From 1964-75, "The Vietnam Experience" sounded extremely uninviting.
But in 2014, "The Vietnam Experience" sounds like a winner for the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, which broke ground on that coming attraction Friday.
Though most Baby Boomers' dads served in the U.S. military, many of us Baby Boomers did not.
They were "The Greatest Generation."
We were "The Me Generation." And many of us were motivated to stay out of the military, at least initially, by the specter of America's protracted misadventure in Southeast Asia.
Many in my age group even fell for the con that Ho Chi Minh was a freedom-fighting "agrarian reformer" bravely battling the scourge of U.S. imperialism. Yet some of us right-wing youth (including me), though favoring the use of U.S. armed forces to stop the Red menace, preferred for some of our fellow Americans to do the fighting.
So you can fairly brand the U.S. Viet Cong sympathizers of "The Sixties," which extended into the '70s, as naive idealists - or, to put it more harshly, communist dupes.
However, you also can fairly condemn my hard-line-but-far-from-the-front-line crowd as "chicken hawks."
OK, so by the time of my pre-induction, thanks to President Richard Nixon's phased withdrawals of most U.S. troops, the overriding fear for us on that bus from the Federal Building on Meeting Street to Fort Jackson wasn't about being drafted and sent to Vietnam, but about being drafted and sent to Parris Island.
If you waited for that draft notice instead of enlisting, you could end up in the Marines. The Air Force pointed out that fact to those of us classified 1-A after pre-induction. And my low draft-lottery number (63) seemed almost up.
Then, a few weeks later, Nixon ended the draft on Jan. 27, 1973, triggering celebrations by many thoroughly relieved 19-year-olds, including me.
In this 21st century, though, a visit to "The Vietnam Experience" just might trigger Patriots Point guilt trips about letting others do our patriotic military duty.
According to our Saturday story, the 3-acre outdoor exhibit "will re-create the jungle-like atmosphere of a naval supply base in Vietnam,"
It also will inevitably revive vexing questions, and opposing answers, about America's mission in Vietnam. For instance, half a century ago, news about that strange land first posed this puzzle in my then-10-year-old mind:
Why were we fighting to keep communists from running South Vietnam, more than 8,000 miles from California, after not fighting to keep communists from running Cuba, less than 100 miles from Florida?
More hard riddles followed through time, including:
How could we send more than 3.4 million Americans into or near that distant, dangerous realm (more than 58,000 of them died) over more than a decade, then refuse to even re-supply our South Vietnamese allies in 1975 as they were overrun by a massive North Vietnamese armored invasion?
How could so many Americans celebrate that communist victory, which led to the brutal tragedy of the "boat people"?
Why do the "lessons of Vietnam" conflict so sharply depending on who's citing them?
And how much longer must America play world cop?
Vietnam vet John Kerry, now U.S. secretary of state, engaged in perilously wishful thinking early last month when he said of Russia's move into Crimea: "You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pre-text."
Actually, you do behave that way if you are Vladimir Putin. And in this or any other century so far, while might does not make right, it can still make a decisive difference.
So can the will to use might in a sufficiently forceful manner. Since the end of World War II, we've too many times run short of that essential weapon of war.
Then again, perhaps such tough talk comes too easy for us "chicken hawks."
There we went again
Maybe if a few more of us had the up-close-and-personal Vietnam experience way back when, we would have been more reluctant to send U.S. military men (and military women) far from home to have Iraq and Afghanistan experiences in wars lacking clear goals and exit strategies.
So good for Patriots Point for launching "The Vietnam Experience" to remind us of the brave Americans who sacrificed so much there.
And good for all of us if this "Vietnam Experience" helps us better learn why, when, where and how to send our troops into harm's way.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is email@example.com.
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