On page 126 of Reinventing Richard Nixon: A Cultural History of an American Obsession, Daniel Frick states:
“In the first months of 1991, when the United States led a UN coalition of forces to free Kuwait from an invading Iraqi army, George H.W. Bush, flushed with 89 percent approval ratings in a New York Times/CBS News poll, boasted, ‘By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.'”
I was in Junior High School during the first Gulf War. What the above passage brought to my mind was the fact that I grew up when the United States was recovering from the Vietnam War. I grew up in the 1980’s, which some present as a time when people were either reinterpreting or trying to forget what happened to the United States in Vietnam. But people around me did not forget. The TV shows that I watched were set in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Family Ties featured Steven and Elise Keaton, who were both flower children during their younger years. And Highway to Heaven had a couple of episodes about people recovering from Vietnam: one was about a veteran who had been paralyzed in that war and was having difficulties getting dental coverage from the VA, and another was about a father whose Missing-in-Action son was found to be dead, and Jonathan and Mark were encountering challenges as they tried to raise money for a scholarship fund in the son’s name.
On a personal level, my Mom would tell us about the military draft, and the very concept (quite frankly) scared me. My Dad also occasionally talked about the draft lottery. I also had teachers who were in college during the Vietnam War.
I guess that we as a country were still recovering from Vietnam when the 1991 Gulf War broke out. And yet, then again, we were probably getting more accustomed to military intervention. Reagan sent troops to Grenada, and there was Bush I’s invasion of Panama. But I don’t think that those things completely alleviated the fears that many Americans had. I wasn’t old enough to be drafted, but I felt a sense of relief when President George H.W. Bush said on television that the soldiers in Desert Storm would be all-volunteer.
We ended up winning the first Gulf War, and more than one person heralded the end of Vietnam Syndrome—-the fear that we had of interfering in other countries because that could lead us to become embroiled in a situation like the Vietnam War. But were we truly healed? I know that I was afraid when I was in college and there was discussion about the U.S. intervening in Bosnia and Kosovo. Although the positive outcome (for the U.S. at least) of the first Gulf War led many to support George W. Bush’s Iraq War—-Sean Hannity, after all, predicted that the U.S. would win, and the liberals would then be applauding the returning troops because “Everyone loves a winner”—-there were a number of protests against the impending war. Largely, they were by people who hated George W. Bush.
I reflect on my experiences growing up when America was recovering from the Vietnam War. And yet, I was an actual adult when we were in other wars: the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wonder what impact those wars have on young people, or will have on succeeding generations.