Masters of War

from Womankind (1971) A succinct angry explanation of how many feminists viewed the Southeast Asia war. Editor's note: The women's liberation movement was universally appalled by the war on SE Asia. This article focuses on women and the war.)

An American GI, in a Saigon hotel, had just finished with a Vietnamese prostitute. He had given her the money and was about to get dressed. She suddenly asked him, “Why are you murdering my people?” He couldn’t answer. He was caught literally with his pants down. A friend of mine told me this story three years ago. It had happened to him and he wanted to talk about it.

The wife of an American POW, a pilot shot down over North Vietnam, was recently on a TV talk show. She said it was a disgrace that the North Vietnamese fed her husband mostly rice and she urged people to write to Hanoi. I guess most women were supposed to sympathize with her. I did, but I sympathized more with the Vietnamese prostitute. It seemed a little arrogant to be asking the North Vietnamese to feed the men who dropped bombs on them better than they can feed their own people.

Guilt and arrogance: people have these feelings about the war in Vietnam. Daniel Ellsberg’s troubled conscience for his own part in Vietnam policy was one reason he released the Pentagon Papers. Ever since public disgust with the war has become obvious, politicians have been scurrying around, trying to pin the blame on each other. But if it’s guilt we’re seeing more and more evidence of these days, let’s be reminded that it’s arrogance we’ve seen all along. The Pentagon Papers make one thing perfectly clear:

American policy in Vietnam never had anything to do with democracy or self—determination for the Vietnamese. Instead, from the beginning, the objectives of our policy have been to ‘‘contain China” and to set up a “friendly” government in South Vietnam. “Friendly” meant one which would stand with the US in its struggle against international communism and one which would allow US corporations to exploit Vietnam’s resources. Some people call such a policy imperialism.

The Pentagon Papers also reveal that the men who run our country have been assuming the world is their toy although none of their games have worked as they hoped. In fact, most of those who now believe the policy in Vietnam was wrong believe it was wrong because it didn’t succeed. The policy didn’t work because the Vietnamese refused to play along; namely, they refused to surrender.

The Pentagon Papers show how as the war dragged on, the main policy objective became something called “the need to maintain American credibility.” As we were becoming stuck, our main objective became not to back down. As President Johnson said, we weren’t going to “turn tail and run .“

If you never guessed the attitude of a drunken bully had anything to do with American foreign policy, think about Vietnam. If you imagine the bully to be a different race (say he is white) from the guys he is fighting and you figure he is insisting upon his natural superiority, you get an even better picture.

This handful of men, our “leaders,” display the most outrageous arrogance right now by continuing the war. We still have 200,000 soldiers there. Some won’t come back. Government scientists are busy figuring out how to automate the war so we can continue to kill the “enemy” even after most of our boys have come home.

Most Americans have a right to be bitter about the war in Vietnam. Most women have a special right to be bitter. We were never consulted. We tried to hold our families together when husbands and fathers got killed or hurt.

The government didn’t help very much. When men were listed as “missing,” information was scanty and misleading. Many of us ended up on welfare as a result of the war and now we must worry about losing that, too. We tried to help the men; our brothers, friends, and lovers, figure out how to rearrange their lives to either avoid or accommodate military service — then we’d adjust our lives accordingly. When they came back from Vietnam wounded, strung out on drugs or just plain emotional wrecks we were supposed to comfort them and put the pieces back together.

We can provide comfort for the returning soldiers but not for the men who sent them to Vietnam. What these men tell their consciences is their business. Our business is to see that it ends and never happens again.