Sunday, November 30, 2008

In Response to a Rejection Letter about My Vietnam "War" Poetry

A Letter—Never Answered—to
Mr. Owen A. Lock of
Random House

1 July 1999

Mr. Owen A. Lock
The Ballantine Publishing Group
A Division of Random House, Inc.
201 East 50th Street
United States

I hope you are well, Owen? Are you?

I got your 4 May 1999 jotting down—and the book that went along with it—on 15 May 1999.

I wish to repeat that little flash for the benefit of those who will read this my snappy comeback to you: “As I do not see any market for poetry about the Vietnam War, I do not see how I could publish such a book. Thank you for thinking of me. Good luck elsewhere.”

I was not thinking of you, Owen! I was thinking of my book!

Be that as it may, I find it irksome to believe that there is no appeal (for the Truth?) for a poetry book (see my A Book of Vietnam “War” Poetry manuscript) about the Vietnam “War” when, in fact, a total of 8,744,000 individuals did duty in Vietnam from 4 August 1964 to 27 January 1973! I suppose not all of them are constantly glued to their TV screens, are time and time again bug-eyed before their computer videos, or are always oiling their pistols, shotguns, automatic weapons, rifles, machine guns, bayonets, hunting knives, stilettos, brass knuckles…. Have I forgot anything that can kill?

What I am convinced about is this: My poetry does not copycat the official, evangelistic bent of Six Silent Men which you passed my way with your rejection slip, presumably to put across that “underlying meaning” you did not have the pluck or warm-heartedness to elucidate upon in your fleeting billet-doux. That really is a shame, Owen. But is it not “shame” the best word to describe all that has come to be thought of together with the Vietnam “War?” I think so.

I did not read all of Six Silent Men because what little I did was so disgustingly pompous and doctrinaire, I knew at once there was no sense losing more time reading it. Let me quote from the back cover for my many devotees: “Author Reynel Martinez, himself a 101st (Airborne Division) LRRP Detachment veteran, takes us into the lives and battles of the extraordinary men for whom the brotherhood of war was and is an ever-present reality: the courage, the sacrifice, the sense of loss when one of your own dies. In the hills, valleys, and triple-canopy jungles, the ambushes, firefights, and copter crashes, LRRPs were among the best and bravest to fight in Vietnam.”

Then: “’Lurps’ served God and country in Vietnam.” Very touching. And what would The Supreme Being have to say about the millions of Vietnamese civilians carpet-bombed to death Henry Kissingerly by high-flying B-52s?

You do not have to be a psychoanalyst or even a clinical psychologist to opine that many of these “brave warriors” were drunken psychopaths, seriously disturbed individuals, and that some of them had suicidal tendencies. (Lucky us?) There was even a sprinkling of the criminal element there. (“Private, how did you find your way to Vietnam? Well, lieutenant, the judge asked me: ‘Do you want to go to jail or to Vietnam?’”)

I did read one entire part from the book: “Sgt. Victor Cisneros Asskicks in a Kontum Bar,” pps. 91-97. (From whom did you get that title? John Wayne? Please change “Asskicks” to “Murders,” Owen. In that way we will be—at least—verbally principled.) I waded through that portion because I also had been in Kontum in the autumn of 1967, and I had a yen for what author Martinez had to say about it. Sergeant Cisneros’s butchery of three Army of the Republic of Southvietnam soldiers and one Vietnamese “prostitute” (woman?) in a bar, epitomizes that which was, often, Standard Operating Procedure in Vietnam. No unit was without its fiendishness. The time and time again arrogant and violent gait of the United States’ military “occupational forces” in Vietnam, frequently dealt with Vietnamese nationals wielding a high-handed, barbarous methodology. The spirit of these olive-drabs-with-a-license-to-kill was not one that distinguished them in any salubrious fashion. Rather, their animating principle was dangerous, mettlesome, intimidating. They recurrently abused and cross-questioned that unprecedented mandate which had plopped them into a foreign land to defend innocent souls against the all-intrusive threat of the “evil,” unknown-to-them Marxism. They disgraced themselves and their nation.

Owen, I am certain you would not want your daughter to marry a “Lurp”. You would be as crazy as they—if you did. “Lurps” spewed from the “lower classes.” Uneducated. Gruff. Filled with hate for authority. They were not the sons of CEOs, CFOs, politicians, editors of National Review, munitions manufacturers, State Department simpletons, Hollywood producers, book publishing magnates, et cetera. Not corporate mettle—such as yourself. (Sometimes, Afroamericans constituted 50% of the units I served with on the “battlefield.” A The New York Times statistic: 14.5% of Vietnam veterans did duty on the “battlefield;” 85.5% of them were useful in base camps—where most of them did not even carry a weapon—thank goodness!)

Six Silent Men glorifies rare birds who, having been brainwashed into believing they could cross, at will, that fine line dividing sane actions and mindless bloodlust, went about their way promiscuously. The book’s bent is outrageously misleading, and it does no justice to those of us who, with heads bent down, came back from Vietnam with clear consciences and the knack to sleep soundly at night in peace and quiet. The tome distorts both reality and yesteryear, and it kowtows to a larger duping of the United States’ citizenry which, sanctioned by the United States’ Department of State, used pretentiously selected or falsified information—both at home and abroad—to lie its way through to its truth. (See Diplomatic History, Vol. 21, No. 4 [Fall, 1997], “Clearer than Truth: Public Affairs Television and the State Department’s Domestic Information Campaigns, 1947-1952,” pps. 545-567. Blackwell Publishers, Boston, Massachusetts & Oxford, United Kingdom.) How could you have been so obtuse, Owen?

I prefer, now, to help you instead of letting you pickle in the juices of your doltishness. How? Sit back and listen to me, please. I want to give you three random inklings which I doubt not will help you to loosen up on your hard line hug around the Vietnam “War,” thus enabling you to think free-wheelingly and, maybe, come to a better understanding of what went on there while we were there. These are not often-heard-of tidbits, but I am sure they will lend a hand in melting you down—so energizing you to be high-minded about Vietnam:
1. In the Fourth Division, Pleiku, all of us were obliged to read—and sign that we did—the Geneva Convention. Further, we all were made to pore over—and sign again—mimeographed sheets expounding extensively on the frame of mind we, occupational forces, were to assume when confronting indigenous personnel (sic) and, in particular, Montagnard villagers who were, more frequently than not, referred to disparagingly as “Yards” for all the time I served in Vietnam. (Not “Nam,” Owen!) The explicitness of these directions was so intense, I remain impressed with them even to this day. Let me give you one, as an example: On the paths leading into a Montagnard village one might chance upon different systems of rock formations or pilings of them. These denoted a death in the family, or a sickness in it, or a marriage, et alia. We were uncannily ordained to respect and abide by the wishes of these humble natives. (Cover Your Ass?) “Asskicking,” Owen, was stringently precluded!
2. Both Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre expended countless hours protesting against the Vietnam “War.” In fact, they listed, documented war crimes committed by United States’ forces in Vietnam, and their records are substantiating factualities that negate the rose-colored interpretations regurgitated by your “Lurps”. Remember that Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre have earned such a lofty philosophic reputation, they belong to that sphere of thinkers which is distinguished in the annals of worldly, philosophical history. And, it is not once that I have heard that they are probably the two greatest thinkers of this century which now, disgracefully, comes to its close, Owen. Read what they have written about Vietnam. Wind and weather permitting, you will find your “Lurps” in their indictments.
3. I want to tell you why Vietnam veterans are so pissed off. As reported on CNN (check it out!), two-thirds of United States’ casualties in Vietnam received their wounds or deaths in mine-related accidents. Well, 90% of the ordnances—goes the report—were captured United States’ rounds! As a “redleg” in the Fourth Division and the Americal Division, I remember when coming to a new unit always asking: “What’s the dud rate here?” That is, what percentage of our own shells—produced in the United States by flag-waving American “patriots”—would not blow. Often, the disgruntled rejoinder was a as-high-as 40%. Of course, defective artillery high explosives were not the only things wanting in Vietnam. Red, white and bluish in the face United States’ businessmen, opting to overturn the nineteen-sixty-twoish world recession, sent us other military junk that did not function. Now can you understand, Owen, why you did not see the sons of the editors of National Review in Vietnam?

* * *

I have my own LRRP (Long Range Reconaissance Patrol) story for you. But before I narrate it for you, you must promise me you will read it in the presence of a psychiatrist and two psychiatric orderlies holding ready a straitjacket for you in case you come upon the idea to jump out of your corner office on East 50th Street. I do not want your heirs blaming me for your Final Action. (Americans are always suing the shit out of themselves!) This story—sad as it is—will be very rough-going for you, Owen, if you believe all that bullshit shoveled in Six Silent Men. FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELT: When I was studying (1973-1975) at the University of Florida in Gainesville, the only job I could find—at that time and place—was selling whisky and wine (FULTON DISTRIBUTING COMPANY, Jacksonville) in the northcentral confines of Florida—one of the most beautiful places on Earth but very hot and muggy in summer. (No wonder GATORADE was thought up there!) On my “runs” through my territory, I came upon in the pines a small, run-down bar with a drive-in window not very far from the city limits of the horse-breeding Ocala. In it, I found my friend John who—you guessed it, Owen!—served as a L.R.R.P. in Vietnam. I was a bit older than he was, he having served later on in the “war” when I had been already home shaking off the vigors of that experience. There is a certain “shining” when you meet someone who has shared a poignant ordeal resembling yours, and when we both slipped into the jargon we two together knew from use in the fields and rice paddies of Vietnam, there gushed out stories and memories that were, in a sense, uplifting and therapeutic for both of us. Whatever we had gone through in Southeast Asia, John and I were still alive, and the two of us did not possess any physical damage that many of our confreres were wont to have. On this, we had reason to celebrate. John was very much “screwed up” mentally, however. Towards the Afroamerican people who stopped by to buy half-pints of SMIRNOFF VODKA and little cans of BLUEBIRD grapefruit juice, he held a great resentment and—like many others in the northcentral part of Florida—he was hostilely prejudiced and his rancor against Afroamerican people often went back to Vietnam where, John said, they there were often cowards and not valiant soldiers. One day, he turned his back to me and showed me the .45 pistol tucked into his belt. Then he pulled out, from under the counter, a sawed-off shotgun. He swore he would use these articles if any of those “nigger bastards” tried to rob him. As many paranoid personalities are expected to act, John divined that the Afroamerican people were out to get him for one reason or another. I sold John cases of liebfraumilch which he told me he was drinking at the rate of three bottles a day. Slowly but surely, John’s ugly story was onion-peeling bit by bit in front of me. Weeks passed by. John, as it turned out, was a mental out-patient. He let it be known to me that he had “to go in”—every once in a while. His urge to kill was so compelling, he went out of state and sat up high on the pylons supporting high intensity wires looking for animals to shoot with his rifle collection. John lived in a house trailer, and his neighbors were always calling the sheriff to complain of his raucous, drunken binges during which he would “shoot it up” in the trailers’ park. He had a problem with authority. When he was a LRRP, he was sent on long recon missions deep into enemy territory, and it was his habit—refusing to do what he had been ordered by upper division brass—to bring back a newspaper or a highway distance indicator to show that he had gone on and beyond where he had been directed to go. As many of his fellow LRRPs were quick to tell you, John, too, was invested with an excessively high opinion of himself, and he thought he was better than the ordinary troops, including Marines. In many ways he was. John liked to rebel. Once, after a general had chewed him out, he went back to the recreational room of his unit, and when he saw a high-ranking officer on the Armed Forces Television station, he took out his pistol and shot the television to death. John’s friends would take him to other rec rooms and bars throughout the division base camp to see him “replay” his “slayings of colonels and generals.” John had become famous standing up to those who had rank on him. (I saw many other violent individuals like John in base camp when I served in the Central Highlands. So many so, the commanding general of the Fourth Division in Pleiku had to order all arms locked up to stem the many shooting incidents among all the drunken defenders of democracy. Imagine, Owen, if the Mayor of Littleton, Colorado had ordered the lock-up of the entire city’s weapons’ collection!) In his rantings and ravings one late afternoon, John confessed to me that he hated all officers. He knew I had been a first lieutenant. After a great deal of mind-wrangling, I concluded that seeing the off-again, on-again charming, romantic John—who had the most affable of smiles—was not the best of ideas. I felt he might become violent with me in one of his drunken stupors. I had put Vietnam behind me and, sadly, I had now to put John, too, behind. I remember feeling very downcast then. And from that time on, whenever I saw on a television news program a violent massacre perpetrated by a Vietnam veteran gone beserk, I wondered immediately if that was John gone—finally—over his limits. John, Owen, was full of rage and hate but—most of all—GUILT.

* * *

I wish to wind down this my little White Paper on Vietnam written by me and for me at the end of this century with the hope that the next ten decades will bring more that creates and, at least, much less than that that was destroyed during the last one hundred years.

Vietnam has bequeathed something very important and that which is now frequently taken for granted. For some twenty-odd years after the end of World War II, the United States of America had been often referred to as “the liberator of Europe,” or “the leader of the world,” or “the leader of the free world.” Today it “enjoys” more dubious epithets at best among them these: “The Policeman of the World; The Greatest Economic Power on Earth; The Best of the Worst.” (We all know what everyone thinks about policemen!) Someone may not like Northamericans; nonetheless, everyone likes dollars! What is clear these days is that the United States is tough with its virtual sort of military supremacy, and it is in possession of the wealth needed to sustain its point of view. (For how long?) But, there is also something lacking in this identikit of United States powerfulness. Respect is what is missing. That void dilutes Northamerica’s potency rather drastically.

Living in Europe for more than sixteen years, I have been singularly bedazzled by this want of admiration. The United States is not looked up to anymore, and it has not been so for a very long time. This coupled to the fact that the United States’ post-World War II military presence has exaggerated its stay (and still does), one begins to wonder whether or not Northamericans are, in fact, welcomed in Europe. Surely one sees businessmen and diplomats and media execs and other members of that golden n’ holdin’ class cavorting as if they were bosom buddies, but deep down in the doldrums of European society, as a whole, there is not very much enthusiasm regards the United States of America—and rightly so. Why?

Earlier this year, flying from one European capital to another on her broom, that little fat witch, Madeleine Albright, almost single-handedly, split Europe right down the middle, set brother against brother, and lit a slow fuse on behalf of World War III. Before this vulgar and insensate hostile exploit, there existed the fine glimmer of optimism that, perhaps—with the fall of the Berlin Wall—European nations were on their way to progressing towards a new fulfilment, were shedding their grief and shock over the deaths of millions of people during World War II, were beginning to pull together to achieve something lasting, something they could say they had accomplished for their betterment and the improvement of others in this world. Nowhere does that aspiration now draw breath.

In the present, prevalent aura of deceit and sanctimoniousness, no one has the stout-heartedness to reflect on the sad fact that dog-eat-dog depredators began to ransack Russia in the early 1990s cajoling Russians to switch immediately from one modus operandi lived under for seventy years to that of another almost entirely incompatible with theirs. Business administration professors and State Department imbeciles led the charge; but, Northamerican businessmen, as it turns out, invested the least! The other G’s followed the mother hen, and the bacchanalia of democratic capitalism went wild with glee and toasts to laissez-faireism. Today, with dizzy hangovers, investors are smarting from the resilience of the Russian people. All of Eastern Europe is furious with the unattained, pie-in-the-sky testimonials and promises made on their behalves. Owen, the United States did not go to Kosovo to save downtrodden people. It went to shore up its defences against a seething Eastern Europe. (I know the case of one big fish who lives near me. Roberto drove to Moscow with a truckload of $50,000 worth of condoms. He told the Russians he was a member of the Italian mafia—to scare them! Then, he went about trying to convince potential buyers that now, since they had entered into a new, capitalistic way of life, they would have to protect themselves against the diseases that are “bound to come with free enterprise.” Roberto, sullen and comfortless, came home empty-handed, but today he is very happy to be alive!) Europe, for sure, has had enough of war. But, it also has had now an abundance of the slick way of doing things. It wants to change, but it refuses to become a colony of maverick capitalism.

The United States of America has been breathing down Europe’s neck for far too long. Its full nelson on Europe has done more harm than good, and this stranglehold should let loose as soon as possible. When is the Department of State going to realize this tragic faux pas?

On shithouse walls throughout Vietnam, I often spotted this pithy statement: AMERICA LOST ITS VIRGINITY IN VIETNAM. In other words, Northamerica lowered itself to the same barbarous levels its enemies had done before it. On this very day, fascists, totalitarians, revanchists, dictators, and chauvinists all cluster around one precise conceit: “The United States is just as depraved as we are. In the end, all that matters is that might is right.” I have heard this adage time and time again for more than six years in Venezuela, and for more than sixteen years in Italy.

It is here that I see a crucial turning point for our times. The United States speaks for international law and order, but its mandate has been seriously compromised. Anything and everything spoken by Northamerican politicians to the world, ring like a lead coin striking a marble floor. There are few takers left. There is no esteem for the United States in the air. In Europe, right-wing fanaticism is taking hold ever more increasingly. Youth are mobilizing over and over the standards of racism and violence. Soccer stadiums are filled with semi-unarmed storm troopers without a Hitler or Mussolini to tell them what to do. Ironically, the rebel flag of the Confederate states is frequently a symbol of their loathing, and metre-high banners hanging from stadium guard rails trumpet this thought: WE HATE EVERYBODY! (I remember in Vietnam, on the day of my arrival, newly-assigned to an Armored Personnel Carrier unit. About four of five of the antennas on the vehicles in the company held high the “Bars and Stars.” I wrote immediately to Governor Nelson Rockefeller in New York protesting the situation. He sent, lickety-split, by cover letter from the Commanding General of the New York State National Guard, a New York State flag! I raised mine ceremoniously—joking as I did so. The next day a division S.O.P. ordered all flags down.) A good part of Europe is still looking for a fight, and the likes of that little fat witch, Madeleine Albright, are wont to bring the United States, once more, to that distressed footing where cruelty and self-flagellation are the order of the day, and nations go about trying to outdo each other in the art of mass killing.

Owen, your Six Silent Men gives a boost to war because it condones what is wrong, and it sets your enemy to thinking that you are the same as he is. (You root but ask others to shoot, to boot!) You give your enemy a justification for stimulating himself to the state of self-immolation, and you accept his invitation to be sucked into his delirium of destruction and rage to see which one of you two will come out “the winner!” It would have been much better for you, for the United States of America, had you sought to reveal the truth about Vietnam without ennobling those who committed crimes against humanity in their endeavors to demonstrate American military mightiness—in their frenzies to bully innocent Asian people into submission, sending millions of them to their deaths.

* * *

Now for my grand finale! I wish to quote from my essay, The Entrancing—But Perilous—William F. Buckley, Jr.: Intimate Glimpses of a Dogmatic Timocrat and His Family, taken from my Politically Philosophical and Philosophically Political Writings: A Book of Essays (1979-1982):

“…Northamerican conservatives have had too much a share of pessimism and negativism to offer. They have grouped together to form palsywalsy social, cultural, economic and political ties which serve the inclusive general concept that a government should dole out political and civil honors according to wealth. The conservative is not interested in offering a fair shake to his fellow man, and he excludes him from his power circles with the justification that life demands a political philosophy which exalts the nation and a select group of individuals above all others, and that severe economic and social regimentation, and the forcible suppression of the opposition, are necessary measures to exercise stringent control over the masses who are considered inferior to the nobler and more privileged conservative.

I deny this philosophy and its aspects of myopic gloom. I look for programs which show liveliness and interest in good things. Which look with hope to the future. Which signal danger, but communicate love and understanding. ‘Human behavior leads to make-believe, disequilibrium, frustration, lies, or, on the contrary, it becomes the source of rewarding experiences, in accordance with its manner of expression in actual life—whether in bad faith, laziness, generosity, and freedom,’ said Simone de Beauvoir.”

I wish that all people enjoy their lives in a spirit of generosity, lucidity and freedom; and, I beg William F. Buckley, Jr., you, Owen, you little rascal! and all others of this ilk to come to your political and human senses and yield to the ideal that all men and women belong to the same community where equality and justice for all is the common goal.

You just don’t have the balls, do you, Owen? Toodleoo.

Anthony St. John Casella Postale 38 50041 Calenzano FI Italia

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