Re: [sixties-l] Bruce Franklin piece on the Antiwar Movement...

Date: 10/20/00

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    NOTE:  Investigate 71 Gallup Poll claim;
           Insert earlier note.
    >We are thus depriving ourselves -- or being deprived -->of one legitimate 
    source of great national pride 
    >about American culture and behavior during the war. 
    >In most wars, a nation dehumanizes and demonizes 
    >the people on the other side. Almost the opposite >happened during the 
    Vietnam War. 
     Rubbish.  Franklin makes it appear as though
     there was a vast consensus all along that the 
     U.S was wrong and that the NLF and North
     Vietnamese were good guys.  More realistic
     historians have observed that the polarization
     within the American public during that time
     had never been greater since the Civil War.
     There were plenty of people who demonized
     the enemy.  Mass public opinion didn't start 
     to turn against the war until the US body count
     started to become intolerably high, and many
     began to perceive that the US was not going
     to win.
    >One would never be able to guess from public 
    >discourse that for every American veteran of 
    >combat in Vietnam, there must be 20 veterans 
    >of the antiwar movement. And there seems to be 
    >almost total amnesia about the crucial role 
    >that many of those combat veterans played in 
    >the movement to stop the war.
     The above statement is very dubious.  I don't
     know how many combat veterans there are from
     the Vietnam war. I recall that U.S. ground
     troops were engaged there in significant
     numbers for roughly eight years, and that
     peak troop strength was about half a million.
     Tours of duty were 13 months.  Let's estimate
     a million combat veterans.  Who are the 20
     million antiwar movement veterans, and how
     does one qualify for the status of movement
     "veteran"?  Can one claim this status by
     merely having signed one petition against 
     the war at some time?
      When did Americans actually begin to oppose U.S. warfare
      against Vietnam? As soon as the first U.S. act of war was
      committed. And when was that? In 1965, when President Johnson
      ordered the Marines to land at Da Nang and began the nonstop
      bombing of North Vietnam? In 1964, when Johnson launched
      "retaliatory" bombing of North Vietnam after a series of
      covert U.S. air, sea, and land attacks? In 1963, when 19,000
      U.S. combat troops were participating in the conflict and
      Washington arranged the overthrow of the puppet ruler it had
      installed in Saigon in 1954? In 1961, when President Kennedy
      began Operation Hades, a large-scale campaign of chemical
      warfare? In 1954, when U.S. combat teams organized covert
      warfare to support the man Washington had selected to rule
      South Vietnam? Americans did oppose all of those acts of war,
      but the first American opposition came as soon as Washington
      began warfare against the Vietnamese people by equipping and
      transporting a foreign army to invade their country -- in
      Those Americans who knew anything about Vietnam during World
      War II knew that the United States had been allied with the
      Viet Minh, the Vietnamese liberation movement led by Ho Chi
      Minh, and had actually provided some arms to their guerrilla
      forces, commanded by Vo Nguyen Giap. American fliers rescued
      by Giap's guerrillas testified to the rural population's
      enthusiasm for both the Viet Minh and the United States, which
      they saw as the champion of democracy, antifascism, and
      anti-imperialism. American officials and officers who had
      contact with Ho and the Viet Minh were virtually unanimous in
      their support and admiration. The admiration was mutual. In
      September 1945 the Viet Minh issued the Vietnamese Declaration
      of Independence, which began with a long quotation from the
      U.S. Declaration of Independence, proclaiming the
      establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The
      regional leaders of the O.S.S. (predecessor of the C.I.A.) and
      U.S. military forces joined in the celebration, with General
      Philip Gallagher, chief of the U.S. Military Advisory and
      Assistance Group, singing the Viet Minh's national anthem on
      Hanoi radio.
      But in the following two months, the United States committed
      its first act of warfare against the Democratic Republic of
      Vietnam. At least 8 and possibly 12 U.S. troopships were
      diverted from their task of bringing American troops home from
      World War II and instead began transporting U.S.-armed French
      troops and Foreign Legionnaires from France to recolonize
      Vietnam. The enlisted crewmen of these ships, all members of
      the U.S. Merchant Marine, immediately began organized
      protests. On arriving in Vietnam, for example, the entire
      crews of four troopships met together in Saigon and drew up a
      resolution condemning the U.S. government for using American
      ships to transport troops "to subjugate the native population"
      of Vietnam.
      The full-scale invasion of Vietnam by French forces, once
      again equipped and ferried by the United States, began in
      1946. An American movement against the war started to coalesce
      as soon as significant numbers of Americans realized that
      Washington was supporting France's war against the Democratic
      Republic of Vietnam.
      The years when the United States was steadily escalating its
      military presence and combat role in Vietnam -- 1954 to 1963
      -- were also years when fundamental critiques of U.S. foreign
      policy had become marginalized. Outspoken domestic opposition
      to cold-war assumptions had been eviscerated by the purges,
      witch-hunts, and everyday repression (misleadingly labeled
      "McCarthyism") conducted under the Truman and Eisenhower
      administrations. The main targets of that repression had been
      carefully selected to include anyone in a position to
      communicate radically dissenting ideas to a large audience:
      teachers, union leaders, screenwriters, movie directors, radio
      and print journalists. So by the early 1960's, the aftershocks
      of that earlier political hammering, combined with the
      stifling of foreign-policy debate by "bipartisanship" between
      the two ruling political parties and the supersaturation of
      cold-war culture, had stripped the American people of any
      dissenting political consciousness or even a vocabulary
      capable of accurately describing the global political reality.
      As the antiwar movement was becoming a mass movement, in 1965,
      it was fundamentally aimed at achieving peace through
      education, and it was based on what now seem incredibly naive
      assumptions about the causes and purposes of the war. We tend
      to forget that this phase of the antiwar movement began as an
      attempt to educate the government and the nation. Most of us
      opposed to the war in those relatively early days believed --
      and this is embarrassing to confess -- that the government had
      somehow blundered into the war, maybe because our leaders were
      simply ignorant about Vietnamese history. Perhaps they didn't
      remember the events of 1940 to 1954. Maybe they hadn't read
      the Geneva Agreements. So if we had teach-ins and wrote
      letters to editors and Congress and the president, the
      government would say, "Gosh! We didn't realize that Vietnam
      was a single nation. Did the Geneva Agreements really say
      that? And we had told Ho Chi Minh we'd probably support his
      claims for Vietnamese independence? Golly gee, we had better
      put a stop to this foolish war."
      Experience was the great teacher for those who were trying to
      teach, a lesson lost in the miasma of so-called theory that
      helped to paralyze activism in the 1990's. Teaching the
      Vietnam War during the 1960's and early 1970's meant giving
      speeches at teach-ins and rallies; getting on talk shows;
      writing pamphlets, articles, and books; painting banners,
      picket signs, and graffiti; circulating petitions and
      leaflets; coining slogans; marching; sitting in; demonstrating
      at army bases; lobbying Congress; testifying before war-crimes
      hearings and Congressional investigations; researching
      corporate and university complicity; harboring deserters;
      organizing strikes; heckling generals and politicians;
      blocking induction centers and napalm plants; and going to
      prison for defying the draft. It is hard to convey the
      emotions that inspired those actions. Probably the most widely
      shared was outrage, a feeling that many came to consider
      outdated in the cool 1990's.
      While the repression of the late 1940's and 1950's helped
      create the embarrassing naivete and innocence of the early
      1960's, these very qualities fueled the movement's fervor.
      People believed that the government would respond to them
      because they believed in American democracy and rectitude.
      Then, when  the government did respond -- with disinformation
      and new waves of repression -- the fervor turned to rage.
      Back in December 1964, an obscure little organization called
      Students for a Democratic Society issued a call for people to
      go to Washington on April 17, 1965, to march against the war.
      Only a few thousand were expected. But when the march took
      place, it turned out to be the largest antiwar demonstration
      in Washington's history so far -- 25,000 people, most neatly
      dressed in jackets and ties or skirts and dresses.
      What seemed at the time very large demonstrations continued
      throughout 1965, with 15,000 marching in Berkeley on October
      15, 20,000 marching in Manhattan the same day, and 25,000
      marching again in Washington on November 27. Those early
      crowds would have been imperceptible amid such later protests
      as the April 1967 demonstration of 300,000 to 500,000 people
      in New York, or the half-million or more who converged on
      Washington in November 1969 and again in the spring of 1971.
      In the nationwide Moratorium, of October 15, 1969, millions of
      Americans -- at least 10 times the half-million then stationed
      in Indochina -- demonstrated against the war.
      Demonstrations were one form of the attempt to go beyond mere
      words. Other forms appeared as early as 1965. Many of the
      activists were veterans of the civil-rights movement, who now
      began to apply its use of civil disobedience and moral
      witness. That summer, the Vietnam Day Committee in northern
      California attempted to block munitions trains by lying on the
      tracks; hundreds of people were arrested for civil
      disobedience in Washington; and public burnings of draft cards
      began. Moral witness was taken to its ultimate by Norman
      Morrison, a 32-year-old Quaker who drenched himself with
      gasoline and set himself on fire outside the Pentagon; the
      pacifist Roger La Porte, who immolated himself at the United
      Nations; and 82-year-old Alice Herz, who burned herself to
      death in Detroit to protest against the war. By 1971, civil
      disobedience was so widespread that the number arrested in
      that spring's demonstration in Washington -- 14,000 -- would
      have been considered a good-size march in 1965.
      Whether the majority of Americans at any point supported the
      government's policies in Vietnam (or even knew what they were)
      is a matter of debate. Certainly most Americans never
      supported the war strongly enough to agree to pay for it with
      increased taxes, or even to demonstrate for it in significant
      numbers, much less to go willingly to fight in it. Nor were
      they ever willing to vote for any national candidate who
      pledged to fight until "victory." In fact, except for Barry
      Goldwater in 1964, every nominee for president of both major
      parties after the 1960 elections through the end of the war
      ran as some kind of self-professed peace candidate.
      Who opposed the war? Contrary to the impression promulgated by
      the media then, and overwhelmingly prevalent today, opposition
      to the war was not concentrated among affluent college
      students. In fact, opposition to the war was inversely
      proportional to both wealth and education. Blue-collar workers
      generally considered themselves "doves" and tended to favor
      withdrawal from Vietnam, while those who considered themselves
      "hawks" and supported participation in the war were
      concentrated among the college-educated, high-income strata.
      For example, a Gallup poll in January 1971 showed that 60
      percent of those with a college education favored withdrawal
      of U.S. troops from Vietnam, 75 percent of those with a
      high-school education favored withdrawal, and 80 percent of
      those with only a grade-school education favored withdrawal.
      In Lies My Teacher Told Me, James Loewen reports a revealing
      experiment he conducted repeatedly in the 1990's. When he
      asked audiences to estimate the educational level of those who
      favored U.S. withdrawal back in 1971, by an almost 10-to-1
      margin they believed that college-educated people were the
      most antiwar. In fact, they estimated that 90 percent of those
      with a college education favored withdrawal, scaling down to
      60 percent of those with a grade-school education.
      Opposition to the war was especially intense among people of
      color, though they tended not to participate heavily in the
      demonstrations called by student and pacifist organizations.
      One reason for their caution was that people of color often
      had to pay a heavy price for protesting the war. For speaking
      out in 1966 against drafting black men to fight in Vietnam,
      Julian Bond was denied his seat in the Georgia legislature.
      Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title as heavyweight boxing
      champion and was criminally prosecuted for draft resistance.
      When 25,000 Mexican-Americans staged the Chicano Moratorium,
      the largest antiwar demonstration held in Los Angeles, police
      officers attacked not just with clubs but with guns, killing
      three people, including the popular television news director
      and Los Angeles Times reporter Ruben Salazar.
      Certainly the campus antiwar movement was spectacular. The
      teach-ins in the spring of 1965 swept hundreds of campuses and
      involved probably hundreds of thousands of students. By the
      late 1960's, millions of students were intermittently involved
      in antiwar activities, ranging from petitions and candlelight
      marches to burning down R.O.T.C. buildings and going to prison
      for draft resistance. In May 1970, the invasion of Cambodia
      was met by the largest student-protest movement in American
      history, a strike that led to the shutdown of hundreds of
      campuses and the gunning down of students by National
      Guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio (where 4 were
      killed and 9 wounded) and by state troopers at Jackson State
      College in Mississippi (where 2 were killed and at least 12
      There are three principal misconceptions about the college
      antiwar movement. First, it was not motivated by students'
      selfish desire to avoid the draft, which was relatively easy
      for most college men to do and automatic for women. In fact,
      one of the earliest militant activities on campus was physical
      disruption of the Selective Service tests that were the basis
      of draft deferments for college students; the student
      demonstrators thus jeopardized their own deferments in
      protesting against them as privileges that were unfair to
      young men unable to attend college. (The demonstrators also
      risked punishment by the college authorities and, sometimes,
      physical attacks by men taking the tests.) Second, most
      college students were not affluent (indeed, most came from the
      working class), and some of the largest and most militant
      demonstrations were at public universities that could hardly
      be labeled sanctuaries of the rich, like Kent State, San
      Francisco State, and the state universities of Michigan,
      Maryland, and Wisconsin. Third, although college antiwar
      activism did hamper those in Washington who were trying to
      conduct the war without hindrance, the most decisive
      opposition to the war came ultimately not from the campuses
      but from within the cities and the Army itself.
      To understand the antiwar movement, one must perceive its
      relationship with that other powerful mass movement
      hamstringing the Pentagon: the uprising of the
      African-American people.
      The African-American movement had been helping to energize the
      antiwar movement since at least 1965, when a number of leading
      black activists and organizations condemned the war as an
      assault on another people of color while articulating an
      anti-imperialist consciousness that would not be common in the
      broader antiwar movement until 1968. In January 1965, the
      month before he was assassinated, Malcolm X denounced the
      Vietnam War, placed Africans and African-Americans on the same
      side as "those little rice farmers" who had defeated French
      colonialism, and predicted a similar defeat for "Sam." That
      July, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party called on
      African-Americans not to participate in the Vietnam War and
      implied that their war was closer to home: "No one has a right
      to ask us to risk our lives and kill other Colored People in
      Santo Domingo and Vietnam, so that the White American can get
      richer. We will be looked upon as traitors by all the Colored
      People of the world if the Negro people continue to fight and
      die without a cause." In January 1966, the Student Nonviolent
      Coordinating Committee explained why it was taking a stand
      against the Vietnam War: "We believe the United States
      government has been deceptive in claims of concern for the
      freedom of the Vietnamese people, just as the government has
      been deceptive in claiming concern for the freedom of the
      colored people in such other countries as the Dominican
      Republic, the Congo, South Africa, Rhodesia, and in the United
      States itself." Stokely Carmichael was the main speaker at the
      first rally against napalm, in 1966. In 1968, dozens of black
      soldiers, many of them Vietnam veterans, were arrested and
      court-martialed for refusing to mobilize against antiwar
      demonstrators outside the Chicago Amphitheatre during the
      Democratic National Convention. What made the convergence of
      the black and antiwar movements explosively dangerous for
      those trying to maintain order and sustain the war was the
      disintegrating and volatile situation within the armed forces,
      as pointed out by an alarming article published in the January
      1970 Naval War College Review.
      Very little awareness of resistance to the war inside the
      military survives today. But without this awareness, it is
      impossible to understand not just the antiwar movement but
      also the military history of the war from 1968 to 1973, not to
      mention the end of the draft and the creation of a permanent
      "volunteer" army to fight America's subsequent wars.To begin
      to get some sense of the relative scale and effects of
      civilian and active-duty war resistance, compare the widely
      publicized activity of draft avoidance with some little-known
      facts about desertion (a serious military crime, defined by
      being away without leave for more than 30 days and having the
      intention never toreturn). Although draft evasion and refusal
      certainly posed problems for the war effort, desertion was
      much more common and far more threatening.
      The number of draft evaders and resisters was dwarfed by the
      number of deserters from the active-duty armed forces. During
      the 1971 fiscal year alone, 98,324 servicemen deserted, an
      astonishing rate of 142.2 for every 1,000 men on duty.
      Revealing statistics flashed to light briefly as President
      Ford was pondering the amnesty he declared in September 1974
      (at the same time he also pardoned ex-President Nixon for all
      federal crimes he may have committed while in office).
      According to the Department of Defense, there were 503,926
      "incidents of desertion" between July 1, 1966, and December
      31, 1973. From 1963 through 1973 (a period almost half again
      as long), only 13,518 men were prosecuted for draft evasion or
      resistance. The admitted total of deserters still officially
      "at large" at the time was 28,661 -- six and a half times the
      4,400 draft evaders or resisters still "at large." These
      numbers only begin to tell the story.
      Thousands of veterans who had fought in Vietnam moved to the
      forefront of the antiwar movement after they returned to the
      United States, and they -- together with thousands of
      active-duty G.I.'s -- soon began to play a crucial role in the
      domestic movement. Dozens of teach-ins on college campuses
      were led by Vietnam veterans, who spoke at hundreds of
      rallies. More and more demonstrations were led by large
      contingents of veterans and active-duty servicepeople, who
      often participated under risk of grave punishment. The
      vanguard of that Washington demonstration by half a million
      people in the spring of 1971 was a contingent of a thousand
      Vietnam veterans, many in wheelchairs and on crutches, who
      then conducted "a limited incursion into the country of
      Congress," which they called Dewey Canyon III (Dewey Canyon I
      was a 1969 covert "incursion" into Laos; Dewey Canyon II was
      the disastrous February 1971 invasion of Laos). About 800
      marched up to a barricade hastily erected to keep them away
      from the Capitol and hurled back their Purple Hearts, Bronze
      Stars, Silver Stars, and campaign ribbons at the government
      that had bestowed them.
      The antiwar movement initiated back in 1945 by those hundreds
      of merchant seamen protesting U.S. participation in the French
      attempt to reconquer Vietnam was thus consummated in a
      movement of tens of millions of ordinary American citizens
      spearheaded by soldiers, sailors, fliers, and veterans, which
      finally ended the war with a recognition that Vietnam could be
      neither divided nor conquered by the United States.
      No, it was not Vietnam but the United States that ended up
      divided by America's war. And the division cut even deeper
      than the armed forces, biting down into the core of the secret
      government itself. When members of the intelligence
      establishment joined the antiwar movement, they had the
      potential to inflict even greater damage than mutinous
      soldiers and sailors. The perfidy of the Central Intelligence
      Agency in Vietnam was revealed by one of its highest-level
      agents in South Vietnam, Ralph McGehee, author of Deadly
      Deceits: My Twenty-Five Years in the C.I.A. Philip Agee
      decided in 1971 to publish what eventually became Inside the
      Company: CIA Diary because of "the continuation of the Vietnam
      war and the Vietnamization programme," writing, "Now more than
      ever exposure of C.I.A. methods could help American people
      understand how we got into Vietnam and how our other Vietnams
      are germinating wherever the C.I.A. is at work." In that same
      year, two of the authors of the Pentagon's own supersecret
      history of the war, Anthony Russo and Daniel Ellsberg, exposed
      it to the American people and the world.
      Interviewed three years after the release of the Pentagon
      Papers, Ellsberg outlined the history of the Vietnam War by
      tracing the "lies" told by Presidents Truman, Eisenhower,
      Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. "The American public was lied to
      month by month by each of these five administrations," he
      declared. And then he added, "It's a tribute to the American
      public that their leaders perceived they had to be lied to."
      The end of the war did not end the lies. Since then, both the
      war and the antiwar movement have been falsified so grossly
      that we risk forfeiting the most valuable knowledge we gained
      at such great cost to the peoples of Southeast Asia and to
      ourselves. Nor can we understand what America is becoming if
      we fail to comprehend how the same nation and its culture
      could have produced an abomination as shameful as the Vietnam
      War and a campaign as admirable as the 30-year movement that
      helped defeat it.
      H. Bruce Franklin is a professor of English and American
      studies at Rutgers University at Newark. This essay is adapted
      from Vietnam & Other American Fantasies, being published this
      week by the University of Massachusetts Press.
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