Fighting for Peace: The Vietnam Tapes from MPR


July 4, 2008, Minnesota Public Radio broadcast a special one hour Midday program featuring audio letters sent between Dan Kleven of Willmar, Minn. and his family and friends during his 11 months in combat in Vietnam in 1970.

The letters are ordinary and stunning in their simple and straightforward reflections on the draft, soldiering in Vietnam and life back on the Minnesota farm.  I hear these letters as being reportage, neither in favor of the Vietnam War nor against it, although they lend support to both sides.

I was impressed that Dan Kleven, a young soldier, always calls the Vietnamese “gooks.”  Civilians are not people, the soldiers are not fathers and sons and brothers; they are not even soldiers.  The Vietnamese are gooks, rhymes with spooks.  In a successful raid, “Gook ponchos” are found.  Dan Kleven describes the ponchos in detail, they are very good quality and he and his fellow soldiers are glad to have them.  The ponchos are something the American soldiers understood, so they were allowed to be real; but the people we Americans were saving from Communism were not – they were something other than human – something more like spooks.

Is this what we must do to make it okay to destroy a village in order to save it? 

I am not criticizing Dan Kleven.  He’s an American who fought in a war for America paid for by all of us.  He took his orders, he demonstrated patriotism, he used the language he was taught to use.   

At the end of the program, Kleven speaks as a grown man who now has an eighteen year-old son.  I’m taking the quotes below from MPR’s transcription of the program.  Kleven says:

 In my mind, you size up the war situation and there has to be a compelling reason to get involved in death and destruction. And maybe the Holocaust would be, obviously, a legitimate reason. But I really struggled, in regard to Vietnam, I really struggled with what the legitimacy was for us being there.

I don’t quite honestly want my kids being involved in some inadvertent political war with no win for anybody, it’s just sort of some military machine thing going on. I don’t want them involved.

In fact, I know this sounds harsh — and I’m not a rude person — but I quite honestly have been at least subtly rude to military recruiters that make an effort to call my kids. I’ve told them, “Look, don’t call back.” I don’t mean to be harsh, but I don’t need my kids to go through what I went through. It was a waste. It was a waste.

I am trying to represent accurately and then comment on the story told in the program.  To hear it in full, please follow this link to the Midday Minnesota Public Radio.

Reva Rasmussen


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