By: Noah Marshalek
Chris Moore decided he was not in the right state of mind for college after completing only two semesters in a little over two years. Moore, who is 73 now, knew he was going to be drafted because of his poor grades, so he enlisted instead. This decision to enlist allowed him to achieve his main goal: to stay off the front lines.
After taking a placement test during basic training to determine his position in the Army in 1969, the Arkansas native landed a job as a truck driver with his main duty being to pave the roads the Americans traveled on in Vietnam. Much to his surprise, the next year of driving would change Moore’s life for the better.
“We always used to say that everyone had their own version of Vietnam … The biggest lesson I took away from Vietnam reminds me of the Edwin Starr song ‘War,’ what is it good for?” Moore said.
Moore served for a full year in Vietnam, a year that left him feeling a sense of discontent toward the armed services and the idea of war itself. While Moore may have gone to Vietnam excited to make a difference in his own life, he soon realized he was not in Vietnam for his own goals rather the goals of his commanding officers.
It was not long before Moore realized he was just an intangible in the eyes of his superiors. “They can always develop a war for you because that means someone in power will make a whole lot of money,” he said.
Moore picked up early on in his time in Vietnam that the U.S. Army was trying to find ways to subtly change the mindset of its soldiers. He recalls his superiors doing different things to demean and belittle the people of Vietnam, whether they were civilians or soldiers. Moore nearly fell into this pattern until he was met head-on with the answer to his problems.
“One day I almost ran over somebody because I was in a bigger truck than he was, and he defended his ground and made me stop and back up and go around. I don’t know if it was an epiphany, but it came over me that I was in his country and was calling him names,” Moore said.
After this incident, Moore began correcting his troop members around him whenever they called the Vietnamese derogatory terms such as gook. He compared the mistreatment of the Vietnamese to the
mistreatment of African Americans in the United States. His words were enough to get his troop members to stop using those terms.
Moore understood the reason why the Army was trying to instill this hateful mindset into their soldiers: dehumanization. This dehumanization is what Moore claims makes it “easier to kill the enemy.” His deeper understanding of the ulterior motives of his superiors is what allowed him to never harm a Vietnamese citizen or soldier.
“We all have lessons to learn and that is one lesson that I learned: Don’t follow the leader,” he said. “Just because everyone else mistreats them does not mean I have to.”
Moore learned from that day that he was a visitor in their country, and he treated them as such. These same virtues of mutual respect Moore learned in Vietnam still stick with him to this day, just over 52 years later.
“I wish I had learned quicker how wrong it was to dehumanize human beings … It took me almost killing someone and me being in the wrong to realize it,” he said.
This mindset is what Moore believes has made him who he is today. He often thinks back to the exchange he had with the man in the smaller truck and wonders how his life would have changed if he had not hit the brakes that day.
“A friend of mine who counsels Vietnamese veterans told me if I had hit that man I would not be Chris Moore on television and radio today,” he said.
Moore, who returned to Arkansas, completed his college degree and started a long career in television and radio, still has strong ties to his roots as an American soldier. He said he may not have had this career if he did not spend a year in Vietnam.
He returned to Vietnam to produce a WQED documentary titled “In Country” with some of the veterans he served with. This documentary was made to tell the stories Moore lived through while in Vietnam and to document and experience the country’s changes since the war ended. Moore’s documentary was also made, he said, to tell the stories of the Vietnamese citizens affected by the war brought to them by the Americans.
Learn more about Moore and watch the interview here.