The Second World War had a profound impact on everyone it touched, whether those it touched actually fought in the war or held down the home-front.
The Nineteenth Century
By the second half of the nineteenth century, intellectuals, reformers, and liberals began to denounce the idea of women's protective clothing. This group was sensitive about the advances western nations had made, and wanted to push their countries toward a more western-style society. One way of achieving this, they felt, was to change the status of women. To them this meant abandoning traditional customs, including protective covering and the veil which they saw as a symbol of the exclusion of women from public life and education.
In the early years, men were in the forefront of this effort. Qasim Amin, who in 1899 wrote The Emancipation of Woman, called for new interpretations of the Quran with regard to limited divorce, polygamy, and wearing the veil. He argued that such practices had nothing to do with Islam, but were a result of customs of peoples who had become Muslims. Enormous debate followed his work. Some of his detractors were women. Egyptian writer Malak Hifni Nassef worried about women "moving from that dark and familiar state" before they were ready. She said that first women needed a "true" education and better knowledge of the world, and men needed to learn not to harass unveiled women. She resented men telling women what they should do: "If he orders us to veil, we veil, and if he now demands that we unveil, we unveil. There is no doubt that he has erred grievously against us in decreeing our rights in the past and no doubt that he errs grievously in decreeing our rights now."
Truong Nhu Tang, A Viet Cong Memoir: An Inside Account of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath (New York: Vintage Books, 1986), pp. 12-13.
The historian Henry Steele Commager expressed a similar view in an article in the New York Review of Books, October 1972. Comparing the U.S. war in Vietnam to the Confederacy’s war to preserve slavery and Germany’s war of aggression in World War II, he wrote, “Why do we find it so hard to accept this elementary lesson of history, that some wars are so deeply immoral that they must be lost, that the war in Vietnam is one of these wars, and that those who resist it are the truest patriots.” Cited in Neil Jumonville, Henry Steele Commager: Midcentury Liberalism and the History of the Present (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), p. 177. Of course, the peace movement’s quest was to prevent the war and stop the war, irrespective of American victory or defeat.
For an excellent analysis of economic motives interwoven in the American quest for hegemonic power in Asia as well as ideological-driven rationales, see Noam Chomsky, At War with Asia: Essays on Indochina (New York: Vintage Books, 1970; republished, Chico, CA: AK Press, 2004).
Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression; and John Stockwell, The Praetorian Guard: The U.S. Role in the New World Order (Boston: South End Press, 1991), p. 47.
McCoy, “Imperial Hubris”; interview with anonymous Phoenix veteran by Jeremy Kuzmarov; and Michael Uhl, Vietnam Awakening: My Journey from Combat to the Citizens’ Commission of Inquiry on U.S. War Crimes in Vietnam (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007).
Stathis N. Kalyves and Matthew Adam Kocher, “How ‘Free’ is Free Riding in Civil Wars? Violence, Insurgency, and the Collective Action Problem,” World Politics, 59, 2 (January 2007), 201; and Ralph W. McGehee, Deadly Deceits: My 25 Years in the CIA (New York: Sheridan Square Publications, 1983), 156.
Young, The Vietnam Wars: 1945-1990, p. 343; and John C. McManus, Grunts: Inside the American Infantry Combat Experience, World War II through Iraq (New York: New American Library, 2010), p. 210.
If the legacy of the Vietnam War is to offer any guidance, we need to complete the moral and political reckoning it awakened. And if our nation’s future is to be less militarized, our empire of foreign military bases scaled back, and our pattern of endless military interventions ended, a necessary first step is to reject – fully and finally – the stubborn insistence that our nation has been a unique and unrivaled force for good in the world. Only an honest accounting of our history will allow us to chart a new path in the world. The past is always speaking to us, if we only listen.
David Donovan, Once a Warrior-King: Memories of an Officer in Vietnam (New York: McGraw Hill, 1985)l interview with anonymous Phoenix veteran by Jeremy Kuzmarov; and interview with Michael Uhl, Phoenix veteran, by Jeremy Kuzmarov, December 22, 2016.
We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum. We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of Orientals. We watched the U.S. falsification of body counts, in fact the glorification of body counts…. Each day … someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn’t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can’t say that we have made a mistake. Someone has to die so that President Nixon won’t be, and these are his words, “the first President to lose a war.” We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
Beginning as a tiny cloud on the horizon in 1965, the antiwar movement had grown impressively to a point at which its arguments had been adopted by many people who would never have participated in a demonstration or signed a petition. In a complicated symbiotic relationship, antiwar activists affected and were affected by prominent figures in Congress, the media, and the intellectual world who confronted the president with an articulate, sizable, and increasingly influential group of citizens whose proposals for withdrawal from Vietnam began to appear more credible than those of the president who could only promise more of the same.