Thursday, September 29, 2016

LETTERS TO THE WALL EXCERPTS

For the last two years members of Veterans For Peace have collected letters written to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall) in Washington, DC. These letters have been delivered to The Wall on Memorial Day, encouraging visitors to the Wall to read them. The National Parks Service collects and archives these letters for future reference. 

This past July, Veterans For Peace published half of the 300 letters in a collection entitled LETTERS TO THE WALL: MEMORIAL DAY 2015-2016. You may purchase a copy of this book at cost ($8.67) by going to our website vietnamfulldisclosure.org. If you wish to write a letter of your own for this coming Memorial Day, please send it to Doug Rawlings at rawlings@maine.edu

For my fellow Vietnam Veterans, please be forewarned. Some of the words below may make you uneasy. However, I am convinced that these truths are necessary for the American public to read, especially our young students who are "studying" our war. Here are some excerpts from the book.

Doug Rawlings

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     "...Here is the ultimate haunting question, I think: Did you die in vain?
     Never mind if it was heroic. Forget if you should have been there or not.
The fact is that you were there -- and you died there. So, did it serve any greater purpose? When they folded up that flag and handed it to your loved one, was there anything they could take comfort in?
     I cannot answer that.
     All I know with certainty is this: Beginning with that war -- maybe even on the day you fell -- I knew there was something terrible about this whole business, no matter what Walter Cronkite or any Senators or the President had to say.
     War should never be glorified, or worse, glamorized.  It cheapens life, I think, to try to convince anyone that killing and being killed is anything but horrific.
     So if you did die for a cause, let it go down in history as this -- a lesson in the sanctity of every life and the horror of every war. For that lesson, I thank you.
     May you now rest in peace."
--- Gail

 "To Terry and Allen,
     On this Memorial Day in 2015, I respectfully pay homage to you, my fallen brothers.... I lost a lot in Vietnam: a year of my life, my transition from student to adulthood, experiencing the birth of my son, my trust in my government and its leaders, and my generally positive outlook on life was transformed into a cynicism previously reserved for someone much older than I was when I returned home. You, my Brothers, lost everything. I'm sorry for that.
     I still wake up thinking about Vietnam -- 45 years after I was there. I keep coming to the same conclusion: that all of the deaths of the Vietnam War were a waste. I hate that thought. But I can't escape it....
     Terry and Allen, you did not die defending the United States.  You did not die defending our freedom, our honor, our republic, our liberty.  I hate it that you died for nothing of value and that your lives were wasted.  I weep for you and the others on The Wall. I weep that you weren't given the chance to live."
--- Don  7th/15th Arty

"Dear America,
     Remember me? 
     I was the girl next door. 
     Remember when I was 13, America, and rode on top of the fire engine in the Memorial Day parade?  I'd won an essay contest on what it meant to be a proud American. 
     And it was always me, America, the cheerleader, the Girl Scout, who marched in front of the high school band . . . carrying our flag . . . the tallest . . . the proudest . . . 
     And remember, America, you gave me the Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizen Award for patriotism, and I was only sixteen. 
     And then you sent me to war, America, along with thousands of other men and women who loved you. 
     It’s Memorial Day, America. Do you hear the flags snapping in the wind? There's a big sale at Macy's, and there's a big parade in Washington for the veterans.
     But it's not the American flag or the sound of drums I hear - I hear a helicopter coming in - I smell the burning of human flesh.  It's Thomas, America, the young Black kid from Atlanta, my patient, burned by an exploding gas tank. I remember how his courage kept him alive that day, America, and I clung to his only finger and whispered over and over again how proud you were of him, America - and he died.  
     And Pham….. He was only eight, America, and you sprayed him with napalm and his skin fell off in my hands and he screamed as I tried to comfort him. 
     And America, what did you do with Robbie, the young kid I sat next to on the plane to Viet Nam?  His friends told me a piece of shrapnel ripped through his young heart - he was only seventeen - it was his first time away from home. What did you tell his mother and father, America? 
     Hold us America . . . Hold all your children America. Allen will never hold any- one again.  He left both his arms and legs back there. He left them for you, America. 
     America, you never told me that I'd have to put so many of your sons, the boys next door, in body bags. You never told me . . ." 
---Peggy (Captain and a nurse in Vietnam)

"Dear comrades with whom I served and the Vietnamese people who suffered at our hands:
     ...I started watching the war more closely, the dead women and children, young girls in a society that values chastity who turned to prostitution to survive.... Fellow soldiers were suddenly not there any more, not only the dead but also those who left us maimed and in one case a vegetable with shrapnel in his brain. It was not the threat of death that ate away at me, even when a bullet creased my ear.... It was seeing us decent but lonely and disoriented young American men finding the worse we can be as human beings, doing things that violated the very core values that our parents, churches and schools instilled in us...things that can never be undone...."
--- Ken

"Dear Joe Brown,
     My promise to you still stands that I will not forget you.... I started measuring my life in multiples of yours and others who were killed in Vietnam.... Measuring my life in multiples of yours keeps me aware of the importance of each day. This is your gift to me for which I can never fully repay you. Thank you Joe Henry Brown. Rest in Peace."
--- John

"Dear Richard, millions of Vietnamese, and all the rest who died in Vietnam,
     ...all I can do is sit, think and stare at your photograph, my mother's cousin, my second cousin totally unknown to me who died at only 20 when I was just 6. I think of the sadness our family, like so many others, felt when they received the tragic news of your death....I want you to know, the world to know, and the truth to be told and shared, that even though you died in vain, and you did, ...you really did, just like all the rest who perished, to know that 50 years later ... that there are a group of Americans all over this nation that still care, that give a damn, that want the truth to continue to be told...."
     In loving kindness,
---Julie

     "It's not easy to look into a mirror these days. The years and life have left baggage under my eyes, sculpted lines on my face and left grey ashes in my hair. But I can do it.
     The Vietnam War Memorial is an unforgiving mirror that I turn to for self appraisal.  Did I live a good life? Did I do right? Did I make the right decision? Why am I alive and my peers are not? Am I a good man? Am I a coward?
     I chose to oppose the war and avoid the draft.... I still don't know if my decision grew from roots of fear or conscience.... So I return to have those names judge me or help me judge myself and to be reminded of lessons learned....Did I do enough? Not nearly. But I still have the chance to do good. There is meaning to our lives because we can make a difference."
---B.

"Hey Mac,
     It's now nearly 52 years since we threw our hats into the air in jubilation at our 1963 USNA graduation.... On the evening of January 4, 1966, I received the call from my parents.  On a January 2nd bombing run over Quang Ngai province your plane had gone down....The following week I submitted my request for reassignment to Vietnam....
     In 1998... I returned to Vietnam to participate in a transformative bike ride from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City -- the 'Vietnam Challenge' was organized ...to bring together disabled and able-bodied athletes to participate in extraordinary athletic events.  My fellow travelers were veterans from both sides of the war, former mortal enemies, most of whom had suffered terrible injury during the war....
     While I have written that your death, Mac, prompted my 'service' in Vietnam, it has been just as responsible for who I have become. At every vigil, every protest, every Congressional visitation, you, along with the 58,000 other Americans and 3 million Vietnamese, are with me."
     In lasting gratitude,
--- Dud

     "We who served in Vietnam and came home stand before our Wall as survivors, and we are drawn inescapably into the world of our comrade spirits.  Entering the aura of the dead, our faces melt in tears.  It is not strange or exceptional to witness two aging men hugging each other, sobbing, shamelessly, inconsolably.  They are still grieving the fate of a fallen brother, reliving the horrors of their war, crushed by the heaviness of the wound of survival they will carry to their graves.  Me too. I have seldom wept as powerfully, as involuntarily, as profoundly intimately, exposing my most deeply buried existential sadness, as when I have stood before the Wall."
---Michael

"To Whom It May Concern:
     I immigrated to the US under political asylum with my mother and brother shortly after the fall of Saigon.  After the war, my father, who was a Captain in the Army of Republic of Viet Nam, ... had to report to a Vietcong reeducation camp where he was a prisoner for nine years.... My father came to the US with severe PTSD, and I grew up with that.
     I have spent my entire life processing and healing from the American war in Vietnam. In the past few years, I have been writing poems which serve, to me, as a sort of letter to those lives lost in the war and the pain and suffering as a consequence of the war.... Hopefully, these poems reveal the devastation, still felt today, of the war and the necessity for peace."
     Best and warmest wishes,
--- Teresa (hoa binh)

     "I was 15 when you brave young men and women started to be deployed to Vietnam, but I was 25 when some returned, you did not.....I am so sorry for what you suffered, so very sorry.  At 15, I didn't know much but I knew this, we should not go.... Nothing about this war was right, nothing was won or really accomplished, as if winning even matters. Love matters, this is what matters, and I hope before you died I hope you were loved."
--- Deb

     "This letter, posted at The Wall on Memorial Day, 2015...is framed in remembrance and respect for the two friends I knew best whose names are inscribed on this black granite memorial: Frederick Richard Ohler and Robert Randolph White, both killed in 1968 when all three of us were serving in the US Army in Vietnam.  I was the one who came home.
     I share these thoughts with all the rest of us who survive today -- those who fought in a war that nobody wanted, which few try to justify any more; and those who protested and helped end a tragic policy that took the lives of 58,000 other young Americans, and more than three million Vietnamese.... (P)lease know that we continue our efforts, however feeble and inadequate, to learn and apply the lessons of your sacrifice.  Forgive our failures, but know that we are trying, in so many ways, to mark and honor your untimely departure and to atone for the suffering, to help heal those who lost so much -- Americans, Vietnamese especially, and people of goodwill around the world who labored mightily to stop the madness of that war.
     Rest in peace, my friends. Look over us and our frail efforts, comfort us with the knowledge that your spirits guide us, and help us persevere as we strive to make your ultimate sacrifice a loss that was not in vain."
--- Chuck

     "None of us can quite get it right. We keep trying to figure out what our relationship to you should look like.... It may be impossible.  But we keep trying. For your sake. For ours.... You see, we care about you.  We want to keep you in the conversation.  We want you to know that we still think you can offer us a great deal.
     Personally, I wonder this: did any of you cross paths with me from July of 1969 to August of 1970? Up in II Corps, up in the Central Highlands, down by the Bong Son River.  Do you remember? I went one way, you the other. I survived, you didn't....
     I'll be back, again and again, to walk alongside you for a short while.  I will listen for your voices.  I will touch your names and force myself to swing back through these many years and put myself in the place and time where and when we may have met.  I promise you that I will take this opportunity to meld our spirits together, knowing that I grow stronger, in the doing so.  And I will use that strength to abolish future wars. To stop the killing of innocents. In your name. That's the least I owe you.  And the most. Rest in peace."
--- Your brother, Doug

     "You should know that Nanny, your wife Helen, stands up every Thanksgiving and thanks you for your sacrifice. Sometimes she cries. Everyone is always trying to hold in their tears anyway. Fifty-two years have passed since you died, but you haven’t been forgotten..... I think you would be proud of your family for carrying on your story. I know that they are proud of you. I’m proud of you. 
     Sometimes I find myself wondering what life would’ve been like if you hadn’t died in Cambodia. Would Uncle Bob have spent all that time in prison? Would Uncle Steve be able to keep a job or a wife? Would Uncle Andy still self-medicate? How would Aunt Kathy be different if she had ever had the chance to meet you? How would my mom be different if she wasn’t constantly trying to piece together a father she can’t remember? Would I even be alive today if you had lived? 
     Would you have taught your grandsons to love the outdoors, fishing, and hunting like you did? Would you have come to our football, field hockey, and soccer games? Would you have sat me on your lap and read me stories? Would you look like the picture that’s been on my wall since I can remember? Would you smell like aftershave or soap? What would your voice sound like when you told me that you loved me? 
     I wonder if you thought that it was worth it in the end. Did you whole-heartedly believe in your mission and purpose for being there? Did you regret being there in your last moments? Did you regret anything in your last moments? I wonder what your last thoughts were. Did you think about your mom and dad? Your wife? Your four small children? Your unborn baby? Was there anything that you wanted to say? Was there anyone there to say it to? Could you have spoken, with the bullet in your neck? Did the person who killed you see your face? Did they even think for a second, before they pulled the trigger, about the hole they would be blasting through the lives of the people that you knew and loved? Could they have fathomed that your death would shatter a family for two generations? Did you ever think about that? 
     I know it wasn’t your intention to end up on a wall. I don’t think it was anyone’s intention. My mom always says that there’s a reason for everything. I think there are some things that you can’t find reasons for." 
Love,
---Your granddaughter Linsay

What we have done

Photo by Ellen Davidson
GUEST: Doug Rawlings, founding member of Veterans For Peace, poet, and critic of the contemporary effort by our government to whitewash the Vietnam story, talks about his newest project, Letters to the Wall.

Doug and I had a lot in common. We were both drafted during the Vietnam War, and we both went in a little older then most men around us. 

Doug got sent to the war, and I was assigned to a reconnaissance unit near the DMZ in Korea. I have never felt much guilt about my life being saved in this way. I had gone in doubting the war, and determined not to waste my life. I had no epiphany; Vietnam was just about what I thought it was at the time. 

That's not to say I can't be moved by the suffering of all those vets who came back broken limbed and broken hearted. Sometimes it makes me angry that the people who ordered all this carnage never had to pay a price. They should have been jailed for life.

Seeing the waste of war again is difficult for all vets, and the invasion of Iraq was particularly troubling. Were the deceptions even more blatant this time? Were the young men, and young women more vulnerable to the lies of empire than 45 years ago? Had we the people not learned to distrust our government yet, after all these years of betrayal?

But there is more, the profound sadness that human beings are capable of murder. I never killed anyone, so I don't feel this in my being. Those who have fought in wars go beyond just knowing intellectually that they are capable of killing. They carry that burden in their hearts for the rest of their lives. 

I am going to use this blog to publish some letters to the wall. Let yourself be moved by them. Let us cry together for what our country has become, and for what we have done.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Netanyahu lookalikes

GUEST: Medea Benjamin, long time activist, provocateur, author and co-founder of Code Pink, talks about her latest book, Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.–Saudi Connection.

I learned a great deal from Medea's book, and we had a very animated discussion about what the US media leaves out when it comes to Saudi Arabia. In the past I have spent so much time criticizing the media for its biased reporting of Israel, that I simply had not looked further down the list of Pentagon supported repressive regimes. 

Saudi Arabia certainly fits the Israeli mold. Our country supports the monarchy with billions of dollars, protects it from international censure, and flies its royal family home the day after 9/11. Obama may incur his first veto override for further protecting Saudi Arabia from public scrutiny. He is trying to stop a bill that would allow 9/11 survivors to sue the monarchy for damages. 

With friends like Israel and Saudi Arabia, who needs enemies? Or is the truth somewhat more troubling? Perhaps Israel and Saudi Arabia share similar values with the imperial nation that formed both colonies, the United States.

I included the picture above with rows of Netanyahu lookalikes holding up their bloody hands. Code Pink can find hilarity in the most despicable of public figures. The mockery gives us all hope that one day, we will throw these evil leaders from power. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Changing American minds

Guest: Salam Qumsiyeh, a young woman living in Palestine, whose visit to the US is being sponsored by the Reformed Church of Woodstock, talks about her life as a Christian Palestinian living in the occupied West Bank.

Salam talked about a time in Palestine when Jews, Christians and Muslims lived side by side and got along. "Jewish Palestinians?" I asked.

Salam stated that Palestinians had lived there for 2,000 years, just changing religions as various invasions befell the land. Could that be true, I wondered. Then it was the British and American colony building that tore it all apart?

A war between the Shia and the Sunni was prompted by a similar imperial invasion. And the US dominance of Saudi Arabia led to the rise of Wahhabism, the Taliban, and the collapse of our World Trade Center. Using religious and ethnic conflicts to subdue an occupied country has been around for a long time. Why don't we see it as the root cause of the Israel/Palestinian conflict?

Salam was joyous to be in the US. She told me that changing American minds is the only way that Israelis will change theirs and grant equal rights to all. That's what keeps me going, and maybe keeps you going too. Someday, Palestine will be free.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Risking your life to get an education

GUEST: Libby Frank, member of Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and long-time activist with the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom, talks about counter recruiting in the nation's public schools.

Libby, Eli and I had a good discussion of counter recruiting in the public schools since all three of us have had experience in it. Eli and I went into the schools with a local group called Dutchess Peace http://www.dutchesspeace.org. We worked the cafeterias, came to parents' nights and talked in classrooms. Our best activity was handing out flyers as high school students were leaving at the end of their day. Almost every student took them, and often thanked us. Sometimes we had a number of veterans with us, and that always made for interesting discussions.

We only did it at inner city schools like Kingston, Poughkeepsie and Beacon. Those were the only schools that have sidewalks right outside that students used. The suburban schools have parking lots and almost everyone goes home on a bus or in a car. We had a right to be on a public sidewalk, but not the right to be in a school parking lot.

The recruiting problems, however, are almost all in the inner cities. White, more privileged students rarely pick the military since they can afford other options. Hence, the recruiters spend most of their time trying to recruit people of color. That is what we found anyway. And the recruiters were restricted from roaming the halls and cafeterias in the suburban schools as well. Inner city schools seemed to believe that Blacks and Latinos were lucky to have the military as an possibility. At Poughkeepsie HS, an Army helicopter would land on the football field, a spectacle that more privileged parents would never have put up with.

So counter recruiting is mostly about race. If you are poor and Black, then the military will make a man out of you teaching you how to kill for the empire in some foreign land. If you are a more affluent white, then you don't have to risk your life to get an education, healthcare or a paying job.

Our nation's schools are as unfair as our prisons. Both presidential candidates are warmongers, eager to build up the military and show American's might to the world. Neither would ever question the fairness of having a military made up of the nation's poor, Black students.