Unending Vietnam Lessons for Presidents & Private Citizens. Karl Marlantes, author, “Matterhorn.”

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01-10-2017

(Photo: Photo # NH 97900 USS Maddox at sea, circa the early 1960s

USS Maddox, DD-731, seen here at some point in the 1960s. The Gulf of Tonkin incident (Vietnamese: Sự kiện Vịnh Bắc Bộ), also known as the USS Maddox incident, drew the US more directly into the Vietnam War. It involved two separate confrontations involving North Vietnam and the United States in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The original American report blamed North Vietnam for both incidents, but eventually became very controversial with widespread claims that either one or both incidents were false, and possibly deliberately so. On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox, while performing a signals intelligence patrol as part of DESOTO operations, was pursued by three North Vietnamese Navy torpedo boats of the 135th Torpedo Squadron.[1][5] Maddox fired three warning shots and the North Vietnamese boats then attacked with torpedoes and machine gun fire.[5] Maddox expended over 280 3-inch and 5-inch shells in what was claimed to be a sea battle. One US aircraft was damaged, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats were allegedly damaged, and four North Vietnamese sailors were said to have been killed, with six more wounded. There were no U.S. casualties.[6] Maddox "was unscathed except for a single bullet hole from a Vietnamese machine gun round".[5])

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Unending Vietnam Lessons for Presidents & Private Citizens. Karl Marlantes, author, “Matterhorn.”

“…Vietnam changed the way we looked at politics. We became inured to our leaders lying in the war: the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin incident, the number of “pacified provinces” (and what did “pacified” mean, anyway?), the inflated body counts.

People talked about Johnson’s “credibility gap.” This was a genteel way of saying that the president was lying. Then, however, a credibility gap was considered unusual and bad. By the end of the war, it was still considered bad, but it was no longer unusual. When politicians lie today, fact checkers might point out what is true, but then everyone moves on.

We have switched from naïveté to cynicism. One could argue that they are opposites, but I think not. With naïveté you risk disillusionment, which is what happened to me and many of my generation. Cynicism, however, stops you before you start. It alienates us from “the government,” a phrase that today connotes bureaucratic quagmire. It threatens democracy, because it destroys the power of the people to even want to make change.

You don’t finish the world’s largest highway system, build huge numbers of public schools and universities, institute the Great Society, fight a major war, and go to the moon, which we did in the 1960s — simultaneously — if you’re cynical about government and politicians.

I live near Seattle, hardly Donald J. Trump territory. Most of my friends cynically deride Mr. Trump’s slogan, Make America Great Again, citing all that was wrong in the olden days. Indeed, it wasn’t paradise, particularly for minorities. But there’s some truth to it. We were greater then. It was the war — not liberalism, not immigration, not globalization — that changed us….”

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