Copyright © 2001 The International Herald Tribune www.iht.com
Vietnam Fantasies Trouble A Veteran
Steven M. Gorelick
Wednesday, June 27, 2001
NEW YORK -As I like to remember it, we didn't even have time to call in
Pinned down on the banks of a marsh by ferocious enemy fire, the best my
could do was dig in deep and pray that the helicopter gunship would
Somehow I avoided even a scratch, but my buddy from Texarkana took a
right above the belt. I still go to see his name every time I am at the
Three months after coming home, I stood with 1,500 Vietnam veterans to
Richard Nixon's renomination. Several of us returned the Army Bronze
Stars that had
become badges of shame.
Later, I waited outside the rally while Dr. Martin Luther King was
sanitation workers in Memphis. The group I was with never heard a word
"mountaintop" speech, but we cried the next day when he was gunned down
the Lorraine Motel.
I even remember hiding my face from the cameras when several of us laid
blocked the entrance to the Oakland Army Induction Center. It's not that
I felt I was
doing anything wrong, but a small part of me was worried that some of
the guys from
my platoon might somehow see me on the news. I knew that none of them
felt the way
I did about the war.
Then I come back to reality. None of this ever happened. None of it. I
am a veteran of
The closest I got to a rice paddy was the Chinese food we ordered the
night we sat
around listening to the first of the draft lotteries, praying for a high
number. Dr. King?
Memphis? It was the place where Elvis was holed up, stuffing himself
In fact, I was outside the Oakland draft induction center while cards
were burned, but
I watched in silence, panicked that even being in the vicinity might
lead to a loss of my
prized college deferment.
I thought of these fantasies when I read that the Pulitzer prize-winning
Ellis, had admitted that he misled his Mount Holyoke students into
believing that he
served in Vietnam.
None of us will ever really know what might have led an eminent
historian to weave a
stint in the airborne into an already accomplished life. It would be
nervy of me to
speculate about his demons when I hardly understand mine.
But I do know the powerful feelings of shame and embarrassment that come
looking back at a time of agonizing moral choices and realizing that as
down the Viet Cong, the Chicago police, the fire hoses unleashed by the
police I chose nothing, absolutely nothing but saving my own behind.
I've never uttered a word to anyone about this, but I suspect that I am
not the only
veteran of nothing. Presented with a bounty of opportunities to stand
for something, we
were afraid to risk our safety and security for something greater than
can't even say we chose the path of least resistance. We chose no path
I have never admitted these fantasies to my students. And I have
temptation to embellish on a glorious past when I never lived one. But I
and hope others will understand, the powerful pull one feels to create a
past of courage
and commitment. In the end, though, there is no getting around it: We
others didn't. We are veterans of nothing.
The writer teaches sociology and media studies at the City University of
York. He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune