Former Times' reporter Chris Hedges, who never let his job as a journalist get in the way of his strident anti-war activism, finds war veterans a self-pitying lot, blind to their own complicity in the horrors of war. At least that's how Hedges comes across in his review of "Black Virgin Mountain -- A Return to Vietnam," an autobiography by Vietnam veteran and author Larry Heinemann.
Hedges, a longtime NYT foreign affairs reporter, is now a senior fellow at The Nation Institute, affiliated with the left-wing Nation magazine. Strangely, the byline of the review says nothing about his years at the Times. Embarassment? And if so, on whose end?
Hedges, who was infamously booed off a Rockford College (Ill.) commencement stage around the 18th minute of an anti-war rant, delivers some quite personal criticism of veteran Heinemann -- but it's also criticism that would seem to apply generally to every American soldier who fought in Vietnam: "Very few veterans can return to the battlefield and summon the moral courage to confront what they did as armed combatants. Wallowing in their pain and at times in self-pity, they are often incapable of facing the human suffering and death they inflicted, especially on the defenseless and the weak. They have a habit of disregarding, as they did during the war, the people who live in the lands they brutalized. Walking among the very human beings who bear the scars of war, they see only their own ghosts."
The humorless Hedges uses imagery sodden with solemnity, demonizing Heinemann for his failure to share in the blame of Vietnam: "But once Heinemann enters the present, going back to a country where he functioned as an agent of death, he loses his balance....He wanders the landscape in a kind of haze, not sure what to think, detesting the self-indulgence of catharsis yet studiously avoiding any encounters that would force him to face his own complicity in the debacle that was Vietnam."