Friday, September 16, 2005

Re: Vietnam War

----- Original Message -----

From: "Dean Lawrence R. Velvel"
Sent: Friday, September 16, 2005 10:07 AM
Subject: Re: Vietnam War

September 16, 2005

Via Email

Professor Anthony D'Amato

Dear Tony:

It is, as I've said, my best recollection that I began turning against the Viet Nam War in a major way because, for various reasons, especially including the ineffectiveness of our bombing, one could see, if one looked, that the U.S. would never succeed. This meant that lots of people on both sides were being killed for no reason at all, and a desire to see useless killing end is, it seems to me, a moral position. It is, I think, quite different to justify the killing of soldiers and civilians in a moral, necessary and potentially (and then ultimately) successful cause like WWII,
where we were fighting a horrible tyranny, than to try to justify extensive
killing in a cause that cannot succeed.

Realization of impracticality can and often does lead one to examine associated questions, such as the morality and the political rights and wrongs of a situation. So I think it was to a major extent with regard to Nam. My best recollection is that, while such matters were a subject of some personal consciousness before it became clear that America had entered a horrible cul de sac in which it could not succeed, personal focus on such matters increased considerably once I realized -- before most people I would immodestly say -- that we were in an unwinnable war that could take tens of thousands of lives for no achievable purpose. (Millions of lives on both
sides was not yet even on the general American radar screen in, say, late 1965 and early 1966.)

It seems to me that consciousness of practical results, or likely practical results, is not inconsistent with morality. Rather, it is often the first step towards morality. Viz., Chamberlain's horribly wrong view of consequent practical results at Munich, which led to an appeasement that could be considered immoral in light of subsequent events, or, and for the same reasons, the earlier French failure to respond when Hitler marched into the Rhineland, or the current administration's total misjudgments leading to the present Gulf War. You know, if the practical results of the current war had been destruction of atomic weapons of mass destruction, or creation of democracy and an associated end to wars throughout the Middle East (including solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict), and/or the associated creation of a thoroughgoing, stable, western style democracy in Iraq itself, rather than the massive useless killing we have seen and continue to see, then it might well be argued that the current war is moral.

It might, indeed, be hard in such circumstances to argue the opposite. Practical facts can and often do bear on and even control questions of morality, and also, of course, can and do lead to the initial questioning of the morality of a situation.

Do you disagree with any of this?

I will make one other point in this connection. Observation of numerous actual events of the last 45 years has led me to the belief that this nation has in all-too-many respects become immoral. This is, as indicated, a judgment founded on facts of the world (and if the judgment is partly or
wholly wrong, it is wrong either because the claimed facts are not true or because they are sufficiently offset by counter facts). One of the ways in which I think we have lost our morality is that we are now a highly militaristic nation -- a condition which is immoral because history shows it to be a condition from which nothing good can occur in the long run, but which instead always results, ultimately, in some major disaster or other, or even in many major disasters.

Because the view that we are now a militaristic country is so contrary to the conventional wisdom and prevailing discourse, I am closely reading with great delight a new book which fleshes out this position, often brilliantly. It is called The New American Militarism and is written by Andrew Bacevich, a professor of varied and unusual background. (Among other things, he was a career officer before obtaining a doctorate at Princeton.) Bacevich is going to be on my book show to discuss his book for an hour -- which is why I am reading his
work particularly closely -- with the taping scheduled for October 14th. (I do not yet know exactly when the show will be broadcast.) Especially because of your own views, I would warmly recommend his book to you as one that you will like and will send you a copy of the videotape after the taping session.

All the best to you.



----- Original Message -----

Sent: Saturday, September 10, 2005 3:45 PM
Subject: Vietnam War

Dear Larry,

I'm shocked by your statement that you opposed the war in Vietnam because you were sure
it was unwinnable. What happened to the idealistic L. Velvel I knew at the time? Should I now
revise my beliefs about that young man because he would then have argued in favor of the
constitutionality of the war if he had reached the conclusion that the war was winnable?


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