Viet Nam Full Disclosure
VFP Discussion Session, Odd Fellows Hall, Corvallis
4 October 2017
Veterans For Peace, Linus Pauling Chapter, Corvallis and the Odd Fellows World Forum hosted a discussion about the American War in Vietnam following the airing of the Ken Burns documentary series on PBS. We invited the public, but especially veterans who had spent time in country or in direct support of the war and those who were active in the antiwar movement during the war.
The Corvallis Gazette-Times covered the discussion in their October 5 edition here.
We set up the forum as a “Fish Bowl” discussion, with chairs arranged in two concentric circles. The inner circle was initially reserved for vets and resisters who began the discussion. Later, other attendees were invited to join the inner circle and the discussion.
Bart Bolger of VFP Corvallis (vfpcorvallis.org) began by introducing the purpose and procedures for the forum.
The Veterans For Peace national project, Vietnam Full Disclosure began in response to the US government “commemoration” of 50th anniversary, started in 2008 under President Obama and scheduled to run through 2025.
The Ken Burns documentary has brought the topic into the public and afforded an opportunity to examine veterans’ personal experiences, the war resistance, and US foreign policy and national leadership then and now. The “Full Disclosure” 28-page newspaper published and recently updated by VFP is an excellent resource. Copies were available for handout at this forum. More are available on request from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Introductions began with Vietnam vets, conscientious objectors, and war resisters in inner circle, followed by all participants in outer circle, many of whom had very close ties to the American War in Vietnam…parents, deferments, etc., or other wars.
The following are very brief highlights of some of the participant’s comments. They will not be attributed by name, for privacy reasons.
The military draft during the war was a disruption of the entire society, not just individual lives. Before there was a lottery, no one of a certain age knew what was going to happen. Nerve wracking for everyone.
Many participants admitted to being uninformed about and unengaged with the war as it was being conducted and event since then. It was very common among the general public that most people didn’t know much about what was going on, or don’t have strong memories.
Many Vietnam vets were reluctant to watch the Ken Burns series—too painful. But the Burns series did explain—to a very limited degree, according to several participants—what was going on with the government leaders and the politics involved, e.g., the history of our early involvement in SE Asia.
Discussion of what was an “imminent” threat—whether the Vietnam was really justified.
Don’t have regret or guilt if you didn’t serve. Biggest problem is with government, not fellow peers.
Need to demand integrity from elected officials. We have the power, but must demand and use it to pressure elected officials to follow public will.
Moderator offered this quote from the narration of Burns’ episode one for comment:
America’s involvement in Vietnam began in secrecy. It ended 30 years later in failure, witnessed by the entire world. It was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War miscalculation.
The war was something that very rich people made others do so that they could profit. Started waking up after he was in country. Felt bamboozled. Why are we here? Parallels to today.
Saw heroin addiction, homicides, suicides—what he really saw was that the war was a lie. When he came back, people didn’t believe what he said about Laotians, Cambodians, and other attempts to bear witness. When you give information that threatens someone’s core belief, there arises an instinct to disbelief.
Amount of combat is inconsequential when you talk to the civilian South Vietnamese. If you want to know the truth, you have to break your own heart. Saw many atrocities—war itself is an atrocity. War was mass murder.
Since end of WWII, U.S. has bombed 30 different countries. Citizens don’t want to know, and will not believe it is true because it violates their core beliefs. My Lai was not an aberration. In a war without aim, you tend not to aim.
Felt fortunate that he was actually fighting Viet Cong in the DMZ, and not civilians in the south. There was more than one Vietnam. Country is as divided now (then?) as it was during the Civil War. Sees things more in grey than black and white.
As a protestor, view of the country divided. His CO decision divided his family. Had to get letters of support to prove to the draft board that you were a CO. Could not get letters from his parents or friends. Later parents changed their opinion. Lost friends. He was protesting, but not radical. Investigated by government—basically kidnapped—taken away by 6 agents in unmarked car. Thinks the country is still divided. There is no resolution. Still fighting about that war.
Enter into a war in “good faith.” He had good faith when he entered. Senior NCO sent the message about Gulf of Tonkin. If they’re dead they are VC. Same thing that Iraq vets say now.
COs had to be opposed to all wars, not just some wars. There has never been a good war.
Lot of omissions in Burns series. No mention of opium. Kept pounding “Communists” as something evil—not just N Vietnam, but also Russia, China, etc. Money was the driver in continuing the war. Wasn’t discussed at all in the film. Everyone has a voice, but we have to use them to express our power.
The notion that they combatants are equals is false. There are predators and there are victims. When you plan to invade, first send in the missionaries, then protection for missionaries…mission creep.
Repetition. Politicians lie. People die. Now in Iraq, Afghanistan, more people die.
What are the tools we use to keep these things from happening again? Must speak up.
Enter wars even knowing that they can’t be won. Vietnam and Afghanistan…?
[VFP newspaper] Vietnam Full Disclosure is still echoing the lie that Kennedy was no different from Johnson. CIA assassinated Kennedy and rolled back all of Kennedy’s policies. JFK signed an executive order to prepare to pull out of Vietnam.
Criminalize the dissenters. Good protesters and bad protesters. Vietnam vets were not spit on—that was a myth. Not a single documented case, except by construction workers spitting on dissenters in Boston and NYC. In Corvallis, Vietnam vets were at the heart of the antiwar efforts. Try to divide natural allies. Vietnam vet recruiters on campus [OSU] were abused. There was a subtle distancing from Vietnam vet. Only one or two old friends even wanted to talk. Suicidal tendencies make it a lot worse. Launched rounds randomly. Killed couple hundred people—feels guilt and has been suicidal. But very disheartening for vets who kill people with no good reason. Takes your soul away.
The military-industrial complex is self-perpetuating machine. Have to consume product to keep it going.
Ego of president was also a driver of the war.
Does Burns ever talk about the Hmong people? Another omission. Didn’t’ cover the draft either, which had a lot to do with the ending of the war.
Mistreatment of Vietnam vets was more by conservatives who were angry that the veterans didn’t “win.” [Participant’s father was a Vietnam vet.] Her anger is directed not at the soldiers, but at the civilian leadership.
Agent Orange—was illegal to use in the U.S. [for agricultural purposes] at the same time it was used in Vietnam because the dangers were well known.
Young person: three things. Father did not have close relationship with his father, but had a clear memory of conversation of him saying “it’s all about the tin.” [referring to natural resources in SE Asia] Second: On C-Span recently heard proposal that non-mandatory service the civilians of the country do not have enough of a stake to really care. Draft would actually be a deterrent. One thing the government learned is that the draft does not work. Now the strategy is to encourage the narrative of honor and duty. How do we make civilians feel like they have a stake in war? Third: Connection to war has been as a student—to vets: how can we best support you? Take care of the vets coming home now.
Strategy to keep public quiet—don’t televise.
People don’t know that 18 year old men still have to register for selective service.
Worried that highest levels of our current government are being held by former high-ranking military officers.