Doug and Pam Sterner
actions today will someday become
Since the birth of our nation in 1776, no single generation of Americans has been spared the responsibility of defending freedom by force of arms.
In 1958 the first American "advisors" visited the land known as Vietnam. It wasn't until 1975 that the last troops assisted the Vietnamese evacuation process. Over 9,800,000 U.S. troops served in Vietnam and more than 58,000 were lost. Many more died after the war from wounds, the effects of Agent Orange and PTSD. Some suffer to this day. Most have gone on to become productive citizens.
It has always been popular throughout our Nations short history to take wars and somehow, for posterity sake, condense them down with some catchy title and memorable synopsis. World War I was known as "The War To End All Wars". It wasn't!
Twenty-three years after the Doughboys returned home a new generation of Americans was confronted with the challenges of Normandy, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima. The veterans of that war have become known as "The Greatest Generation" which is a fitting tribute to the men and women who may well have saved our world.
Five years later it was "The Forgotten War" ..battles at Inchon and The Chosin Reservoir, Korea, where thousands lost their lives. Still, as long as that struggle is remembered as "The Forgotten War", it is never truly forgotten nor are the brave men and women who wrote that chapter in world history.
Vietnam was not a popular war and we, as a nation, have struggled for over 25 years to define the Vietnam War. I have heard it called "The War We Lost", others have hailed it as "The Wasted Effort", but no one has put Vietnam into a context that really defines this chapter in our Nations history.
I truly believe that the Vietnam experience has shaped our nation and the world, more than most wars in our Nation's history. The Vietnam War experience has forged the decisions of nine presidents.
Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy sent the first troops to Vietnam. President Johnson knew in his heart he could not succeed as he intended in Vietnam, but this provided him the motivation to succeed here at home with regard to minority equal rights. First Amendment rights were used to protest Vietnam, but it also provided the media a means to cover the war so that it could be brought into millions of homes and watched at the dinner table. The Federal Elections Commission was developed out of the Watergate scandal in order to make politicians accountable to its citizens. The pro Vietnam War California Governor, who went on to become President Reagan, came to our Nation as though he was in the last period of a football game determined to rally our country to overcome the cold war and defeat the Soviet Bloc. President Bush Senior along with General Colin Powell used the history of Vietnam to gain a staggering defeat over Iraq in the Gulf War. President Clinton sent Pete Peterson, a Vietnam Veteran, to be our ambassador to Vietnam. The second President George Bush faces hard lessons of Vietnam in Afghanistan and Iraq. Whether you are in the chambers of United States Congress, the halls of the Pentagon, or listening to the news of the day, major decisions always use Vietnam as a reference point.
We can't say what would have occurred if we as a nation had not gone into Vietnam, nor can we say what would have occurred if we still occupied Vietnam. We can't speculate because it's not history. What is history is what I've described.
So how should we assume the challenge to encapsulate the Vietnam War with a historical defining phrase? Humbly, I believe it should go down in history as the "The Defining War."
To define means to mark, to identify, to discover, to find meaning.
Through the Vietnam War, whether experienced as a veteran, an anti-war protestor, or just someone who watched it on the news, we discovered ourselves, were given meaning, and an identity for which we can stand as a nation. It defined us either directly or indirectly, during the war and after, in terms of strength, compassion, tolerance, patriotism, rights, perseverance, determination, sacrifice, and freedom. Today, we are being tested with regard to how we define ourselves and the price we are willing to pay for our freedom. The Vietnam War was not our darkest moment, but has been our nation's guiding light.
C. Lemon, Recipient
The Defining Generation: Copyright © 2006 by Doug and Pam Sterner
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