There are at least three gifts we can give to the veterans and G.I.’s on veterans day. One is to bring all the troops home, close down all 800 U.S. military bases, provide “jobs or income now” and the most extensive program of medical and psychological support for the vets–and the entire working class–and to demand that our government apologize to the peoples and nations all over the world for its wars of aggression and apologize to the working class men and women it sent to kill and be killed to expand its empire.
The second is to restore the historical record of the great movement against the war in Vietnam and its profound support of the troops. That movement, demanding, “U.S. Out of Vietnam–Bring the Troops Home–included perhaps 100,000 or more men who were drafted, refused, served, organized in the army, deserted, went into exile, rebelled, and upon return opposed the war with all their might. The “troops” were a critical component of the anti-war movement and must be again.
Third is to support the work of Iraq Veterans Against the War — www.IVAW.org-– who oppose the endless Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama world wars and support the people of Ferguson and Palestine–in the long tradition of courageous anti-war work throughout U.S. history. You have to read their Foot Hood Testimonies Report–heartbreaking and courageous testimonies of G.I.’s at Ford Hood, Texas, about the profound brutality of the U.S. army towards its own soldiers–as the “all volunteer army” is driven to carry out acts of terrorism against civilian populations by their commanding officer–producing countless deaths followed by catastrophic injuries in the line of duty, PTSD, depression, guilt, and despair. Brandon Harris, just among the G.I.s whose riveting testimony is presented, states, “In no way am I proud of any of my deployments anymore. I absolutely think that every single deployment I went on did more harm than good—without question.” This is critical work as the U.S. cynically generates mock outrage against ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban–who it uses interchangeably as enemies and allies as pretexts for its efforts at world domination.
So once again the system trots out its cruel and hypocritical Veterans day, a hollow spectacle in which the war industry tries to justify and perpetuate centuries of racism, conquest, genocide, and crimes against humanity and its perpetual war state. What a sad, hypocritical system “celebrating” the men and women who have risked life, limb, mental and physical health for an endless series of unjust wars that the U.S. turns on and off like a faucet–all for the sake of a declining empire and the profits and egos of very sick ruling class.
As an organizer and strategist I see our present condition defined by The System’s Counterrevolution Against the Great Revolution of the Two Decades of the Sixties–lead by the Vietnamese and Black Liberation Movement. Like others who share my politics, we see that Revolution beginning in 1955 with the Bandung Conference of Non-Aligned Nations, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the murder of Emmet Till and ending in 1975 with the Vietnamese victory over the U.S. Given that all revolutions begin as ideas in the minds of revolutionaries the system is working 24/7 to suppress the people, the history, and the ideas that lead to a world-wide united front against what we called, and should still call, “U.S. imperialism.”
Re-writing Our Own Revolutionary History.
One of the most cruel and vicious lies of the system is to claim that the G.I.’s came home from Vietnam to derision and hatred from a hippy, Black militant, radical anti-war movement–when in fact just the opposite was true. The anti-war movement was deeply involved with the G.I.s themselves, lead by a broad united front including many G.I.s. The truly remarkable film, Sir, No Sir, shows stories of the depth of anti-war activities including massive rallies of G.I.’s (that would be militarily suppressed today) the direct revolt among the G.I.s, the drug use to avoid the horrors of war, and yes, the war crimes committed by many G.I.’s on direct orders from the U.S. generals.
We chanted “LBJ, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today” because we knew that the president of the United States was the arch war criminal and the soldiers were under a military dictatorship called the U.S. army. And yet hundreds of thousands of the 2.6 million soldiers who went to Vietnam over that long war and many more who refused to serve in the first place resisted the war–tens of thousands actively through organizing, resistance, protests, refusing to report or refusing to fight–while many soldiers “fragged” that is, killed their commanding officers rather than go into battle against the people of Vietnam. For in fact it was the U.S. government who was the enemy of the G.I.’s and the anti-war movement who was their friend–and that is true today as well.
The anti-war movement was very multiracial but the Black Liberation Movement provided the revolutionary theory and practice for all of us.
* The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee as early as 1965 put forth the view, “Hell No, We Won’t Go” to Vietnam, arguing their fight in the U.S. and internationally was against colonialism in Mississippi and Vietnam.
* In 1967, 64 percent of all eligible African-Americans were drafted, but only 31 percent of eligible whites. During 1965-66, the casualty rate for blacks was twice that of whites. Malcolm X was the among the first to speak out against the war, arguing that Black people in the United States were an oppressed people who should take their struggle to the United Nations as an internally oppressed people entitled to human rights. He welcomed Fidel Castro to the Hotel Theresa in Harlem when he was rejected by the Manhattan hotels near the U.N. and explained the Black people in the U.S. were part of colonized people all over the world.
* On April 4, 1967, speaking at Harlem’s Riverside Church, King announced that he could not denounced Black people rebelling in the streets of U.S. cities while his own government was “the United States was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” He observed that the war in Vietnam was “doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away” where “Negro and white boys kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. King blamed the system not the G.I.’s and condemned the U.S. war machine for “its cruel manipulation of the poor.”
The amazing film, “Sir, No Sir” shows the story of a vibrant anti-war movement among the G.I.’s. It shows scenes of massive anti-war rallies among G.I.’s in Japan, Black soldiers protesting, promised by the army responses to their grievances, only to be attacked and imprisoned by the army in its usual M.O. of the double cross.
* Bob Dylan, in his “Masters of War” blamed the system, the capitalists, the ruling class, not the soldiers, for the perpetual state of war.
Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks.
You fasten all the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion’
As young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud.
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul.
And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand over your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead.
Phil Ochs, a great anti-war balladeer, joined us in SDS when we occupied Columbia University against the Institute for Defense Analysis the university’s racist gym in Harlem. He sang, “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore”
Oh I marched to the battle of New Orleans
At the end of the early British war
The young land started growing
The young blood started flowing
But I ain’t marchin’ anymore
For I’ve killed my share of Indians
In a thousand different fights
I was there at the Little Big Horn
I heard many men lying I saw many more dying
But I ain’t marchin’ anymore
It’s always the old to lead us to the war
It’s always the young to fall
Now look at all we’ve won with the saber and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all
Now the labor leader’s screamin’
when they close the missile plants,
United Fruit screams at the Cuban shore,
Call it “Peace” or call it “Treason,”
Call it “Love” or call it “Reason,”
But I ain’t marchin’ any more,
No I ain’t marchin’ any more
The great Muhammad Ali was a brilliant orator and organizer. He not only lost his world heavyweight title. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison because they rejected his conscientious objection to the war because they rejected his authentic Muslim beliefs which contradicted the hypocritical Christian ideology used to justify the war. His case was overturned on appeal but today Ali would be in prison for years or decades as a “non-violent terrorist” as the U.S. government makes up an infinite number of categories as it goes along to silence and imprison dissent. Ali went on a speaking tour of college campuses and Black communities to organize opposition to the war. As he explained,
“I ain’t draft dodging. I ain’t burning no flag. I ain’t running to Canada. I’m staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I’ve been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for my right here at home. “
From 1965 to 1967 I lived and worked in Newark’s Black community with the Newark Community Union–which had a program of “No Rent for Rats” “Let the People Decide” and was actively organizing against the war in Vietnam. As part of that broader strategy I went into a local Newark draft board in an effort to organize draft resistance. I was not in fact a draftee but I guess they never checked when I walked in–figuring no one would just walk in an volunteer until drafted. They asked us to stand up and take an oath, and then, as–sort of–planned I declared, “I refuse to fight in this unjust war. This is a racist war, sending us to fight against the people of Vietnam in the interests of big business and capitalism. I will not fight, or kill, or die. The Vietnamese people have the right to their own destiny and the U.S. has no right to be in Vietnam in the first place.” I urged by “fellow” draftees to follow me as I walked out–more relieved than militant–I had carried out the plan and wanted to get the hell out of there. To my surprise a young Black man stood up and said, “I agree with you. I’m leaving too.” When we got outside I felt more guilty than elated. I said, “Listen, I wasn’t drafted, I just came in as an anti-war organizer and I feel very badly I got you in trouble.” (It had not occurred to be that someone would walk out with me.) He said, “I don’t care who you are, I agree with you. What do we do now?” At first, I really had no idea. As I remember it, I had no contingency plan for success.
Fortunately, I had the wisdom to call Lennny Weinglass, a young, militant lawyer who was working with NCUP (and would later defend the Chicago 7, Mumia Abu Jamal, and many other great causes.) He said, “Come over, we’ll figure something out.” Lenny worked with the young man, who I’ll call Willie, and his mother, who was so happy her son had been encouraged to walk out. She militantly defended him in front of the draft board and somehow, Lenny, Willie, and his mother ended up avoiding the draft or prosecution. As Lenny and I kept in touch over the decades, he would always tell me, “I was just in touch with Willie and he sends you his regards and thanks the movement for saving his life.”
So it is a complete lie that the anti-war movement was anti-G.I. We had a great love of the people, in the U.S. and in Vietnam. We were encouraged by the Vietnamese who counseled us, “The U.S. people and the G.I.’s are the allies of the Vietnamese people. It is the U.S. government that is our enemy. We can hold out militarily but we can only win national liberation if there is a successful movement of the people in the U.S.” As organizers with strong ties to working class, Black, Latino, and Native American movements we saw the G.I.’s as political prisoners and while not excusing the horrendous acts they were forced to carry out–let alone those who did so with gusto–we understood it was the system that trained them, indoctrinated them, who had contempt for them and the people of the Third World. That outrage led many of us to become revolutionaries.
One of the most revolutionary developments was the organized resistance of the G.I.’s themselves reflected in Vietnam Veterans Against the War. They organized a brilliant and truly heroic Winter Soldier Investigation–holding public meetings in Detroit and Washington D.C. in which U.S. soldiers, beyond bravely, testified to acts they had come to understand as war crimes and acts they wanted to take responsibility for but also to place the far larger responsibility squarely at the feet of the U.S. government in the larger service of ending the war in Vietnam. Among those who testified,
Stephen Craig: “…My testimony covers the maltreatment of prisoners, the suspects actually, and a convoy running down an old woman with no reason at all…”
Rusty Sachs: “…my testimony concerns the leveling of villages for no valid reason, throwing Viet Cong suspects from the aircraft after binding them and gagging them with copper wire…”
Scott Camil: “…My testimony involves burning of villages with civilians in them, the cutting off of ears, cutting off of heads, torturing of prisoners, calling in of artillery on villages for games, corpsmen killing wounded prisoners…”
Kenneth Campbell: “…My testimony will consist of eyewitnessing and participating in the calling in of artillery on undefended villages, mutilation of bodies, killing of civilians, mistreatment of civilians…”
Fred Nienke: “…My testimony includes killing of non-combatants, destruction of Vietnamese property and livestock, use of chemical agents and the use of torture in interpreting prisoners…”
There is no way to explain the bravery of these men, their unbearable pain for the actions they carried out and a process of atonement, liberation, and heroism that is impossible for those of us who were not in their shoes can imagine let alone replicate.
An international movement against genocide.
In 1967 British Philosopher Bertrand Russell and French Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre organized an international tribunal to investigate U.S. war crimes in Vietnam. It justified its mandate by quoting from Justice Robert H. Jackson, Chief Prosecutor of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials against the Germans. “If certain acts and violations of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them. We are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” While the U.S. establishment dismissed the hearings because all of those who testified were adamantly against the war it misunderstood that many people all over the world and in the U.S. did not recognize the legitimacy of the U.S. government. By then, everyone, including the U.S. army that boasted of its terror tactics, understood that the U.S. was using agent orange, napalm, cluster bombs, fragmentation bombs, aerial bombardment, assassinations, mass executions, burning of villages, and was encouraging soldiers to deliver “body counts” in which they were asked to literally stack men, women, and children’s corpses that so that they could get credit for their deeds.
In a website giving statistics about the war in Vietnam, one of many statistics was the most chilling. “Total number of civilian casualties. 4 million.” To be clear, that meant the U.S. had murdered 4 million Vietnamese in that obviously there were virtually no U.S. civilian casualties at all.
Fast forward to the present–the battle over history continues.
Recently, I was walking out of my hotel in New York. A black veteran, part of a volunteer organization helping returning vets, was leafleting the crowd and asking them to come to his table for more information. Hundreds of “patriotic” hotel guests, on their way to enjoy the privileges of empire, walked right by him as if he was the Invisible Man.
I stopped to talk to him and I read his flyer explaining the work of his group. He showed me a flyer they were distributing to returning vets from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other sites of the U.S. war against the world. It said, “Do you have night-time or daytime terror attacks? Are you wetting the bed, vomiting, so depressed you can’t think, can’t get out of bed, are you feeling violent towards yourself, feeling hatred and despising yourself, are you feeling violent towards loved ones, are you unable to work or even function? Are you taking massive amount of drugs, painkillers, alcohol? Do you feel lonely and terrified? Are you contemplating self-mutilation or suicide? Please call us–we want to help.” We spoke for a long time, I made the most substantial contribution I could to his work and said I would find ways to tell his story and the story of his work
Today, Veterans Day, I will read a few lines of this article from CounterPunch on our radio show, Voices from the Frontlines, of which I’m the host. It’s on KPFK Pacifica, 90.7 FM in Los Angeles, at 4 PM PST and streaming live on the web at KPFK.org You’ll be able to download it by Thursday from our website–www.voicesfromthefrontlines.com
I’ll be talking with Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, author of a truly amazing, magisterial book, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States in which she describes the many tribes of one of the most advanced and elevated civilizations–the 100 million indigenous first warriors who stood up to European genocidal barbarism in the American’s. Then, I’ll be talking with Joyce Wagner, Maggie Martin, and Matt Howard from Iraq Veterans Against the War who are doing heroic work–standing up to the Masters of War.
On Veterans day there is only one way to stop the epidemic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder suffered by millions of vets, to end the 25 to 50 suicides a day by veterans, and to end the shame, guilt, and torment inflicted on G.I.’s and veterans. There is only one way to end the torture, brutality, and mass murder inflicted by the U.S. armed forces throughout the world–especially the Third World. We have to cut down U.S. invasions by 100 percent, close down U.S. military bases by 100 percent, and reduce the U.S. military budget for aggressive interventions by 100 percent. That is a war worth fighting for.
Eric Mann, a veteran of Congress of Racial Equality, Students for a Democratic Society, and the United Auto Workers is the author of Playbook for Progressives: 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer. He is the host of KPFK Pacifica’s Voices from the Frontlines: Your National Movement-Building Show, www.voicesfromthefrontlines.com He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org