tv Vietnam War Soldier Civilian Peace Initiatives CSPAN May 4, 2021 11:52am-12:45pm EDT
mention a couple of additional people who are here. there's three who came from vietnam who will be participating this afternoon. i think that for a number of reasons i want to introduce him, but including in reference to the past discussion, one of the key ways of talking about what's gone on, what is the harm of the war, is to have the faces and the voices of individual people. and we're fortunate today to have an agent orange victim and sur visor who will be part of the panel this afternoon. we have someone from project renew who will be on a panel this afternoon talking about the aefrt of project renew to clear.
>> unexploded ordnance. i also want to take just a moment to mention two people who are not part of the book, but who played a key role in helping to organize this archs and particularly the panel wednesday afternoon and that's terri province from the vietnam peace commemoration committee. we owe a lot to them. now it's a great pleasure of mine to introduce chris appy, a professor university of
massachusetts on achl herself. and he probably is best known three of his books on vietnam, american reckoning, the vietnam war and our national identity. patriots, the vietnam war remembered from all sides. and working class war, american comeback soldiers in vietnam. but he is also -- has made a great contribution for having organized events such as this with a three-week display of the waging peace in vietnam exhibit at the university of massachusetts involved in folks from the five colleges there, and large numbers of students, and my hat is off to chris appy. thank you.
thank you very much. it is really a great honor to speak with you today, and i very much want to thank everyone involved in putting this exhibit together and hosting these events, and i think it documents the dramatic, inspiring story of the greatest movement of anti-war gis and veterans in u.s. history. and by doing so, it helps us recover a virtually secret history. why it's a secret is an important problem, and i think michael kazen gave a pretty good brief explanation for it. i think the short answer is that in the decades after the war, but beginning during the war,
primarily by people like richard nixon's vice president sp iroing a knew, there was a successful effort to demonize the anti-war movement and to reduce the most vibrant and diverse movement anti-war movement in our history to this very nasty and reductive stereo type of a bunch of arrogant, elitist, unpatriotic cowardly campus-based draft dodgers who undermined the heroic and brave efforts of u.s. soldiers. that imagery, i'm afraid, has powerfully endured and has served not only to stigmatize future anti-war struggles, but has produced in us a kind of reflexive obligation to express our abiding gratitude for those who serve in the military that
actually discourages all of us as citizens to asking the kind of critical questions about the wars. they are being deployed to fight. but what i most want to talk about today is a lesson or an example that we can find in the gi movement that is perhaps most relevant to our own time. and that is simply this. we need to remember that people are capable of changing their minds. on issues of fundamental importance, and not only that. but acting on their new convictions boldly and at great risk. there is, i'm afraid, a kind of conventional wisdom today that we are rigidly and permanently divided into these entrenched camps, and that no one really is
capable of changing their minds. i have to admit it does feel a bit that that may be the case when we think about certain elected public officials, but i think we should be deeply skeptical of this conventional wisdom. i mean, after all, even in our own century, millions of americans have changed their minds about the wars that seem to be endless. as long ago as 26 polls indicate that a majority of americans had concluded that our wars in iraq and afghanistan had been mistaken. it's my belief that the public is often more willing to change its mind and more progressive, actually, than our elected leaders. and so perhaps even now below
the radar of the media, there are, in fact, for example, many devout christians who are concluding that they can no longer support such a profane president. but one thing is certain, that if you go back to the early 60s, i don't think anyone would have predicted the gi anti-war movement that began to arise by the late 1960s and early 70s. it was a time when millions of active duty soldiers engaged in every imaginable form of disend and defiance and resistance to military authority in vietnam, and they did so at enormous risk of harassment, demotion, punitive reassignment, physical punishment, court-martial,
imprisonment, and in many stockades, they were subjected to what can only be called torture, and many were subjected to a lifetime of bad paper, dishonorable discharges. the other thing to really remember, i think, is the great majority of gis who protested the vietnam war, did not enter the military with anti-war politics. it was a working class movement by and large. most of them came from communities where there was deep support, at least for the military, and as with most of the country, a deep trust that the government could be reied upon only to send its troops overseas in support of democracy and freedom and human rights. a belief, in other words, that
was broad in the culture, but perhaps especially in many of the communities from which american soldiers were recruited and volunteered. a deep belief in american exceptionalism. at the core of which was this idea that the united states has always been and will remain the greatest force for good in the world, always the good guys in history. when one of the most remarkable things that happens in vietnam, and not just among those who are moved to engage in anti-war politics and the gi movement, but was a major shattering of faith, a sense of betrayal by the government and the military. it's really not too hard to understand why, because what soldiers in vietnam experienced sometimes within hours of arrival is that they were arriving in country not as
liberators to say the people, and to defend freedom and democracy. they quickly understood that they were there to support a government that was something like a police state. and the people that they were engaged with particularly in the country side did not regard them as liberators, but as hostile ininvaders and occupiers and ther not there to protect them from external aggression, but were themselves doing the lion's share of aggressions. destroying their villages and often enough the civilians who populated them. as you know, the chief measure of success in vietnam was not the territory secured or the people protected, but the amount of bodies amassed that could be labeled enemy killed.
the other thing they noticed very quickly is the adversaries were far more successful than they were at gaining the fervent dedication and support of the population, that they, in other words, were engaged not just in a bloody military endeavor, but one that ultimately depended entirely on the political support of the people in that the government that they were charged with bolstering and supporting never succeeded in winning the sufficient support of its own population. so let's consider the experience of one veteran, a man named george evans who served as an air force medic at a hospital in cameron bay in the late 60s. he grew up in pittsburgh, and at the age of six before and after
school, he helped his father deliver blocks of ice to his poor and working class neighbors. this was, of course, in the 1950s and early 60s at a time when if you watched television ads or magazine ads, you'd have thought that every american owned a shiny new refrigerator, and in perg they were delivering blocks of ice. so george was a savvy and street-wise kid. he understood the american dream was beyond the grasp of most of the people that he knew. and his -- in his neighborhood. at the same time -- in that sense, he could be critical. he knew that -- of life in these neighborhoods. he knew that employers and bosses could screw you, and that there was -- the future was not sort of set before him as something that would inevitably lead to a better life.
when it comes to the military and foreign policy, as he later realized, he was a complete believer. i didn't know there was a bad war, he concluded some time later. he says, i was raised in a family, a neighborhood of extreme patriots. my father was the commander of his vfw post and i got to go to the club and hang out with the veterans. i was their little mascot. he especially loved flag day and veteran's day when they were go to the military cemeteries and he would help set the flags and the plaques. imagine how beautiful it looked to a kid to see hundreds of graves in a geometric pattern with shiing bronze plates and flags waving in the wind. you can't imagine or exaggerate
the pull of the military on kids from neighborhoods like mine. everything you'd seen and heard your whole life made it feel inevitable and right. all that faith was shattered when he went to vietnam and he soon came to realize that the country i was from was not the country i thought it was. there are a numb of experiences, but the one that was most decisive in changing his mind was a day when he was working in the hospital and a senior nco said go clean up the gook behind the curtain. and george was a medic, so he opened the curtain, and he saw on the table the body of a 9-year-old vietnamese boy, and his job was to sponge him down,
and while he was at it, a vietnamese woman burst through the curtain hysterical in grief. clearly the mother, at least as george perceived it, and began to pound him on the chest in her grief. and then he quickly realized that there was another body, and one curtain over he had to clean who was the brother a few years different in age. he did his job, and then soon after that realized that these two vietnamese boys had been run over by an american military truck driver. and worse than that the story he heard was they were playing a kind of game, gambling on who could kill a vietnamese kid, and they called it gook hockey. this was obviously a key moment in his political development.
he said i felt betrayed and really angry. and that sense of betrayal is pervasive in these counts. but you know, just because your faith is shattered doesn't mean that you'll come up with a new faith. it doesn't necessarily mean that you'll engage in political action. it doesn't necessarily mean you'll develop new convictions to try to struggle for a new world. he was the victim of what some psychologists would call moral injury which is a deep wound to the conscience, a wound to your sense of what's right, to your morality. more technically, as defined by the psychiatrist jonathan shea in a book called achilles in vietnam, it is a deep moral sense of betrayal caused by authorities considered or once considered legitimate, and that
certainly characterized george's sense. but then it also has to -- you have to move beyond that sense of betrayal to have confidence that it's worth moving the new direction. even if you don't think it may affect change, that you're going to act and try to recover from that moral wound by acting on your strongest moral convictions. and in that sense rebellion and activism can be a way of healing conscience. both in a psychological and theoretical sense. among the first people to recognize this was robert j liften who in the early 70s worked with a lot of anti-vietnam veterans and participated in groups and wrote a book called "home from the war". one of the things he observed is that the anti-war veterans, although they had clearly
suffered a deep sense of moral injury, and even guilt and deep guilt about being made complicit in wrong doing, that they were able to get beyond that in large part because of their political activism to try to reconstitute a morally centered life. and so george evans was one who did move in that direction. but he did at first only a sense that he was acting by himself. he quit shaving and cutting his hair, taking care of his uniform, and he started making these anti-war posters that he would put up on the bulletin board in the hospital and then eventually defied a direct order which got him threatened with a court martial. it was as if i had become a different person, he remembered. i was saying all these things i
never would have said before. at the time i thought my small defiance was isolated. i didn't realize that it was a tiny splinter in the midst of a sort of uprising among soldiers. eventually he got a sense he was part of a much bigger movement. but another point i would want to make on this is that there is in all movements, but especially in this one, there's kind of a ripple effect, like, one act is a rock in the middle of the pond that spreads out. and other people hear about it. and it can take root, not necessarily right away, but years later. you know, there were many veterans who shared george evan's feeling about the war, but they didn't join the vietnam veterans against the war then and there, but they felt many of the same convictions. i think, for example, the men that many in the room know, brian wilson.
he who wrote "blood in the tracks". he developed anti-war convictions while in vietnam but didn't get engaged in the politics then. but years later in 1987 in his activism against american intervention in central america, sat down on the tracks at the concord naval weapon's station in the bay area to block a munitions train from sending the lethal weapons to central america. ordinarily these kinds of protests on the tracks which dated back to the vietnam war, the train would stop. there would be an arrest and so forth. the train did not stop. it sped up. ran over him. he lost both lower legs and 19 bones were broken. he managed to live and is still a life-long peace activist. the gi is not alone. there were millions of lives
that were changed during the 60s. most americans supported the war in the early 60s. by 1971 a poll found that 71% of americans thought it was a mistake, and more remarkably, 58%, the full majority believed the war was immoral. so because we are celebrating a sense of the 50 th anniversary of the events of the fall of 1969, i did want to say a bit about a man whose testimony is part of the exhibit named dave blalock who was interviewed by bill short and photographed by him. he has a long interesting story. simply, i'll tell the part that involves the moratorium of the moratoriums of the fall of '69. he was at a base, a long time
north, sometimes known as bear cat. he was in a small communications unit, but it was an interesting base. because there was a detachment of mps and first cap people and another unit and engineering unit. one guy came back from an r and r in hawaii, and the first thing he shows to this unit when he arrives is a big cutout from the new york times. what was it? it was the petition that had been signed by 1346 active duty gis, protesting the war and calling for participation in the moratorium. it included the name of dave courtright and 30 of his cam rads. in my case, they got together and said we should do something like that here. in vietnam. so at the very least, we'll take our black boot strings and tie them around our arms as a black arm band. and we'll get the word out to some of the other units. but interestingly enough, they said let's not bother the mps.
they're not going to be affected. the military police, we didn't tell them. now, at that base the mps, one of the respondents was to control the pa sound system. they would turn on the recording in the morning. without telling the mps, everybody wakes up and the mp put on jimi hendrix playing the star spangled banner. that was the beginning of the day. then they start driving around the base trying to figure out how many people are participating. there was 100% participation in his communications unit, and even the first cab unit, 100% participation. half participation among the engineers because their co threatened them at gunpoint literally that if they didn't do their job. so everybody else got the day off except for the engineers, but even the engineers got the day off because some of the guys sabotaged the bulldozer.
basically that whole base had shut down. there's one other thing that he said that inspired him which maybe i'll sort of almost close with. fall of '69, one of the things that changed a mind was one day hochi men came back from all-night duty. there were what was called hooch maids in the barracks. they were hired in most military bases to shine boots and make beds and that kind of thing. i came in from a night patrol and flopped down in the bunk. i noticed the house girls were unusually quiet. one was crying. i thought for a minute one of the guys had given them a bad time. i kept asking what's wrong. finally one answered hoochi men
died. i replied what's the big deal. she knew american history better than i did and told me how in the u.s. when you had your revolution against the british imperialist, a third were for the revolution, a third didn't care and about a third backed the british. in vietnam 75% people back the revolution. he's our national leader. everybody loves hochimen. she compared the vietnam war to what went on in the u.s. against the british. that conversation shocked me. there she was in our barracks sympathetic to the revolution and saw it as an anti-em peerlist struggle. i knew the vc were all around, but until then i hadn't known them firsthand. here was a woman who shined our boots and did our laundry, and all the sudden i realized that's what we were supposed to be fighting against.
i realized right then the u.s. was on the wrong side of a terrible war. i take great inspiration from these stories, because i think it does demonstrate that people are capable of changing their minds, and it may yet happen when one of us predicted. so thank you very much. when preparing the exhibit and book, i also came across the interview and the photograph of dave blalock thanks to bill short. i was astounded because i worked with him for a year at the gi
coffee house in alabama in 1970. and her in told me that story. the reason he never told me is because there were so many incidents while he was there in vietnam of resistance that to him is just another one. but bill short and his wife sat dave down for four-hour interview, and they were able to elicit some of the stories. one of the advantages of being a person of my age is that over the years i've gotten to meet so many terrific folks involved in social justice movement. and i think of three of them, three women who particularly meant something to me as i was
growing up. one of them is someone i worked with in mississippi. fannie lou hamer. a lot of you have heard of her. i was fortunate to work with her. there was another one who there was no way for me to meet because she was in vietnam and in paris. paris? and i was in mississippi. i was in new york. i was in alabama. i was in massachusetts. and that is madame bin who was a great hero of mine, and unfortunately, three years ago when i went to vietnam and received the assignment to make this exhibit, it turned it into a book, i was able to photograph her. as a portrait part of a series i've been doing.
there's a third woman who meant so much to me during the 60s and 70s, and i always regretted never having met her, and that's kora weiss. i had something to do with inviting her here today. we've talked a lot on the phone the past few months. and i am so pleased that kora is here. kora was one of the -- was the only woman among the eight national organizers of the moratorium and demonstrations 50 years ago. kora was one of the founders of the women's strike for peace. kora was a long-time supporter of the gi anti-war movement. kora has a special place in the
history against the war of having set up a women to women organization she might tell you about if we're lucky between women in the u.s. and women in vietnam that led to exchanges of mail and information between folks here and their families of the pows and then eventually brought three of them back to the united states. kora is now the president of the hague appeal for peace. kora is indafatigable. am i saying it correct? amazing. and here she is. going. >> you should never believe a word you hear.
we each had four co-chairs, and each had one woman. marge and me. and there were only four women of the 12 speakers on november 15th. that's a gender point that i will leave with you that sometimes never has changed. but there were other similarities a person asked about using moral values. we had a lot of moral people. david hawken, sam brown, two of the moratorium co-chairs went to seminaries. marge sent a year in a convent with nuns. the moeb has reverend dick
fernandez here. even dave dullinger studied. and the reverend william sloan coffin was the co-chair with correta scott king of the mobilization demonstration. the first mobilization was largely a project of aj, a former protestant minister who called for a just and warless society. if you ask anyone who went to either november 15th, they would say we were calling for an end to the war in vietnam and ignored the differences. with one exception, the mostly men of the new mobe were considerably older than the mostly men of the moratorium. the reason it was called the new
mobe in 1969 was to distinguish it from the old one of 1966 by becoming broader and less radical and a coalition of 60 or more organizations. we pledged ourselves to legal and nonviolent tactics. at the time, the november 15th demonstration was called the largest peace march in the history of our nation. twice the size of the moratorium which had a police count of 250,000. the much younger people today who are appealing for ways to reduce the climate crisis outnumber us many times over. thank you to emails, social media, and gretta thurnberg. >> david hawk, a moratorium co-chair was on the steering
committee of the new moab. here's a difference. the moratorium didn't get tear gassed. how many people were at november 15th? so you know about that. that's a lot of people. some who didn't distinguish between new moab and moratorium were prisoners of war in hanoi at wallow prison. commander eugene wilbur was a commanding officer of a navy fighter squadron when he was shot down and captured. he listened to world news and knew all about the moratorium days against the war in vietnam. he was referring to both october and november 15th. even professor appy referred to the moratoriums, as if -- so it
was a common expression. just as the two events were called moratorium days, so, too, the anti-nuclear activities of sane which called for the an little of nukes and the freeze which called for just that, freeze but not abolish nuclear weapons were both called the freeze. is david here. david courtwright was the executive director of sane. the huge disagreements, the fighting, the arguing among some of the adherence to other group meant nothing to the majority of the demonstrators. you were in the moratorium whether it was october or november, or in the freeze whether you were were abolition or not. who here knows that george washington university will receive $12.5 million over five years for its stewardship of the
nation's nuclear stockpiles? part of the 50 universities getting money for nuclear weapons. we can't forget about that. mobilizing then depended on gas roots organizing. no email. no social media. no cell phones. our telephones were not called land lines. we didn't go around doing this. they were easy to tap. i remember once telling frank see verts of the state department to tell his guys stop bugging wiretapping our phone. he said it wasn't state, the pentagon or one of the intelligence agencies thereby guaranteeing confirming that, indeed, we were being tapped. my memory of 1969 is also fixed on the vietnamese women from north and south vietnam invited to canada by the voice of women.
women's strive for peace brought a contingent to meet the enemy. we got to know a journalist who later became a diplomat at the u.n. we met on july 4th, our most patriotic holiday at a farm just over the border. beautiful day. licking ice cream cones together, we talked about our families, our lives. we became very good friends. and before we parted, zung invited me to put together a group of three women and come to vietnam. it was july. i told her we couldn't do a anything until after the november 15th new moab anti-war demonstration. on december 16th, we started to
plan. >> no one mentioned the bombing. >> we met to think about what we could do on our trip to stop nixon from using the captured pilots as the pretext for perpetuaing the war. when the americans flew over the north, they bombed villages and ice patties, everything. they were also shot down and the pilots who parachuted were captured and taken prisoner. the nixon administration claimed with possibly good reason that the pilots were being tortured. in war, that's a possibility. and nixon wouldn't stop the
bombing until the vietnamese stopped the torture and released the men. if they stopped the bombing, they wouldn't have prisoners of war. families of the missing men joined the nixon campaign. there was that suggestion that nearly since all families had no idea if their pilot's sons, fathers or husbands had been captured, killed or were missing in action, we should offer to find out by letting them write a letter once a month and receive a letter from home in return. we created the committee of liaison with teams of soldiers detained in north vietnam. we brought our proposal to the women's union of vietnam.
the closest thing to a nongovernment al organization in so we wouldn't be arrested under the logan act. we brought hands full of letters from families to be distributed to those who were pilot prisoners and because of the news of the huge moratorium and mobilization demonstrations, we were received with considerable kudos. upon our departure ten days later, we were handed 138 letters from pilots from pows. for many, it would be the first time they found out that their family member was alive. we also brought the news that men could write. everybody was a man -- i mean, they were only men at the time.
there was no gender balance in the military, and we didn't ask for it. we also brought the news that the men could write a letter a month and receive a letter in reply every month, and i asked if the contents and frequency of their getting a package could be improved, and they were. that was a successful civil society initiative which embarrassed our government. we, not the government, found out who was alive in a vietnamese prison act by the simple human act of exchanging mail. we're told it was a first in the history of warfare. the mail exchange depended on sending three americans every month during the remainder of the war to hanoi, some to loas with mail and carrying mail back. dick was one of the mail carriers in april of 19 70 j and
a member of the board of the committee of liaisons. one of the pilots who benefitted from the mail delivery service was gene wilbur, the guy who talked about the moratorium days. in commander wilbur's message delivered on thanksgiving day, a copy of which i have tapped by the cia, so thank you cia for this. commander wilbur's message delivered on thanksgiving day 1969 said, i thank you for your patriotic efforts on behalf of peace and happiness. the vietnam moratorium day proved that the people in my homeland are still united and the subject is the immediate restoration of peace in vietnam.
i'm grateful to tom wilbur, commander gene wilbur's son for his research and writing with jerry lemke, a book about the american detainees in vietnam from 1964 to '73. he would be with us today, but for a bad back. that unique mail exchange arrangement was carried out by three american women with a women's organization of the, quote, enemy state. in august of '72, dave dillinger and i were called to woman to paris and were told the vietnamese wanted to make a peace gesture, and we would go to hanoi and bring home three detained pilots. with the mother and wife of two, the wife and parents of the third were persuaded by the military not to have anything to do with us. dave, richard, charles, the wife
of one, the mother of another, and i invited peter arnet of the associated press. read about it in with the waging peace book. which i recommend. i tell that story because, again, the importance of civil society. in making peace during conflict. actually, it was jodie williams, the who called civil society the third world power. people move policy mere mortal people make achange. look at the civil society uprisings around the world today that all started as nonviolent calls for democracy, economic decency, and against corruption. the violence that's happening is because of repressive measures by police. but i maintain there is a
conscience in this world, and it's on its feet. so how was mobilizing in 1969 different from today? a lot of new communication technology has two consequences or results. on the one hand, you can reach tens of thousands, maybe millions of people at the same time with the same message. on the other hand, you leave out a lot of folks. over 70. well, maybe over 85. we don't tweet. following the inauguration of the current occupant of the white house, we saw the emergence of the social issues. first, there was a huge women's march which was terrific. and had diversity from leadership through the ranks of people and issues. but then we got to black lives
matter, a call for gun control, a march on immigration. all the marches i think on the saturdays of that year were single issue. but we also learn new language. i mean, is that the first time i heard the word binary? i think. and latinex. then on -- we found mostly young people mobilized around one existential threat to the future of humanity and the planet. the climate crisis. now, there's no doubt that climate has been impacting and continues at a faster speed to destroy lives and mother earth. but i only wish that everyone can see that it isn't the existential threat. we're all threatened by nuclear weapons and if we understand
that climate and nukes are apocalyptic twins which i think bob liften also coined as you referred to him before, and we should educate ourselves about these -- the -- about these -- both of these threats, so that we will do more to have a future for everyone. the recipe for a good life has many ingredients. so, too, does the recipe for a safe, sane, and secure future. so i think we need a more wholistic view of what makes for peace. we need more ways to continue to mobilize. not rely only on social media. we need to integrate peace education which is teaching for and about human rights, gender equality, disarmament, sustainable development,
traditional peace practices and climate protection into the curriculum of all schools from pre-k through university. we need to prepare students to run for office from school boards to every level of governance. we need to protect and improve the only world government we have, the united nations. we need to think and behave multilaterally. we need to become multilingual and continue to do everything that you're already doing from reducing incarceration, increasing mental health, raising the minimum wage, reducing the military budget, making suffrage universal and so much more. i dream and nothing happens unless first a dream said steven sontines. i dream that we will one day
live in a nuclear free land of solar power, wind power, and people power, and enjoy gender equality and equality of all kinds. decency j justice, and peace. and as our poet has written, our great, great granddaughter will get up one day and ask, mommy, what is war? >> weeknights this month we're featuring american tv history programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. tonight an american history tv and washington journal study session for high school students preparing for the u.s. history