What We Can and Can’t Afford

Essays on Vietnam, Patriotism and American Life


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About the Book

Bill Ehrhart’s experiences in the Vietnam War have defined his life—first as an enlisted member of a Marine infantry battalion, then as an author, poet and teacher who has spent fifty years explicating the war and its consequences in books, lectures and interviews.
In these essays he explores a diverse range of topics. They include gun violence and the Second Amendment, American politics and the accelerating destruction of civil society, Afghanistan and other foreign policy misadventures, Israel and Palestine, the nature of patriotism, history as fact and mythology, the blessings of technology, the vast mystery of the universe, the attraction of Grand Tour bicycle racing, the much misunderstood writer Stephen Crane, poets you should know about but probably don’t. And more.

About the Author(s)

Memoirist, poet, editor, and Marine veteran W.D. Ehrhart taught English and history at the Haverford School in Haverford, Pennsylvania. The author of twenty books, his prose and poetry have appeared in hundreds of publications including the Los Angeles Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Utne Reader, Reader’s Digest, American Poetry Review and the Virginia Quarterly Review. He was a major presence in the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary The Vietnam War.

Bibliographic Details

W.D. Ehrhart

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 254
Bibliographic Info: 19 photos, notes, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-9220-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4989-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface 1
1. Paul Fussell: A Remembrance 3
2. “Turning Thirty/Sixty” 9
3. Thank You for Your Service 14
4. With All My Heart, Dan 16
5. What We Can and Can’t Afford 18
6. What Daddy Did in the War: “Casey” Kehs Remembers World War II 20
7. The Arrogance—and Emptiness—of Power 36
8. Remarks in Honor of the Media FBI Burglars 38
9. Where the Dangers Lie 40
10. Con Thien and Dancin’ Jack 43
11. Me and Veterans of Foreign Wars 48
12. The American War in Vietnam: Lessons Learned and Not Learned, University of Tokyo, June 30, 2015 50
13. When the Chickens Came Home to Roost: The Vietnam War and the 60s Generation 61
14. Samuel Johnson Was Right 69
15. Remarks at the Horsham Air Guard Station 72
16. In Memory of Horace Coleman 76
17. A True ­Spat-Upon Soldier Story 78
18. God, Jesus, and the Vietnam War 80
19. The Tail Wagging the Dog 84
20. America’s Modern Military: Who Serves and Who Doesn’t 87
21. From Pennridge to Vietnam: What I Knew and Didn’t Know 92
22. “A Band of Brothers”: Senior Dinner Remarks 99
23. A Foolproof Solution to Gun Violence in the U.S. 102
24. Earth Songs II: A Review 105
25. Chiseled in Stone by God’s Hand? 109
26. Veterans Day vs. Armistice Day 112
27. Bernie Sanders: Extreme Radical Socialist 113
28. Captain Crozier Deserves a Medal 116
29. Tom McGrath: A Political Poet 119
30. A Letter to My Daughter: Election 2020 122
31. Racism: As American as Apple Pie 125
32. Trump and the Military: Is Anyone Really Surprised? 128
33. Why I’m Not Voting for Donald Trump 130
34. The Democratic Party Has One Last Chance 133
35. Insurrection: Are We Really Surprised? 136
36. Is This Who We Are? 140
37. Will You Settle for Returning to Politics as Usual? 142
38. Welcome to the Shooting Gallery 146
39. “We Forced Them to Be Brutal to Us” 149
40. It’s Time to Dump the Filibuster 152
41. Afghanistan: The Graveyard of Empires 155
42. Afghanistan: Vietnam Redux 158
43. Afghanistan: Who’s Responsible? 161
44. Sanitizing American History 164
45. Re-thinking American History 167
46. More Fun Facts About American History 170
47. It’s a Big Universe Out There 173
48. Do You Believe in Unicorns? 176
49. You Want to Serve Your Country? 179
50. A New Birth of Freedom 182
51. This Is Democracy? 186
52. Who Needs Diversity, Equity, or Inclusion? 189
53. Does This Mean War? 192
54. Propaganda 101: The Art of Creative Lying 195
55. What Is a Bayonet? Or, Who Wins and Who Loses? 198
56. Going Green, Or: Poetic Justice 201
57. Smedley Darlington Butler: From Consummate Imperialist to Strident ­Anti-Imperialist 204
58. In Praise of 21st Century Luddism 212
59. Woe Is Me! 215
60. A Farewell to Arms? 218
61. The Way Things Are 222
62. Let’s Talk About Original Intent 225
63. The New Normal 228
64. Trumpster Nation 231
65. Why I Like to Watch Bike Racing 234
Military History of W.D. Ehrhart 237
About the Author 239
Index 241

Book Reviews & Awards

“There are many excellent and revelatory essays in this collection. I would recommend to anyone wanting to read American history.”—The Veteran