our own "Dolchstoßlegende"

but we won't let go of our own myth

Thirty years on, the Viet Nam War still has the power to enrage both those who survived its battles and those who stayed at home, and it now seems that a new generation may have inherited its unreason. The War remains a particular obsession for the American Right, and its memory is a fundamental component of the ideology of today's neoconservatives as well as a very useful political instrument.

We don't seem to have learned a thing.

It only took the Germans 25 years to get over their own stab-in-the-back legend (Dolchstoßlegende), even if 40 million people had to die first. In the U.S. our own version of the betrayal myth has already survived 36 years, and it has performed an ugly role in every major election since 1968. While we haven't scored numbers nearly as big as the old German militarism did beginning in 1939, the great and endless war declared after September 11 offers all kinds of opportunities for the future.

The beautiful new world I saw created by the end of the 1960's by what seemed to be a new Enlightenment seemed to be confirmed in its success with the victory of the antiwar movement and the end of the Viet Nam War. We had finally come to our senses in our politics both at home and abroad. I thought at the time that the absolute rightness of the movement had ensured the success, and would guarantee the permanence of both Liberalism and the Peace Movement.

Only a few years later, some time after emerging from living in a place and a period on the other end of the earth and of modern times (1970's Apartheid South Africa), I was shocked to find that virtually all that had been accomplished by the 60's was being gradually reversed by a new, subtle Reaction. I confess that although I had studied history almost all my (then) young life, my loyalties and my naivety allowed me to imagine things would just get better and better.

But even then I did not notice the degree to which this country had been unable to resolve the problem of Viet Nam. Of course I myself no longer saw any problem. Today however, because of the most recent absurd developments in the current Kerry/Bush campaigns, I believe that national divisions over that war are likely to survive even the death of the last participant, not unlike the way its nearest relation, the Civil War, remains an enormous presence almost 150 years after it began.

May we somehow still be saved from demagogues, fools and our own ignorance.

[image from Städtisches Louise-Schroeder-Gymnasium]