Discuss Iraq and Vietnam
Opinions Vary Widely Among Local Boomers
by John Fries
Even though it doesn't seem like all that long ago, it's been some
30 years since the end of the Vietnam conflict.
During the 1960's and early 70's, updates on Vietnam were a staple
of the daily and evening news. Each night on TV, Walter Cronkite,
Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and others showed us images and film
that took us to the front lines, and maps that showed us how to get
there. Each day in the papers and each week in the newsmagazines,
we saw the same images. We also read words filed by countless war
Along with the news, we got a helping of public opinion. Unlike previous
conflicts, during which we were all Americans - one for all and all
for one - this one created different sentiments. People were either
for the conflict or against it. There were supporters and protestors,
each side with firm convictions and beliefs.
Today, our nation is going through a similar experience with the war
in Iraq. Now the information is instantaneous, as embedded reporters
on battlefields describe the action firsthand in real time, while
cable television networks and their web sites show us what's happening
as it happens.
Three decades after Vietnam, we once again live in a nation that is
sharply divided about the war. Here in Pittsburgh, boomers have a
wide range of opinions about today's conflict in Iraq and yesterday's
conflict in Vietnam. Several agreed to share their thoughts.
Jerry Wienand, 58, of Marshall Township, North Hills, is a partner
in a small downtown law practice. He's also a military veteran who
enlisted in the U.S. Navy (working in cryptology) for four years,
then spent 23 years in the Navy Reserve (eight enlisted, 15 as an
officer) before retiring as a Commander.
Regarding Vietnam, he believes that "we went about it as a political
war instead of fighting it as a military war. Decisions were made
for political, not military, reasons and the end result of hamstringing
our military is that we could, and did not, win."
He believes that the Iraq conflict has been handled correctly.
"So far, we've gone about it the right way," he says. "We decided
to invade Iraq based on information that turned out to be incorrect,
although the previous administration and many others in government
believed, as did the Bush administration, that there were weapons
of mass destruction in Iraq."
Wienand notes that Iraq is now better off thanks to U.S. involvement
-- in terms of the personal freedom of the population, the number
of children going to school, the number of properly equipped hospitals
that are up and running, the number of libraries open and more.
"Also," he adds, "in spite of the number of people being killed and
maimed by insurgents, fewer people are dying there now than did under
Saddam Hussein's regime. So long as we let the military make military
decisions and the State Department make the political decisions, and
we train the Iraqis as we have done, we should be able to begin a
phased pullout sometime next year."
Chip Kelsch, 50, of Reserve Township, a graphic designer at a commercial
printing company, recalls Vietnam from his high school days.
"I signed up for the draft in 1971. I didn't get selected, but if
I had been called up I would have served. "In 1972," he adds, I was
in high school, so I know all about Vietnam. I lived through it. The
goal was to stop communism from spreading, but the communist party
infiltrated college campuses and the mainstream media, which brainwashed
the American people with their pro-communism, liberal propaganda into
believing that the Vietnam conflict was bad and that the USA was evil."
According to Kelsch, some things never change. "I don't want to get
off on a rant here, but some of these same people are still around
today protesting the Iraq War. Today's anti-war movement is fueled
by the American Workers Party; in other words, the Communist Party
in America! If you don't believe me, look it up on the Internet. See
where these activists and anti-war groups are getting their funding.
"I support the leadership of President Bush, Condoleeza Rice and Secretary
Rumsfeld, and I thank God that we have a president like George W.
Bush who sees terrorism for what it is, and has what it takes to deal
with terrorists," says Kelsch.
"Ask any service man or woman returning from Iraq, and he or she will
tell you of all the good things that are happening in Iraq. Iraqi
women finally have the chance to go to school, Iraqi businessmen are
opening shops, and the Iraqi people are drafting a constitution. "Unfortunately,
because of their hatred for our president, many in the media are not
telling of the good things happening in Iraq."
Cathy Sterling of Shadyside sees things from a decidedly different
perspective. The 44-year-old, who works as a pet sitter, believes
there were ulterior motives for US involvement in Vietnam.
"We sent our troops to die to protect offshore oil interests there,"
says Sterling. "The average age of the Vietnam soldier was 19 years
old. So many wrecked lives. And for what?"
She recalls watching Dan Rather and the war on television when she
was a child, and even remembers sending a box of goods over to the
soldiers at Christmastime. But, she calls Vietnam "a sad chapter in
US history, including how we treated the vets after it was over."
Sterling has similar feelings about Iraq. "We got into this war on
false pretenses," she says. "Unfortunately, there are tyrants and
dictators on several areas of the world, but we don't care about them.
There's oil here. Again, we are here to protect our oil interests."
She adds that, "unlike Vietnam, you'd never know that we are in war
now - you rarely see body bags on the news. President Bush wanted
us in Iraq before he ever got into office and he used 9/11 as an excuse
to send our troops. It's immoral and he should be impeached."
As a communications professional in the transportation industry, Cecilia
Walkney Henke, 42, works regularly with governmental agencies. The
Regent Square/Wilkinsburg native views Vietnam as an opportunity for
the US to help another nation in need.
"The United States was involved in the Vietnam conflict because we
promised to help South Vietnam defend its independence," she says.
"Preserving that independence was to our benefit as well, and it strengthened
the world order. Had we not helped South Vietnam, the result could
have been an increase in the breadth of unrest and a widening of the
She also agrees with the president's decision to take action in Iraq.
"We are a more secure nation - in fact, the world is a more secure
place - with Saddam Hussein and members of his regime out of power.
The horror that was commonplace under his long dictatorship, even
to his own citizens, boggles my mind."
She mentions Saddam's refusal to comply with UN sanctions and the
terrorism he created as two of the many reasons she supports US intervention.
She also calls attention to the fact that our soldiers are fighting
the enemy on their soil, not ours.
"They are these preserving our freedom and liberating the Iraqi people,"
she says. "I am proud of the Americans defending freedom in Iraq,
and I am proud to be a citizen of a country that takes a stand, doing
what needs to be done - even if it is unpopular - because it is the
necessary and right thing to be done."
Ronald Roblaski, 53, of Ingomar/Franklin Park, is a nurse anthesthetist
and businessman who views both conflicts in terms of the human involvement.
Though he didn't serve in the military, he possesses a great deal
of compassion for those who do, and has been very active in supporting
them. In fact, during Operation Desert Storm, he founded an organization
called Comrades in Arms, whose purpose was to generate interest and
support for the American troops serving in the Persian Gulf.
"My military experience," says Roblaski, "is as a committed supporter
of any person serving in the armed forces of our country. I became
interested when one of my employees was elevated from reserve status
to active duty. He, as well as countless others with similar circumstances,
was poised to lose everything. I kept him on his full salary as I
was able, and committed to do something tangible to help him and others
of like circumstances."
Roblaski's current views on Vietnam have been shaped over many years.
"My daughter studied Vietnam while in college, and I read her textbooks
on the subject. I was always an avid supporter of our troops, and
against the war. After studying the facts about this conflict and
the misinformation that kept it going, my disdain for those in high
political office peaked. Bottom line: it was a mistake, and those
who fought and served have a high place in my heart and mind."
He views the Iraq situation in a similar way. "Our heroic Comrades
in Arms serving our country are enduring tremendous suffering both
at home and in Iraq. There is a 70 percent rate of divorce, and economic
duress are exacting high tolls among our heroic men and women." He
adds that "we are embroiled in a conflict in which a foe will not
come to the battle front, but fight from the pits of despair."
Given the current climate, Roblaski plans to re-introduce Comrades
in Arms, the organization. "I continue to support and love our troops,
and will bring my support group back from the closet," he says.
He speaks of the importance of public communication with elected officials.
"I believe we must petition them and, more importantly, find and elect
officials whose priorities are focused on recognition and obedience
to the truth. We must raise the standard of one nation under God and
fight the true battles that rage from the forces that are at the base
of most conflicts -- men's egos and the quest for power, or the illusion
of same. We must always strive to obey the Golden Rule and the commandments,
and resist the pull that money exerts."