[sixties-l] Indian Wars & the Vietnam Experience

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 10/11/00

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    Indian Wars & the Vietnam Experience
    by Ben Chitty
    By the time we were drafted or enlisted to fight in
    Vietnam, we had already been indoctrinated for that war
    since childhood by the mythology of America. One myth
    we soaked up was "cowboys and Indians" - the long saga
    telling how white Europeans carved a great nation out
    of a land inhabited by savages. But when we went to
    war, it wasn't much like the movies. Not much of a
    script. The guys in white hats weren't winning, and
    weren't the good guys anyway. The victims weren't
    grateful. Death wasn't noble. War was mostly confusing
    and sometimes terrifying. At best, we survived to come
    War taught us some things. We learned that politicians
    tell lies, and call themselves "patriots," that the
    "national interest" usually means someone can make a
    lot of money. We knew that the honesty and loyalty
    and sacrifice required of us in war were worth a lot
    more than the dishonest, manipulative, greedy politics
    which sent us into combat.
    But Vietnam had another, harder lesson for us. We saw
    the "American way of life" from a different angle,
    at the edge of the empire. We enforced it, made it
    work. Nations occupied. Populations terrorized and
    decimated. Countrysides laid waste. Societies and
    cultures destroyed. For what? So that people would
    us, and learn that opposing the United States
    government meant poverty, misery, and death. So that
    corporations could keep making money. So that colonels
    and commanders could become generals and admirals. So
    that politicians could get re-elected.
    Back in the world, home looked different. The country
    we served - it turned out to be a racist nation from
    the very beginning, when the indigenous peoples were
    killed to clear the land, and Africans enslaved and
    transported to work the newly-cleared land. The system
    we defended - it was set up so that a lot of people
    had to be poor so that a few could get rich, and poor
    and working people, our own families and friends,
    had to squabble over fewer and fewer opportunities.
    The same culture which taught us to be soldiers also
    turned women into objects, things to be bought and
    used, brutalized and discarded. It taught such fear
    hatred of homosexuality that gay people were beaten on
    the streets, just for "fun." It produced masterpieces
    of machinery which no one could control, and stripped
    and poisoned the land to protect and increase the
    margin of profit. What a world to come home to.
    Then when we looked again at our own history, our war
    in Indochina turned out to be an all-American war.
    The Dominican Republic, Korea, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua,
    Haiti, the Philippines, Cuba, Mexico: American
    soldiers fought in all these countries, occupying
    some, annexing others, installing puppet regimes in
    rest, extending or defending an empire. A bitter irony
    - we had wanted to serve: we wanted to be patriots.
    African Americans whose parents couldn't vote;
    Chicanos and Puerto Ricans whose culture dissolved
    assimilated poverty. Poor and working-class whites
    tracked into the draft instead of college or the
    National Guard. Native Americans proving they too were
    "real" Americans. The real war - it turned out - was
    here at home too, and we had been on the wrong side.
    If this country is ever to be the kind of country we
    wanted to serve, it has to change. The change has to
    come from the beginning, from the very foundations of
    our society. The real war goes on still - Angola,
    Grenada, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq - are all
    combat fronts which opened after the fall of Saigon.
    But the oldest war in our history is the Indian War,
    the war over the land. Our own war looked something
    like this war. The "wild West" was a free-fire zone.
    General Custer was on a search-and-destroy mission at
    Little Big Horn. Not much to choose between Wounded
    Knee and My Lai, or between forced relocation to
    new reservations and the resettlement camps we built
    in Vietnam.
    One lesson we learned is also the same. The only basis
    for a just and lasting peace is freedom - the
    recognition of the right of all peoples to self
    500 years is long enough: it's time to make an end to
    this, the oldest war in our land.
    Author's note: This was first drafted for the Veterans
    Peace Convoy to Big Mountain, which crossed the
    country in 1990 to deliver humanitarian supplies to
    the Dineh living in resistance on Hopi-Partition Land
    in the Big Mountain area in Arizona. It was revised and
    reissued for the 1992 Columbus Day gathering at the
    United Nations.
    Distribution encouraged, no copyright claimed.
    Ben Chitty
    Clarence Fitch Chapter
    Vietnam Veterans Against the War
    April 1998

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