American Decline

Blowback: The Forever Wars Are Coming Home

By Mike Giglio, The Intercept

I was driving home from a militia muster in the Virginia mountains last summer — after another day immersed in preelection talk of civil war — when I found myself reflecting, as I often have in the year since, on Norman Mailer’s “The Armies of the Night.”

The book is about the 1967 anti-war protest at the Pentagon and, more broadly, the factionalizing unrest of that period and how Vietnam fueled it. It also explores how the quiet or mostly quiet acquiescence to horrors abroad, horrors carried out by U.S. troops in the name of an entire democratic nation, degrades a society. At one point, the narrator imagines himself encountering “Grandmother, the church-goer, orange hair burning bright” at a slot machine in Las Vegas. “Madame, we are burning children in Vietnam,” he tells her. “Boy, you just go get yourself lost,” she replies. “Grandma’s about ready for a kiss from the jackpot.”

The book turns its lens on the left as well, even on the anti-war protesters marching on the Pentagon. In its violent climax, as soldiers bludgeon young demonstrators in the night, Mailer cites an account that appeared afterward in the Washington Free Press, a newspaper founded by campus radicals. It was by Thorne Dreyer, then 22, who went on to a prolific career as a writer and activist. As the beatings commenced, Dreyer wrote, “I began to resent the ‘super-militants’ who created so much pressure to stay. Because that was nothing but goddamn bourgeois politics. … People have to come to terms with what violence means. It’s not something to groove on and cleanse your soul with.”


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