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American Wars, American Peace

American Wars, American Peace: Notes from a Son of the Empire

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    American Wars, American Peace
    Book Description:

    As a writer, Philip D. Beidler has often drawn on his combat experience in Vietnam and his deep engagement with American popular culture. His essays tap these sources in powerful, truth-telling ways. In American Wars, American Peace, another voice emerges, distinct yet also tied to Beidler's wartime memories and his love of literature, film, and music. It is the voice of one of the "baby-boom progeny of the 'Greatest Generation' who at home and abroad became the foot soldiers" not just in Vietnam but in the Peace Corps, the civil rights movement, the women's movement, and beyond. Beidler has experienced enough of history to question "the kinds of peace that one empire after another has tried to impose on the world at whatever immense costs." As he reflects on terrorism, patriotism, geopolitics, sacrifice, propaganda, and more, Beidler revisits his generation's "inherited vision of national purpose"--and he asks what happened. These essays are a sobering wake-up call for even the most informed and conscientious citizen.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3649-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Pax Americana
    (pp. 1-9)

    As in my previous book, Late Thoughts on an Old War, American Wars, American Peace comprises a set of linked essays combining personal memory and cultural reflection. The starting point in the earlier collection was the memory of my experience as an armored cavalry platoon leader in the Vietnam War. At the time, hovering over the text was the premonition of the Iraq War. It was a prophecy, a prediction, a catastrophe getting ready to happen. The essays in American Wars, American Peace often speak to the ways in which that vision has been realized.

    Now, after nearly five years...

  5. Top Gun and the Tank Driver
    (pp. 10-22)

    Consider this essay a species of history. Actually, I insist—even as the dying from the catastrophic U.S. war in Iraq has gone on for so long that what I attempt to record here will never amount to anything more than a bizarre, reflexive anecdote.

    Still, I make my claim. I insist that we commit to national memory the fact that the following things happened, in a kind of dreadful synchronicity on 1 May 2003, the forty-third day of the second Iraq War: On one side of the globe, George W. Bush, the president of the United States, was engaging...

  6. Sons and Fathers, Bad Wars and Good Wars
    (pp. 23-32)

    My friend John, the wise and learned physician, never lived a day without knowing how completely he had been part of the generation of 1945. When asked throughout his life for a biographical sketch of some sort, he invariably began by describing himself as a career practitioner of internal medicine and a survivor of the Battle of the Bulge. That was the way he phrased it: a doctor of medicine and a survivor of the Battle the Bulge. At the same time, he made light of his military credentials to the degree that the only decoration posted on his office...

  7. An Old GI Looks at Generation Kill
    (pp. 33-55)

    “No lie, GI,” as we used to say in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade near Xuan Loc back in the late 1960s. “There it is.” If those sentences do not seem to say much now, neither did they speak to anyone outside the world of combat back then. Then or now, the only people we ever thought worth saying them to were ourselves and one another.

    I wonder whom the current generation of American combat soldiers will find to talk to besides one another when they come home, not to mention decades hence. Given the way our government currently recruits...

  8. Squad Leaders in the Sky
    (pp. 56-77)

    This imaginary exchange will surely bring back memories for veterans of the Vietnam War who tried to function as small-unit commanders on the ground. Amid the daily work of war–in any situation from a difficult point-to-point movement to a serious engagement with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade rounds going off all over the place—there would come that call on your command radio net. The questions are the ones you heard every time. The responses probably never happened, or at least not in the form stated. They were the things you wish you’d said but didn’t.

    That voice in...

  9. Home of the Infantry
    (pp. 78-96)

    If an election were held to choose the Holy City of the United States Army, my guess is that Columbus, Georgia, would be the top vote-getter. Columbus is the home of Fort Benning. Fort Benning is the home of the infantry. For anyone who knows something about American military history, the Infantry School at Fort Benning is the home of the modern U.S. Army. It is the place where, in the years after World War I, a forward-looking commandant named George Marshall, having served as the chief operations and plans officer of the American Expeditionary Force under General John J....

  10. Hajis
    (pp. 97-119)

    Hajis. This is the name our young military people use for the current enemy. Technically, a Haji is one who makes the Hajj: the pilgrimage, the journey to Mecca that Islam says every Muslim should make at least once in the course of a life. Before Haji, the slang military term of choice seems to have been Raghead. Before that, it was Camel Jockey or Sand Nigger. Whatever bad-guy word our newest generation of warriors uses, for someone of my generation who grew up on Krauts and Japs and honed his own military skills on Dinks, Gooks, Slants, Slopes, and...

  11. What I Learned in the Green Machine
    (pp. 120-127)

    Some months back, as an English faculty member at my university for three decades and an armored cavalry platoon leader thirty-five years ago in Vietnam, I accepted an invitation from the army ROTC unit on campus to speak at an annual social event called the military ball. To anyone who has served in uniform in one of the armed forces, such festivities—formal receptions, dining-ins, unit anniversaries, and the like—are always great, high-spirited, celebratory occasions, with a long history in the military services. “Dress blues, tennis shoes, and a light coat of oil,” as we used to say in...

  12. Swindled by Saint Jack
    (pp. 128-144)

    “The country made a terrible mistake last night.” Thus I recall myself intoning, in some callow attempt at portentousness, to a jubilant high school classmate I still remember as the only person of my acquaintance in Adams County, Pennsylvania, to have identified himself as a supporter of John Kennedy in his 1960 presidential race against Richard Nixon. Even though we were all several years shy of the pre-Vietnam voting age—twenty-one—throughout the campaign we treated the guy as something between a weirdo and a pariah. On Election Day the rest of us were utterly shocked and astonished. Of course...

  13. The Best and the Brightest, Only Dumber
    (pp. 145-156)

    When the time comes to write some large, historically contextualized study of the people in positions of authority in America who gave us the Iraq War, I nominate my present title, imaging David Halberstam’s magisterial text on the making of the Vietnam debacle (The Best and the Brightest), as at least a frame of thematic suggestion—although in the short run Thomas E. Ricks’s Fiasco is definitely looking like a contender. Failing the book-weight expertise of the professional historian or international affairs specialist, I have decided to go ahead and at least essay the task.

    From the beginning of the...

  14. Hopeless in Honolulu
    (pp. 157-166)

    Honolulu, late November 2005: keeping a steady but comfortable pace—that of an average, reasonably healthy, late-middle-aged person—I find I can walk from Waikiki Beach to the top of Diamond Head in about an hour. For someone like me in my sixties, born during the Battle of the Philippines in 1944, who grew up on books about the great Pacific War such as Guadalcanal Diary, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, or, most germane to the view at hand, Day of Infamy, it seems as if you can see history itself from up there. Just to the west of downtown is...

  15. A Note on Sources
    (pp. 167-170)