Saturday, October 11, 2014

Proposals for commemoration letter follow-up

Proposed Breakout Sessions

Conversations organized around the ways we opposed the war.  An opportunity to reflect in a smaller group on what was accomplished, what was learned and implications for opposing current and future wars.

Moderators or co-moderators will help bring key activists to their session and facilitate the flow of conversation.

1. Public outreach and political action:  vigils, Vietnam Summer, the Moratorium, McCarthy/McGovern, legislative initiatives, Indochina Peace Campaign, Coalition to Stop Funding the War 

2. Dealing with the draft:  counseling, COs, resistance, exile, amnesty  

3. Students and universities:  SDS, teach-ins, strikes, Kent State, Jackson State 

4. Religious communities:  CALC, NCC, Bishops, Berrigan inspired direct action 

5. Mass actions:  SDS, Pentagon, coalition mobilizations, Chicago Convention, May Day, March Against Death

6. Active duty military and veterans:  coffee houses, newspapers, FTA, VVAW, Winter Soldier  

7. People of color: SNCC, SCLC, Chicano Moratorium

8. Vietnamese, Lao and Cambodians living in US (during and after the war)  

9. Direct engagement in Indochina: volunteers in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; meetings in Europe and Canada; trips to North Vietnam; medical aid to the DRV  

10. The war and the women’s movement 

11. Research and education (Indochina Resource Center, NARMIC, IMEP, Viet Report, Liberation, underground papers) 

12. Curriculum on the war, challenging the Pentagon's version 

13. Writing about the war by veterans and others 




Thoughts about commemoration of the anti-war movement

While there have been strong public movements against earlier US wars (with Mexico, with Spain and WWI), the opposition to US military intervention in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia  can be credited uniquely with contributing to its end.  Ultimately it was resistance by nationalist revolutionary forces in each country that was decisive, but all of them credit anti-war sentiment in the US with restraining US power and their victory in an unequal battle.

Not surprisingly the self-glorifying official history conveyed by the Pentagon's war commemoration does not want to give legitimacy to the social, political and strategic role of opposition, and certainly does not want to offer visibility to its varied interpretations of why the war was a mistake, wrong, unjust and/or illegal.

No doubt they want to avoid completely any explanation of why their war failed. If pressed, they will suggest military errors, unreliable local partners or weakness on the home front, but will resist moral and historical challenges to the premises and legitimacy of US interventionist decisions and escalations in 1945, 1954-56, and 1965.  They will offer no space for radical critiques that argue such wars and their failures are inherent in the political and economic system of the US or emerge from the tendency of powerful nations to act upon narrow and traditional self-interests, regardless of ideology.

Since the end of the war, there has been a persistent effort to minimize if not demonize the anti-war movement and thus reduce its impact as a model for citizen restraint on further military adventures.  Several guilt infused delayed "welcome homes" employed myths of hostile acts by peace activists against active duty military and veterans.  Poll data was ignored that correlated anti-war sentiment with higher support for the psychological, health and economic problems of veterans.

Commemorating the role of the anti-war movement is a legitimate but unlikely demand upon the official commemoration.  Absent that, we must find ways to commemorate ourselves in the struggle to shape public memory and opinion.  

The task is made more difficult by the evolving social and political diversity of the anti-war movement, of those directly and indirectly engaged.  Political differences about how to understand the war and how to end it echo in present conflicts. Objectively every kind of opposition contributed to the social and political environment that undermined pursuit of the war.  However some activists still feel that the actions of other activists inhibited broader opposition and made the movement rather than the war the issue.

Simply creating a partial list of tactics and organizations is a reminder of the sometimes contradictory diversity we must encompass in our commemoration.

Methods of opposition

campus and high school strikes
draft board actions
draft counseling
draft resistance
film making and distribution
GI coffeehouses and newspapers
letter writing
peace candidates
ROTC expulsion from campuses
self exile in Canada, Sweden, etc.
student strikes
tax refusal
underground newspapers

Organizations and publications

American Friends Service Committee
Business Executives Move for Peace in Vietnam
Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority
Chicano Moratorium
Church World Sevice
Clergy and Laity Concerned
Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars
Committee of Returned Volunteers
Fellowship of Reconciliation
IF Stone's Weekly
Indochina Mobile Education Project
Indochina Peace Campaign
Indochina Summer
Institute for Policy Studies
May Day
Mennonite Central Committee
National Mobilization Committee
New Mobilization Committee
Negotiations Now
Out Now
Peoples Peace Treaty
The Resistance
Southern Christian Leadership Council
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
Student Peace Union
Students for a Democratic Society
Turn Toward Peace
US Committee to Aid the NLF
Viet Report
Vietnam Summer
Vietnam Veterans Against the War
War Resisters League
Winter Soldier
Women Strike for Peace
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

National demonstrations and trials

1965  SDS march on Washington
   ?     Boston trial (Spock, Coffin, Raskin, ?)
1967  March on the Pentagon
1968  Democratic National Convention
   ?     Chicago 7 trial
1970  Emergency Mobilization for Cambodia and Kent State
    ?    March Against Death  
197?  May Day
1974  Assembly to Save the Peace Agreement
    ?    Tiger cage demonstration for Saigon prisoners at the Capitol
    ?    Cointel pro suit

Please send additions for these incomplete lists, and ideas of how you would like to commemorate the anti-war movement locally in April and in Washington on May 2, 2015 to John McAuliff and to Terry Provance


Report from Terry Provance of a public meeting of the Vietnam War Commemoration Advisory Committee:

The public meeting was primarily staff from the Vietnam War Commemoration reporting to the Advisory Committee and getting feedback and input from the committee.  Nine people from the committee (all members) were present; 10 people from staff; 13 people in the audience.  I was the only person in the audience who was not from the military
I'll make some notes hear from the reports and discussions:

Now on the website there is no longer attention paid to producing educational materials.  Before the meeting I chatted with a new person to the staff who was in the audience and not at the panel table.  He is now the new staff for strategic communications and I did not know this when I spoke with him.  I asked about educational materials and he told me that this is on hold for now and we will see.  However, in the reports mention was made by the Interagency Advisory Group (IAG) of its role in education and by the Pentagon Museum Exhibition about historical accuracy.  So there are places where this will be important even though there might not be pro-active materials distributed as originally thought.  The entire subject of strategic communications will be the agenda for their next meeting in February, 2015.  I had hoped to ask some of the questions about education and changes in their plans but unfortunately, even though the meeting was open, it did not include questions nor comments from the audience

This project has enlisted the support and partnership of over 7,000 groups (mostly military related) around the country and up to now all the work has been preparation.  Over the next 3 years 2015-2017 there are ambitious plans to gear up in colleges, schools and sports events.  Ridge referred to the robust support as a greater appreciation today for Vietnam veterans and even of how people in Vietnam are more appreciative and grateful to the United States.  He has visited recently.

Plans are well underway for a Joint Congressional Ceremony next year.  This project follows strict procedures within both chambers and John Boehner is giving substantial support and space for the event. 2015 is seen as the kickoff and the Joint Ceremony as key to that.  Look for former vets who are in Congress to take big parts (McCain et al).  The other major component due for completion next year is the Pentagon Exhibit which will be part of the permanent exhibit there.  Here again was discussion about historical accuracy and why the project will be in touch with official government agencies to make sure about that.  There will also be a virtual version of the exhibit online.

Ridge pushed hard to get staff to contact the NCAA so that on one given Saturday next fall as many as possible football games will feature Vietnam Commemoration events.  This will begin to happen this year at Clemson and some other schools.

Finally an interesting question and comment from former POW and Chuck Hagel's battalion commander, Everett Alvarez, who asked:  "Has there been any pushback?  Or has everybody seen the light?  Now that so much time has passed, do we all agree?" To this staff again mentioned the incredible support but did say that not everyone agreed and that there have been stories in the media about concerns.

The project is serious about identifying Vietnam Vets and honoring them.  It is also serious about middle schools, high schools and universities where it will reach out pretty aggressively presumably to influence future voters/citizens and perhaps impact school curriculum.  I heard it said more than once that the Vietnam War is either not covered in classroom (people talked about how it has been yanked) or if it is covered it is not accurate and doesn't tell the full story.  The project with substantial resources already has tremendous outreach to local communities across the country and will continue to build upon and maximize this.  Each partner group pledges to hold at least 2 local events in each year 2015, 2016, and 2017.  It will be visible.


From Chuck Searcy in Hanoi
This has been a very impressive effort with a tremendous response, more than I expected -- to be quite honest.  More than 500 comments in a relatively short period following publication of the article in the Times confirms what I have believed for a long time:  mixed in with the sorrow, and anger, and confusion that still may be evoked among some when Vietnam is brought up, also present are memory and emotion that pour into a very deep reservoir of goodwill among countless thousands of Americans toward the people of Vietnam as well as our own Vietnam vets.  Among Americans there exists a broad sense of failure to come to grips with the enormity of what happened during the war, and we are burdened by a nagging feeling of abandonment of so many who suffered on all sides. 
And now, coming more sharply into focus than I would have dreamed a few months ago, there is emerging a broad commitment to get things right -- not just to set the record straight and tell the truth, but also to bring closure to the legacies that still remain in Vietnam.  America has a responsibility to clean up the bombs and mines, the enduring threat of unexploded ordnance we left behind, and to find some way to help the Vietnamese ease the burden of Agent Orange / dioxin which is still causing such suffering to millions.  Americans truly feel, deep down, that we have treated the Vietnamese people unfairly and unjustly, for five decades.  While we finally are recognizing and dealing with the pain and suffering of our own veterans, we have not yet fully extended that same compassion and justice to the people of Vietnam.
The 50th Anniversary commemoration may be the opportunity to do just that.  It may be the opening to finally address the consequences of the war, to put the funds and resources and selfless commitments in place to make Vietnam safe from the scourge of unexploded ordnance that has killed or maimed more than 100,000 children and adults since the war ended in 1975; to provide some level of comfort and relief to families with two, three or more terribly disabled children presumed to be affected by Agent Orange, to ease their burden and make their lives more bearable.

I believe the American people are ready for that.  When I was in the U.S. in August and September, I discussed those themes on several occasions, and without exception audiences responded favorably and positively, with relief, sometimes, in the knowledge that there is still time, and there are ways, to contribute to true healing in Vietnam, after all these decades.
Thanks mainly to the unflagging moral commitment of Sen. Patrick Leahy and the funding that he and a few other key members of Congress have managed to push through the appropriations process, the U.S. government is now significantly increasing funding over the next five years to deal with both of those issues:  unexploded ordnance, and Agent Orange.  More than $50 million will be provided for UXO mitigation, and $22 million for assistance to AO / dioxin families.  That’s not a lot in the big scheme of things, but it’s much more than the $3 to $4 million provided by the U.S. each year for the past decade. 
I hope that the very impressive public awareness effort created by this group, now with great momentum resulting from the NYT article, will go on to explain and present to the American people the options for healing these war wounds, and for bringing closure to the war legacies in Vietnam.  The American people, the Pentagon, the White House can still turn this "official" commemoration into an historic achievement nurtured through American humility, compassion, understanding and generosity, so that we can truly bring an end to the war -- for the Vietnamese, and for the American people.
I'm not sure how we convey that to a broad base of Americans who I sense are waiting and eager for an opportunity to participate, to right past wrongs.  America desperately needs a success; we desperately need something that we can point to with some modesty, and truthfulness, and say, “This is who we really are.  This is what America is all about.  We have finally done the right thing.”  I believe we will never have a better time than now. 
Based on the impact that has been achieved in just a short time by this core group in launching the Kicklighter letter, with the work of those involved with the Full Disclosure initiative, and boosted by the attention and discussions generated by Rory Kennedy's film and the upcoming Vietnam history series that Ken Burns is producing, America may now be ready to deal with Vietnam in a frank and honest way, for the first time. 
This may be the historic opportunity some of us have waited for, and worked for, over the years.  Now may be the time when Americans will step up and join with our Vietnamese friends and work together toward a tangible end that will mark the 50th Anniversary of the War in the most appropriate way imaginable. 
What higher tribute could we choose to honor those who died on all sides than to finally clean up the debris of war as best we can, making Vietnam safe for future generations, and to reduce the pain for those who are still suffering the consequences of Agent Orange.
Then we can join together, Americans and Vietnamese alike, and truly celebrate the end of the war.
I hope this group will give some thought and consideration to this as a priority, as a tangible part of an achievable agenda.

International Advisor, Project RENEW

Co-Chair, NGO Agent Orange Working Group
Vice President, Veterans for Peace Chapter 160 (Hoa Binh)
71 Tran Quoc Toan, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel:           +844 6684 2622 
Mobile:     +849 0342 0769 
Skype:       chucksearcy

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