While Woodstock Rocked, GIs Died

While Woodstock Rocked, GIs Died - Richard K. Kolb, Veterans of Foreign Wars magazine - an excerpt follows:

With the 40th anniversary of the '60s cherished rock concert, the so-called "Sixties Generation" remembers fondly those four days in August 1969. Instead, VFW magazine commemorates the 109 Americans killed in Vietnam then.

Newsweek described them as "a youthful, long-haired army, almost as large as the U.S. force in Vietnam." One of the promoters saw what happened near Bethel (nearly 40 miles from Woodstock), N.Y., as an opportunity to "showcase" the drug culture as a "beautiful phenomenon."

The newsmagazine wrote of "wounded hippies" sent to impromptu hospital tents. Some 400,000 of the "nation's affluent white young" attended the "electric pot dream." One sympathetic chronicler recently described them as "a veritable army of hippies and freaks."

Time gushed with admiration for the tribal gathering, declaring: "It may well rank as one of the significant political and sociological events of the age." It deplored the three deaths there—"one from an overdose of drugs [heroin], and hundreds of youths freaked out on bad trips caused by low-grade LSD." Yet attendees exhibited a "mystical feeling for themselves as a special group," according to the magazine's glowing essay.

That same tribute mentioned the "meaningless war in the jungles of Southeast Asia" and quoted a commentator who said the young need "more opportunities for authentic service."

Meanwhile, 8,429 miles around the other side of the world, 514,000 mostly young Americans were authentically serving the country that had raised them to place society over self. The casualties they sustained over those four days were genuine, yet none of the elite media outlets were praising their selflessness.

So 40 years later, let's finally look at those 109 Americans who sacrificed their lives in Vietnam on Aug. 15, 16, 17 and 18, 1969...

... So when you hear talk of the glories of Woodstock—the so-called "defining event of a generation"—keep in mind those 109 GIs who served nobly yet are never lauded by the illustrious spokesmen for the "Sixties Generation."

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Ryan,

I don't think "glorifying the military" is the issue many here are expressing. The issue is not glorifying the 60's and early 70's counterculture as somehow equal or above those who served in uniform and were engaged in some "noble cause". They weren't and they know it. Now as they approach the twilight years I believe, and will go to my grave believing, that many who belonged to that counterculture and those who know no better feel a need for some type of justification or closure on why they were right and somehow important.

Vito

I think my Dad (Vietnam 64-65) summed it up best in a poem he wrote: " The citizen soldier/ doesn't get to choose his war..." His war may have been ill-chosen by the government, but it was We The People who botched his homecoming, his assimilation and it was We who failed to honor his service and sacrifices. In so doing we failed not just the veteran, but his family.

As to the division between the "hippie" and the Vet, consider that the same folks who opposed the draft in the sixties as an Ani-War protest are now in favor of reinstating the draft as an Anti-war institution-- the "logic" being that if more Americans were in the military, there would be more opposition to war.

Go figure...

And the VFW wonders why their membership number continue to dwindle...

Man, I'm hoping this isn't what the "debate" looks like forty years from now over Iraq.

Greyhawk: you have to ask? LZ X-ray. In a heartbeat.

Damn Vet, there always has been a gulf between civilians and the military. This is not the fault of the military or some cabal of generals looking to justify a coup--this is the result of our culture not being overly militaristic. Even though I hate it that civilians can be so stupid, I appreciate the historical necessity for them not to glorify us.

Equating basing rights or the stationing of troops/ supplies in another country to occupation of another country is absurd. One is strategic positioning the other is attempting to reshape another culture. Success has been rare, failure has been often.

This does not have to be an "either or" zero sum question. The kids fighting believed that they were protecting the rights of the kids playing at Woodstock. They were right... they were fighting for that. It was the politicians who betrayed them. Not the stoner.

Woodstock was never recreated: Altamont was 4 months later and Kent state 5 months after that. But Vietnam foreshadowed our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan; Even the scandals about contractors. My enlistment was 1975 to 82 and I spoke to countless Vietnam vets and the question about Hippies and Woodstock came up often. By and large they were not resentful of the concert, rather jealous that they missed it.

If there is a lesson to be learned here to help modern Vets it is to make sure that thank yous ARE said to them for their service early, often and perhaps with some imagination. Shake their hand and slip them a doob and concert tickets.

This tired meme about the dangerous divorcing of civilians and military and overthrow of the government is highly exaggerated and emotional in my view.

Your final statement is complete, categorical and sweeping. When we inerject ourselves into another culture it is doomed to failure. Those are your own words. History doesn't bear this statement out. But I'm curious if you mean to apply this categorical invective against the more than one hundred places on the globe where we currently either have basing rights and/or troops deployed? Have you given serious and reflective thought to what might happen if we all took your counsel?

I am a disabled Viet Nam vet. A line medic shot in 66 and spent 2 years recovering and being put back together at Walter Reed then spent 3 more years with the VA. I enlisted in the Army thinking it was needed to fight the Communists, to stop them from spreading in SE Asia. Then I met the executive commander of S2 at the JFK center who had spent much of WW2 in Indochina who changed my understanding of the Viet Nam war.
Still I went,and fought,and damn near died in Viet Nam. NOt for freedom, or God, or the USA but for my fellow troops. When I finally was able to walk and feed myself I was very much against the war and so was a large number of fellow combat vets and we all went to Woodstock.
This false separation of the "hippies" and the selfless vets disgusts me. It has given rise to ever increasing and dangerous divorcing of the miltary and civilians. This is how military organizations in other countries justify overthrowing their governments. Holding themselves to be more patriotic.
Most of the comments operate on the assumption that these wars are noble rather than recognizing the they are wars of arrogance. Whenever you attempt to interject yourself into another culture that's arrogance and doomed to failure.

And just because someone is committing violence doesn't mean that it's a bad thing, or not in the protection of freedom. Good arguments are like that - they can prove more than you initially intended for them to prove. And in the spirit of this post, Stevie Ray still rocks.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GSpbuFSr2o

Well I came across a child of God, he was walking along the Street Without Joy.

And I asked him tell where are you going and this he told me -

Well I am going down to Quang Tri, going to join a band of brothers there. Goin' to get back to the bush and set my soul free.

We are grunts. We are amphibious. We are under strength and 2 billion year old carbon.

And we got to get ourselves back to Mama-San's Garden.

Let's Rock and Roll!

Herschel, Luke puts it better than I did - just because somebody is committing violence, doesn't mean that that violence is a good thing, or protecting somebody's freedom.

slapout9 said: "Dave, the original goal of Woodstock was 3 days of Peace and Music and they generally did that. Yet at the same time they forgot or never understood that to have that freedom of 3 days of peace and music requires men willing to do violence in the quite....all on their behalf."

Yes, because without Americans fighting in Vietnam, the communists would have invaded upstate New York--and then where would the hippies have found three days for some fun and music?

Personal I.D.: I am the son of a Vietnam veteran who was injured in Laos in 1965, and greeted when he returned home after 11 months of combat by jeering protesters throwing wet wads of toilet paper at the returning Marines. What I can say is that when I arrived on campus in 1985, I was taught to be ashamed of the service of my father and his contemporaries, and the war they fought, and to basically worship the counter culture of the 60's. "Question Authority" was the clever, kitschy mantra that the very president of Stanford University urged on us incoming Freshman, and drug use was rampant on campus. After six years of excellent public schoolng, then four years of fantastic education at a catholic high school, Stanford was a cess pool.

The result has been a lost generation of America's best men whose great sacrifices have been ignored; their aqcuired wisdom dismissed. Meanwhile, we have seen the elevation of their anti- war counterparts as somehow heroic. What a waste. What a sick joke.

Here- here to Dave's commentary. Most of the music at Woodstock sucked! Except for Hendrix: a former Airborne Soldier!

"I'm willing to be that Orwell regretted that statement..."

If that's a reference to the oft-quoted "good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf" then he most certainly never regretted saying it - because he didn't say it in the first place. But bear with me a bit, because what he did say is more applicable to the discussion here than the resulting bumper sticker.

Orwell - in a 1942 review of a then-new collection of Kipling's poetry:

A humanitarian is always a hypocrite, and Kipling's understanding of this is perhaps the central secret of his power to create telling phrases. It would be difficult to hit off the one-eyed pacifism of the English in fewer words than in the phrase, "making mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep." It is true that Kipling does not understand the economic aspect of the relationship between the highbrow and the blimp. He does not see that the map is painted red chiefly in order that the coolie may be exploited. Instead of the coolie he sees the Indian Civil Servant; but even on that plane his grasp of function, of who protects whom, is very sound. He sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them.

That Orwell himself held the view - or at least acknowledges the truth of it - is further evidenced in his later essay On Nationalism, wherein he uses it as one of five examples of fact...

If one harbours anywhere in one's mind a nationalistic loyalty or hatred, certain facts, although in a sense known to be true, are inadmissible. Here are just a few examples. I list below five types of nationalist, and against each I append a fact which it is impossible for that type of nationalist to accept, even in his secret thoughts:

BRITISH TORY: Britain will come out of this war with reduced power and prestige.

COMMUNIST: If she had not been aided by Britain and America, Russia would have been defeated by Germany.

IRISH NATIONALIST: Eire can only remain independent because of British protection.

TROTSKYIST: The Stalin regime is accepted by the Russian masses.

PACIFIST: Those who 'abjure violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.

All of these facts are grossly obvious if one's emotions do not happen to be involved: but to the kind of person named in each case they are also intolerable, and so they have to be denied, and false theories constructed upon their denial.

I submit the "pacifist" quote as enduring because it was more generic and less dependent on then-current events as the others.

Back to the Kipling review (in which Orwell cautions against "the way in which quotations are parroted to and fro without any attempt to look up their context or discover their meaning"): the "making mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep" quote is actually from Kipling's Tommy (not to be confused with a same-name work by Woodstock artists The Who) , in which Kipling gives voice to a simple British soldier bemoaning his lot in life. Thus the longer quote I began with is actually an amalgam of Kipling and Orwell, though the sentiment is unarguably Mr. Blair's.

The two men were members of different generations, and most of what Orwell has to say in his review is an attempt to look at Kipling through the lens of history - from his modern point of view. It seems completely appropriate then to quote that source as we look back on something from a mere 40 years ago. In many ways we are continuing that older discussion - we may have added nothing new.

More recently, I was struck by the marathon funeral held for Michael Jackson. On that same day five American soldiers were killed in Afganistan. There wasn't a single mention of it. It's not saying much about us but at least we knew about VietNam and what was going on. It was not a secret. I guess "The Times They Are a Changin'"

But Hendrix' version of All along the Watchtower was better than Dylan's original.

Thought exercise: If you had the power to go back in time for a 3-day visit and were limited to either Woodstock or LZ Xray, which would you choose?

I occupy no middle ground here, and no Dave, your brains haven't fallen out. What a dumb comment to a seriously conceived post (whether one agrees with the perspective or not).

To Barry: there is no evidence whatsoever that Orwell would have regretted anything. You missed the point. The point wasn't what possible uses of violence can be made, but in this case (our own country) what has generally speaking kept Americans safe? Longer discussion, but different from the one you supposed.

And only the hedonistic and adolescent narcissism and self-worship of a generation which had lost its way could see the protests as the best thing for the Marine and Soldier in the field in Vietnam. Leave behind the justification for the invasion (just as one must leave it behind for OIF1 in order to understand the need for OIF2 or OIF3) - to have lost the campaign was bad for the men who fought and died, bad for our national reputation, and one might also argue (successfully) bad for the region (of Southeast Asia).

Ho Chi Minh always understood that his best chance wasn't defeat of the Soldiers and Marines, but defeat of the politicians in the U.S. On this he did well, and we did poorly.

Besides this, Stevie Ray Vaughan did much better playing Voodoo Child than Jimi Hendrix.

"Yet at the same time they forgot or never understood that to have that freedom of 3 days of peace and music requires men willing to do violence in the quite....all on their behalf."

I'm willing to be that Orwell regretted that statement, along with 'objectively pro-fascist'. The fact that men are willing to do violence is far from sufficient that that violence be for freedom.

Once again I'm amused (but not surprised) by the lack of historical understanding that surfaces in this discussion.

As to Dave's question about the possible desire to glamorize certain aspects of history, I'd say that at least some of it boils down to what I'd call the Ken Burns/History Channel effect. There is a desire to package certain bits of history for marketing purposes, and that narrow focus requires a level of detachment from the wider context. But just watching a one-hour 'documentary' doesn't give you any real insight to, or grasp of, the events that let up to the subject of the 'documentary.' It also contributes to the notion that nothing ever happened before event X or Y.

In social terms, the 1920s were at least as great an upheaval as the 1960s, but they don't hold popular attention in the same way. Part of that, I think, is visual (movies as opposed to still pictures), and another part is the desire of the Boomer Generation to remain the center of every event or activity they happen to come into contact with, or somehow claim that their events are more significant than anything that has ever happened before. Maybe the Boomers just need to "get over it" as a group and understand that significant social events in this country happened before they were born and will continue to happen after they're dead. The anti-draft movement in the 1960s was a pale shadow of some of the anti-draft riots that took place during the Civil War, to pull up another historical example.

none of those 109 americans (and god only knows how many vietnamese) would have died during woodstock had they not been sent to vietnam to fight in a pointless, illegal, immoral war. the anti-war movement was right; get over it.

@mpowell's comment: How many of the people at Woodstock REALLY thought they were there to make a statement as compared to how many showed up just to see some good bands play? In a purely historical context the things that took place in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco during the early 1960s were of far greater significance than Woodstock (to hit just one example...a fair number of the bands that played Woodstock either got their start in SF or drew musical inspiration from SF). I'd also point out that attempts to "remember the sacrifice of Vietnam vets" are pretty recent things...not all that long ago they were essentially demonized. And the originally-cited article is pretty tame when compared to some of the stuff that used to come out directed at veterans themselves.

I don't get into the cheap comparisons. Frankly, Woodstock and Vietnam are simply two sides of the same coin. Would Woodstock have happened without Vietnam as a backdrop? I tend to doubt it...at least in the shape that it took.

I find myself occupying the crazy middle ground here.

I think that it irritates some people that we get nostalgic over a 1960s and 70s drug culture that appears to them to have been entirely about irresponsibility and personal gratification, which is a stark contrast to selfless service and sacrifice. On the other hand, I think it irritates some people that we choose to characterize a large segment of the population in terms of their lack of military service and foolish choices made during their youth, to the exclusion of just about anything else positive they may have contributed.

I think it is time to "get over it" in terms of the criticisms that each group has toward the other. That need not preclude honoring the sacrifices made by those overseas or giving reasonable consideration to lessons learned - both good and bad - from the social and political movement that occurred at home.

People on both sides like to use their service or their dissent as a self-righteous bludgeon to use against others. For every veteran whose only argument about any issue is, "where were you when I was knee deep in the shit?" there is a former hippie thinks that peace, love, and understanding are the natural order of things. Fortunately, for every one of those pairs of folks, there are ten others who simply went on about their daily responsibilities, donning the uniform if called upon to serve, or punching their time card at work if not. I am proud of the men in my family, most of whom were drafted (for Korea or Vietnam), did their duty, came home, and never said a good or bad word about it.

I'd like to turn this question around on the author: What kind of world would we live in where we couldn't recall Woodstock because we were too busy remember the deaths of 100 odd soldiers in Vietnam? I mean, is that world even fathomable? We remember Woodstock because it was a keystone event for a very significant political and social movement in America. And they happened to be right about Vietnam, I'll add. We also remember the sacrifice of Vietnam vets (and much more frequently, duh!), but not to the exclusion of other cultural events.

The only reason people write articles like this is to belittle the political and social ideas held by the people attending Woodstock by using cheap rhetorical tricks and comparisons. There's no honor there and it is very nearly disingenuous to ask "why bother remembering Woodstock?". I hope this clarifies things some.

Yeah, I kinda resent folks having a ball in Las Vegas a couple years back while I was having to deal with a kidney stone. I mean, shouldn't the world have at least shown some sympathy?

Seriously, If you're bitter that some folks are enjoying the fruits of freedom, then why the hell would you ever volunteer to put your life on the line to secure those freedoms? Cattiness doesn't suit vets well.

Dave, the original goal of Woodstock was 3 days of Peace and Music and they generally did that. Yet at the same time they forgot or never understood that to have that freedom of 3 days of peace and music requires men willing to do violence in the quite....all on their behalf.

I have a friend, a former Vietnamese Marine, whom I served with, that also considers himself a Vietnam Veteran. But for him there is no Veteran's Day or Vietnam Memorial.

For me personally, these people, such as the media described at Woodstock, who now come up to me at cocktail parties on occasion, and sheepishly ask me: "what was it like?" I remind myself, they will forever hold their manhood cheap (to borrow a phrase) and I always think about the one who gets even less recognition.

I wonder how that less than 1% of American society that have chosen to wear the uniform and served in Iraq and Afghanistan will be looked at 40 years from now?

Damn it sucks to get old -

@Dan: Your intended point on the issue of relations between the military and the civilian populace is a fair one, but as mentioned by Rob, complexfatwa, and ramster, the point which comes across is definitely one of Noble Military versus Ungrateful Longhaired Louts. There was plenty of frivolity and recreation going on during Vietnam, regardless of which side of the political aisle one was on. Same is true for the US now, ever since we went into Afghanistan and Iraq.

Essentially, the article obscures the point you're trying to make about civil-military relations by bringing in extraneous political and cultural conflicts.

Texas A&M Corps of Cadets then graduate school RVN... 5THSFG. Different life style.. different approach to life. CW3 RET.
No regrets. Some losses. Learned a lot.

Re the stats on draftees vs. volunteers-- volunteering in those days was not what you think it was.

People volunteered for the Navy of the Air Force to avoid the grunts, or volunteered for the Army with some expectation of getting a safe job.

Very few volunteered for the draft, even though it was for two years instead of three, four, or six.

Statistics on volunteer service might mean what you think it does if it was restricted to boys who volunteered for infantry duty.

I had a sense that this post might evoke some discussion - and not favorable to the general tone of the article I cited. Hence, I chose to present it under my name and not my usual posting moniker - SWJ Editors. There are three editors and my views are not necessarily the views of the Small Wars Foundation or Small Wars Journal. That said, I posted this article not so much as a hard and fast "truth" but rather to generate a discussion concerning civilian-military relations and domestic support of our war efforts. Many of you have seen the image of the cardboard sign posted at a Marine CP in Iraq several years ago - The Marine Corps is at war; America is at the mall. That disturbs me and the VFW article started me thinking about this issue again.

I also have a personal stake in this discussion - NESBIT, ROGER CHARLES, PFC, USMC E2 M 19480915 19690213 NEWBERRY, MI, PANEL 32W 027 - as my cousin is described in the registry of the Vietnam War Memorial. He chose to serve in the Marine Corps rather than attend college - a personal choice and he had the option. He did not pass during Woodstock - but rather several months prior. I do struggle internally on his death in relation to certain issues concerning the anti-war movement of the 60s and early 70s. Much of that internal struggle stems from those in the media and popular culture who like to equate those who opposed the war - and many off them opposed the war because of the draft - to those who would be in their 50s and 60s right now enjoying their children and their childrens children excepting that they served in Vietnam. I guess you could tell me to get over it or maybe that opposing the war was a noble cause. Fine, but both are not in my DNA.

Robert Farley, over at Lawyers, Guns and Money, says "I love SWJ, but every now and again Dave Dilegge lets his brain fall out." Okay, fair enough, but rather than dismiss my reaching out for a discussion on something that disturbs me professionally and personally - how about drilling down a bit below the surface. Fair question back Robert? Again, Im not claiming an authoritative stance on this issue - but I would like a little closure on why we selectively glamorize certain pieces of our American heritage over others. And more importantly, what is the impact of that glamorization on current military operations and national ethos - if any? Thanks in advance - I'm here to learn, as many of us are.

--Dave Dilegge

Prior to 1969 in RVN we would rock and roll holding our own woodstock - the woodstock of our early M-14 rifle!

Time to move on?

apparently 79% of US troops in Vietnam had high school educations. Also, the % of black KIAs was about the same as their % of the US population (i.e. they weren't used as canon fodder).

http://www.vhfcn.org/stat.html
(this source has some pretty dubious arguments, such as "the domino theory was never proved false" but there's no obvious reason to question its stats)

I'm not sure about the more general socio-economic distribution though. Given the availability of college deferrals, it's reasonable to assume that the poor (and hence less likely to go to college), were disproportionately drafted. It also seems likely that although blacks were there in about the same proportion as in the overall population, their lower socio-economic status (on average) means that they were disproportionately drafted (and whites volunteered disproportionately).

ramster:
Damn! Knew I should have looked up the data first... (slowly removes foot from mouth). Any info on the socio-economic backgrounds of volunteers soldiers? Like pre-enlistment income? Also might consider how many signed up out of patriotism and later learned their ideas were very different than the facts on the ground... I know my uncles came outta the war with very different views on America and democracy than when they went in...

complexfatwa: I was about to post something similar but I looked it up and only about 30% of US troops in Vietnam were drafted. The rest volunteered. I still agree with your criticism of the simplistic division presented in the post (noble, patriotic, smelly troops vs traitorous, stoned, smelly hippies...wait, they do have something in common!:)

While I may agree with the assertion that the media focuses too much on the counter-cultural dynamics of the Sixties, this author's tone is disingenuous. Quotes like "authentically serving the country that had raised them to place society over self" and "served nobly" imply that the troops fighting were valiant bearers of freedom; the reality is most of those troops were drafted against their will to fight in a pointless war, and, if they had their druthers, would not have been there at all. The implications that all the troops were noble, patriotic and selfless while all the hippies were frivolous, ungrateful and selfish does very little to illuminate the real social dynamics underlying both phenomena, and serves more to advance a shallow culture-war political agenda than focus attention on the (very real) issue of under-appreciated servicemen amid America's narcissistic media-centric culture.

Rob makes and excellent point. The 60s carry so much emotional baggage that these days mentioning the period usually confuses and clouds arguments rather than providing illuminating comparisons.

This is a painfully stupid post; why not list the number who died during each of the six Super Bowl Sundays between 1967 and 1972? Or the number who died during the 1968 World Series? Or the number who died on the day that Led Zeppelin I was released? Or the number that died during the average time it took an individual to read The Godfather after its publication in 1969? Jesus, I wish that people could just get over the 1960s...

What are you responding to?

The article asserts that the Woodstock participants got undo attention, in comparison to troops who were risking their lives in Vietnam at the time. I see no conflict between the article and your response.

What on earth are you talking about? Woodstock (both performers and participants) were heavily involved in the anti-war movement. They were trying to bring those soldiers home, which strikes me as a pretty good way to honor them.

re:Schmedlap
Thanks for one of the most insightful comments regarding 60s culture I've heard in a very, very long time! I have nothing to add.

re:Steve's 2nd comments
Excellent comment. The reference to the marketing influence on social documentaries is spot on. Woodstock is definitely easier to market than jungle warfare, at least in a fuzzy feel-good-about-ourselves way. I think packaging our history into hour-long (or in the case of cable news, fifteen minute) chunks for easy consumption has resulted in a glossing-over of the true complexities of history, leading to simplistic narrative-style concepts of the past that tend to be very narrow and heavy on (often inappropriate) moral subtext.