A Vacuum Cleaner & Vietnam

September 20th, 2017  |   

I was awake earlier than usual. An Electrolux vacuum cleaner came to mind. With hurricanes pounded people’s lives to smithereens, talk of a nuclear war, and opioid addiction plaguing people, I’m thinking about a vacuum cleaner? What’s that all about?

I think it is directly related to the PBS Ken Burns Vietnam War episode I had watched before going to bed. It catapulted me back to the 1950s, June 1958, to be exact.

In just three weeks, Judy and I had graduated from college, were married, and moved into a tiny house located just off the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia. Our first purchase, on credit, was an Electrolux vacuum cleaner. Each month, we clipped a coupon from a payment book, and mailed it with a $10 check, until it became our property.

I was sworn into the Marine Corps right after graduation, on the Washington & Lee campus, in Lee Chapel. A Marine officer, in his Dress Blue uniform, stood in front of me and administered the oath. Just behind him was the marble “Recumbent Statue” of General Lee asleep on the battlefield. Often seen as his grave, he is actually buried directly beneath it, in the crypt.  

Fifty-nine years later, our nation is struggling with the statues and memorials that honor Robert E. Lee. The recent violence that erupted in Charlottesville, over the decision to remove a Lee statue from a park, has become one of many focal points for intense reflection about America’s original sin, racism. Washington & Lee has created a commission to address the issues surrounding its very name and time-honored, dated historical traditions. Just off campus, Robert E. Lee Episcopal Church has just changed its name to Grace Church. Washington Cathedral has removed a window honoring Lee.

I live on Lee Street. Perhaps the city council should change the name. Frankly, it’s not my fight right now. I am focused on the attempts in Congress to obliterate health care for so many people. Of equal concern to me is the announcement by President Trump at the UN that Congress is well on the way to appropriating 700 billion dollars for our military budget. Those dollars smell like more unending war.

All commitments, all vows taken, discover their validity, their authenticity, as we live into them. I found that to be true for my marriage, as well as the oath to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.”

Long before the Ken Burns Vietnam War documentary, and now reinforced again by it, I am compelled to say that I was sold a bad bill of goods about the war in Southeast Asia, where I served as a platoon commander in a reinforced infantry battalion, in the first phase of what we now call the Vietnam War. You want “fake news,” it existed in the lies we were told about Vietnam and the war, as it progressed.

As for the subject of racism, our war against the people of Southeast Asia was clearly a racist war, perpetrated out of a long history of racist wars our country has waged, all the way back to dozens of Native American wars. Korea can be added to that list, as well as numerous wars fought in Central America.

In a West Virginia Public Broadcasting edition of the Vietnam War, five native participants give testimony. A friend, and comrade in peace, who lost both legs in Vietnam, and who has assisted people with their prosthetic devices, in war-torn nations, speaks truth about Vietnam when he says, “Should we have been there in the first place? Hell no.” Dave has held a similar view about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I suspect he would warn all of us, right now, about the craziness of going to war in North Korea. Take a couple of minutes to listen to Dave Evans, and prepare to resist more war.



Entry Filed under: Fig Tree Notes Archives

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Nations will hammer swords into plows, their spears into sickles, there shall be no more training for war. Each person will sit under his or her fig tree in peace.
Micah 4:3 - 4