The Fictional Reaping...
(© Lionsgate Entertainment)
...And the Real One.
(© UPI 1969)
Copyright © 2015
By Ralph F. Couey
Written Content Only
In recent years, I have become increasingly aware of the disconnect between what young people today call "history" and what I clearly retain as memories. Sometimes the difference is identifiable as a deliberate attempt to scrub the past. Listening to how the Japanese teach their children about World War II leaves most westerners scratching their head and wondering if they're talking about the same war. Other times, the passage of time, the loss of vital documents, and the death of participants make the reconstruction of past events something of a guessing game. The intertwining tales of the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, and the Ark of the Covenant have become a gaping collective hole that hundreds of years worth of investigation still haven't solved.
I have a lot of DVD's and Blu-Rays, as I'm sure the same is true for many of you. Most movies on disc now include the special features section that usually contain edited scenes and short documentaries about how that particular film was made. I don't always take the time to watch those, but when I do there's always something interesting to discover that more often than not, improves the viewing experience of the movie itself.
I've had on my shelf for some time a standard DVD of the first Hunger Games film. When it first came out, I initially dismissed it as a JATM (Just Another Teen Movie). But one evening when we were imprisoned by an epic snowstorm, my son, who was visiting us in Pennsylvania, slipped the movie into the player. Thus, I became a reluctant captive. But as the story unfolded, I was able to find some themes that tickled the part of my brain where the knowledge gained during my quest for my Political Science degree is stored. I actually went to the theater to see the second and third ones, and then ordered the trilogy of Ms. Collins' books for my Kindle. The books were every bit as fascinating. I basically read through all three of them in the space of about four days.
By all accounts, I'm far from alone in the fascination for these tales. The books are all best-sellers and the movies have been wildly successful. And everyone is waiting with baited breath for the denouement when it hits theaters next year.
On this particular evening, however, I skipped the movie and went to the special features. It was interesting to hear how the stories were transitioned from print to film, and how unselfish Ms. Collins' was with the inevitable compromises that must be made. But as the interviews unwound, I heard one of the book's editors talk about how the story reminded him "...of the Bush years..." when mothers had to watch their children go off to fight.
That got my attention. I backed up the disc and listened to his repeated comments. Again I felt the slight disorientation that goes with the statement, "But that's not how I remember it."
I actually turned off the TV at that juncture and thought that through. I had also seen an historical allegory, but mine went back to my childhood in the 1960's and the 20-year-long agony of Vietnam.
During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, troops were sent to Southeast Asia in ever-increasing numbers. After the Gulf of Tonkin incident, when North Vietnamese fast patrol boats fired on a U.S. destroyer, the flow of men became a flood, peaking at 536,000 in 1968. The draft accounted for about a third of that number, the rest volunteered. Up till 1969, the draft was run mainly by the local selection boards. Names of eligible young men were collected and then called up to appear before the local board. Being local, and sometimes friends and neighbors of the young men, there was considerable pressure brought to bear on the board members by families and local political leaders. As a result, some who had "friends in high places" were exempted from going to war. That meant that the poor and minorities were well over-represented in the ranks of draftees.
In 1969, responding to increasing criticism about preferential treatment, the government went to a lottery system. Men were to be called up by birthdate. Manpower needs were becoming critical as the numbers of American dead and wounded piled up, while the war's seeming pointlessness sparked waves of protest. This all served to make an already-unpopular war even more hated and some young men of draft age promptly began heading for Canada.
On December 1, 1969, the officials of the Selective Service Administration drew from a clear receptacle the capsules containing the birthdates which would determine the order in which the men would be drafted. In looking at those images today, one can't escape making parallels with the Reaping scenes in The Hunger Games. The only thing missing was Effie Trinket.
In both cases, young people would be sent against their will to fight in an arena of combat which would grow to become unpopular. In the streets, people would fight each other, while government security forces stepped in to restore order, sometimes with violent results. And death.
The problem with Vietnam as a war was that, first off, we had not been attacked. The regime we had allied ourselves with was, in many respects, just as corrupt and repressive as those we called the enemy. Americans came to the realization that we were not there to defend freedom, but to rather a geopolitical postulation called The Domino Theory. In the clarity of hindsight, history has shown that the Domino Theory, the keystone of an entire generation of foreign policy was actually a prime piece of paranoid hogwash. The leaders who perpetrated that fraud, Lyndon Johnson, Robert MacNamara, and Dean Rusk, became hated and reviled.
To make matters worse, the Left in this country seemed to forget that those soldiers who had to go to Vietnam were, in a very real sense, hauled there kicking and screaming, like the Hunger Games tributes. When they returned, wounded, damaged, and broken by the experience, the protesters turned their vitriol upon them, saluting them with spit, garbage, and vials of fake blood. They were called "baby killers" and worse. The Left in their rage completely forgot that it was, in fact, their own Democrat Party to whom that war belonged.
The two wars fought during the Bush years, Iraq and Afghanistan, were undertaken as a direct result of the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. In that case, a draft was not needed because Americans, both men and women this time, enlisted of their own free will. Unlike Vietnam, the soldiers went to war because they wanted to, because America was in danger.
And this time, there was no Reaping Day.
Modern history has become something of a political battleground as both sides seek to...um..."steer" the narrative towards something that won't embarrass them. This is no surprise, as the last thing politicians will ever do is take the blame for their mistakes. Even when, or more to the point, especially when those mistakes needlessly cause the loss of human life. Thus, it becomes incumbent upon us, the consumers of history, to insist on the truth; to "challenge authority" (to recall a phrase from the '60s) when their version of historical accounts begins to drift towards the never-never land of fantasy.
I don't blame the young editor for not remembering the agonizing national experience that was Vietnam; after all, those events far predate his historical purview. But I hope at some point someone takes him aside, points to the glass containers of Panem's Reaping Day, and whispers, "That also happened here."
For today on a dark and somber wall in Washington DC, 58,303 names stand as tributes of a different kind.
And God help us if we ever forget them.