By Episode 4, Mogie Crocker’s family has been notified of his death on a nameless ridge, in a nameless battle, on a date and time likely remembered only by the people who loved him. The 58,000 U.S. deaths blur into an undifferentiated river of loss and grief. But we viewers got to know Mogie a bit, and he stands out. We saw his baby pictures, the house he grew up in, met his mother and sister, heard his thoughts in the letters home that his family was willing to share. His death, even on screen, is a blow. Fifty years on, his now white-haired mother’s face is etched in pain, her eyes filled with tears, as she talked about the day the chaplain and another soldier came. She knew as soon as she saw them. Yes, it’s true. Your son is dead. His sister’s face, no longer young, is stiff with the effort to maintain control. She remembers where she was, what she did, when she heard her mother scream “No… no….no.”
Friend and regular reader Bev made a connection in Episode 5 that I hadn’t seen. One of the surviving Marines, Musgrove, talks about being taught in basic training that the gooks were the enemy — no matter what they were doing, be it fighting or planting rice or trying to safeguard their children or huddling in a ditch just wanting to stay alive. The price of sending young American men to fight an ugly war is that our society teaches them to make objects out of human beings. Then a soldier can torch their homes, poison their food stores and water, shoot them just for making a move in the wrong place at the wrong time — and not feel a thing. Musgrove said he would never kill a human being. But he went to VietNam determined to smoke as many gooks as he could.
Bev wonders if these are the same white young men who came home loathing and fearing anything foreign, who returned to where they lived and now, all these decades later, react with fear and paranoia about immigrants. She wonders if their training to kill gooks, and the stench of blood, and the shame of losing to short brown people in rubber sandals stayed with our soldiers, just as Peace Corps training and the two years that followed stayed with Bev and me. She wonders if they became the Trump voters. It’s an important question.
The documentary, which I’m now about halfway through, is wrenching. I think we did similar things in Afghanistan — take a hill at great cost to American life, then abandon it hours or days or weeks later. I think Trump is talking about millions of lives on the Korean peninsula as if they matter not at all, as long as American shores remain unthreatened.
What in the world are we doing?