Woodstock; War and Peace Revisited



country joe mcdonald and the fish- vietman song

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

It was summer.  Temperatures were high and war was in the air.  People said they were upset with politicians who refused to heed the cries for peace.  Battlefields far from home became burial grounds.  The public noted too many people had died, perhaps unnecessarily.  Americans publicly announced, its time to bring our young home.  End the combat was the common cry.  Yet, it seemed the Administration did not intend to declare a cease-fire.  Some feared a superpower might appear weak.  A pullout would indicate that we had surrendered.  As Americans safe at home pondered policy, soldiers still fell on foreign fields.  Families struggled to come to terms with what it means to be a patriot.  Moms and Dads of military personnel may have wrestled with the idea of what it means to win a war more so than the average American did.  The year was 1969.  

Now, near four decades later United States citizens can closely examine what was on August 16, two score ago.  The opportunity for deep reflection, in retrospect, is possible since a museum at the Woodstock concert site opened in June 2008.  

As visitors literally trek from one exhibit to the next, they figuratively travel through time and space.  Spectators are emotionally transported to the world of the now legendary Woodstock, a festival that marked a political movement.  Within the walls of the museum, people read of the arts and melodies gala, billed as “3 Days of Peace and Music.”  

The words the main organizer of this event, delivered to a massive audience of anti-war youth echoes through the newly constructed chamber.  Then forty-nine (49) year-old dairy farmer Max Yasgur, a man who provided $50,000 and 600 acres of his land, pronounced  “You have proven something to the world . . . that half a million kids can get together for fun and music and have nothing but fun and music.”  Indeed, they did.  Many hoped the event had established that people, who yearn for global tranquility, could lead by example.  News reports mirrored this message.

An estimated 400,000 youngsters turned up to hear big-name bands play in a field near the village of Bethel, New York state in what has become the largest rock concert of the decade.

About 186,000 tickets were sold so promoters anticipated that around 200,000 would turn up.  But on Friday night, the flimsy fences and ticket barriers had come down and organisers announced the concert was free prompting thousands more to head for the concert.

Traffic jams eight miles long blocked off the area near White Lake, near Bethel, some 50 miles from the town of Woodstock.

Local police estimated a million people were on the road yesterday (August 1969) trying to get to Woodstock.  They were overwhelmed by the numbers but were impressed by a good level of behaviour.

Yet, good behavior amongst brethren taught us nothing.  Perchance sadly, those separate from the event, who saw what happened only from a distance, could not accept the veracity; peace is possible.  Ed Meese, U.S. Attorney General, in the Reagan Administration certainly could not.  When asked to reflect on the era in which the historic event occurred, he spoke with disapproval.  Mister Meese, who in 1969, served as an Executive Assistant to then California Governor Ronald Reagan, remembered the Age of Aquarius with disdain.  He said definitely, “It was the age of selfishness. It was the age of self-indulgence.  It was the age of anti-authority.  It was an age in which people did all kinds of wrong things.”  

Years later however, former President Bill Clinton mused the Reagan years, “The 1980s ushered in a gilded age of greed, selfishness, irresponsibility, excess, and neglect.”  Perhaps, history allows for perspective, or only verifies how often humans repeat errors.

Thirty-nine years later, Americans have an opportunity to re-assess for themselves what was and is.  As many journey back into the garden that was Max Yasgur’s farm, in Bethel Woods, Americans may realize novel insights.  The past is ubiquitous in the present.  As people young and older stroll through a Woodstock Museum, vivid reveries may stimulate much thought.  

A child may study the similarities that plagued people then and now.  War is again in the wind.  A teen might think of the trail laid before them.  Is it different from the path a parent or grandparent was forced to choose.  Will they too be asked to fight for a country that did not care to end all combat?  Ample analogies will likely be evident to a young adult.  Elders might sway to the music piped into the halls and be transcended.  Sounds from years gone by may  offer a view of the world too easily forgotten.  In 1969, and 2008, many of our young feel like they are fixin’ to die.  Why?  

The answers are found in the lyrics of a melody sung at the Woodstock concert in 1969.  The festival now seems a century ago.  Perhaps the words will again be vocalized in Bethel Woods in 2008.  Country Joe MacDonald and the Fish speak for many young Americans when they say  . . .


“I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die”

Yeah, come on all of you, big strong men,

Uncle Sam needs your help again.

He’s got himself in a terrible jam

Way down yonder in Vietnam (Iraq, Iran (?), Afghanistan)

So, put down your books and pick up a gun,

We’re gonna have a whole lotta fun.

And it’s one, two, three,

What are we fighting for?

Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn.

Next stop is Vietnam;

And it’s five, six, seven,

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain’t no time to wonder why.

Whoopee!  we’re all gonna die.

Well, come on generals, let’s move fast;

Your big chance has come at last

Gotta go out and get those reds – The only good commie is the one who’s dead

And you know that peace can only be won?

When we’ve blown ’em all to kingdom come.

And it’s one, two, three.

What are we fighting for?

Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn.

Next stop is Vietnam (Iraq, Iran (?), Afghanistan);

And it’s five, six, seven

Open up the pearly gates.

Well there ain’t no time to wonder why

Whoopee!  we’re all gonna die.

Huh!

Well, come on Wall Street, don’t move slow.

Why man, this is war au-go-go.

There’s plenty good money to be made?

By supplying the Army with the tools of the trade.

Just hope and pray that if they drop the bomb.

They drop it on the Viet Cong.

And it’s one, two, three.

What are we fighting for?

Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn.

Next stop is Vietnam (Iraq, Iran (?), Afghanistan).

And it’s five, six, seven.

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain’t no time to wonder why

Whoopee!  we’re all gonna die.

Well, come on mothers throughout the land,

Pack your boys off to Vietnam (Iraq, Iran (?), Afghanistan)

Come on fathers, don’t hesitate,

Send ’em off before it’s too late.

Be the first one on your block

To have your boy come home in a box.

And it’s one, two, three

What are we fighting for?

Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,

Next stop is Vietnam (Iraq, Iran (?), Afghanistan)

And it’s five, six, seven.

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain’t no time to wonder why.

Whoopee!  we’re all gonna die.

America, might we sigh and consider, the more things transform, the more they stay the same.  If today we wish to chant, “Change we can believe in,” might we contemplate that there is still talk of war.  Troops trample through Iraq.  Soon they may storm into Iran.  Those in the Middle East might be shifted to the sands of Afghanistan, or possibly conflict in Pakistan will be on the horizon.  

We need not journey to a Museum to revisit history.  Our local mausoleum may serve to tell the tale of war and peace.

What are we fighting for . . .

Reverend Martin Luther King, Pastor Jeremiah Wright, Edward Peck; Fierce Urgency of Now



Martin Luther King, “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam”

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.

He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.


~ Martin Luther King, Junior

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

~ Martin Luther King, Junior.

Days from now America will commemorate an anniversary.  On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Junior was brutally assassinated.  Citizens will recall the wisdom of a man who lived for peace and yet, fell victim to violence.  Homage will be bestowed.  The American people will praise the preacher, the teacher, and the man who taught us all to speak of what remained tacit for too long.  In the United States of America, all men are not equal.  As a country, we do not treat people well.  Nor do government officials lead us to the promised light of world harmony.

Reverend Martin Luther King spoke of the sorrow that Americans gives rise to throughout the globe.  However, most recall only portions of his homilies.  In memorial, people do as is characteristic.  They remember the platitudes oft repeated and conveniently forget the profound angst expressed.

“I have a dream,” is imprinted on the minds of most Americans.  The words ring out.  They are spelled out in historical accounts that focus on achievements.  Anglo Americans believe in this the “land of the free” we have accomplished much.  Perhaps, the mission is complete.  Caucasians remind themselves of what they believe is infinite progress.  Yet, those who experience the nightmare that lives large in their day-to-day experience recall another statement the Reverend made.  

As Doctor Martin Luther King Junior reflected upon what was and what might have been he saw the gains were never fully realized.  As an imminent war evolved into an extended and bloody encounter the Preacher proclaimed . . .

[M]y fellow Americans, who, with me, bear the greatest responsibility in ending a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents . . .

There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam [Afghanistan, Iraq, name of war or incident you choose] and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America.  A few years ago, there was a shining moment in that struggle.  It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program.  There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings.  Then came the buildup in Vietnam [insert the name of another battle] and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.  So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war 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 to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.  So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they 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 never live on the same block in Detroit.

Martin Luther King, advocate of nonviolence and peace witnessed that America had not truly come together to bring about racial harmony.  Persons with darker skin tones were called to combat in numbers that far exceeded the percent evident in the population at-large.  King understood classes were not integrated.  The divide between the rich and the poor had not been eliminated.  Indeed, the evidence of this was prominent in the Corps.

Reverend King felt as many Americans did, particularly those most profoundly affected by policies and practices that remained unchanged.  The impoverished, those who have fewer opportunities in a nation forever fractured, are asked to fight for the rights they do not realize.  The underprivileged, the deprived, those reduced to ruin are expected to serve a nation that does not provide for them.  Doctor King declared on April 4, 1967 before a Riverside Church congregation . . .

I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.  My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers.  As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems.  I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action.  But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam [Iraq, Afghanistan, or perhaps Iran, Korea . . .]?

They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted.  Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.  For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

The Reverend Martin Luther King, a year to the day before his demise felt it was time to speak to the injustices he saw within his own nation and  how the approach of the Administration circumvented attempts to reach the mountaintop known as tranquility.  For too long, too many, Doctor King among them, had remained silent.  Americans accepted truths, for talk of what is real was thought taboo.  No one wishes to defame the land they call home.  However, reluctantly, as Reverend King acknowledged . . .

“A time comes when silence is betrayal.” That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam [September 11, 2001, wars in Afghanistan . . .]

The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world.  Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.  In the light of such tragic misunderstandings, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church — the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate — leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.

I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation.

Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King felt he must address an issue that remains stalwart.  Today, the situation has not changed, much to the contrary of claims among Caucasians and the affluent.

Regardless of the principles presented in the Constitution, in this country Black Americans are not free.  However, those whose skin is dark are asked to defend Anglo Americans from supposed enemies, and they do.  People whose complexions are purplish-brown fill the battlefields; they patriotically serve the homeland.  Frequently, too frequently, African-Americans, who were never fully accepted in their native country fall.  Before they ever experience what has long been a dream, equality, Black Americans perish.  In a desire to protect the freedoms they have never had, our Black and Brown brethren pass.

Anglo Americans know this; yet do not wish to acknowledge what is true.  Instead, Caucasians criticize anyone who might mention what is fact.  Recently, Reverend Jeremiah Wright has been the source of scorn.  Wright dared to deliver a sermon, which addressed the issue of inequity.

After the September 11, 2001, tragedy, Americans again chose the path of war.  African-Americans were once more called to battle.  The then Pastor of United Trinity Church of Christ, Chicago, Illinois Jeremiah Wright was distressed about what he saw as a shame.  In a nation founded on the noble principle of freedom, people of color were not.

Reverend Wright spoke of his anguish.  Yet, few outside the congregation heard more than a minute of what was said.  Anglo-Americans not in attendance assumed they knew the essence of the message, although they had not read the text.  The pinkish people, pale of skin did not realize he Reverend quoted the words of a white man, an United States Ambassador to Iraq, and Deputy Director of President Ronald Reagan’s task force on terrorism, Edward Peck.  Anglos did not realize that words and thoughts Jeremiah Wright discussed were those of a white man who believed America’s foreign policy was the cause for the calamity that placed this nation in peril.

Nor did the masses and classes, those not subject to racism reflect on how the words Wright offered were similar to those of another leader, one often honored as a Saint might be.  White Christians and Jews forever forgiving did not consider that Reverend Wright quoted the sentiments of a white man, a right-winged Republican official, a man who served with the esteemed Ronald Reagan in his sermon. Pray tell, might we consider the full text of Jeremiah Wright’s homily.

“I heard Ambassador Peck on an interview yesterday did anybody else see or hear him? He was on FOX News, this is a white man, and he was upsetting the FOX News commentators to no end, he pointed out, a white man, an ambassador, he pointed out that what Malcolm X said when he was silenced by Elijah Mohammad was in fact true, he said Americas chickens, are coming home to roost.”

“We took this country by terror away from the Sioux, the Apache, Arikara, the Comanche, the Arapaho, the Navajo. Terrorism.

“We took Africans away from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism.

“We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians, babies, non-military personnel.

“We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers and killed unarmed teenage and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hard working fathers.

“We bombed Qaddafi’s home, and killed his child. Blessed are they who bash your children’s head against the rock.

“We bombed Iraq. We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan to pay back for the attack on our embassy, killed hundreds of hard working people, mothers and fathers who left home to go that day not knowing that they’d never get back home.

“We bombed Hiroshima. We bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye.

“Kids playing in the playground. Mothers picking up children after school. Civilians, not soldiers, people just trying to make it day by day.

“We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff that we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.

“Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. And terrorism begets terrorism. A white ambassador said that y’all, not a black militant. Not a reverend who preaches about racism. An ambassador whose eyes are wide open and who is trying to get us to wake up and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised. The ambassador said the people we have wounded don’t have the military capability we have. But they do have individuals who are willing to die and take thousands with them. And we need to come to grips with that.”

Indeed, Anglo Americans must come to terms with the turmoil those who claim to be free of judgment, and ready to forgive, have done to destroy the likes of a passionate preacher and a Presidential aspirant. Pinkish people in the “United” States need to ponder the power of punitive pronouncements.  We, the white people must wonder, in what way we resemble the Almighty when we slam and damn our brethren and banish him from our hearts.

Currently, Caucasians claim to be colorblind.  Indeed, Anglos are merely colormute.  Anglo American citizens call for patriotism.  In truth, jingoism justifies the combat that benefits the affluent and the pinkish Americans who administer the Armed Forces.  Military missions are a show of might, in the name of right.  Actually, fear of our fellow man leads us to fight against those whose appearance differs from ours, whose ideology does not reassure us.  Anglo Americans may cry, “We honor the soldiers and support the troops.”  In truth, in a show of love, we lead our dark complexioned young and our poor persons of all colors to their death.  Anglos and affluent individuals might realize as Reverend Jeremiah Wright did, “This is a time for self-examination.”  “This was a time for me to examine my own relationship with G-d [or whatever force brings personal enlightenment to you.]”  If America is to change, to progress to become a nation of equals, perchance, pale persons might ponder the words of the honorable Martin Luther King Junior and remember.

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept — so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force — has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love, I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John:

Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil.

Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.” We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity . . .

We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam [Afghanistan, Iraq, name of war or incident you choose] and justice throughout the developing world — a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter — but beautiful — struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

Anglos and the affluent, your actions, reactions determine our future.  Will we be separate and unequal or join as one.  Can we continue in silence, pretend to be colorblind, and remain colormute?  The time is now.  The import is intense.  We must speak of the pain and plight of the impoverished.  It is vital that each of us ask ourselves and our brethren to reflect on what is too real for those who are less privileged, or for people of color.

If we are to be united within the States, if we are to work as a world, one in harmony then we must all heed the words of our Pastor’s, Doctor Martin Luther King Junior and the Reverend Doctor Jeremiah Wright.  Let us not demonize those who speak of love and fellowship.  Might the white people in their wondrous glory forgive those who did not trespass, but spoke the truth that haunts those who remain silent.

“Before passing judgment on the man,

please consider that a good sermon is a conversation between three partners:

scripture, a preacher, and his or her congregation.

A church member’s belief functions like a blade.

It is in the dynamic interchange between the two,

often in the resulting sparks and tension, that a keen and sharp faith can develop.”


~ Reverend Matt Fitzgerald. Senior Minister, Wellesley Hills Congregational Church.  [Caucasian Cleric who worked with Reverend Jeremiah Wright]



FOX Lies!! The real sermon given by Pastor Wright

Homilies, Sermons, Sources . . .

In Country: Spirit, Two

copyright © 2008. Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the campaign blog.

Originally penned November 10, 2006

The mind is a very personal part of each one of us.  We all carry our memories, our personality, and the very heart of our being in our mind.  Wartime touches that special piece of who and what we are in ways that are sometimes difficult to ascertain without the lens of history.  Every war affects those who fight in different ways and yet all share some similarities.  Every individual has a story of their personal stuff.  I have pondered this subject once before here.  This time at the risk of repeating what may have already been said I offer the following story.  Follow up the street, around the corner, and across the field for another rendering from the possum’s personal tales.

Recently I was reminded of some real differences between those who are involved in the action of war and those who only stand and watch.  In the course of time in Vietnam with an infantry company in the Central Highlands, I experienced so many different times and thoughts.  News reports one morning included pictures of a wounded Marine being aided by his comrades.  Even though wounded, the soldier held his rifle in both hands across his chest as he himself was being dragged across a road and out of further danger.  The attention paid to one’s weapon, no matter whether that item may be a pistol, rifle, or some other is peculiar to soldiers exposed to danger where the weapon may make the difference between life and death for the individual as well as for comrades.  Other soldiers in support positions and not exposed to the daily rigors of combat and civilians often handle weapons with careless regard, leaving hand prints on the exposed surfaces or holding a rifle by its barrel.  Never would a combat infantryman do any such.

When the company was on the move, we each carried our rifle at the ready.  Most weapons were  loaded with safeties off, but with a round in the chamber.  Only a few carried their weapons without a round already loaded.  Whether we were on the march or on patrol, danger lurked around every bend in the trail.  Every person had different ways of accomplishing the proper posture, but all remained prepared every moment for whatever the next moment had to offer.  The constant state of high alert wears on the mind over the course of time but such is the plight of the infantryman.  We knew we not only had to remain in a posture of readiness, but we had to be truly ready to perform our duties at any given moment.

All the men in my company were young with very few exceptions.  Even the NCO’s (non-commissioned officers, sergeants) were no more than about 30.  All the rest of us were much younger at the time.  We swaggered and talked bravely, but each of us feared the next moment.  Any given moment could be our last on this earth.  The pressure was ever present even though we were reluctant to make any mention of that fact.

We lived for the moment, planning only for our last day in country.  Every man knew exactly how many days remained in their tour.  In the final days, most knew the number of hours remaining in their assignment.  In those years, rotations were limited to a finite time, unlike the rotations of today where extensions are so common.  We knew exactly which day we would be headed home.  Not one of us ever admitted openly to any chance of not going home.  Such an admission would have been a psychological blow none of us was prepared to accept.

The pressures of war come not only danger, but in real boredom.  The bulk of any soldier’s time is spent waiting.  We waited for orders, for transportation, for food, for any news of current events, and mostly we waited for our turn to leave the field or to go home.  Waiting time was often occupied by idle chatter or card games.  The nature of the time spent depended as much on the individuals involved as the surrounding circumstance.  Waiting brought boredom and weighed heavily on every one’s mind.  Any diversion was always welcome relief.  Jokes and stories of life back home were common.  We called one another nicknames to lighten the atmosphere as well as to keep some measure of barrier between ourselves.  We used cigarettes and chewing tobacco as diversions.  

Very few of my company were destined to remain in the military.  I was unusual in that I had some years of college education prior to joining the Army.  Most members of the unit were draftees with a high school education at most.  We were from all parts of the country with no particular connection one to the other beyond our service of the time.  We came and went at odd intervals without allowance for any real connection in terms of service.  Most of us had only a few short weeks together-too little time for real unit camaraderie such as might have been seen in earlier wars.  Barely knowing each other left us alone in so many ways.  Even though we spent time together, we kept our own counsel in nearly every instance.  In effect, we remained almost as lonely as if we had indeed been all alone.

The words of Christian Stroud in IRON BRAVO tell it all

War is a nasty thing.  The people who start them are hardly ever the people who end them, and the people who end them are never what they were at the beginning.  No one gets out without being touched by fire, and that fire changes everything, changes it forever.

Some men get to enjoy the feelings of battle with a sense that approaches sexual lust.  That feeling was never mine to share.  I came home with a bitter hatred of all the war meant to the men on the ground.  Until this day, I have held those feelings inside.  Today I have returned to the active state of opposition.  If I have any opportunity in this life to keep any more from suffering the trauma of war, I will exercise that chance at any cost to myself.  

The effect of war on the mind of the troops is sometimes overlooked in our society today.  Soldiers themselves may suppress the memories and civilians are often unprepared for the stories.  Civilian populations not only stand and watch during times of war, but stand in support of the troops who ARE involved.  While each group has different obligations during the time of war, it becomes the duty of each and every one of us, veterans and civilians alike, to remain supportive of the returning troops.  Only by sharing our feelings and experiences on both sides (inside and outside) will any of us find the healing we all need so desperately.  This is one more in a series of my personal sharings.  More will come as time and energy allow.  As one of so many who were actively involved I am responsible for continuing to inform those who by virtue of choice or circumstance only stand and watch.  

Crossposted at Daily Kos.

An Indelible Image Instructs; Peace is Powerful

Eddie Adams won a Pulitzer Prize for this 1968 photo showing a South Vietnamese officer executing a Viet Cong prisoner on a street in Saigon.  Associated Press.

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

Forty years have past.  Life is essentially the same.  Even though technologically, throughout the planet, we have been transformed, or at least realize we have the capacity to change.  However, traditions remain intact.  Humans do not wish to separate themselves from what they know.  The familiar is extremely comfortable.  , for generations, globally, we were familiar with poverty, pollution, and war.  These have been our friends, or the follies we love to hate, perhaps, since the beginning of time.

Dearth is accepted as standard.  The masses reiterate as the affluent resound, there have always been poor.  Thus, the theory is there will always be deficiencies.  Paucity is expected;.  Hence, there is no reason to believe scarcity will disappear.  Hope  for true equality was dismissed long ago.

The people on this planet supposedly have created much revolution.  Humans honed tools.  Inventors imagined the vehicles that allow us to travel far and wide.  The world community craved what these machines offered, freedom and liberty.  People prefer to believe they are on their own, independent, and forceful.  Horsepower provides each of these innate desires.

Granted, pollution places our lives in peril; still, some will argue the transition evident on Earth is natural.  Hence, the public ignores the danger in favor of the fact, powerful machines brings such bliss.  

Environmentalists endorse an evolution.  Alternative energy sources emerge slowly, mostly among the fringe.  Humans believe, and act on the premise; true change is just too costly.  Perhaps, modifications are just too scary.  The unknown is strange; perchance it is a strain to stretch beyond what is.  Besides, if the creatures with massive gray matter embrace ecological innovations, they forego a personal sense of independence.  While an automobile offers autonomy, a singular solar panel, one windmill whirling does not provide the same command.  Often, ecological endeavors require a community connected to the concept of together we are strong.

People prefer to feel personally empowered.  It is a challenge for most to love community endeavors.

Perchance, that is why humanity receives technological gains well.  To own ‘my own’ bigger, better, car, boat, train, or plane appeals to what some say are  inherent human characteristics.  From birth, mankind is instructed to enjoy personal prowess.  This may explain why, when weaponry is improved, the public marvels.  ‘Wow; we can conquer, be triumphant in a personal quest.  We can control.  Ultimately,  as a G-d might, humankind knows, ‘we can kill.’

Precision bombs.  Bullets that pierce and then explode, landmines that never fail, these are superior investments.  After all, much as people bemoan the option, mankind continues to engage as he has, in war.  Power is our pleasure, instinctive or learned.

World leaders, drunk with individual and absolute authority, take the people into battle.  There are communities of  common folk who speak out at peace vigils, just as they did two score ago.  These same few might own a hybrid vehicle, or recycle the wares they consume.  Again, it is evident,  the people willing to work as one, are less influential and able to prevail.

Hmmm; might we wonder.  If decades, and centuries ago, if even now, there are those happy to hope, and work in harmony, is aggression natural?  Who or what taught a small number of people  to profoundly pursue peace.

Perchance, the horrors of war, shaped some.  When captured on film an image makes an indelible impression.  If experienced directly the disgust is deep.  The few who have been to battle do not wish to speak of what they witnessed.  

Civilian folk who never served often contemplate the differences and similarities between one war and another.  Historians probe and prod into the particulars.  Currently, Americans read and hear of numerous comparisons between the Vietnam and Iraq offensives.  Possibly, the most meaningful commonality is death and how intentional homicide can devastate those who experience such destruction.  When a person purposely assassinated another living being, perchance, he or she realizes the power to perform great feats on your own, the supremacy experienced when a person goes in for the kill is not as beautiful as people think it might be.  

Famous Photographer Eddie Adams may teach us through his reflection.  Artiste Adams recalls the North Vietnamese had just begun their Tet Offensive.  This was a massive military push southward.  Allied General Nguyen Ngoc Loan and his troops were trying to rid Saigon of the growing number of Viet Cong guerrillas.  When the professional cameraman, Eddie Adams saw several South Vietnamese soldiers lead a prisoner down the street, he concluded this moment might be significant.  Adams chose to follow the Southern armed forces with an NBC television crew.

The journalists followed the soldiers, and Adams thought the soldiers would load the prisoner into a wagon.  Suddenly, Loan reached for a pistol, Adams said in an interview.  “He pulled it up and shot him in the head and walked away,” the photographer said.

“I thought he was just going to threaten him, and I took a picture,” Adams said.  “But I didn’t know he was going to shoot him.  And when he walked toward myself and the NBC crew, he said, ‘They killed many of your people and many of my men,’ and walked away.” . . .

Loan moved to the United States after fleeing South Vietnam in 1975.  Shortly before Loan’s death in 1998, Adams said he spoke with the former officer.

“He was very sick, you know, he had cancer for a while,” Adams said.  “And I talked to him on the phone and I wanted to try to do something, explaining everything and how the photograph destroyed his life and he just wanted to try to forget it.

If only a person, or a society, would ponder and speak of the pain he, she, or we initiate, then, perhaps all others would learn from history.  If stark photographic images of the wars, worldwide, were made available to every person, we might realize how horrible combat is.  Perhaps, then, together, we could begin a dialogue.  

People who saw the terror or partook in the destruction might discuss and discover why humans engage in such senseless entanglements.  If we understood the truer causes and the devastating effects, we might stop perpetuating physical and emotional torture.  As part of a global community, as a vast village, it is time to realize, we are not powerful when we allow poverty, pollution, and warfare to prosper.

Power and the Profound . . .

Bush Invokes Vietnam Analogy; Insists On Victory In Iraq


Bush’s Speech on Iraq and Asian Wars

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

Today history was made or perhaps, rewritten.  On this date, August 22, 2007, the President of the United States of America, who has long declared there is no comparison between the flawed and failed American involvement in Vietnam and the protracted and poorly planned engagement in Iraq made one.  In truth, he offered many.  George W. Bush, in a very lengthy speech, delivered to the Veterans of Foreign Wars documented world history in a manner that mesmerized people throughout the planet.  Some thought his words wise; other decidedly disagreed.  Mister Bush brilliantly crafted the content of his speech in hopes of promoting support for his program, the surge.

Worldwide people pondered the intent of the prose and the broader significance.  Missives can be woven carefully.  Meanings manipulated.  Constructs contrived, and the effects can be innumerable.  MoveOn.org is concerned that messages are easily shaped in support of a desired spin.

On Monday, Hillary Clinton told a crowd, “We’ve begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in Al Anbar province, it’s working.” And on Tuesday, Barack Obama said, “My assessment is that if we put an addition 30,000 of our outstanding troops in Baghdad it is going to quell some of the violence short term.”

Now, the Washington Times is using those quotes to suggest that Democrats are embracing President Bush’s surge strategy. The headline reads: “Democrats See ‘Results’ in Iraq.”

History is easily manufactured to mean what we wish it to denote.  His story or hers is a unique perspective; that is unavoidable.  However, a President, particularly the Commander-In-Chief of the world’s greatest superpower has the wherewithal to create more than a note.  This man [or woman] can and does affect lives throughout the globe.

Many historians thought the President’s assessment much folly.  While a few experts admit Mister Bush was accurate in some respects, they opined his statements ultimately were incorrect.  Without the advent of this American-led war, circumstances in Vietnam would have not been as they were.

President Bush is right on the factual record, according to historians.  But many of them also quarreled with his drawing analogies from the causes of that turmoil to predict what might happen in Iraq should the United States withdraw.

“It is undoubtedly true that America’s failure in Vietnam led to catastrophic consequences in the region, especially in Cambodia,” said David C. Hendrickson, a specialist on the history of American foreign policy at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.

“But there are a couple of further points that need weighing,” he added.  “One is that the Khmer Rouge would never have come to power in the absence of the war in Vietnam – this dark force arose out of the circumstances of the war, was in a deep sense created by the war.  The same thing has happened in the Middle East today.  Foreign occupation of Iraq has created far more terrorists than it has deterred.”

Nonetheless, the words of George W. Bush are his truth and could become our policy.  What the President says carries enormous weight.  President Bush marches on as he leads us all into an unwarranted battle.  A man that chose to avoid the frontlines in his youth, and rarely if ever ventures to the fields now, felt a need to justify this American-Iraq War and demonstrate that his legacy will live large and be labeled a successful endeavor to establish democracy worldwide. 

Mister Bush explained it is in the best interest of the United States that we continue to work until we stabilize Iraq.  Today, as on every other day, the Commander-In-Chief disregarded calls from Generals who spoke out from the start. He ignored the notion that the Iraq war was a mistake.  Whispers suggest President Bush will defy the logic of experts in defense again.  Some say even General Petraeus will state we must lower expectations; we cannot expect Iraqis to embrace democracy. Many recognize the White House may merely frame the General’s words to meet the President’s wants.  The citizens know, Congress understands Mister Bush prefers to stay the course no matter the human or monetary cost.  For President Bush history, or his story is reality.

Finally, there’s Vietnam. This is a complex and painful subject for many Americans. The tragedy of Vietnam is too large to be contained in one speech. So I’m going to limit myself to one argument that has particular significance today. Then as now, people argued the real problem was America’s presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end. . .

Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. There’s no debate in my mind that the veterans from Vietnam deserve the high praise of the United States of America.  (Applause.)  Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps,” and “killing fields.”

There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today’s struggle — those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001.  In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that “the American people had risen against their government’s war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today.”

His number two man, Zawahiri, has also invoked Vietnam. In a letter to al Qaeda’s chief of operations in Iraq, Zawahiri pointed to “the aftermath of the collapse of the American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents.”

Zawahiri later returned to this theme, declaring that the Americans “know better than others that there is no hope in victory. The Vietnam specter is closing every outlet.”  Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price to American credibility — but the terrorists see it differently.

We must remember the words of the enemy.  We must listen to what they say. Bin Laden has declared that “the war [in Iraq] is for you or us to win. If we win it, it means your disgrace and defeat forever.”  Iraq is one of several fronts in the war on terror — but it’s the central front — it’s the central front for the enemy that attacked us and wants to attack us again.  And it’s the central front for the United States and to withdraw without getting the job done would be devastating. (Applause.)

If we were to abandon the Iraqi people, the terrorists would be emboldened, and use their victory to gain new recruits. As we saw on September the 11th, a terrorist safe haven on the other side of the world can bring death and destruction to the streets of our own cities. Unlike in Vietnam, if we withdraw before the job is done, this enemy will follow us home.  And that is why, for the security of the United States of America, we must defeat them overseas so we do not face them in the United States of America. (Applause.)

Recently, two men who were on the opposite sides of the debate over the Vietnam War came together to write an article. One was a member of President Nixon’s foreign policy team, and the other was a fierce critic of the Nixon administration’s policies.  Together they wrote that the consequences of an American defeat in Iraq would be disastrous.

Here’s what they said: “Defeat would produce an explosion of euphoria among all the forces of Islamist extremism, throwing the entire Middle East into even greater upheaval. The likely human and strategic costs are appalling to contemplate.  Perhaps that is why so much of the current debate seeks to ignore these consequences.”  I believe these men are right.

In Iraq, our moral obligations and our strategic interests are one. So we pursue the extremists wherever we find them and we stand with the Iraqis at this difficult hour — because the shadow of terror will never be lifted from our world and the American people will never be safe until the people of the Middle East know the freedom that our Creator meant for all.  (Applause.)

I recognize that history cannot predict the future with absolute certainty.  I understand that.  But history does remind us that there are lessons applicable to our time.

Apparently, the reason Mister Bush does not authentically learn from the past, is because he writes his own version of what was.  What is most distressing for me is that President Bush is not alone.  The veterans in the audience applauded.  Many saw or heard George W. Bush speak in September 2001, and even on this day, thought the man persuasive.

Might we recall that the past is painted and is easily tainted to appease the masses or the man.  On April 14, 2004, George W. Bush avowed any attempt to equate the two American lead wars was erroneous. 

Q. Mr. President, April is turning into the deadliest month in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad, and some people are comparing Iraq to Vietnam and talking about a quagmire. Polls show that support for your policy is declining and that fewer than half Americans now support it.  What does that say to you and how do you answer the Vietnam comparison?

A. Yeah, I think the analogy is false. I also happen to think that analogy is – sends the wrong message to our troops and sends the wrong message to the enemy.

Yet, this morning the man who diligently avoided active service during the Vietnam conflict devoted much time to draw a parallel.  In a lengthy speech, Mister Bush argued the situation in Iraq is similar to what was in Vietnam.  Senator Ted Kennedy, form Democrat from Massachusetts made the argument months ago.  Senator Ted Kennedy thought the similarities striking and said so.


Senator Kennedy: “Iraq is George Bush’s Vietnam”

Today, we must decide for ourselves, which historical account will we ascribe to.  War is good; it brings peace and [forcefully imposed] democracy, or only people can work together as one if we are to give rise to harmony.  For me, there is no other option.  Diplomacy, face-to-face interactions, amongst world leaders and the common folk, are the only avenue towards understanding. 

President Bush cannot and does not speak for me.  Hillary Clinton’s claims that warfare might work do not deliver me from judgments of “evil.”  Words of a temporary reduction of violence, no matter the intent do not quell my fears.  Senator Barack Obama does not restore a faith I never had in combat.  I believe as Buddha offered.

Believe nothing,
no matter where you read it,
or who said it,
no matter if I have said it,
unless it agrees with your own reason
and your own common sense.

~ Buddha

Prefer to pounce as we have for centuries, or Give Peace a Chance . . .

  • President Bush Attends Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention, Discusses War on Terror,  Office of the Press Secretary.  August 22, 2007
  • “Democrats See ‘Results’ in Iraq.” By S.A. Miller.  Washington Times. August 21, 2007
  • Ex-General Gives His Take on Iraq War, In His Memoir, Franks Also Seems Supportive of the Bush Administration. By Thomas E. Ricks. Washington Post.  Sunday, August 1, 2004; Page A10
  • Retired generals rising up against Iraq war, By Erin Solaro.  Seattle Post Intelligencer. April 16, 2006
  • Why Iraq Was a Mistake. By Lieutenant General Greg Newbold.  Time Magazine. April 9, 2006
  • Historians divide on Vietnam’s lessons for Iraq, By Thom Shanker.  the International Herald Tribune.  August 22, 2007
  • Bush Cites Past Conflicts to Urge Staying In Iraq. The New York Times. August 22, 2007
  • pdf Bush Cites Past Conflicts to Urge Staying In Iraq. The New York Times. August 22, 2007
  • Press Briefing by Tony Snow. Office of the Press Secretary.  August 1, 2007
  • Transcript of Bush’s Remarks on Iraq: ‘We Will Finish the Work of the Fallen.’  The New York Times.  April 14, 2004
  • Vietnam: A Personal Recollection, Part II

    copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

    Part I of my story was posted earlier as a crosspost from Daily Kos.  [You may also wish to read Part I at BeThink.]  I am humbled with gratitude for all who took time to read the previous posting.  The support for one another so often expressed here in BlogLand takes my breath away one more time.  You cannot know how much that support means until you, too, have been a beneficiary.

    This diary picks up just where the first part ended.  Travel down the yellow brick road and over the fold to the second part of the possum’s tale.

    Once I left the field misery struck the company three more times.  One patrol called in air support that hit the patrol by mistake.  Several men died.  A lone Kentucky boy (I remember him best because were from the same home state) was killed by a sniper while on daytime sentry.  Another man was killed as he awakened a sleeping soldier for a change of the night sentry duty.  I learned of each tragic event from fellow soldiers out of the field and had no opportunity to discuss any of the episodes with fellows from the field company.  The dead men were all folk I knew superficially in the field.  Their deaths were just taken as part of the war and not given any special attention at the time.  The pure lack of emotion at the time seems remarkable today.  Just one more aspect of war that defies easy explanation or acceptance.

    Endless days dragged by spent on a helicopter loading zone.  Long, boring, hot days punctuated by the occasional loading.  One memorable day included a helicopter flight as the lone passenger.  I held a security clearance high enough to deliver code books to field units and this was one of those days.  The pilots were having a fun time as we zipped along following the course of a small river part way.  When we left the river a man working his rice paddy with a water buffalo became the target of mischief.  In accordance with giving locals no respect the man was buzzed by a very low flight.  He dove into the water and the water buffalo left the scene running scared.  I always wondered just how that man recovered and what he lost along the way.

    There were so many stories along the way.  Christmas was officially celebrated when the artillery ceased firing for 24 hours.  The sudden silence was deafening.  The children who were employed as drug runners near the helicopter pad were an interesting bunch.  They were chosen to carry drugs from seller to buyer since the MP’s were less likely to arrest or harm them in any way.  Most times the police just ran the kids off.  Today those children who survived might be in their 40’s an 50’s. 

    Food in the field was always a challenge.  C-rations came in various incarnations, most of which would be considered inedible in our society today.  We managed to concoct different ways to make the stuff easier to consume and heated our meals on fires of burning C-4 (a plastic explosive very effective for making large explosions if struck or detonated by a spark).  We all carried a personal supply of C-4 for cooking.  After watching a landing zone being cleared with explosives we went about our mealtime without a single thought.  One day on sick call found me in a front line hospital unit.  The sights and sounds of that tent were a far cry from the TV show, M*A*S*H. 

    The wounded were everywhere in the tent.  Medics were working feverishly to stabilize the members of both Vietnamese and American forces for transfer to other hospital units.  The scene was one of controlled chaos from which I quietly retreated, taking my aches and pains back to my unit.  Isolation was nearly complete.  We had very little news of the outside world.  An occasional Stars and Stripes came our way, but no real outside news was available.  We only had our daily struggle in a very limited world.

    The time to go home arrived at last.  I remember a very different trip altogether than the trek over.  We were alive and well.  We were going home.  Happiness reigned.  I remember no real war stories on the return trip; although some such might have been a natural occurrence at the time.  Many of us were finished with our tours, while others were going home on leave before returning to some other duty.  The plane landed in Alaska in deep winter.  Disembarking from the plane dressed in jungle fatigues we faced a winter wind blowing snow across the tarmac.  Even though we went inside quickly, I still remember the cold shock of that landing.  Once back at Fort Lewis I got my new uniform with all the patches earned on the tour.  Traveling home in that new uniform with the serious suntan from days on the helicopter pad made me feel very self-conscious.  No one else seemed to take any special notice.  One airport layover had TV scenes of one early moon walk.  I was so disconnected from the real world that I had to be reminded later that the show was live and not a science fiction movie. 

    Entering society once again was traumatic.  The transition from an all male war zone to family life was difficult.  For many months I was startled and would duck by reflex at any loud noise.  My family took many days to get over their concern at my reactions.  After time those automatic responses of mine died away. 

    My two younger brothers were both facing the potential of being drafted.  By the time I was home my opposition to the war was deep.  My parents and I discussed the possibility of sending the brothers to Canada.  Luckily both were assigned lottery numbers that kept them from the draft.  To this day I am grateful we as a family did not face the decisions that tore so many families.

    For years after coming home I tried to be a good citizen.  Voting in every election and keeping relative track of world news has always been important to me.  Still I kept my own counsel and did not speak out other than to the closest of friends.  Then came the first Gulf War with live coverage on a daily basis.  The memories of Vietnam began to come back in a flood and I came to believe that we as a nation were repeating the mistakes of history.

    9/11, the run up to Afghanistan, and the subsequent invasion of Iraq solidified my worries.  At the time I remained opposed to the war and all it meant at home and abroad.  Learning that the administration outright lied about WMD’s and other facets made me really angry.  I found Delaware Pacem in Terris on a march commemorating an anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.  I found many new people with similar views of the war.  These new friends along with the regular vigils on the bridge in addition to a lengthening series of letters to the editor became a new way of life.  Not venting my anger and disappointment ceased to be an option.

    Today I live in real fear of what world we are leaving behind.  Today I feel obligated to act in all the ways available to me as an individual to end the senseless violence that is war.  To that end I am grateful for the opportunity to share my personal story.  Nothing I might say can convey the reality of war.  To say that war is ugly is very much an understatement. 

    To get some grasp of the reality that is war, put yourself in country.  Think of the fear.  Live in abject fear for a few moments.  If each minute as a single day in your life.  Remind yourself each moment that some people in the room may have just died.  Remind yourself that each minute might just be your last one on this earth.  Remember all the time the true face of war is ugly.  Think of living the fear of each and every day without admitting to any such thought.  The psychological trauma is the worst part.  No person can return from war without being changed inside.  The outside may be the same, but the inside always changes.

    Today I do not know how to end the ongoing occupation of Iraq, or how to avoid such conflicts in the future but I do know with great certainty what many of our troops in Iraq today are going to feel in 30 years or so.

    Two quotes to end.  These people said it all much better than I ever could.

    I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.
    ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

    Wars are rarely fought for the reasons that are claimed.  Those reasons amount to nothing more than bogus excuses, ways to hoodwink the gullible public, and the vilest propaganda designed to incite people to sacrifice their children for a supposedly glorious cause. 

    The defense of freedom and democracy is one false claim that we often hear in this country.  This shameful claim could not be further from the truth. 

    No one ever bothers to explain how our freedom and democracy are at risk in some obscure little country halfway around the world.  That’s because the sad and dirty truth is that wars are fought for empire and the financial gain of the few.
    –Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, two time medal of honor winner at the time of his death the only such person.

    Crossposted from Daily Kos.

    Vietnam: A Personal Recollection, Part I

    copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

    The raccoons tale is bushy
    The possum’s tail is bare.
    The rabbit has no tail at all
    Just a little bitty patch of hair.

    Encouraged by other people and after the example of so many in BlogLand I offer my story.  Every person who spent time in Vietnam has a story.  Every one is different.  This is my personal story related to the best that memory serves today.  If you are so inclined follow over the fold and down the yellow brick road as the possum tells his tale.

    My war experience was very easy in comparison to so many others yet I had more than enough for one lifetime.  The overall pain of the war has been diminished somewhat by the passage of time.  My time in country (in Vietnam) began in the summer of 1969 and ended in March, 1970, for a total of 179 days.  I celebrated a 23rd birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s in country.  I was assigned as communications chief for an infantry company in the central highlands.  We called An Khe and Pleiku our base camps but spent more time in the field than in camp.

    I began my military experience by withdrawing from college.  My not being a student took away all deferments and I was soon 1-A and ready for the draft.  I joined the US Army in an effort to at least have a degree of choice in training.  Active duty in March, 1967, in Basic Training at Fort Benning, Georgia.  Training as a tank driver and gunner continued at Fort Campbell, KY, (the result of failed training choices and an army assignment instead).  Eighteen months in Germany with a tank battalion followed.  More training in Europe qualified me as a communications chief by the end of the Germany tour.

    I started off to Vietnam after a thirty day leave at home.  Parting from family was a solemn and sad affair for all of us.  Airports are cold places at such times and Lexington, KY, was no better or worse than any other.  The first stage of my journey started at Fort Lewis, Washington, a gathering point for outgoing and returning soldiers at that time; although the two sets were kept well separated.  By the time of my assignment I knew enough about both the war and the American military to believe that no good could come from the situation.  My going to war was a final choice between getting on the plane or facing a court martial.  At the time I truly saw the going as a better option.  Today might bring a different choice.  Jail may not be so bad in contrast.  Hindsight is always a better vision. 

    I remember a very quiet trip from Ft. Lewis.  We were all young, all male, and traveling on a military charter flight.  Some few saw the event as an adventure fueled by testosterone and the desire for some measure of glory.  I, like most, just wished to return home alive one day.  Fear and uncertainty about the future ruled my life that day.

    The flight stopped briefly in Hawaii and in Guam.  At both places we disembarked for a short time before continuing our flight.  We arrived at Cam Ranh Bay in daylight hours.  My first sight of Vietnam included snow white beaches  landscape bordered by a lush, green landscape.  Vietnam is a semi-tropical country and is really quite beautiful if one is only a tourist.  I remember wondering if and when I would ever see those shores again.

    Dehumanization began quickly?in time of war every individual becomes an object.  All the slang terms about the opposing forces were introduced in the first few minutes of welcome.  The enemy and the allies all become in many ways the same in how the opposition is seen.  On the weapons ranges we fired at targets that were vaguely human in shape.  In Vietnam I remember targets with cartoonish human torsos painted on.  The entire process was aimed at producing soldiers able to kill other humans without a single thought.

    I had no real friends in my group.  The realities of war precluded any close attachments among us.  The danger of losing a friend kept most of us to acquaintance without real relationship.  Conversations were kept very superficial.  We complained about the food, the heat, the trek, the equipment, and so on.  Fear was not part of the conversation.  Not one of us ever admitted aloud that he was afraid, or at least not that I ever heard.

    Mere days before my assignment to the company in the field the group met an ambush.  Several men died.  I cannot remember a single time when anyone in the field at the time ever mentioned that event to me.  Those deaths were just more lost objects.  The reality of the moment took over each and every day.  Not one of us could dwell on the death of a comrade for that would remind us of our own precarious position.

    In the field we were on the move most days.  Sometimes we would camp for as much as 2-3 days but more often we were moving 2-3 days at a time.  On the march we carried all we owned along with food, water, ammunition, weapons, and communications gear.  The loads were heavy and often difficult to manage in the heat.  As communications chief for the company I carried our secure radio gear and extra batteries.  The total including provisions, rifle, ammunition, and extraneous gear likely weighed in excess of 80 pounds.  I found the moving all day with such a load an extreme physical test.  My body was just not made for such.  Every day we marched was a real test of my mental and physical endurance.  Each of those days was a nightmare to be endured.  Time encamped was time to be relished and enjoyed to the limits of the circumstance.

    My company operated in an area that contained farm land with rice paddies along side serious hillsides.  We walked right through whatever terrain we met with the company in single file, spaced 5 meters apart as a safety precaution.  As a group of about 80 at any given time we caused quite a bit of damage in passing through when we walked through a rice paddy, but there was never any concern expressed by our officers about what we injury we were causing the locals.  The local citizenry was given no thought at all as we moved about.  By the same token we were similarly ignored for the most part.  We remained vigilant at all times since we were not able to distinguish combatants from friends.  Even children were said to be recruited to deliver live grenades in soda cans.  At least I was not exposed to any such incident.

    We often moved through jungle areas to find an area of defoliation.  Agent Orange was very effective at removing leaves from all the trees.  We passed craters caused by bombs dropped from the B-52’s.  Those craters were large enough (often 20 meters or more in diameter) that detouring around the perimeter was sometimes our chosen path.  Our path on any given day was often unknown until the night before.  Other times we had an assignment that lasted as much as 2-3 consecutive days.  Maps were not always as accurate as the satellite guided devices of today so we often found ourselves on a hilltop different from the one we thought. 

    Any time the company was set in place sentries were kept on duty 24 hours a day.  During daylight hours patrols explored the surrounding countryside.  Only one time did I volunteer for such a patrol.  Being in a completely foreign zone with such a small number of people gave me a feeling of abject fear such as I have not felt at any other time in life.  Other members of the company took such patrols at regular intervals as a part of their assignment in country.  How they managed to do so I still cannot quite fathom.

    One of the daily patrols encountered locals who may or may not have been armed.  In accordance with accepted procedure the patrol opened fire.  No return fire came.  No weapons were found.  The only artifacts in the area were clothing and household goods in a nearby cave.  Apparently the people were just living in the mountains and taking no part in the war.  From our perspective, all who were not in American uniforms were seen as enemies. 

    About halfway through my tour, my time in the field ended.  I returned to a base camp and moved on to a fire base as part of my communications duties.  The fire base accommodated an artillery company along with two infantry companies.  My group was assigned to dig and build a bunker large enough for a complete command communications setup.  That meant a dig several feet in each dimension deep, wide, and long.  The bunker was not completed before we were moved once again; although we did manage about 4 feet deep, 8 feet wide, and perhaps 20 feet long before we were relieved of the duty. 

    During our time on the fire base sniper fire from the surrounding jungle was a regular event.  The artillery made an attractive small arms and mortar target.  While my comrades stood to see the action I always found a place at the bottom of the bunker.  I wished only to go home alive.  I felt none of the seductive effect violence so often engenders in men.

    Tillman. Lynch. Americans Weary of Lies and War


    How they lied when Pat Tillman Died. YouTube.

    The wars leave us all wary.  Soldiers in Afghanistan tire.  Troops in Iraq are exhausted.  The people in the states are fatigued.  Families and friends are drained.  America wants its soldiers to come home, alive.  Citizens cry when chatting with their Representatives.  They shriek when telephoning their Senators.  They write to the President.  Our countrymen spoke with their vote. yet, the combat continues.  The United States stays the course.  It is not the long days and longer nights of worry that weigh on the expectant public; it is the lies. 

    Listening to Kevin Tillman speak of his brother Pat, while testifying in front of the House Oversight Committee, I was reminded of the dishonesty.

    Earlier today, in dramatic testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Kevin Tillman accused the Bush administration of twisting the facts of his brother’s death to distract public attention from the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib.

    The U.S. Army fabricated a story of his brother’s heroism in action, knowing he was killed by friendly fire, Tillman said.  Authorities constructed not only a story of combat action — accompanied by a silver medal – but lied about his medical care, saying he was transferred to a field hospital for continued medical care for 90 minutes after the incident, when the back of his head was blown off.

    “These are deliberate and calculated lies” and “a deliberate act of deceit,” Tillman said.

    His voice shaking, Tillman said the official account of his brother’s death in 2004 was “utter fiction ? intended to deceive the family and more importantly the American people.”

    He said the incident that led to his brother’s death was “clearly fratricide” and described the account of a soldier standing next to his brother who reported the slain soldier’s last words, “I am friendly, I am Pat (expletive) Tillman.”

    As Jessica Lynch shared her story and her confusion, my anguish increased.  Today, April 25, 2007, when the last soldier to see Army Ranger Pat Tillman alive, Army Specialist (SPC) Bryan O’Neal spoke of his orders not to divulge the truth of his comrades death, I wept.

    O’Neal particularly wanted to tell fellow soldier Kevin Tillman, who was in the convoy traveling behind his brother at the time of the 2004 incident in Afghanistan.

    “I wanted right off the bat to let the family know what had happened, especially Kevin, because I worked with him in a platoon and I knew that he and the family all needed to know what had happened,” O’Neal testified. “I was quite appalled that when I was actually able to speak with Kevin, I was ordered not to tell him.”

    Asked who gave him the order, O’Neal replied that it came from his battalion commander, then-Lt. Col. Jeff Bailey.

    “He basically just said … ‘Do not let Kevin know, that he’s probably in a bad place knowing his brother’s dead,’ ” O’Neal told House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman. “And he made it known I would get in trouble, sir, if I spoke with Kevin on it being fratricide.”

    I have been doing a lot of crying lately.  As the causalities mount, so too do the stories.  Sadly, the legends told by our leaders President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and the Department of Defense are rarely factual.  Fiction is thought to be more favorable by this Administration.  It seems our leaders feel we “can’t take the truth.”  Therefore, they do not tell it.

    Vice President Richard Cheney, equipped with his five deferments was able to avoid military service; yet, repeatedly he states, the “United States does not have the stomach for the fight.”

    Mister Cheney is correct.  He, an American never had the guts to fight.  His compatriot, George W. Bush also gracefully avoided battle.  As young men, these two combative, hawkish chaps chose not to fight on foreign soil, or anywhere else for that matter.  Yet, today, they hypocritically claim American men and women are not willing to go to battle.  Oh, Dick, whom are the people fighting and dying for this country?  Certainly, you and your nearest kin are not on the front-lines.  I do not see the Commander-In-Chief dodging bullets now; nor was he as a lad.

    After years of what seems an endless, “protracted” war, most Americans feel as Mister Cheney did and apparently still does.  They do not wish to go to fight and chance death.  The Armed Forces are struggling. Recruitment is down.  Soldiers declining to re-enlist.  There are not enough recruits to maintain a volunteer service; yet, no one is willing to reinstate the draft. 

    As early as July 2003, there was talk of troop confidence; there was little.  Frustrated soldiers wrote to Congressional Representatives “requesting their units be repatriated.”  Morale was low, although according to the Administration, troop spirits were high.  After arriving home from a hastily scheduled trip to Iraq in November of the same year the President told the nation in his Saturday radio address.

    I’m pleased to report back from the front lines that our troops are strong, morale is high and our military is confident we will prevail.

    Lies, more lies, and perpetual deception.

    Years later the problem persists.  Troops want to come home.  Families long to see their soldiers alive and comfortably seated in their own living rooms.  Yet, we were told, leaves will be shorter, rotations sooner.; However, the fact is this nation cannot finance such a decision, or is that the fiction.  One never knows.  I truly am perplexed.  Nevertheless, the new strategy is . . .

    Stretched military to get more leave instead of bonus pay
    By Pauline Jelinek
    Associate Press.  Baltimore Sun.
    April 18, 2007

    Troops will get extra days off — rather than “buckets full of gold” — for being sent to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more frequently, the Pentagon says.

    After months of debate on the new plan, Defense Department leaders decided that time off was more in keeping with “the ethos” of military service to country than money — and that rest is more directly connected to the fact that troops are being stressed by repeated deployments, said Michael L. Dominguez, undersecretary for personnel and readiness.

    “We weren’t trying to find some metaphysical balance between the service you are rendering and buckets full of gold — or any other thing we could do for you,” Dominguez said Wednesday.

    “This wasn’t about that balance. This was about telling men and women of the armed forces that we know when we ask you to do something extraordinary, we’re conscious of it, we’re aware of it.”

    In a sometimes-contentious Pentagon news conference, Dominguez declined to say whether officials had studied whether troops themselves might prefer money, saying it was a leadership decision.

    In what Dominguez acknowledged was a complicated formula to explain, the policy starts with giving one day off for every month troops are recalled early and increases as various thresholds are reached.

    Fear of funding problems was not an issue, he said.

    “The Congress of the United States has been superb and excellent in terms of if we needed something for the troops, they’ve given it to us,” he said.

    Yes, when soldiers were needed they were provided.  The troops came from unexpected places.  Weeks ago, while standing with James on a local street corner, we conversed as we held up our “Make love not war” signs.  Cars passed us, tooting their horns in favor of “Exit Iraq” policies.  People leaned out their windows restating the words on our banners, “Bring the troops home now.”  “Cut the funds.”  “Grandfather and Veteran for Peace.” 

    As the vehicles raced by, James shared his story I winced as he recounted the details.  His older brother is thirty-nine [39] years of age.  He enlisted in the National Guard years earlier.  Financially the then young man needed financial assistance for college and saw the Guard as a means to an end.  A short time ago, James brother was assisting with the Katrina cleanup.  He was proud to help. 

    The older sibling was serving his country as expected, on American soil.  Suddenly, he was sent home early.  He was told he would be leaving for Iraq.  The shorter stint in New Orleans would allow for some time at home before he departs.  James’s elder brother has a wife, three children, and is physically not, what he was.  There was a time when the National Guard did not fight overseas.  George W. Bush might remember it well.

    At Height of Vietnam, Bush Picks Guard
    By George Lardner Jr. and Lois Romano?
    Washington Post.
    Wednesday, July 28, 1999; Page A1

    Two weeks before he was to graduate from Yale, George Walker Bush stepped into the offices of the Texas Air National Guard at Ellington Field outside Houston and announced that he wanted to sign up for pilot training.

    It was May 27, 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War. Bush was 12 days away from losing his student deferment from the draft at a time when Americans were dying in combat at the rate of 350 a week. The unit Bush wanted to join offered him the chance to fulfill his military commitment at a base in Texas. It was seen as an escape route from Vietnam by many men his age, and usually had a long waiting list.

    Bush had scored only 25 percent on a “pilot aptitude” test, the lowest acceptable grade. But his father was then a congressman from Houston, and the commanders of the Texas Guard clearly had an appreciation of politics.

    Bush was sworn in as an airman the same day he applied.

    However, those were the days when George W. was eligible to fight.  Now he orders others to tend to the frontline.  In 2000, George W. Bush entered the service as the supreme officer; duplicity continues as we spread democracy. 

    Oh, the deceit, deception, dishonesty, and finally the disillusionment.  When will it ever end; when will the war.  It is not worth asking this White House.  Obviously, we cannot trust the answers.

    Looking at Lies, Lives, Legends . . .

  • Soldier said he was told to keep quiet on details of Tillman’s death, By Johanna Neuman. Los Angles Times Staff Writer. April 24, 2007
  • pdf Soldier said he was told to keep quiet on details of Tillman’s death, By Johanna Neuman. Los Angles Times Staff Writer. April 24, 2007
  • Soldier: Army ordered me not to tell truth about Tillman.  Cable News Network. April 25, 2007
  • Katrina poses key test for stretched National Guard, By Mark Sappenfield. The Christian Science Monitor. September 2, 2005
  • Transcript: Vice President Cheney on ‘FOX News Sunday.’ Sunday, January 14, 2007
  • Study: Army stretched to breaking point.  USA Today. January 24, 2006
  • U.S. Army Challenged to Meet Recruitment Goals. By Madeleine Brand.  Day to Day. June 10, 2005
  • War may have some Fort Carson troops leaving the ranks. By Dick Foster, Rocky Mountain News.
  • pdf War may have some Fort Carson troops leaving the ranks. By Dick Foster, Rocky Mountain News.
  • Cheney’s Five Draft Deferments During the Vietnam Era Emerge as a Campaign Issue, By Katharine Q. Seelye. New York Times. May 1, 2004
  • Troop morale in Iraq hits ‘rock bottom,’ By Ann Scott Tyson.  Special to The Christian Science Monitor.  July 7, 2003
  • pdf Troop morale in Iraq hits ‘rock bottom,’ By Ann Scott Tyson.  Special to The Christian Science Monitor.  July 7, 2003
  • In Country: Field Conditions

    (It is Friday evening. The workweek has ended; although not for those on battlefields throughout the land. Some seek entertainment on the first evening of a weekend. Others hope for an end to war. Possum reflects. – promoted by Betsy L. Angert)

    copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

    Stories of war times are many and varied.  Ever soldier sees the situation through different eyes.  Even memory changes over time.  Memories come and go.  New ones are discovered as old ones disappear somehow.  The variation from person to person is wide ranging.  The experiences were so very different and yet we shared so much in time and place.  Tonight we visit time in the field with an infantry company in the central highlands of Vietnam.  Pick up your gear, put on your boots, and move down the trail for another of the possum’s tales.

    Life in the field with a company of infantrymen was a very different proposition than the experience of life in a base camp.  We in the field called the people in support positions in the rear “base camp jockeys.”  Other soldiers in other companies had more demeaning names for those left in rear guard positions.  We in the field were the original “grunts.”  A more appropriate nomenclature is difficult to imagine.  We moved about with all our worldly possessions on our backs.  Every rising from a sitting position was accompanied by a series of audible grunts both to express our general opinion of the situation and as a result of exhalation in the the effort of rising.

    In exact opposite to the base camp soldier, we were often unshaven and nearly always dirty.  We lived in hot and steamy conditions punctuated by regular marches from one hilltop to another.  We were sweaty and smelly all the time.  Water was scarce and we wasted very little for such amenities as shaving.  A bath required either a fine stream or a rain shower.  Any rain shower when we were camped was very likely to be accompanied by a large group of naked men frolicking in suds and rain.  Bars of soap were shared freely by those who carried such.  We all carried whatever minimum we thought was necessary.  I saw a bar of soap as an unnecessary burden and just shared whatever someone else offered.  After a shower we just put back on the same dirty clothing we were wearing before and continued about our day.  Thank goodness we were all in the same state of hygiene, whatever that happened to be, so no one took real note of anyone else.

    Clean clothing was delivered in large bags at undependable intervals.  The arrival of clean clothes was always greeted with a mixture of emotions.  We had to find whatever we could that fit within reason so we usually looked like a ragtag bunch.  We usually had clean clothes and showers at different intervals so we were putting clean clothes on pretty dirty bodies nearly every time.  Underwear was left behind very early on as the chafing in the humid and dirty conditions was unbearable.  Just think about poison ivy between the legs and you get the idea.  We wore T-shirts, fatigue shirts and pants, socks, and boots.  We had enough issues with which to deal without adding skin chaging to the list.

    Every movement of the company in the field meant we picked up our belongings and walked.  Feet were always having trouble with blisters along the way.  The medic was prepared with various sorts of medications and bandage material as nearly every march meant several feet in trouble.  After a time I managed to accommodate my boots, socks, and feet to alleviate that problem, but the first few days were painful indeed.

    When we were settled in camp for a day or more we sent patrols out every day.  Usually at least two groups of about eight men would go different directions to survey the area and to search for any evidence of people or enemy forces.  Most such patrols meant just another hike through the jungle, but some were met with greater incidents.  Sometimes the company was encamped on top of a mountain.  In that instance the patrol might begin with an all downhill trek and end with a steep uphill climb at the end of the day.  Those days were difficult in a very physical sense indeed.  On some occasions native populations were encountered.  That meant at least a brief period of gunfire unless the people were clearly friendly and welcoming.  Sometimes caves or other places of living were found and had to be searched.  Tunnels were discovered with great regularity.  Such tunnels were used by the VC (the enemy forces) for protection in times of bombing.  Occasionally such tunnels were still occupied at the time of discovery.  Sometimes we dropped a hand grenade in the opening and left the hole unexplored especially if the tunnel was very small.  Sometimes we had no members of the company small enough in stature to get in a tunnel.  No matter what was found the whole affair was exciting, frightening, and dangerous all wrapped in one.

    We carried our personal items in ammunition cans.  These were rectangular boxes about three inches deep, eight inches or so high, and about ten inches wide.  The box held our pens, writing paper, razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and any other personal gear we owned.  Some people carried playing cards, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or other items.  My set included disposable cameras sent from home.  The cameras were then mailed home for developing.  I came home to find lots of pictures my family had pored over but none of which I had seen before.  Part of the homecoming was explaining the pictures and identifying the people and places shown.

    Letters home were written nearly every day by many of us.  I wrote on the days that we were not moving about the countryside.  My family supplied airmail paper and pens with nearly every goodie box from home.  Letters to family and friends were nearly always couched in cheerful terms and talked about coming home and future plans.  Little of real life or real circumstance was conveyed along the way.  Folk at home had no real need to know just how miserable life could be sometimes.

    Nights were long and usually pretty boring overall.  If we were encamped for any period of time someone would break out a deck of cards and a low stakes poker game would ensue.  Our company played small dollar limits so a big pot might hold as much as $25 or $30.  We pretty much just swapped money back and forth with no real winners and no big losers.  Once final bedtime arrived (usually right at dark unless we were very late in setting up) we divvied up the hours until dawn (usually counted as 6AM no matter the real time of daylight) and set radio watches for the night.  Every person in the headquarters platoon of which I was a part took a shift.  I was the newest in the group and was usually left with last choice, generally about 1AM for a two-hour shift.  By dawn everyone in the company was beginning to rise so we could take shorter turns monitoring the radio.  The radio was monitored for both company and battalion contact every minute we were out of base camp.  One just never knew what to expect in the next moment.

    In the field we were in positions of constant exposure to foreign forces both friendly and enemy.  We never had a feeling of real safety in the field.  The days were long and overall boring with little or nothing to attract our attention.  All was relative to the day and the moment.  We joked among ourselves without ever admitting to any degree of fear.  To admit fear would have somehow lessened ourselves in the eyes of our fellows.  The constant suppression of mindset wore on day after weary day.  Over the course of time most emotion became flat.  We moved through life in a fog without real pleasure or real feelings of any sort.  The loss of the ability to be alive in that way was a serious problem for so many upon returning to the states.

    Time in Vietnam as time in any war was mostly a time of waiting for something to happen or not and hoping nothing too exciting was coming around the bend.  Those in base camps had various options for entertainment which were lacking in the field.  All who served in any capacity were subject to conditions far from ideal.  We were all stranded in strange surroundings.  All of us found our own ways to adapt and to maintain any semblance of connection to life back home.  Those of us in the field companies were sure life had dealt us the worst of the hands, but those in the rear had little more to ease their burdens.  We all suffered to on degree or another whether in the field or in base camp.

    Mourn Not For Martin Luther King Junior; Join the Man ©

    On this day of mourning, we must not forget to give thanks to the man, the person, and the insights of Martin Luther King Junior. 

    Although he spoke of a war, not Iraq, his sentiments still sing to us, or at least to me.  I will say little more in this sharing.  I invite you to contribute.  Please ponder the parallels and compose as you will.  I welcome your wisdom.  I am presenting portions of a speech Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence delivered Dr. King delivered at the Riverside Church in New York City.  Please reflect and share your thoughts.  For me, the similarity is stark.  I am shaken as I ponder the possibility; we could have learned from the past.  However, we did not.  Will we now?  Might Americans consider their own silence and rise above the accepted view, the people have no power.

    This speech was offered a year to the day before Reverend, Doctor King was assassinated.  Contrary to Martin’s musings violence rang out in America and in Vietnam.  It still does.  Then and now we justify what we choose and stay silent, still, or supplant our will to the government.

    Beyond Vietnam [Iraq?]: A Time to Break Silence
    By Reverend Martin Luther King
    4 April 1967

    I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join with you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam [Iraq?].  The recent statement of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam [Iraq?].

    For me, quiet is compliance and acceptance.  We must speak and act kindly if we are to achieve peace in Iraq, in America, and on this planet.  As Ted Kennedy and others have stated, Iraq is our Vietnam.

    Reverend King continues remind us, the people of our power.  Martin Luther King, Junior may use the oft-noted Bush term, “difficult”; however, I believe the tenor differs.  President George W. Bush seems to prefer martyrdom.  Mister Bush is sacrificing his soul to serve us, the American people.  Doctor King offers hope.  He is not claiming to protect the citizens of this country.  King invites them to speak for themselves, to work for their freedom, our freedom.

    The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

    Not forward, which in the world of Bush doublespeak is backward; we must MoveOn.org and seek solace in peaceful protests.  Then and now, there are dissenters.

    Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

    The results of the last midterm election may reflect what occurs when those that were silent for so long, let their voices be heard.

    Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam [Iraq?], many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment, or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

    In the light of such tragic misunderstandings, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church — the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate — leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.

    I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia.

    Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam [Iraq?]. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam [Iraq?] or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they can play in a successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reason to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides.

    Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the NLF, but rather to my fellow Americans, who, with me, bear the greatest responsibility in ending a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.

    We all pay when we do not act on our principles.  Humankind speaks of peace and then pounces at every opportunity.  We cycle and recycle war.  We have for centuries.  Those throughout this planet have rights, human and civil.  May we honor these daily.  If we do not we will be called to remember . . .

    The Importance of Vietnam [Iraq?]
    Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam [Iraq?] into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam [Iraq?] and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago, there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program.

    There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam [Iraq?] and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam [Iraq?] continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

    Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons, 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 to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.

    So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they 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 never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

    This has not changed.  It is the poor, the down trodden that fight for our freedom.  Yet, these young men and women are not truly free in their own countries.  Minorities serve in the military more so than white persons do.

    My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam [Iraq?]?

    They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

    For those who ask the question, “Aren’t you a civil rights leader?” and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: “To save the soul of America.” We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself unless the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:

    O, yes,
    I say it plain,
    America never was America to me,
    And yet, I swear this oath–
    America will be!

    Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam [Iraq?]. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

    As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission — a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for “the brotherhood of man.” This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war.

    Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the “Vietcong” or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

    Finally, as I try to delineate for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them.

    This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

    Young American men and women convicted for committing violent crimes, transgressions against the state, or the “state of affairs” ask us to assess ourselves.  Why is it acceptable when we wound our enemy abroad and not the oppressor within our own land?  We cannot be silent!  We must answer the poor and impoverished in this nation.  I believe we must acknowledge that all, are equally our brothers, our sisters, our friends.

    It is my passion to work towards peace.  I acknowledge ‘Aggression begets aggression.’  Violent reactive behaviors breed greater violence.  I, as an individual must mirror peace and promote the same.  I trust, as did Reverend Martin Luther King protest against brutalities is a must.  However we must present a posture that evokes empathy.

    Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam [Iraq?]. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam [Iraq?]. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

    The neoconservatives claim that the Left, the Liberals have no plan.  Might we enact the King or Buddhist agenda?

    This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam [Iraq?]. Recently one of them wrote these words:
    “Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese [Iraqi?] and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.”

    If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam [Iraq?]. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations. If we do not stop, our war against the people of Vietnam [Iraq?] immediately the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horribly clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.

    The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam [Iraq?], that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese [Iraqi?]people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.

    In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam [Iraq?], we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do immediately to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:
    1.  End all bombing in North and South Vietnam [Iraq?].
    2.  Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.
    3.  Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.
    4.  Realistically, accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam [Iraq?] and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and in any future Vietnam [Iraq?] government.
    5.  Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam [Iraq?] in accordance with the 1954 Geneva agreement.

    Part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese [Iraqi?] who fears for his life under a new regime which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We most provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country if necessary.

    Protesting The War
    Meanwhile we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam [Iraq?]. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative means of protest possible.

    I invite you to speak, to share, to state your beliefs.  My personal preference is for peaceful expressions.  I trust in you, in the goodness of all men, women, and children. 

    May your life be full and fulfilling. May [spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and conjointly physical] abundance be yours, ours.  May we give to others what we wish to receive.  May reciprocal reverence flourish throughout the universe.

    Namaste . . . in peace . . .

    Betsy

    Beyond Vietnam, On to Iraq . . .

  • Kennedy Warns Vietnam is Back in Iraq ©  By Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org. January 9, 2007
  • Beyond Vietnam [Iraq?]: A Time to Break Silence, By Reverend Martin Luther King.  4 April 1967.  World History Archives
  • MoveOn.org
  • Bush: ‘We’re Going Forward’, More Troops Called The Only Iraq Option. By Michael A. Fletcher. Washington Post.?Monday, January 15, 2007; Page A01
  • pdf Bush: ‘We’re Going Forward’, More Troops Called The Only Iraq Option. By Michael A. Fletcher. Washington Post.?Monday, January 15, 2007; Page A01
  • Bush Doublespeak, By Ruth Rosen.  Common Dreams and the San Francisco Chronicle.  Monday, July 14, 2003
  • MINORITIES: Racism Still Implicit In Patriotic Come-Ons, By Carlos Cortés.  Center for Media Literacy.  2003