Monday, May 25, 2015

Ancient History -- Memorial Day Edition

When I lived in California, I would frequently go to the Vietnam Memorial in Capitol Park in Sacramento on Memorial Day where the names of thousands of Californians killed in the Vietnam War were engraved on a stone monument.

Image by Ron Fulks from
I knew some of those listed on the memorial, several men and one woman who I'd gone to high school or college with, who'd been drafted or who volunteered because they were from a military family, or they felt a call of duty and didn't know what they were getting into, or maybe for other reasons.

I successfully resisted the draft. I had no intention of volunteering, not for that godforsaken and morally bankrupt war on a vibrant, blameless nation and its people. But I couldn't approach the monument in California's Capitol Park without bursting into tears, and I can't even look at a picture of it now without choking up. I knew some of those who died in Vietnam whose names are engraved on the monument, and I knew many Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees who made their way to the US and tried to fit in as best they could in this deeply strange land rather than take the risk of staying in their ruined home countries.

Constantly I ask "Why?" Why did this monumental misadventure happen?

In 1963 or 64 I wrote a paper in a high school class defending the nascent war in Vietnam as something necessary for the good of the nation and the good of the world. Well, this was what the propaganda was telling us at the time. The conflict was small scale -- at least from the distance that Americans saw it -- and the outcome was supposed to be assured: a western-style democracy on the crescent of Indochina. Who could argue with that?

Then it started becoming clear that this whole thing was a lie. From the overthrow and assassination of Diem a few weeks before the assassination of President Kennedy, to the highly dubious Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, to the Tet Offensive and the hundreds of thousands and then millions of Vietnamese and Cambodians and Laotians slaughtered in their multitudes, the forests defoliated, the cities and villages flattened or burned to cinders with napalm, the refugees created, the survivors traumatized, the troops brutalized -- until they revolted, mutinied. It was monstrous. It was wrong.

I marched and chanted and carried signs against the draft and the war and on behalf of those who suffered from the oppression and injustice that this monstrous war represented. And ever afterwards, I have been dubious of any call to war by our August Leaders, for they have learned nothing from the Vietnam disaster -- well, nothing but how to keep the sights and sounds of war out of the public consciousness unless "victory" is certain.

Democracy Now! has run a Vietnam: the Power of Protest retrospective. It's good to remind ourselves.

Peace is more than the absence of war. It is the presence of Justice.

And so I still call for



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