the ones who were old enough to go to Vietnam and didn't, lived through it, and lived through the bull market in post-Vietnam excuse mongering, with its Librul Media and POW/MIA bracelets and Spitting on Baby Killers urban legend factory and Soviet-heroic statuary at the base of the "defeatist" Wall. Kristol will live with the impacted bolus of his cowardly lyin' about his Vietnam non-service every day of his life. It may not matter to him. But somebody, somewhere, might have considered the consequences of letting people like Barnett run into it headlong. Mr. Barnett, you are no longer the Reaganaut high-school dweeb getting even with the Stoners who got all the tail by drawing stink lines on their caricatures in your notebook.
Or are you?