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THE HIPPIE LIEUTENANT Seymour Hersh

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US troops of the 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division ford a river about 11 miles west of Chu Lai in South Vietnam in August 1971. / Photo via Getty Images.

My dispatch of last week about General Tony Taguba, Abu Ghraib prison, and the perils of telling the truth led to more responses than usual, including an extraordinary unpublished manuscript from reader Anthony St. John. A bright and patriotic graduate of St. Bonaventure University in upstate New York, he believed in America and the need to fight communism in South Vietnam. He was in the Army ROTC as a college student, and after a year of officer training he entered the Army as a second lieutenant. He ended his tour in mid-1968 as a first lieutenant in combat with the Americal Division—by far the least desirable assignment in that war and the division with the lowest morale. It was a company in the Americal Division that committed the My Lai massacre of up to five hundred peasants in March 1968. It was a horror I exposed as a young journalist eighteen months later. St. John knew nothing of that horror, but his manuscript, entitled The Hippie Lieutenant, tells the truth when it comes to the day-to-day life of the grunts, the young men who were drafted or volunteered for combat. St. John, who now lives outside of Florence in Italy, where he teaches English, has a lot to say about the lack of integrity, as he saw it, in the officer corps, but the book is at its best in depicting life for the GIs in the triple canopy jungles of South Vietnam.

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Here, with the author’s permission, is an excerpt:

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MURKY WATERS

At three o’clock in the morning on a moonlit November 1967 day, Bravo Company and I were chest high in the turbid waters of an irrigation ditch adjacent to a rice paddy somewhere near the Cambodian border. We had been called to (Saddle up!) in the middle of the night because the S-3, our infantry battalion’s operations officer, had received an “intelligence” report indicating a massive enemy build-up some ten kilometers from our night position. With the moans and groans of one hundred and twenty men chewing and biting as if with toothless gums, the unit proceeded cautiously, but noisily, along the way and slushed through the long, narrow excavation’s soft mud.

To the right were acres and acres of rice paddies, and to the left a thick curtain of seemingly impenetrable jungle. The moon’s reflected light bounced off rice paddy waters, the sometimes sheeny leaves of jungle underbrush, and the shiny wet necks and hands of the men who marched disgustedly through the night. FTA. Some men kept their weapons and ammunition above their heads to keep their fire-fight equipment dry; most didn’t care and permitted their offensive instruments to sink, along with tired arms, into the roily waters.

It was not too long before the leeches made their climb up legs to crotches and backs of the weary and disgruntled grunts. There was no way to remove them—yet. Waterproof matches could not be lighted because they could reveal the company’s position; and, scorching insect repellent could not be applied in the gloomy waters. 

Suddenly, overpowering fright gripped the entire company as men made futile efforts to pick off the hangers-on whose suckers had embedded themselves in thighs, calves, shoulders, and even the sensitive skin of the scrotum. The unit was out of control. It was in an uproar. It was terrorized. Snakes had also been spotted in the marshy waterway. Some men jumped out of the water onto the slimy, tree-rooted ground bordering the left side of the irrigation canal. They discarded their weapons and ran bewildered into the nearby thickets where they ripped off fatigue shirts, then boots, then pants, and culled away at bloodsuckers with knives, mosquito repellent, and the butts of cigarettes which had been set aflame against regulations and common sense, all the while warning the stealthy scouts of a North Vietnam Army regiment, bedded down from the grunts versus leeches melee.

Against the company commanders’ wishes and orders—he could go take a flying f******o—the men continued the march refusing to reenter the trench filled with water that reached up to their necks. Instead, they groped along the muddied, wet banks making occasional falls into the water when they lost their grips on the roots of the trees adjacent to the banks of the narrow canal. Progress was severely impeded, and before long, the S-3 radioed his impatience and threat of relief from command if the company’s CO did not get to his objective posthaste. I actually felt sorry for the CO, but I remained content with the notion that I had not been in command. The CO could do nothing to speed the men up. He knew their tempers were very labile, and keeping himself as less authoritarian as he should have been, he did nothing to stir them into action which might have caused further panic and perhaps insurrection. He was thinking, thank goodness. He knew he had a simmering case of mass hysteria on his hands, and the delicacy of the predicament plus the irritated stance taken by the S-3, kept the infantry commander in a worried state as he expected the worst from his undisciplined, scared-to-death men.

More terror came. The early morning—illumination was nearly nil—was made for hallucinating. Strange visions were imagined by many of the exhausted men who cared to look deep within the forest to see things that had no reality. The moonlight and jungle thickets conspired to produce eerie delusions. One man mistook a water buffalo for an enemy soldier, but when he raised his dripping wet rifle to shoot at it, the weapon failed to function. The men were haggard and petulant. Desperate screams and falls from the banks into the irrigation ditch made the event pathetic, outlandish. Relief came finally around dawn when the long watercourse, that had been such a bothersome obstruction during two long, gruesome hours, ended, and the men—surveying, at the break of dawn, their leech bites and bloodied skin and clothes—laid exhausted on the ground and exchanged shameful expressions. Breakfast was being prepared by most of the grunts, while some tried to dry weapons and other essential equipment in a vain attempt to regain their soldierly equanimity which for the past two hours had degenerated to its lowest level. The CO was depressed, wordless. He knew his “men” were not really soldiers at all—just scared youth. He knew his men would be useless in any enemy contact. He knew there was something very wrong. 

[The next morning, the men, exhausted by the leech attack, awoke to the sound of a sudden volley of artillery in the distance. The company was ordered to make an immediate march in support of fellow Americans under attack.]

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In the chaos, the men of Bravo Company wished they were in an irrigation ditch pulling leeches off. They watched the Charlie company bodies being brought in and placed with Graves’ Registration. They watched groups of fresh troops receive orders from colonels and majors, and then be sent out into the surrounding mountains to charge up their sides to meet the enemy. They watched Marines react with efficiency and professionalism in a manner they could only have dreamt about. They listened to artillery batteries swish volleys over their heads onto the attacking enemy positions and, very likely, unto American GIs. They looked to gray clouds in the skies and prepared for the late afternoon deluge. They watched the engineers lay sheet upon sheet of metal on the scraped surface of the runway that had been cleared away minutes ago. They filled gray sandbags with mounds of reddish dirt, and they took part in the building process of a modern war center at the foothills of the mountains that bordered Cambodia and Laos. They watched Chinook helicopters land with wounded men. They watched men on stretchers cup their hands with the intestines that were oozing out of their guts. They watched men who had no faces. They watched men who had no arms, no legs. They watched men who would never walk again because their spines were cracked with bullets. They watched men with napalm burns. They watched men walk into first aid tents carrying their own bottles of saline solution. They watched men with their brains blown out. They watched men whose eyes were wrapped with bloody gauze. They watched and they watched and they watched all the while filling sandbags, all the while confused by shame for not meeting up with Charlie company, and relief for not having to have been caught up in the ugly fray of a battle.

They recorded images which would make them feel disenfranchised from their very own country because they now realized they had been exploited to further the causes of injustice and unethicalness. They recorded images which would be scoffed at by political leaders after the “war” when it would become fashionable to look at Vietnam as a “diplomatic, militaristic” mistake to be forgotten so the economic and military frames of reference might lumber on uninterrupted. They recorded images which would be laughed at by their fellow countrymen and women who had always disregarded the facts about World I, World War II, the Korean War, and now were looking forever to cancel Vietnam from their superegos. They recorded images which would cause them so much agony and suffering that psychiatrists would term their behavior a syndrome, the post-Vietnam syndrome, PVS for psychiatric registration forms, and men, desperately reacting against the horrors of Vietnam, and the hopelessness of their own people, would be codified by national mental health experts so that they could join other post-war syndromic veterans who were allaying—in drunken stupors in Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion beer halls—the post-World War I Syndrome, the post-World War II Syndrome, and the post-Korean War Syndrome. They recorded images which would later cause them to glue themselves to whatever negative issues they could cook up about their country, and they sank deeper into the mire of letdown and nihilism that would later spread further and further through all segments of American society that looked not to face the realities of Vietnam, but, rather, looked to try to blot out an awkward national error that had taken away a great deal of the prestige the United States had before had in the eyes of other nations. They recorded images which would act as a cancer and continue to eat away at the fortitude of a once vital nation that comprises not even 5% of the world’s population, but a far greater percentage of that worlds wealth.

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Your Constitutional Right To Zyn Kiran Sampath

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Photo illustration by The Free Press

According to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, they are a “sinister new threat to the health of young Americans.” Vox says they explain “the new ethos of conservative young men.” Business Insider frets that its users belong to “a subculture on the right that doesn’t just tolerate nicotine use, but venerates it.” 

A new front has opened up in the culture war, and the fight is over inch-long nicotine pouches called Zyns. The product was developed as a cleaner, healthier alternative to “Snus”—moist tobacco pouches tucked inside the gums. Zyn pouches offer all the nicotine without the sticky mess. In other words, Zyns are to Snus what Juuls are to cigarettes—and the latest wave in the push for ever more refined, automatic, and hassle-free nicotine delivery.

And they are popular. Nicotine pouches debuted in the U.S. in 2016 and sales grew by over 540 percent between August 2019 to March 2022. Brands like On! and Velo have played their part, but Zyn, the brand born in Sweden in 2014 and acquired by the tobacco behemoth Philip Morris in 2022, commands 75 percent of the market share as of 2023.

“Part of the appeal is the name.” says Wilson Nesbit, an economics student at Yale University. “It’s short. It’s sweet. And you can put it in a lot of words.” 

In other words, it’s memeable. “Monica Lezynsky,” Nesbit offers. “Zyn-Manuel Miranda. Qui-Gon Zyn.”

Nesbit lives on Lynwood Place, a small street just off Yale’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut. Lynwood is home to two churches, three fraternities, two secret societies, one Chabad house, and a boatload of nicotine. Hence the block’s new nickname, Zynwood. 

“It’s been known as Zynwood for two years,” says Nesbit, who lives with six boys in a house on the street. “The guys who lived here before us had a tent with the Zyn brand stamped across it.” More recently, he underwent an artistic project to solidify the community’s identity, collecting the empty Zyn tins from throughout the neighborhood—277 of them—and spelling out ZYNWOOD on the wall of their living room. 

The Zynwood sign. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Nesbit)

But Zyns aren’t just for college kids. Twentysomethings in corporate jobs now see them as a sophisticated way to get a nicotine hit.

“Vapes are unprofessional,” Andrew Schuler, a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, former vaper, and Zyn user, tells me. “We need nicotine to cope with our jobs because they are extremely stressful,” says Schuler, who goes through three to four pouches a day. “But you’re not going to rip a clunky-looking, purple-colored vape at your desk.”

It’s also about optimization, he said. “Smoking a cigarette requires a break.”

“The guy who used to work at the desk next to me used to take meetings with a Zyn in his cheek,” says one friend, a former Goldman Sachs banker. 

For some, nicotine delivered via Zyns isn’t a nasty addiction, but something of a macho life hack. Arch-techbro Peter Thiel claims nicotine raises your IQ 10 points, while Tucker Carlson (Carlzyn?) proclaimed on Theo Von’s podcast, “Zyn is a powerful work enhancer” as well as “a man enhancer.” (Last December, the Nelk Boys podcasters gifted Carlson the world’s largest Zyn, delivered via helicopter.) But it isn’t neccessarily just right-wingers who use Zyn: a recent picture of Squad member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed a Zyn pack-shaped bulge in her white jeans. 

Tucker Carl-zyn with the world’s largest Zyn, and a regular-sized packet for scale. (Image via X)

In January, Chuck Schumer called for a crackdown on Zyns. “Amid federal action against e-cigs and their grip on young people, a quiet and dangerous alternative has emerged and it is called Zyn,” Schumer said, warning that Zyns “lock their sights on teens and use social media to hook them.”

As part of his crackdown, Schumer wants to investigate how Phillip Morris has marketed Zyn, and whether the firm has targeted minors. In 2023, Juul agreed to pay $462 million to settle lawsuits into the marketing of vaping products to children. But, rather than investing in social media influencers or extensive advertising campaigns, Zyn has relied on organic viral traction in the U.S. 

A spokesman for Zyn says the company’s marketing practices “are focused on preventing underage access and set the benchmark for the industry.” 

But even Nesbit says Schumer is right to worry about young people getting hooked on the pouch. “It’s an easy introduction for youths that haven’t used nicotine,” he told me over the phone from Zynwood. “Mitigating youth usage should be a top priority, but finding the right approach is another story.” 

Others see ingesting Zyns as a constitutional right, and Schumer as an enemy of freedom. As Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene recently exclaimed on X about his crackdown : “This calls for a Zynsurrection!”

Kiran Sampath is a researcher and reporter. Read her last piece about the temple in New Jersey that took 12 years and $96 million to build.

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South Korea Is Running Out of Kids. Is This America’s Future? Anna Louie Sussman

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In January, more than 150 schools in South Korea had no new first graders. (Photo by Busà Photography via Getty Images)

If you’ve been on TikTok in the last few weeks, you might have seen that American women are talking about 4B. The South Korean feminist movement gets its name from the “Four Nos” its adherents commit to: no dating, no sex, no marriage, no childbirth. In short, 4B, which began around 2019, encourages women to actively avoid men as much as possible. That it’s now trending in the U.S. raises an uncomfortable question: Are our gender politics starting to look like Korea’s? And if so, will the demographic consequences be as extreme?

Right now, South Korea is running out of kids. Last week, it was reported that the Education Ministry plans to reduce the number of teacher training places, citing the precipitous decline in students, which is so extreme that in January of this year more than 150 schools across the nation had no new first graders. Six years ago, the average number of children a South Korean woman had in her lifetime was 0.92, a figure rarely seen outside wartime; since then, it’s fallen all the way to 0.78, with a projection of 0.65 in 2025. In Seoul, the capital, it’s already at 0.59

When I visited Seoul in 2022 to report on why Koreans aren’t having babies, I often found myself wondering: Could this happen in America? Our nation’s fertility, though significantly below the replacement rate of 2.1, is currently higher, at 1.8. But, in the course of dozens of conversations with Koreans of reproductive age, I heard more extreme versions of sentiments I’d started to observe at home. 

Today, Americans who want a good old-fashioned heterosexual relationship struggle to find someone who shares their values. Analysis has shown a gigantic mismatch in the nation’s dating pool: for each single liberal woman, there exist 0.6 single liberal young men. Conservative young men have it even worse, with just 0.5 single conservative young women available to choose from. At the end of last year, the pollster Dan Cox found that this divide is particularly intense among American members of Gen Z, whose oldest members are now 27, the average age of a first-time mother in 2022. 

In Gen Z, Cox showed, women and men are much further apart on fundamental questions of gender equality than the generation before them: whereas 52 percent of millennial men say they’re feminists, compared to 54 percent of women, the equivalent figures for Gen Z are 43 percent and 61 percent. In 2019, a third of adult men under 30 said they face discrimination based on their sex; only five years later, that number has increased to almost half.

Recent data suggest this gender divide is global—and growing. In January, a Financial Times report showed the wide, and widening, divergence in political values between young women and men. This is true in South Korea and the U.S. but also in China, Germany, and the UK.

Americans haven’t given up on having a family to the extent that South Koreans have. In 2023, about 35 percent of Koreans said they don’t think having children after marriage is necessary, a figure that rose to more than 57 percent among 19- to 24-year-olds. By contrast, a recent Gallup poll found that the vast majority of Americans under 30 “either already have children (21 percent) or hope to someday (63 percent).” 

But young American women haven’t just been making TikToks about 4B out of curiosity—an increasing number are genuinely swearing off male partners, with the hashtag #celibacyjourney racking up tens of millions of views. A New York Times op-ed published in February described going “boysober” as “this year’s hottest mental health craze.” Meanwhile, men who identify as “involuntarily celibate” are retreating to online echo chambers that, one 2022 study suggested, now harbor eight times as many instances of degrading language toward women than they did in 2016. In the twelve months after December 2022, self-described misogynist Andrew Tate’s following on X increased from 3 million to 8.5 million.

Conservative politicians across the globe are capitalizing on these divides. Not long before I arrived in Korea, the president Yoon Suk-yeol had coasted into office in May 2022 on a wave of anti-feminist campaign promises, in what multiple observers described as an “incel election.” For the first time, young men describing themselves as anti-feminist were seen as an influential voting bloc, with Yoon promising to abolish the nation’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. (He has not yet succeeded.)

In the U.S., the Republicans also appear to be aggressively courting the male vote. Since the fall of Roe, the Republican Party has become actively hostile to women’s reproductive rights, pushing female voters left. And some of the party’s most influential members are now stoking a war between men and women.

In a breathtakingly offensive comment last January, Florida congressman Matt Gaetz called for the Republican Party to all but forget about female voters, saying that “For every Karen we lose, there’s a Julio and a Jamal ready to sign up for the MAGA movement.” Fox News host Jesse Watters has been even more explicit in singling out liberal single women as the GOP’s nemesis, alighting, somehow, on matrimony as an electoral strategy. 

“Single women are breaking for Democrats by 30 points,” he said after the 2022 midterms. “We need these ladies to get married,” he warned, following up with an order: “Guys, go put a ring on it.” 

And yet a recent poll found that 40 percent of Republicans said they don’t believe marital rape should definitely or probably be prosecuted, suggesting the party’s not overflowing with eligible bachelors. 

All signs point to an ever-widening rift between the sexes. And if women and men become sworn enemies, America is going to start running out of kids, too.

Anna Louie Sussman is a journalist covering gender, economics, and reproduction. She is a 2024 Alicia Patterson Fellow

For more on America’s gender divide, read Rikki Schlott’s piece, “When It Comes to Sex, My Generation Is Screwed,” and become a Free Press subscriber today:

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April 15, 2024 Garamond

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