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My name is George Watson. I am 24 years old from Portland, Maine. It is late summer 1968 and although I have been accepted to a Ph.D. program at The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., I am about to be drafted. How did I get in this situation? And what do I do now? This book provides my personal account of the difficult choices that confronted the U.S. Vietnam War generation.
Faced with the dilemma of whether or not to serve in an unpopular, undeclared war, my generation was forced to make choices that were not in tune with those made by our parents generation. The so-called Greatest Generation of World War II veterans had returned to reap their deserved rewards from the GI Bill and the burgeoning post-war economy. They insisted that we follow in their footsteps and step up to the war demands of the nation. But the times and the issues and the stakes were different.
My memoir portrays the realities of those choices, depicting the time and values that caused the generations to clash head on. I track the evolution of my value system beginning in Catholic elementary and high school through college and graduate school, giving insight into the choices I faced and the decisions I made. My personal confrontation with choices during a turbulent era should resonate with members of the Vietnam War generation.
Much has been written about the generation that struggled during the Depression and fought in World War II, referred to by former NBC announcer Tom Brokaw and others as The Greatest Generation. I felt compelled to write about the generation it spawned. Ironically, it was the progeny of the World War II survivors who would be confronted with the choice of whether to fight in an ambiguous war that was really an unfinished product of the allied victory of World War II.
How did we get involved in Vietnam in the first place? Following the Greatest Generations war, independence movements confronted European colonialism all over the world. Vietnam was but one example of the wars unfinished business. After the Japanese defeat, the returning French made critical mistakes. They retained the former Japanese police infrastructure for a time and denied university-educated Vietnamese citizens proper opportunities in their own civil service, reserving the key positions for themselves. Because they were reluctant to give up control, the French were confronted with a Nationalist movement that happened to have Communist affiliations.
The French lost their war and Vietnam was split in two, between a Communist north under the inspirational leadership of Ho Chi Minh and a supposedly capitalist and Catholic south controlled by the Diem family. Political corruption and nepotism in the south did not inspire widespread allegiance to the Diem regime. With the French defeat at Diem Bien Phu in 1954 the United States, which had recently fought the North Koreans and Chinese to a draw, became more involved with the south at first diplomatically and then militarily. Simply stated, our initial advisory role of the late fifties and early sixties soon expanded. We gradually assumed control of the war and committed more and more troops; by 1968 the nation found itself in Vietnam with a force of 543,000 soldiers fighting a still undeclared war.
Who fought in the Vietnam War? What class of American society did they represent? Could I be categorized as the norm? The Vietnam generation born during the years 1940 to 1954 was brought up believing in the greatness of this country. Their fathers had sacrificed during World War II and with their allies had defeated two major powers in several theatres of war. Many of these same veterans were called again to fight during the Korean War, a bloody conflict fought to a draw after three years.
Ours was the generation that was raised to believe that the United States had a worldwide mission. We couldnt revert to isolationism, as our predecessors had done during the period between the two World Wars. Wh