Veterans' Day (and, my interview with Donald Rumsfeld...)

...back in 1993.

By my local China time it is now the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. This is November 11, which means variously, Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, or Poppy Day among countries on the Allied side of World War I, and of course Veterans' Day in the United States.

Originally this was a moment for looking backwards, to honor those who had served in the Great War and mourn those who had died. Its retrospective purpose remains. But for Americans right now it should also be a moment to honor the men and women who continue to serve and sacrifice and be injured and die -- and to reflect on the fact that, for the first time in our modern history, they do so with absolutely no shared sacrifice or service from the public at large. Everyone knows this and avoids thinking much about it. Today it's worth at least remembering.

Also it is worth looking at several articles the Atlantic has brought up from the archives and made available free, for now. They're about Vietnam, not Iraq or Afghanistan (or Iran), but several are significant in their own right in addition to shedding indirect light on our current and continuing wars. Let me emphasize two:

James C. Thomson Jr.'s "How Could Vietnam Happen?" might seem somewhat obvious in its analysis now. But when it came out -- weeks after the Tet offensive in 1968, days before Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not run for re-election -- it was electrifying in its originality and insight. Thomson, who had been raised in China by missionary parents, was then in his mid-30s and had recently left the government in opposition to the war policy. He was a a brand-new and very popular college professor when I met him, as a student, around this time. In a sense all journalistic and even historical attempts to explain foreign policy failures flow from the approach he took in this article.

William Broyles's "The Road to Hill 10" was a very early and excellent specimen of what eventually became a large body of "veteran returns to Vietnam" literature and reportage. Broyles (a good friend of mine -- I had been a writer for Texas Monthly in the 1970s when he was the editor) was about 40 years old when he did this article. He had just left the editorship of Newsweek and begun his career as a book- and screen-writer. This article led to his book Brothers in Arms. Again if any of the themes he lays out now seem familiar, it is because this article set the tone for a lot of subsequent literature about return-to-Vietnam and reconciliation with Vietnam -- as did Broyles's later TV show, China Beach.

One of my own articles in this collection, Low-Class Conclusions, brought back something I had utterly forgotten: that I had had a friendly and productive interview with Donald Rumsfeld .... fourteen years ago. His comments then are interesting now, in light of what has happened since. As are the comments at that time of David Halberstam, and William Broyles, and William F. Buckley, and the man who is now a Democratic senator from Virginia, Jim Webb.