Vietnam Syndrome lingers in US

Vietnam Syndrome lingers in US
Vietnamese military soldiers carry flags with medals while marching during a rehearsal for a military parade as part of the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon in southern Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon City), Vietnam.

WASHINGTON - At A time when many of his peers were going out of their way to wriggle out of the Vietnam War draft, Mr Robert Weidman did something unusual: He volunteered for the military.

As a student in the 1960s, he had a college deferment from the military draft, but he decided to sign up anyway.

"I felt like the country had given me choices and I felt that if I was going to reap the fruit of those choices, I should give something back," said Mr Weidman, now 68, who left university in 1969 to serve one tour in Vietnam as a medical officer.

Despite his apparent patriotism and willingness to be sent to the front line, Mr Weidman stressed that he never supported the war.

The two, he said, should not be conflated. In fact, he told The Straits Times he was against it by the time he was called up to go overseas.

"It became clear to me even before I ever went over there that it was a strategic mistake. But it is what it is. You do what your country asks of you."

This clash - between disdain for the war they were sent to fight and love of country - is a reflection of the often-conflicted legacy the war has left in the US.

When Americans talk about the Vietnam War today - 40 years after its end - inevitably they display a mixture of shame and pride, a call for a return to US supremacy tied to a reluctance to use military force, a desire to let go but also to never forget.

"I really have mixed feelings about it," said Mr Sherman Eisner, 70, a former army platoon leader in Vietnam. "I did feel like it was an utter waste of time; there was a lot of death and destruction. But I also did think that we had to do this. Communism was encroaching in the region and if the government needed me to serve, I was going to do it."

No international conflict in US history has demanded more soul-searching in the country, nor has any so fundamentally altered the relationship between the government and its people.

And though the Vietnam War is hardly ever mentioned by name in Washington, it is clear its DNA remains in much of what the government does.

Yet, it also remains unclear if the US learnt the right lessons from the engagement.

Some of the most difficult questions about the war are still unanswered: Should the US continue to strive to be the pre-eminent military superpower? And can the world's problems be solved by exporting the American model?

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