The war in Vietnam tested the core societal values of two generations. For those who fought Hitler, it was a time of anguish. Although the soldiers of the 1940s believed in the obligation of each individual to serve if called, they were also the first to question the morality of blind obedience to authority. The Nuremberg trials asked, “When should a person say no to the demands of their country? Does an individual have an obligation to refuse immoral orders? Where is the line between patriotism and personal ethics?”
The children of World War II warriors and liberators, raised in an era when these issues were being explored, found themselves faced with the same questions as they reached adulthood. “Do I back my country’s play regardless of the morality of that play? Do we truly believe the sentiment, ‘My country right or wrong?’ If I participate, even though coerced, am I further damaging my country?” The choices made by baby boomers -- whether to fight or resist or desert -- is the topic of this thoughtful book by Jack Todd.
Vietnam was a national nightmare -- for those who went and for those who stayed. Those who chose desertion as a matter of conscience, gave up everything they loved for that decision. It was the one option that cut off family and home and country forever. It meant a lifetime of wondering, ‘Did I do the right thing?’ It meant facing the unforgiving faces of countrymen who can’t or won’t understand. It meant finding a new live in a new country because the country you love will no longer have you.
Jack Todd was a happy man. Born in Nebraska in 1946 to older parents, Jack spent his childhood farming with his father. Educated and well-read, healthy and vigorous, he enjoyed the free-wheeling lifestyle of the sixties. Living in Miami, he had every reason to expect a successful career in journalism and he was engaged to a beautiful woman. He received his draft notice in 1969 and reluctantly prepared to spend two years in the army. On his way to Fort Lewis for basic training, he stopped to visit his parents and a childhood friend who’d just returned from Nam. Like many other soldiers of that war, Sonny’s spiritual wounds were profound. Jack’s few days with Sonny impacted his thinking, his future and his life.
Desertion in the Time of Vietnam reads like a novel. Jack Todd recreates the world we boomers once knew -- the beauty of it and the complexity. He tells the story of choices and the consequences of those choices. His anger at LBJ and Nixon still bristles, yet his love for the United States is evident. Although regret springs from every page, Jack Todd is a man who lives with both satisfaction and sorrow. He mourns for his interrupted youth and unrealized ambitions while celebrating his revised dreams and a life rebuilt in Canada.
This book will infuriate some given the political wind post 9-11. However, the issues raised by Jack Todd are all the more pertinent in today’s environment. What IS the nature of patriotism? Some people still believe that it requires blind support of governmental policies when it comes to war. Certainly acquiescence is the easier route as Jack’s story shows. Even though the draft no longer exists, we remain a world filled with conflicting values where suicide bombers kill thousands in order to reach heaven and ex-soldiers decide to blow up buildings in Oklahoma to express their dissent. What are our responsibilities to country? What do we owe each other? What are our obligations to ourselves? What do you do when your country makes choices counter to what you think is right? What is life worth when you compromise conscience?
There is no answer. Right and wrong are illusive concepts -- truth is a matter of perspective. We do the best we can to pin it down before it squishes through our fingers like a writhing fish. In the end, life is just life. Jack’s father’s words ring in the reader’s ears long after the book is finished, “You’re not young for long and you’re old for a helluva long time.”