On My Painting “The Vietnam Veteran”


This painting has garnered some praise, and some denunciation.  I took it to a Vietnam Veterans reunion in Indianapolis in 1991.  Had some prints made I was selling for $10.  Some looked for a long time.  There were some tears shed.  Others complained the painting was blasphemous.  These latter won out.  I was told to remove my setup; the painting was causing too much controversy.  Interesting that one of the buyers of the print was a Christian minister.


The original painting is in the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago, along with “Little Men” and “Red Smoke”.


The parchment reads at the top, "Original Orders:  Vietnam"  Middle:  I....Tracy RC and my service number.  The “I” stands for the first person singular, personal pronoun.  I.e., that our orders were such that each individual was destined to be sacrificed.  In some manner, every Vietnam Veteran was sacrificed.  This does not mean that we were aware of it at the time, or that our motives for entering military service was self-sacrificial.  As Ayn Rand has pointed out: 

     “Americans are…self-confident, trusting, generous, enormously benevolent and innocent.”  “Even if he enlists in the Army and hears it called 'service to his country', his feeling is that of a generous aristocrat who chose to do a dangerous task.”

—Philosophy: Who Needs It, “Don’t Let It Go”


The face is mine, painted from a snapshot taken of me after a 12 hour battle during Operation Meade River.  Our Recon squad was working with 2/7.


I was happy to get this painting to the National Vietnam Veterans Museum in Chicago; get it out of our house.  It was difficult returning to Vietnam in the creation of it.


My idea is taken from Ayn Rand's article "The Lessons of Vietnam".  She writes, in part:

     "It was a shameful war—not for the reasons which leftists and sundry friends of North Vietnam are proclaiming, but for the exactly opposite reasons: shameful, because it was a war which the U.S. had no selfish reason to fight, because it served no national interest, because we had nothing to gain from it, because the lives and the heroism of thousands of American soldiers (and the billions of American wealth) were sacrificed in pure compliance with the ethics of altruism, i.e., selflessly and senselessly."

     "In compliance with epistemological irrationalism, it was a war and a non-war at the same time. It was a modern monstrosity called a "no win" war, in which the American forces were not permitted to act, but only to react: they were to 'contain' the enemy, but not to beat him."

     "One of the methods used by statists to destroy capitalism, consists in establishing controls that tie a given industry hand and foot, making it unable to solve its problems, then declaring that freedom has failed and stronger controls are necessary. A similar frame-up is now being perpetrated against America's military power.  It is claimed that the U.S. forces were defeated—in a war they had never been allowed to fight. They were defeated, it is claimed—two years after their withdrawal from Vietnam. The ignominious collapse of the South Vietnamese, when left on their own, is being acclaimed as an American military failure.

     "There is no doubt that America's entire involvement in Vietnam is a failure unworthy of a great power. It is a moral failure, a diplomatic failure, a political failure, a philosophical failure—the failure of American politicians and of their intellectual advisers.  But to regard it as a military failure is worse than outrageous, when you consider the heroic performance of Americans in a war they should never have had to fight. If there are men or groups with a vested interest in creating an impression of America's military weakness, use your own judgment as to their nature and goals."

     "What—and who—got us into that war? Why? For what reason and purpose? How did a war advocated and begun by the liberals (mainly by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson) become the conservatives' war? Isn't a moral obscenity such as a "no win" war unconstitutional—as a violation of the soldiers' right to life—since it turns soldiers into cannon fodder?"

The Ayn Rand Letter Vol. III, No. 24 August 26, 1974 The Lessons Of Vietnam