Busted: A Vietnam Veteran in Nixon’s America
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What he had imagined it to be and when he got back became an opponent of the war. He also started writing and he has written poetry about his experiences in Vietnam. And he’s also the author of an autobiographical trilogy a series of three books about his experiences in Vietnam and after the third of these books was just published this summer. And we’ll talk about that and about Vietnam more generally with Bill Ehrhart this morning. The three books are the first one he’s a Vietnam PKC and PKC was the town in Pennsylvania when he grew up. The first book Vietnam
PKC a combat marine memoir The second passing time memoir of a Vietnam veteran against the war. And that book has just come out in paperback published by the University of Massachusetts press. And the third book which is also published by University of Massachusetts press it’s out now in hardcover and titled That book is busted. A Vietnam veteran in Nixon’s America. He was decorated for his service in Vietnam he received the Purple Heart two Presidential Unit citations the cross of gallantry. He was promoted to sergeant and was honorably discharged. His first published work appeared in winning hearts and minds war
poems by Vietnam veterans. And since then his writing has appeared in periodicals including the Virginia Quarterly Review the American poet to rereview USA Today The Philadelphia Inquirer and the reader. He now makes his home in Pennsylvania and is joining us this morning by telephone and if you have questions comments you want to join the conversation at any point. That’s welcome. The number here in Champaign-Urbana 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. We do also have a toll free line. It’s good anywhere you can hear us and that is 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5. Or if we match up the numbers and letters you
get W-why L-L So it’s 3:33. W I L L and toll free 800 1:58 W while Mr. Ehrhardt. Hello.
Hello good morning. How you doing. Just fine.
Pleased that you could talk with us today.
Well I’m I’m pleased to be on the show.
You were as I mentioned you. You joined the Marines. You enlisted when you were 17 years old and went through basic training and then went to Vietnam. What what led you to enlist in the Marines at that age and at that time.
Well let’s see how much time do we have. Only 15 minutes. It took me about 35 pages in my first book and it goes through the whole thing. Let me try to make a long story short. I grew up. And by the way I don’t mean to embarrass you but the name of the town I grew up in is Perkasie. Oh I’m sorry. Very common mispronunciation. Perkasie OK.
But this was a small rural community in eastern Pennsylvania about 5000 people surrounded by small family farms and it’s gotten quite suburbanized now but 35 years ago when I was growing up it really was a little country town staunchly Republican. The entire my father’s generation were all in a National Guard unit that got called up at the same time in the second world war and they all trooped off to Europe and got captured in the battle of the Balkans spent the last four months of the war prison camp and came home and joined the American Legion and marched
on Memorial Day every every year. This was the kind of atmosphere I grew up in a very red white and blue patriotic community that when I came along in the mid 60s when the war in Vietnam was beginning to heat up the assumption was simply how if we were engaged there then obviously the Vietnamese must have a problem. And it was our duty to solve that problem for them. There were also some personal factors involved. I was I was a minister’s kid. I was the
third child of a local master. Our family was as. As those things go in small towns our family was very visible and very prominent. And whatever my older whatever I did with my life my older brothers had already done including go to college. So here is something I could do that that they had not yet done. I don’t think that was my conscious thinking at the time. But in looking back on it clearly that had much to do with it. This was also my chance to win medals and be a hero. I was a little guy in the Marine Corps full of little guys. I got beat up
when I was a kid several times and I can remember running away publicly debasing myself rather than getting beat up again. And of course you know the Marine Corps builds men that was a recruiting slogan in those days. And so I was going to be a man the Marine Corps was going to teach me how to defend myself and I would never get beat up again. And all the girls were flocking to my uniform and how there were so there were all these wonderful personal things that were going to accrue to me by joining the Marines. But underlying all of that was an absolute and fundamental belief in the rightness of my country and the rightness of my
government. If Lyndon Johnson said that we needed to fight the communists in Vietnam that was good enough for me.
And it was good enough for my teachers and my parents and the whole community really supported this notion although I guess I get the impression from from busted that when you talk about how your parents reacted after you had enlisted that that actually they weren’t very happy.
Well no but their rationale was not on any kind of political or ideological or moral basis. It was a simple matter of now if you’re a parent would you want your kid to go to the Marines and go to war.
Or do you want your kid to go to college. You know it was that simple. I mean and as I finally you know what finally sealed the decision because I was 17 my parents had to give their written consent. And what finally did it in frustration. My mother remembers very vividly my saying to her after a several hour heated discussion blurting out is this the way you raised me to let other mothers sons fight America’s wars. And that was the end of the discussion. She said there was nothing she could say to that because that’s not how she had raised us.
Well after you got to Vietnam and had been there for a while. How long did it take before you started to question the rightness of the war and the rightness of American troops being there.
Well it took me three days to figure out that something was wrong. The third day now is there was an incident that happened where some of the grunts some of the infantrymen.
Came in on amphibious tractors with a group of what were called detainee. These were not prisoners of war they had not been captured with weapons. They were civilians who were detained for questioning and they came roaring into the battalion compound on two amphibious tractors before the tracks actually stopped the grunt’s up on top began throwing people down. These are people with bound hand and foot and on Amtrak sits up the top of it is a good eight or nine feet off the ground. So these are folks who were landing on their heads on their sides on their shoulders. You could actually hear bones snapping and it was a collection of old men and women and children.
And I watched this I grabbed the guy next to me who was an old salt of maybe 19 years of age. But he’d been in Vietnam for about 10 months at that point and I was quite shocked. I grabbed hold of him and I said Jimmy what what are these guys doing these these are these are civilians that. And he he turned to me with this flat blank expression on his face and an absolutely expressionless voice said Ehrhart you’d better keep your mouth shut and your eyes open until you know what’s going on around here.
That’s all he said. And so at that point I’m thinking maybe there’s more going on here than I realize. From there on it talk it was a long slow process. I mean a number of little incidents like that. There was no one Mi Lai massacre that I witnessed or you know a particular point at which I suddenly realized all rather it was this long accumulation of little things that by the summer of 67 I got there in February of 67. And by the middle of that summer I had come to the conclusion that the war was
crazy. I didn’t know what was going on. What I didn’t know that it was that it was not what Lyndon Johnson had told me it was not what my high school history teacher had told me. It was not what I was reading in Time magazine and I kid I GOT TIME magazine every week. I had a subscription so I could read what Dean Rusk was saying and I could read what Robert McNamara was saying and I I literally remember sitting there reading these guys and looking out over the berm at the Vietnamese countryside and thinking to myself What planet are these men on. What are these guys talking about. Not the war I mean. Now I couldn’t figure out
what was going on. All I knew was what was happening was crazy the Vietnamese civilians that we were there to help clearly did not want our help they were if anything they were neutral to hostile. And we were just incident after incident. It was clear that we were not wanted there. And all I wanted to do was get the hell out and go home. I knew as all as all the soldiers who went to Vietnam knew I knew the day that I would leave if I were still alive. I knew that on March 5th 1968 I could go home. And so from my sole purpose was simply to stay alive in order to go
home. It was not until well after I left Vietnam my theory was I was thinking just get the heck out of here and then it’s somebody else’s problem. What I discovered again over a period of another more than a year after I left really two years after I left it was that it was still my problem that I had brought it home with me that I slept with it that it never went away and that I needed to figure out what the hell was going on. I was actually Kent State the killings at Kent State which finally forced me to realize this war is not going away and it’s my problem and I’d better do something. At that point I began to try to understand
what had happened to me individually but in the process what had happened to my country and I stumbled upon the actual history of the war in Vietnam. And that’s when things began to make sense. It was a terrible kind of sense making but at least things made sense. The reason why I couldn’t understand what was happening to me in Vietnam when I was there is that to give you as a metaphor it was as though they had given me a deck of cards and told me to play solitaire until I won. And I kept trying to play and trying to play I couldn’t win and I couldn’t win.
And only after the fact that I discover that my government had given me a deck with 37 cards in it and not only did they give me a deck with 37 cards in it but they told me this is a full deck. In the process of going out and collecting the other cards to give me a real full deck it was that missing information which I needed without which I couldn’t make sense of what I had actually been witnessing things like that Holcim men had come to Versailles in 1919 expecting that Woodrow Wilson would live up to his 14 points one of which was
self-determination for all peoples and all nations that that South Vietnam was invented by the Western powers at a conference in Geneva in 1954.
I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that cheating was considered the father of his country by northerners and Southern alike. I mean what I didn’t know could fill a book and in fact I did fill a book with a lot I didn’t know.
The second book that I wrote passing time deals with this process of making sense of my own experiences and and by extension making sense of the history of the war and of my own country’s history.
You know certainly people who have written about the war as you have I think have have made a lot of the same points particularly about the nature of this war and the difficulty of knowing who the enemy was. And I’m thinking about in in busted right at them and in the introduction there’s one of your poems and I won’t read the whole thing but the there’s one verse that’s it’s at the opening and then near the end and that is it’s practically impossible to tell civilians from the Viet Cong and the very last two lines of the poem are after a while you quit trying. Yes. And
I think that really brings out the point. You know some of the points that you were just making. One thing I wonder though is whether some of your feelings are the way anybody would feel having been in a war. And how much of it really is about Vietnam and as I sort of wonder I don’t know if you if you’ve thought about this but if for example you had you had fought in World War II or in Korea whether you might have some of the same feelings that you do about Vietnam so that some of that has to do with being
in combat. But some of it really does have to do with with Vietnam and the fact that that war was different.
Well undoubtedly as I have gotten older I have begun to understand just how similar the experience of modern battle is depending on disregarding the particulars of any given war.
This is something actually that I I feel some bitterness about that my father’s generation really sent their children off to Vietnam without ever really telling them what the hell to expect. There are all sorts of cultural reasons for that. World War II was the good war and you know you’re not it’s not polite to say nasty things about that war. Complain about how stupid and brutal and inhumane it was you know we were the good guys and we won. But in fact a lot of information has begun to surface.
I particularly recommend Paul fossils book War time which really debunks a lot of the mythology of the Second World War and for which Fossel got a lot of flak because you know he’s gored a number of sacred cows in our culture. But he in there not. Not explicitly but implicitly makes it very clear that his experiences and the experiences of soldiers in the Second World War were just as brutal and ugly and unsettling as were the experiences of soldiers in Vietnam. That was not clear. In the
60s and 70s when guys were you know one. Post-traumatic stress disorder first became a public topic and we were perceived as winners and losers and we couldn’t bear up under the rigors of battle the way our daddies did. And of course all of that turned out to be bull war modern war where skill at arms and bravery and training basically have very little to do with what actually happens to you on the field of battle. Once we reach that point in roughly the middle of the 19th century then
the stress of battle became fairly predictable. And what happens to soldiers is very similar from one war to another.
However I think the main difference there are two main differences with the war in Vietnam.
One is that the war dragged on and on and on with nothing that resembled progress. And this if you think back went on for a good five years much longer than American participation in the second world war and with no semblance of motion. Whereas in the second world war we we conquered North Africa and then we invaded Italy and then we invaded France and you could see a sense of progress being made and this and the other thing that is so particular about Vietnam is the length
of duplicity that the government went to the overt and deliberate and systematic lying. Day after day week after week month after month year after year and if anyone doubts you know what I’m saying just go find the Pentagon papers and read them. It’s all in there and this is not a document written by some left wing pinko commie. This was prepared at the at the order of Robert McNamara himself and of course now 20 20 some years later McNamara comes out and goes Oh it was wrong terribly wrong and all but
Reich like he’s telling me something I don’t know that I didn’t know that when I was an 18 year old PFC.
All he’s done is to confirm what I knew years ago that they were all lying to us.
This is the secretary of defense who knew that the war was not winnable and never said a word anybody except maybe his wife in the middle of the night in bed.
And that’s where a guy went through the Second World War. Read Eugene Sledge’s book with the old breed and this is an astounding account of island campaigns in the Pacific. Horrible stuff these guys had to go through. But under the bottom line all that was.
But if I had not suffered what I had suffered where would the world be now. You know the Japanese would control the Pacific and the Germans would control Europe and Africa. One one can see that those terrible sacrifices were for some purpose whereas soldiers who fought in Vietnam whether you think that the war was absolutely wrong or you think we should nuke Hanoi no matter how you feel you look at what’s there now and what was it worth nothing absolutely nothing.
So that’s what I call that psychological pillow has been removed from the soldiers who fought in Vietnam on a course in the absence of that what you get is all kinds of odd thinking and I know I’m going to run it if I’m going to get flak from other Vietnam veterans who are listening to this program now. But it’s but it is the origin of the myth that somehow they’ve still got our boys over there in bamboo cages and you know people who are disaffected with the way the war went have put enormous amounts of energy into that issue because it’s a way of not letting go of
the the tremendous animosity among a great many Vietnam veterans resistance to normalizing relations with Vietnam. This notion of punishing them because they have the audacity to beat us they the idea that somehow the resurrection of the notion that somehow this really was a noble cause the whole phenomenon of well we could have won if only they’d have let us fight to win which is a chilling echo of the stab in the back theory that the German people and the German army developed in the wake of the first
world war and which led directly to the rise of Adolf Hitler.
When I listen to people talk about how we could have won the war if only they’d have let us fight to win. It just sends chills down my spine because I don’t know how much more we could done to that country besides obliterate every last man woman and child in it. The notion that we somehow were fighting with one hand tied behind our backs simply does not bear up under scrutiny.
Our guest is Bill Ehrhardt. And by the way if you go looking for his books he uses his initials W.D.. So look for W.D. Earhart and that’s e h r h r t he is a poet whose work has appeared in a number of places including a Virginia Quarterly Review the American poet to review USA Today Philadelphia Inquirer the new reader and is the author of a trilogy an autobiographical trilogy series of three books about his experiences in Vietnam and after the first book is Vietnam Perkasie. Is that right. Yes. Vietnam Perkasie That’s the
town he grew up in Pennsylvania a combat marine memoir. The second book passing time memoir of a Vietnam veteran against the war. And the third book which is just came out this summer is busted. A Vietnam veteran and Nixon’s America University Massachusetts press the publisher and actually we have talked about that particular book very much and I hope we’ll get the chance to do that but we also have several callers so I want to bring them into the show as well. 3:33 while Al 822 to W while by the way the numbers first Gawler here in Clifton a line for hello.
Yes. I’m a World War II veteran I served little time in the Pacific with the Air Force but the first thing I want to say is the most important thing and I want to say that is as far as you call yourself W.D.. Right right. All right. That’s what I publish under my initial D. OK. Well the first thing I want to say to you is thank you for serving our country. And you didn’t listen the first part of the program and I know there’s controversy going on and on and on but it just kills me.
There are 58000 Alas I knew there were 50000 183 names on the wall and I think they’ve corrected that. Fifty eight thousand one hundred ninety six. Do you know.
Well I know they keep adding they’ve added a few names over the years I think when originally was published it was 57 something but it’s up to 58.
Oh yeah. It’s over 58 now. A hundred and ninety six maybe.
But anyway there you said earlier something better good. No good war. We lost 200 2131 in combat. And to me a veteran is a veteran. I don’t care where they served or when. I’m extremely sorry for the treatment people who died it wasn’t me but I’m not trying to absolve myself. But the way the public saw it about this I just thought it was terrible because you guys were out there doing a job and I think it helps stem the
communist you know whatever the word is. But but anyway I’m glad that nobody is put you on every day and I think maybe they ought to have more of us on there from time to time. Basically you well called it just to say thank you. And I think that I was so proud when the Americans came forward in Desert Storm with the patriotism and of the Hedman they should’ve showed that to you fellows too. That’s really all I have to say. Thank you.
OK. Thanks for the call. Bill you got any reaction of any sort.
Oh gee I haven’t. It seems cruel to respond in a way that I you know I feel like I appreciate the gentleman.
Thanks but I frankly think I’ve served my country much better since I got out of the Marines and started writing about what was wrong with that war than I ever did while I was wearing a uniform. Of course I have heard the argument that somehow you know we might have lost the war in Vietnam but. But you know that was one battle in a larger war that we had finally won. Look the Soviet Union has collapsed that proves that it was all worth it. I think you can play all sorts of games with history that it’s simply one person’s opinion against another. But said I.
I appreciate the gentleman. Thanks but I think it’s probably misplaced. I don’t know that I I’m not at all convinced that I ever did anything while in uniform that I deserved to be thanked for. I certainly did my duty as has the government defined that duty. But I think that we were pretty ill served by our government. I also would like to comment on the fact that I’m I’m not quite sure what the gentleman means by the kind of treatment we got. But you know that’s one of the great myths of the Vietnam War is that we all got spit on called baby killer when we came home. That never happened to me. It simply didn’t happen to
me and I actually returned to the United States twice in uniform once in March of 68 from Vietnam. And once in June of 69 from another overseas assignment and that that simply did not happen to me. And when I got involved in the anti-war movement no one around me. I never heard anyone say those kinds of things or do those kinds of things to soldiers that that they encountered. I think that’s largely a mythology that has been created for a very base political purposes. After the fact
and I know a lot of veterans who you know they’ll look me right in the eye and say it really happened to me I was really spit on and I frankly I mean it’s difficult again but I don’t believe what I believe that’s how they felt. I think they felt sort of shabby and abused. And you start telling this story you know boy I heard about this guy who got off the plane at Fort Lewis and he was you know there was a mob waiting for me he was spit on and you know and as you tell and retell the story I heard about this guy becomes Well this happened to me.
And in fact psychologists will tell you that people can convince themselves that things happened which didn’t really happen.
That’s not that’s not at all unusual phenomenon. All I can say is it certainly was not part of my experience certainly I wasn’t given a big parade in Perkasie or anything like that. But you know I wasn’t abused by the American people when I came back and that they should feel ambivalent about the war and the soldiers is not in the least bit surprising since it wasn’t a clear cut situation and why I should expect more out of it now. Somehow a clarity of thinking from the general American public when the government itself had no clarity in its own thinking just not reasonable to expect that.
Well let’s I think that the glass called Stuck with somebody else in Taylorville next line one.
Hello. Hi. I was just remembering a friend of war and one of the clever observations about war and nations in general was a very one liner. Still rings true about lots of other places. As for the day it seems to me that a great deal of what was going on back was still going on in the name of politics domestic and foreign policy could be summed up under under the elegant little phrase
control. It’s still basic. A basic style of American of American life most most of us by and are pretty well aware too infatuated with the way things are going where rather infatuated it’s kind of schizophrenia or rather were rather fun. We hate it but we love it. I think that war really was a racist for I don’t think we would have thought we would have been in Europe.
I don’t think it would have been fought the same way and frankly if we were willing to kill civilians there or there abouts for every enemy soldier was just glancing through this book. Michael. Michael idiology in U.S. foreign policy really points out I think this is paternalistic ideology of ours. It goes way back back to the 19th century that way back in American terms
in film these cartoons and really are really priceless. This one guy thrashing vitamine voting ambos. And he said that rather one is as a cat of nine tails we as a nation have always felt it our duty to at that sort of witness.
I don’t know princelings there was in Christian Science capitalism for the rest of the world and ram it down their throats whatever they want it or not and were willing to kill them if they don’t see things our way.
OK so let’s again get her response.
Well I will have to say I do have to say that one of the things I have learned is that it isn’t just the United States. All empires have behaved this way. All empires have been paternalistic.
The thing that was so shocking for me as a young man is that I was quite explicitly taught all through my public education that that we were different from other nations that we weren’t like the British Empire and the Spanish empire and the Roman Empire.
And I think it was that discovery that in fact we were just like them which was so deeply disillusioning for me.
But but that being said the caller makes this very what is now an obvious point although it was then you know McKinley I believe it was President McKinley at the time of the the end of the Spanish-American War when the Filipinos wanted their independence but we wouldn’t give it to them we basically took them from being Spanish told to being an American colony and what McKinley said was we have to civilizing Christianize our little brown brothers quote unquote ignoring the fact that the Philippines had been a Christian for about 300 years prior to this time.
But that was now that American arrogance and blindness back to the earlier point that the gentleman made what occurred to me to point out as he talks about how Americans seem to not like this but to somehow put up with it somehow gets sucked in to the propaganda game. What I find amazing among the American people is that none of them have really so few people have have taken to heart the fact that all of our political leaders of the last two generations are our own and the preceding one was
among that group who actually fought in Vietnam the children of Ronald Reagan did not fight in Vietnam. The children of George Bush did not fight in Vietnam. The sons in law Richard Nixon did not fight in Vietnam. You can go through almost all of this stuff and you’ll find a few. Al Gore Jr. the vice president did go to Vietnam. One of Lyndon Johnson’s sons in laws did go to Vietnam or whatever else you want to say for Chuck Robb.
I admire the fact that he in fact was willing to do that. Most of these politicians children skirted the war and now we have my generation that is taking the reins of power. Phil Gramm never served in Vietnam never served in a military uniform. Newt Gingrich never served in a military uniform let alone in Vietnam. No one came.
The people who send us off to fight wars do not fight those wars. For the most part this has always been true. And yet they can stand up in front of the American people and flap their lips about how we have we we have to fight this war or else and send other people’s children off to die and other people don’t seem to notice this. It really baffles me.
Let’s talk again with someone else in Cicero Indiana this is line two. Hello.
Good morning Mr. Everhard Earhart. Yes. I’m sorry. Your preceding comments I think paves the way for a question I have for you. And if you would please comment on three pretty central figures you’ve already mentioned Robert McNamara and just then George Bush and I would also include a retired Admiral Elmo Zumwalt the recall Zumwalt was chief of naval operations and his son had died because of Vigors exposure in the Mekong Delta because of the kind of chemicals that. Yeah. Zoom zoom as I understand is now doing
something in Vietnam and I’d like you to comment on that if you would please. And secondly Robert McNamara when he was on his book tour once to Harvard government center and a woman had gone there and asked who was waiting we heard this on NPR waiting for a apology from McNamara. And I think that he never did really apologize. The second thing that Robert McNamara never did was say all the proceeds from this book are going to go to Vietnam vets. And I thought that maybe if someone asked him and he says well I really don’t know. I’d like to hear your comment on it. And secondly George Bush has wrapped up his tour and he maintains that
we were the United States government policy was right and doing what had gone on in Vietnam which I thought was pretty incredible. And if you would feel comfortable commenting on it I’ll just hang up and listen. Thank you.
Thanks for the call.
Well yeah McNamara I mean I can’t I can’t even begin to express the level of contempt I have for the man who who dragged us into the Vietnam War and kept us there all those many years and then basically walked away from the wreckage and never looked back. And McNamara I think actually has has had troubled dreams ever since then his conscience has bothered him which is saying something for the guy because obviously Henry Kissinger’s conscience doesn’t bother him. Dean Rusk went to his grave convinced that the only mistake he made was miscalculating the
will of the American people to stay the course. McNamara does have some kind of a conscience in there. But unfortunately it’s not going to do him a whole lot of good because as the caller pointed out he still doesn’t get it if you actually listen to the man or read his book. I actually have not read the whole book I refuse to give the guy any money or his editor or his publicist or any of those people. It’s just more you know all white guys getting rich off other people’s pain and suffering. But I have read enough of what was in Newsweek and heard a couple of his television
presentations that it’s perfectly clear the guy still doesn’t understand what happened. And he’s and he has not actually said you know I’m sorry. And of course as far as the money goes well I mean he’s he’s he’s just now an old white guy who’s still get rich off the war. My and I basically before he ever wrote his book I hope that he will rot in hell for all eternity. And I still hope that Jesus is in the business of forgiveness but I’m not and I don’t think you just forgive somebody
for the millions and millions of lives. So. So that’s what I think of McNamara. I hope he rots in hell forever. And George Bush now I don’t know what to say about that guy. You would think that a guy who had actually been in combat himself would would have a little better sense about it. But I don’t know how much of that had to do with the fact that he was a pilot and didn’t actually have to go and you know blow somebody’s brains out. And I don’t know what to make of George Bush. I do have to say that I didn’t much like his politics. And and it was clear to me that much of the driving force for his
response to Iraq was this terrible need to to wipe away the stain of Vietnam. Has George Bush and his cohorts perceived at this terrible public humiliation that we had received in Vietnam and he was going to make sure that that was erased from the American consciousness. He was going to make good. And of course if you look at his speeches as early as September of 1990 right on through to his remarks in the wake of the war how we have finally buried that and call it the ghost of the Vietnam war forever. Words to that effect.
Now it’s clear that all these guys have been grinding their teeth ever since April 30th 1975 to two to make up for that terrible humiliation that they perceive we suffered.
And it seems that when you when you take as you mentioned earlier when you take a look at the way people many people reacted to this summer when we normalized relations with Vietnam it seems pretty clear that they that the ghost is not gone.
Yes that was the thing this is a Gulf War. Didn’t didn’t quite do what Bush wanted it to do.
But it is very clear that look at his public pronouncements that he did want that that he and a lot of other people I left with talked about for two decades this notion of Vietnam syndrome what Vietnam syndrome actually means to the people inside the Washington Beltway is the reluctance of the American people to countenance the introduction of their. They’re sending their kids to die in foreign countries. Up until the Vietnam War the U.S. government had pretty much free license to send American soldiers anywhere in the world to do whatever they wanted them to do.
And people didn’t object to that projection of military might. After Vietnam people got very skeptical about that sort of thing. And you can see this gradual process through the 1980s of foreign policy establishment reaching out trying to really legitimize the use of American military force in foreign countries. You had the little invasion of Grenada followed by the Panama thing and then finally Desert Storm. And I think it was a very deliberate and concerted effort to really legitimize American military intervention. It has only worked partially. The
Gulf War did not have quite the stunning effect that folks in Washington would have liked it to have because now it became fairly clear in the wake of the Gulf War that this guy was the next Adolf Hitler and all of that all of that rhetoric that was used that it was really not all that much to crow about. And the skepticism to a large degree still remains. But that’s I think one of the main driving forces for the Gulf War was to finally eradicate that that natural break B R A K D on the government’s
use of American military might.
We have a couple of minutes left and the lines are full and unfortunately pretty soon here we’re going to have to stop. And I keep giving these long winded answers Well I don’t know I don’t buy it. I think well see we don’t really Traficant soundbites here so that’s that’s OK and maybe what we should say is you know we can have you back on another day if I keep you for another hour. I would but I can’t do that. Maybe though I can get one more caller in here. We’ll go to Crystal Lake line for how long and we’ll have to ask you to be brief because you don’t have very much time.
I was. Yes ma’am. We teach people that keep out of any other words like facts ma’am. And there Africans who are quite counseling for use of resources and I wish that had time to get rid of randomising man that destroyed the lives of many people there and still making up their minds and this country has found other things and and I love that primaries began today. And I am. And I say that I think even the first instance for instance I mean it’s not an objective. I see everything how it is. And I
only ask and I think that’s the wrong thing to have. Mean I think so honest. I’m happy with how the fight against terrorism and homeland defense is something I think I have more than one object to it if enough people say OK well I wish all your wishes will come true.
Ma’am do you for really set out sort of apologized that we actually haven’t got a chance to talk about busted because but I guess one question that out of that arises out of that and I won’t go into what the story’s all about because I won’t take the time to do that but I guess the question I want to ask you something like do you sort of feel like you know for forever as long as you live that sort of everything that happens to you you’re going to measured against you know that that that the experience in Vietnam and what happened to you and what you did there is somehow a measuring stick that everything else gets measured to in some
it well unfortunately that does appear to be the case.
I mean I don’t know how to get around it. Certainly certainly everything since the 17th year of my life has been thrown through that prism. I simply cannot look at any aspect of my adult life that is not in some way affected by that experience. So I guess the answer to your question is yes I mean it’s a bit like saying I can remember my parents generation boring me to tears with their stories of the Great Depression and having I’d had I had to save you know paper grocery bags and stuff like that my mother couldn’t throw away anything and I’d go man you know do I have to here you
know mom you stuffed your shoes with the newspaper and that was a tough life and you know. But I know now why that was because it shaped who she was that experience that depression was was the molding experience for anyone who came of age in those years. And for me the war in Vietnam and its consequences have shaped my life for better or worse. Sometimes I think it’s the worst thing that could ever have happened to me. Sometimes I think that the Vietnam War destroyed my life because it’s always there.
We Other times I just think hey that’s life. You know that’s the way it goes. That’s what I have to live with.
We’ve got to stop there. I want to thank you Bill very much for talking with us.
Well thanks for having me on. Been a pleasure.
And perhaps on another day we can talk some more. And again for people who want to look for the most recent book it’s entitled busted a Vietnam veteran in Nixon’s America published by University of Massachusetts press by W.D. Ehrhard.
Between March and September of 1974, as Richard Nixon's presidency of the United States unraveled on national television, Bill Ehrhart, a decorated Marine Corps sergeant and anti-war Vietnam veteran fought to retain his merchant seaman's card after being busted for possession of marijuana. He was also held on suspicion of armed robbery in New York City, detained on the Garden State Parkway for looking like a Puerto Rican revolutionary and thrown out of New Jersey by the Maple Shade police. All of this occurred while the House Judiciary Committee conducted hearings on Nixon's impeachment.
W. D. Ehrhart holds an Honorable Discharge from the US Marine Corps and a PhD from the University of Wales at Swansea. He is the recipient of the President's Medal from Veterans for Peace, a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, two Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowships, a Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation Grant, and an Excellence in the Arts Award from Vietnam Veterans of America.