Experiments with Truth: Analysis

3 critical new books on war

In the eye of a country that continues — 46 years after King announced it at Riverside Church — to be the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, three books have arrived. They grapple with what our nation’s war apparatus has wrought in our names. They attempt to figure how such acts have, with an air of permanence, seized our national imagination.

The first two, Kill Everything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam by Nick Turse, and Hardhats, Hippies and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement in Myth and Memory, by Penny Lewis, are revisionary, attempting (and largely succeeding) to rub saltwater into an infected wound. And it is infected. The capitalist class in the United States has been successful at creating the narrative that 1) the Vietnam War was about “democracy” and that the main victims were military in nature, and 2) that the movement against it was entirely composed of the petit bourgeoisie.

Both of these narratives are crushingly dangerous. The first purposely elides the fact that what the United States military actually did in Vietnam was nothing short of some of the greatest crimes of the 20th century, easily deserving to be placed among Leopold’s colonial massacres in the Congo or Hitler’s insane Aryan crusade. The second narrative deliberately attempts to mark a breaking point in the Vietnam War movement by citing opponents of the war as economically privileged, conveniently erasing the vibrant history of antiwar activism among Black, Latin@, and American Indian sections of the working class, as well as the general antiwar sentiment of the white poor.

Both of these narratives, then, are false. But their falsity is not widely known: in fact, it is censored. This is why Lewis’ and Turse’s interventions are so vital — and why a sustained discussion of such interventions is needed.

The third book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill, is cosmopolitan. It has elicited significant coverage, deservedly, and is companioned with a widely praised documentary, which this critic has not seen. It does not attempt to revise a cragged, child-consuming history, rather, it reports on issues of definitive national importance that have heretofore been hidden from view by a powerful network of state and corporate power. His, like Turse’s, is a book thus far unreported, its facts shrouded in bureaucratic desk drawers and in the eyes of subalternity, subject only to the wiles of investigative journalists and associated Antigones.

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