My step dad, one of the few graduates of Harvard who also happens to be a Viet Nam vet, submitted this letter to the editor of the Harvard Alumni magazine. He makes a very interesting point about the real effects of the disproportionate burden the poor shoulder when it comes to military service.
Published on Monday, May 24, 2004
Privileged Should Heed Kosman’s Message
Letters to the Editors
To the editors:
Thirty-six years ago this fall I became the first Vietnam veteran to register as a freshman at Harvard. My new classmates had little, if any, understanding or appreciation for my experience. The University, unlike a generation before us, was not a veteran friendly place. Little has changed since (Column, “Poor Man’s Fight,” May 17).
One reality upon which my classmates and I did agree was that the war in Vietnam was an awful mistake. We would, thereby, dedicate ourselves to both stopping it and making certain that America did not send her grand young sons off in harm’s way again without a worthy cause and an executable plan.
What happened? As Phoebe Kosman ’05 notes in her excellent column, nothing.
There are precious few Vietnam veterans in the three branches of the federal government. That absence permeates through all elements of our society from the faculty in Harvard University (student deferments personified thirty-five years after) to business, non profits, foundations, the legal profession, physicians, etc.
Now, as with Vietnam, rich men wage the war and poor boys fight it.
Kosman concludes with her prophetic, “We must remember what it’s like to be 20. And in 30 years, we must not allow another generation of twenty-year-olds to be shipped overseas on the flimsiest of pretenses.”
History tells us that we will not remember. The country is currently run by a generation of men who avoided the draft, the same men who, like my classmates, once dedicated themselves to never allowing another Vietnam. Perhaps if they had actually served when their country called, had been shot at with live ammo, had been forced into the full horror of a front row seat in a theater of combat, perhaps then they might have thought twice before marching our children into perdition again.
Another generation like the last is currently being bred at Harvard and America’s other elite institutions. Despite Kosman’s wistful warning, perhaps it would be more fitting to cite George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
JACK MCLEAN ’72
May 18, 2004