The Defining Generation
General David Shoup
It has been said that "Old men start wars and young men fight them." To the extent that foreign policies are developed by politicians and then enforced by men and women of the military this is certainly true. Historically, during every war in our history as the young at home watched former classmates returning with horrible wounds or in flag-draped coffins they have asked the tough questions "Why?" and "For what purpose?" In that, the Defining Generation was not unique. What did make the youth of the 1960s different from past generations was that their voice of dissent became so large and so active it could not be ignored.
Such dissent is not
specific to the young; in every war a small minority in older generations
has risen in opposition to war as well. Perhaps nowhere was this more true
than during the Vietnam war, a conflict that seemed to drag on endlessly
with no clear objective to be achieved. In past wars youthful anti-war
activists were easily dismissed as young and naïve, the older as
pacifists or anti-imperialists who were out of touch with reality. In the
early days of intervention in
The term "Vietnam
War protester" immediately conjures a range of stereotypical images:
young, sandal-clad, long haired liberal college students; or, drugged out
young hippies with flowers and peace signs painted on their faces; or,
long-haired and bearded young veterans of that war wearing green military
fatigues. In fact some of the first to voice their opposition to the war
were military men of the older generation, including active-duty generals
who had served honorably in the World War. In the mid--50s General Matthew
Ridgeway and Lieutenant General James Gavin both warned President
Eisenhower of potential problems when he proposed and then initiated
intervention, and both left the army with misgivings about foreign policy
before the first American advisors were sent to Vietnam. They continued to
argue effectively against the war thereafter, albeit with some reservation
as retired generals. Military officers and especially general officers
generally do their best even in retirement to remain apolitical in the
public's view. One who did not was a hero and icon of the Greatest
Generation. Even as Dr. Martin Luther King had served to lead
David Shoup was born
Shoup received his
first star in 1953 and became a Major General in 1955. On
General Shoup was a
fiercely independent commander, a man of his convictions who while
remaining apolitical publicly, was quick to share his mind with the Chiefs
of Staff or the President himself. During the Cuban crisis of 1962
President Kennedy summoned his closest advisors, the Chiefs of Staff and
top military commanders to a meeting to discuss the option of mounting an
Shoup had considered
the debate over
Buoyed by the beliefs
of comrades like Gavin and Ridgeway that validated his own concerns
however, General David Shoup refused to become another old soldier fading
away. Concerned that his country was losing its standing in the world he
broke with precedent and tradition to attack the escalation of the war in
Shoup's early overt
activism stemmed from the changing philosophy of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
after his departure. Reflecting on the period in a 1969 article titled
"The New American Militarism" for Atlantic
Monthly he wrote: "For years up to 1964 the chiefs of the armed
services, of whom the author was then one, deemed it unnecessary and
The sacrifice his voice of dissent cost him personally was immeasurable. Among the general public in those early days most men and women who had fought aggression and genocide in World War II saw the Vietnam war as an equally noble cause. Of them he wrote: "As they get older, many veterans seem to romanticize and exaggerate their own military experience and loyalties. The policies, attitudes and positions of powerful veterans' organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and AMVETS, totaling over 4 million men, frequently reflect this pugnacious and chauvinistic tendency. Their memberships generally favor military solutions to world problems in the pattern of their own earlier experience, and often assert that their military service and sacrifice should be repeated by the younger generation." General Shoup therefore took his case to a new generation, the young men and women who might be called to fight that war whom he noted, "Don't get their total education from the boilerplate newspapers."
From the time Shoup
retired in 1964 until 1966 troop strength in
Speaking of an older generation that supported the war while being themselves confused about its value and objective he said, "These same people that place students in the category of the confused are just as confused, always have been and always will be. They've simply suffered more years of it and have accepted it as the normal state of man. And thus they are mistakenly surprised that young students are confused."
As to the Administration's Domino Theory and argument about the critical importance of preserving democracy in Vietnam he said, "You read, you're televised to, you're radioed to, you're preached to, that it is necessary that we have our armed forces fight, get killed and maimed, and kill and maim other human beings including women and children because now is the time we must stop some kind of unwanted ideology from creeping upon on this nation. The people we choose to do this to is 8,000 miles away with water in between. I believe there's a record of but two men walking on water and one of them failed."
In his most damning statement about the war, which would resurface repeatedly to both cheers by the young and scorn by the older, noted: "I don't think the whole of South East Asia, as related to the present and future safety and freedom of the people of this country, is worth the life or limb of a single American…I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-crocked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own. That they design and want. That they fight and work for."
Others who would later
echo similar sentiments were attacked as being anti-American. "It has
somehow become unpatriotic to question our military strategy and tactics
or the motives of military leaders," he told the students at
As many of
The movement slowly
began gaining credibility, even among those of the older generation as the
Vietnam War dragged into its eighth year and casualties topped 30,000.
Early in 1968 over the Vietnamese New Year, called "Tet," the
North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong launched a massive offensive. Over
night they simultaneously struck at more than 100 cities including 36
provincial capitols and
Before the Committee General Shoup began by noting that he was privileged to testify "without any fear of reprisal whatsoever except being called a dissenter, a traitor, and being accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy."
Senator Albert Gore of
"It is ludicrous
to think that just because we lose in
Speaking to the Administration's efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people he stated bluntly, "Instead of winning the minds and hearts of their people, we have rather closed their minds and broken their hearts."
Eleven days later President Johnson shocked the nation when he announced that he would not run again for the office of the President. It was said that almost immediately Senator Fulbright received a telegram which simply said, "Mission Accomplished. Shoup." With LBJ out of the way his Vice President Hubert Humphrey sought the Democratic nomination. He was challenged by Eugene McCarthy and a strong anti-war movement. Despite growing unrest however, there remained in the voting public (over age 21) enough support for the war to validate the status quo. In the end Humphrey ran against Republican nominee Richard Nixon who appealed to a "silent majority" of conservatives that despised the hippie movement and the anti-war demonstrations. Promising "peace with honor" he eked out a 1% popular vote majority over Humphrey and a solid 301 to 191 elector majority to become President.
"peace with honor" was undefined and became something of an
exercise in futility. He initiated what he called "Vietnamization of
the War" in which offensive operations were gradually turned over to
the ARVN forces. Still, it seemed that the war dragged on and young
soldiers continued to come home in coffins. In November 1969 a
half-million mostly-young marched on
As new leadership sprung up among the young and inside the VVAW General Shoup became less a spokesman and more of a quiet mentor. He remained especially close to VVAW leadership as they organized and protested in the early '70s through Congressional hearings, public demonstrations, and in the media. In 1975 after nearly all American troops had departed Vietnam Saigon fell. At last an old soldier was able to fully retire.
General Shoup passed
* The Chiefs of Staff included a Chairman and Chiefs from the Army, Navy, and Air Force. In 1952 the Commandant of the Marine Corps was authorized to participate in most JCS deliberations but it was not until 1978 that the top Marine Chief became a full member of the JCS.
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