January 4, 2017

1968. America's Guilt Complex About Vietnam

The Vietnam War at Its Peak
US Marines during the Battle of Khe Sanh in 1968 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

April 4, 1968

This Thursday—and perhaps many Thursdays to come—are the days on which the Defense Department releases the number of casualties the nation has suffered in the previous week's fighting in Vietnam.

The lists of killed, wounded, captured, and missing four years ago could be printed on one or two typing-sized sheets of paper. But for the last year or so, the lists are growing longer and the packages of paper thicker—reaching the peak during the Communist offensive that started on the Buddhist New Year.

Today the Pentagon lists 330 Americans killed in action—nineteen fewer than died the previous week. But 3,886 men were wounded, almost twice as many as the week before. The unusually high number of wounded is bloody testimony that General Westmoreland's troops finally have gone on the offensive in a number of fronts up and down Vietnam.

More than 20,000 Americans now have been killed in the four-year-old vest-pocket war in Southeast Asia, and still the general public seems to take it in stride. After all, highway and traffic accidents across the country kill that many people every six months.

And everyone seems accustomed to the one-column pictures on the obituary pages of the newspapers—the eager young faces looking out from under the military caps worn so proudly before the cameras. Now killed in action.

But for most of us, Vietnam is still thousands of miles away, and the names in the casualty lists are strangers. Most Americans seem to feel that they are doing their duty when they pay their taxes which buy the guns and ammunition for someone else to fight their war.

Some Washington observers say the whole darned country has a guilt complex about Vietnam, and they point to the fact that Congress probably will pass an overall tax increase soon.

If it isn't a guilt complex, it's something else—because no senator or representative in his right mind would otherwise take such action in an election year.

This is Bill Downs in Washington.