Robert Dallek, 23 November 1989
Americans struggle to come to terms with the Vietnam War. The country’s longest and only losing conflict invokes painful memories of wanton killing, government lying and moral degeneration that seem for removed from the nation’s other 20th-century wars. The films Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill and Casualties of War present images of brave Americans overwhelmed by the brutality and senselessness of the struggle. Although American battlefield losses in World War One, Korea and Vietnam were roughly comparable and far less than in World War Two, the 58,000 dead in Vietnam seem to weigh more heavily on the country’s conscience. The respectful curiosity of visiting Americans at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, or at a Normandy cemetery I have observed, is pallid alongside the emotional reactions one sees at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC.