During Sara’s recovery, which is going fantastically by the way, we found ourselves watching two different TV series. The first was Turn, the true story of spies for General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. I’ll warn you it is a bit risqué in places, but we loved this series with an engaging story based in actual events, beautiful cinematography and wonderful actors. We were drawn into the story and marveled at the risk people had to take if this country was going to find it’s way to freedom from the Crown in England and have a chance to be it’s own country. And the conflict those suffered who were in America but didn’t want to forsake England. Who then is really the patriot, and who is committing treason? When you see the mistakes that were made on both sides, you realize wars like this often turn on seemingly very small events.
Then we got hooked on The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. This is our war. Sara and I were in high school and college during these times and it was our classmates that fought and died in Vietnam. The soundtrack contains the songs we grew up on. Forty-five years later looking back at this powerful documentary we are having a very different perspective and set of emotions than we had living through them. Of course this documentary has its own bias that some will disagree with, but it does bring out facts that are unmistakable. It caused me look back at events I lived through with a very different perspective and a unfamiliar set of emotions.
Being children of the World War II generation my family was full on for God and country. The U.S. could do no wrong and of course the President of the United States would not go on TV and tell baldfaced lies to the American people. The kids in Vietnam were standing against the rising tide of communism in Southeast Asia, and the protestors were cowards who wouldn’t go to war. All that gets blown up in this ten-part series. I’ll warn you this one is hard to watch. Sara and I watch it in small bits until we get overwhelmed with the lies and the bloodshed. But in watching it we found out how John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon lied repeatedly to the American public about the war. Knowing it was unwinable they continued to trade our blood and treasure simply to keep their political aspirations on track. Can you imagine how bankrupt you have to be to send eighteen year-olds to their death and dismemberment just so you have a chance for re-election? And you hear this stuff in their own words on recordings they made in the White House. I’ll never look at these presidents the same way again. They betrayed the people of my generation.
And nothing about this diminishes my respect for those young men and women who were in the service at that time. As one officer said in the documentary, these young men and women were doing the same thing on behalf of their country that what has been called the Greatest Generation did for theirs. Only World War II was a more just cause and they came back heroes, whereas many Vietnam vets came back conflicted about their involvement and then despised by their country. I still stand with all Vietnam Vets who were extraordinarily courageous in the face of a political-military establishment that used them in the wrong war for the wrong reasons to support increasingly corrupt regimes in South Vietnam. But that does not take away from their bravery and service to go when called upon and risk themselves for the good of others.
As sad as this series made me, I’m grateful to look back at it all very differently, even to see the protestors and those who leaked top secret documents to show the deceit of the U.S. Government on its citizenry. They, too, risked so much to expose the lies and end the war. And I’m just shocked that I could live through such a time as a young man and been so completely blind to what was really going on. I would have shouted, “America, love it or leave it,” to the anti-war demonstrators. I would have blindly backed the President, confident none would stay in this war only for their own political gain.
Arrogance blinds us, and the problem with arrogance no one actually knows they are afflicted with it. At the time, being arrogant feels like being right. One of the quote from this documentary that really stood out to me was this:
“We are prisoners of our own experience. Many of the things we learned that worked in WWIII were not applicable in Vietnam. Combined with our over-confidence that caused us to be arrogant. It is very difficult to dispel ignorance if you retain arrogance.” –Sam Wilson, Army officer
That last sentence can apply to almost every arena of your life. There’s an ungodly symbiosis between ignorance and arrogance, each feeding the other. Few of us would claim to know everything, but when we’re blindly confident that our own experience has given us all the information we need to determine what’s true around us, we have fallen into the trap. That’s applicable not just to this war, but almost anything else in our life—our thoughts about church, politics, morality, We are all ignorant of so much. I guess the best we can do is try not to mix it with arrogance, stay open to the fact that I may be wrong even about things in which I’m extremely confident, and keep looking for information that’s true, not just that which supports my preconceptions.
As Jesus said, to the Pharisees, “If the light that is in you (is really) darkness, how great is that darkness?”
How great indeed! When we call what’s dark, light we are truly lost. Humility and truth-hunting go hand-in-hand, and it would lead to better conversations with each other if we didn’t act like we already have the only facts that matter.