Monday, February 27, 2017

American Veteran, Paul Mooney

Lately, our class has been working with the cold war. We have learned about the Korea War, The Cuba crisis, the Berlin wall, the Vietnam war, etc.
To "spice" the education about the Vietnam war up a bit, our teacher reached out to Paul Mooney, an American veteran, who served in Vietnam.

Paul Mooney served in Vietnam for two years. After these two years, Paul went back to the US, and got interested in journalism.
Paul is now a freelance journalists who has been working in countries such as Burma, Thailand and Vietnam for the last few years.
We have been lucky enough to get to ask him questions about both his time serving in Vietnam, and his personal life.

Q: What have you felt about the war after you have seen how the people were injured after the war?
A: I certainly feel a moral guilt for the war and my participation. I was not involved in any misconduct or war crimes, but I know they happened in Vietnam by the US military. This pains me. I grew up on American war movies where we were always the good guys, and it was extremely troubling for me to see that in Vietnam we were sometimes the bad guys. When I went to Vietnam four or five times over the past 15 years, I didn't tell people I was a Vietnam veteran because I thought they might get angry with me. To my surprise, when I was in Vietnam in 2015, I met three times with Vietnamese Army officers around my age, for whom I was the enemy. To my surprise, they were not angry, but instead insisted on shaking hands and taking photos together. Their attitude really surprised me. I've written more about this below and hope you can take time to see some of my other related comments to your classmates.

Q: I was wondering how you feel about the Vietnam War in retrospective?
A: When I was 12, my second oldest brother went to Vietnam. In those days, there were only a few Americans military in Vietnam. But at a young age, I was already aware of the war. I didn't like school, but I read a lot and became obsessed with the war. I read a lot of books on the war, and in the early 1960s, many people and the leading media supported the war--this was before the US public began to question the war. By the time I turned 15, I was determined to quit high school when I was 16 and to enlist when I was 17, the youngest age allowed to join the military in the US. I was very gung ho and wanted to fight communism. I prayed the war would not end until I got to Vietnam (I feel silly about these thoughts now). I arrived in Vietnam in 1968, and by this time US public opinion and the media were beginning to shift their views of the war. In my rear base camp in Vietnam we had a trailer truck library with an excellent collection of books on Vietnam's history and the war. I began to read books when it was possible and read quite a bit on the war. The books described a reality of the war that was different from what I'd read about and had been taught about during our training. Then as I worked as a soldier I began to see the things that were going wrong with the war, and my views quickly changed. I understood that my government had lied to me about the war and I became cynical. It's my belief now that the war was wrong and that America should have never gotten involved. More than 56,000 Americans died in Vietnam and several million Vietnamese lost their lives. What a tragedy. It didn't have to be that way. I regret and feel sorry about how the US hurt Vietnam.

Q:  I was wondering why you decided to travel over the seas to Vietnam? What was your motivation, and your prime reasons for joining the army? Also did your opinion of the war change once you came home to the US?
A: I grew up in a conservative Irish Catholic neighborhood in the Bronx, where all the working class fathers had fought in World War Two or the Korean War. We grew up being proud of this. And we loved to watch the war movies which portrayed Americans as heroes. As a child, my friends and I would often play war in vacant lots in the Bronx. Usually fighting the Germans or the Japanese. I had three older brothers and each one of them had gone into the military, and were still in the military when I turned 17 and could enlist. Enlisting in the military in those days was something people like me were expected to do. I remember around Christmas when we went to mass, it was common to see many young men in the church wearing their uniforms. I loved to read history as a child and so around the age of 14, I began to read about the Vietnam War. In the early 1960s, most Americans and much of the media supported the war. So everything I read supported the war and made it look like a just and honorable thing to do. When i went to Vietnam, I really believed I was going there to save the people of Vietnam from the threat of Communism. My views of the war changed before I even left Vietnam. By the time I arrived in Vietnam in 1968, shortly after turning 18, the public mood in America had changed, the media was widely reporting problems in the war, and support for the war was shaken. I had access to books on Vietnam in my unite and read widely on the war. These books contradicted everything I'd learned about the Vietnam War in my books and training. As I took part in the war, I saw how bad the situation was and how inadequate our strategy was, and my views changed dramatically. Our policy of attrition was wrong and immoral. And I saw that there was a great deal of corruption in the South Vietnam government, and I was frustrated by this. Also, I worked as an advisor to the 18th ARVN Division, and saw how poorly trained and led the South Vietnamese soldiers were. The whole war was a disaster and my newer reading and actual war experiences opened my eyes to the reality. After I got out of the Army in 1970, I decided to go to university. I originally wanted to continue with my Vietnamese studies, but soon realized American was sharply divided by the war. My own neighbourhood was quite conservative and many of the people supported the war, while some others opposed it. It tore apart the fabric of the society I'd grown up in. I decided I didn't want to spend the rest of my life arguing with people, and so I withdrew from anything to do with Vietnam, and switched my university studies to China area studies. It was only two years ago when i made a bitter-sweet return trip to Vietnam with two veteran friends that I found it was possible again for me to think about the war and since then I've been reading a lot and going over things in my head to try to find some sort of closure. I was happy when I went back to Vietnam to be warmly welcomed by Vietnamese Army officers who did not criticize me for being their enemy during the war.

Q:What were the differences between Johnson's and Nixon's strategies during the war?
A: John F. Kennedy had decided fighting in Vietnam would be not have a positive result, and so in 1963, he quietly began to plan for a withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam. The Pentagon was not happy about this, or his secret contacts with Kruschev and Castro, and his assassination in 1963 may have been engineered by the CIA as a result. Vice President Johnson assumed the presidency, but was determined not to be the first US president to lose a war. His strategy for fighting the war was wrong, and the worsening situation and growing public dissatisfaction with the war ended his political career. He tried to find a way out of the war through the peace talks with Hanoi in 1968. Johnson was calling for a complete halt to the bombing of North Vietnam, but Nixon was afraid this would hurt his chance to be elected president of the US. Unfortunately, Nixon, who was campaigning for president on a platform to end the war, maneuvered to prolong the Vietnam War for his own political gain. He felt he needed the war to go on a bit longer.

An aide to Nixon intervened by convincing the South Vietnamese leadership to abandon the talks. Nixon’s people told the South Vietnamese government that it would get a better deal with him as president if they withdrew from the talks.

Nixon won the election by just 1 percent of the popular vote. But once he got into office he actually escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, losing an additional 22,000 American lives, and who knows how many Vietnamese lifes, before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973. Had the 1968 talks not been sabotaged, many would not have died in the war.

As you can tell from the questions and answers above, Paul Mooney really put time and effort into answering our questions. Every answer were long, informative and well written.
During our cooperation with Mooney, we all learned a lot. What I find most important, is that we learned how the soldiers and the affected people actually felt about the war. Not only what the media chose to tell the public.

Written by Ola

No comments:

Post a Comment