Letters to the editor

Readers reflect on the legacy of Vietnam Plus: Can Ritalin be lethal? Darva Conger should keep her clothes on.

Published May 2, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Looking back on Vietnam


As usual, none of the "diverse" opinions solicited include the notion that it was fundamentally, morally wrong for us to invade another country and slaughter its population to install an unpopular puppet regime. This seems obvious enough in the case of Iraq and Kuwait, but nobody can put two and two together when the U.S. is involved. Instead, we read a lot about the lingering psychological effects of the war (on us, not the irrelevant Vietnamese). Perhaps Salon's next roundtable should be about the terrible burden the rape of Nanking put on the Japanese people.

-- Paul Chillman

The two schools of thought about the Vietnam War -- "It was a rotten war and we lost" and "It was a good war and we lost" -- are both wrong. The fact is that the U.S. achieved most of its foreign policy goals in Southeast Asia.

The chief goal was to prevent the establishment of a successful communist state in Southeast Asia that would serve as a model to insurgent "liberation" forces in other states. By leaving Vietnam a smoking ruin in 1975 and setting the stage for a subsequent holocaust in Cambodia, the U.S. did just that. Even though the U.S. was unable to establish a successful client regime in Saigon or win hearts and minds, by leaving Vietnam and Cambodia prostrate it made sure the model was something no sane people would want to emulate. In this pragmatic sense, the U.S. won the war.

The real "loss" in the war was in home-front support. The enduring cynicism over American motives in overseas adventures -- "Vietnam syndrome" -- is, in the final analysis, the price U.S. policymakers paid to win in Vietnam.

-- David Sturm

If there is one mistake that should be pointed to, it seems to me that it occurred decades before the existence of North and South Vietnam themselves, when Ho Chi Minh was no more than a nascent revolutionary in search of a patron to assist against the French. What seems to have been forgotten is that Ho Chi Minh in fact appealed to the U.S. before turning to the Soviets.

A unified and independent Vietnamese nation with a government modeled on its American sponsor would not only have spared the Vietnamese people the atrocities that occurred under an oppressive communist regime, it would have stabilized the region against the "domino effect" far more effectively than direct military intervention.

The mistake, then, was interpreting what was to the Vietnamese an essentially nationalistic struggle as just another chapter in the Cold War. If anything, recent events in the Balkans and East Timor demonstrate that we continue to underestimate the forces of nationalism, to grievous cost.

-- Philip Kim

I served in Vietnam in the Air Force and though I was never directly involved in the hand-to-hand daily combat it was impossible not to feel it 24 hours a day. We unloaded plane load after plane load of wounded, dead and slaughtered civilians and soldiers. You learned to eat and sleep death and the possibility of dying. Every day we tried to believe that what we were sent there to do was justified. When we needed the support of our countrymen all we saw in the news and in the papers were riots and name-calling and degradation of us and our families.

After my tour of duty was up and I returned home, upon arrival at Chicago O'Hare Airport I was surrounded by a group of people that spit on me and called me every vile name they had in their vocabulary. Before I was able to escape their insults I was pelted with a cup of urine. The person throwing the liquid made the remark that it matched my uniform. That day made me realize that I would never again go to war for the United States people. I did remain in the service until retirement but never again was I proud to wear the uniform of my country out in public. I still feel the American people do not deserve the respect or dedication of their military citizens. I love my flag and my country but the people of the Vietnam era deserve nothing but hate from me.

-- Les Batson

Thank you for supporting combat zone veterans by getting behind this documentary, "Regret to Inform." I'm writing on behalf of The Bamboo Bridge. We are a nonprofit organization that is unfunded.

For seven years we've been healing wounds 25 to 45 years old. We now need your help to let more vets know this valuable resource program is available to them, at no cost. Donations are gladly accepted, and truly needed. To America's veterans we say: "WELCOME HOME."

-- Christan Kramer

The Vietnam debacle

Thank you so much for publishing Stanley Karnow's critique of the new Vietnam War revisionists. Rarely do we see or hear in the media these days the truth about those dark days. It was bloody hell; we shouldn't have been there in the first place and have no business asserting our bravado at this late date.

-- Donald Lewis

Stanley Karnow neglected to point out South Vietnam fell to the North in 1975 when it was invaded in violation of the 1973 treaty. At that time, a conventional invasion by the North Vietnamese Army (the one we knew was there all along) came out of hiding and headed south. Had the U.S. fulfilled its commitment under the 1973 peace treaty to support the South Vietnamese Army with ammunition, logistics and air cover, those North Vietnamese columns could have been destroyed. The legacy of that 1975 betrayal by the U.S., the killing fields of Cambodia, the "reeducation camps" and boat people of Vietnam, might have been averted. South Vietnam might today be a nation analogous to South Korea, and Ho Chi Minh's army might still be hiding in the mountains and jungles for 10, 50 or 100 years, waiting for its moment to attack.

As a former U.S. Army medical officer who was stationed in Vietnam in 1968-69, I agree with Karnow that the bloody quagmire should never have been engaged in the first place, and I certainly agree that our political leadership failed us in those years. But in 1975, after the sacrifice had already been made, defeat was not inevitable. The "revisionists" are right.

-- Harry I. Brown

Although it is a common enough mistake, the truth of the matter is that America's first lost war was the War of 1812. Only victory at the Battle of New Orleans, which took place after the peace treaty was signed due to slow communications, kept it from being seen as such. By any reasonable measure, we were whipped.

-- Jim Roberts-Miller

Returning to a place we've never seen

Frances FitzGerald remains sadly ignorant about the realities of Vietnamese life and history. As in her book, "Fire in the Lake," she is still trotting out the essentially American notion that landscape determines culture. The supposedly closed, tightly organized northern Vietnamese villages she mentions do not necessarily have a closed history or closed minds. Many of these villages have long histories of conquest, exploration and trade that she ignores in her reductive stereotypes.

She is also wrong to assume that the communist apparatus has died in Vietnamese villages. Ask the residents of Thai Binh province who rioted in 1997 to protest the predatory corruption and taxation by Communist Party officials in their villages. There are taxes on slaughtering animals, windows, salt and numerous other things all of which are an exploitative burden placed on the poorest people in Vietnam by communist cadres.

Far from dying, this apparatus remains fairly resilient and its power to limit freedoms of speech, religion and assembly are considerable. Indeed in recent years village officials have been granted additional powers to detain people without trial.

FitzGerald is correct in saying that Americans could understand more about the war if they understood more about Vietnam. Her orientalist reduction of the Vietnamese to a few narrow Confucian stereotypes will not help in this process.

-- Robert Templer

Author, "Shadows and Wind: A View of Modern Vietnam"

I'm saddened by the inability of many Americans, particularly fellow Vietnam vets, to objectively discuss the country, the Vietnamese people or the war. I knew nothing of the country when I went in 1965. The Vietnamese people I met were nice people who simply wanted to live their lives in peace and cared little for a particular ideology. Too bad our past political leaders, those as far back as the end of World War II, didn't take the time to learn more about the country or the people. We could have avoided the whole fiasco. Fiona Morgan's article is excellent.

-- Robert Tallarovic

Images of Columbine terror for sale

I don't see what right the parents have to be upset about these tapes being made public. Sure, the thought of reliving these very tragic moments can't be very pleasant, but is this any different from the footage of violence we've seen from all around the world over the past century since the motion picture was invented?

Imagine if footage from the Vietnam War or the Holocaust was banned from public consumption out of "sympathy" for the victims -- would we feel at all as we do about these events? The truth is too important to be kept hidden, for whatever reason. If the truth can be owned and controlled, then whatever the intentions of the owners may be, we are all subject to their will. Is that really what we want?

-- C.M. Sanyk

Dying on Ritalin

While Diller is typically a voice of reason on issues related to Ritalin and ADHD, I must respectfully disagree with him when he says that the medical examiner was able to find anything "strongly linking long-term use of Ritalin to the death of a 14-year-old boy," Matthew Smith.

Several studies, including research conducted by the American Heart Association, have concluded that such a consequence of Ritalin would be extremely unusual. Further, according to the boy's father, Matthew had complained of chest pain and a racing heart on previous occasions. If this is the case, then why was the medication continued?

The death of any child is a tragedy. The death of Matthew Smith will undoubtedly become even more tragic as it is exploited by those on both sides of the Ritalin debate to prove their point.

The excessive use of Ritalin and other medications needs to be stopped. However, it is not appropriate to vilify the medication and cause unwarranted concern for millions of parents and/or their children.

"First, do no harm" is the primary directive. Given the results of untreated ADHD (failure in school, substance abuse, and suicide, to name a few), one has to wonder how Hippocrates would feel about denying medication to those who need it.

-- Bob Seay

Conger line



I wish Darva Conger would not do the Playboy spread -- she seems like such a moral person. Please, Darva, don't do it! Just think: The old guy will see you naked after all!

-- Elaine Cole

I am so tired of hearing about poor Darva and wanting her dignity back. Is this the way to get it? Posing nude for Playboy?! Her best bet would be to crawl under a rock for a decade.

-- Linda Erdman

By Salon Staff

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