Happy Talk

For those of us who lived through the Vietnam War, this piece in the Washington Post is full of strange echoes & the sound of machinery clanging in the background as the sets are changed. It is full of the same kinds of assertions spoken by the same kinds of politicians & generals using the same cliches & engaging in the same forms of magical thinking as their fathers & grandfathers employed to fool themselves & the American people that this is / was a noble & high-minded undertaking & (more importantly) that it could be done. At least in Vietnam the vast majority of the population wanted a single nation with a single government; in Iraq the people want to live in sectarian subdivisions of the old colonial hodge-podge -- & some, I suspect, don't want any strong government to emerge because lack of central authority simplifies their corrupt & criminal projects. It's bad enough that we have, in the US, an elaborate structure of fantasies about Vietnam that prevent us from thinking clearly & understanding what happened there, but that war is long past. That we are developing a similarly false structure of meaning about Iraq even as we are fighting there does not bode well. Not for "the effort," as early Vietnam hawks called that war, & not, certainly, for "the troops," around which a kind of hagiographic fog has formed, preventing us from even seeing them as individuals who might be asked to reflect on their participation in a war their fellow-citizens do not support & that is fundamentally unwinable.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

1 thought on “Happy Talk”


    How more likely a note in a bottle
    than these May words will reach you
    from the desert from this estuary
    of the empire to you four hundred
    years from now in the vise grip
    of disease famine helplessness
    as yet unknown in the world
    who needs to be a prophet
    to see the bridge is out toward
    which we hurtle the driver nodding off
    here’s the divinity of the world I remind
    you we the dead still see and
    to give you this picture of my old field
    of blooming wild flowers to hold for me.

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