We Did Not Stop the War

I think American poetry was right at the center of the American heart. But we did not change that heart. We did not stop the war. The war ended when the military wanted it to and Vietnam and her neighbors were plundered and leveled. We had such a powerful faith in the rightness of our cause, such a deep belief that if we articulated our vision it must become the American vision, for surely our fellow citizens didn’t want innocent blood on their hands. I can remember feeling full of the power of a just cause and believing that power would not fail me. It failed me or I failed it. We didn’t really change the way Americans lived, unless you take hairstyles seriously.

– Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Levine on why poetry might have stopped believing in itself. From a jaw-dropping interview given to The Paris Review.

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4 thoughts on “We Did Not Stop the War

  1. I totally agree… Absolutely riveting viewpoint he offers. Vietnam split the USA into two factions, almost as severely as did slavery in our country a century earlier. But the war machine won that argument. Having said that, though, I don’t feel the war existed solely because of the mechanicals and logistics of those elites that got rich from the productions of war materials. They did certainly capitalize on the wholly unfortunate and ungodly circumstances that went on to become known as the Vietnamese conflict. However, the American people stood behind South Vietnam because South Vietnam asked for our help to defeat communism. It wasn’t about killing and murdering in the hearts of America. It was about an entire country of beautiful, albeit poor people who needed help to keep from being murdered in their huts and villages by the North Vietnamese. A feeling of charity is what sparked our involvement there. The egregiousness of it all came to a boil when we finally realized that those same people asking for our help easily turned sides to communism when it behooved them, leaving us looking like murderous animals – over there for little or no reason. I think an entire generation misreading that phenomena has scarred us and the world indelibly. It is certainly arguable, but that is my take on the Vietnamese Conflict.

    • No one has yet to write the book on Vietnam. But I do think Levine managed to capture a general intellectual sentiment in his statement. Chiefly, poets and others realized that war could not be defeated with words. This realization sucked pretty bad for that generation!

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