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Vietnam Veterans Against the War

From Academic Kids

Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) is a tax-exempt non-profit corporation, originally created to oppose the Vietnam War. VVAW describes itself as a national veterans' organization that campaigns for peace, justice, and the rights of all United States military veterans. It publishes a twice-yearly newsletter The Veteran, previously published more frequently as 1st Casualty (1971-2) and then as Winter Soldier (1973-5).

Contents

History

VVAW was founded by six Vietnam veterans, including Jan "Barry" Crumb, Mark Donnelly, David Braum, in New York City in June 1967 after they marched together in the April 15, 1967 Spring Mobilization to End the War anti-war demonstration with over 400,000 other protesters. After talking to members of the Veterans for Peace group at that march, Barry realized there was no organization representing Vietnam veterans.

An excerpt from the organization's summary of its history:

"VVAW was organized to give voice to the growing opposition among returning servicemen to the decade-long war in Indochina, and grew rapidly to a membership of over 40,000 throughout the United States as well as active duty GIs stationed in Vietnam. Through ongoing actions and grassroots organization, VVAW exposed the truth about U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia and their first-hand experiences helped many other Americans to see the unjust nature of that war.
"VVAW quickly took up the struggle for the rights and needs of veterans. In 1970, they started the first rap groups to deal with traumatic after-effects of war, setting the example for readjustment counselling at Vet Centers now. They exposed the shameful neglect of many disabled vets in VA Hospitals and helped draft legislation to improve educational benefits and create job programs. VVAW fought for amnesty for war resisters, including vets with bad discharges. They helped make known the negative health effects of exposure to chemical defoliants and the VA's attempts to cover-up these conditions as well as their continued refusal to provide treatment and compensation for many Agent Orange Victims.
"The VVAW believe that service to their country and communities did not end when they were discharged. They remain committed to the struggle for peace and for social and economic justice for all people."

Notable VVAW Sponsored Events

Operation RAW

During September 4-7, 1970, Operation RAW ("Rapid American Withdrawal") involved an 86 mile march from Morristown, NJ, to Valley Forge State Park. Mock search and destroy missions were planned during the march. Members of the Youth International Party (YIP) were invited to participate as blindfolded "Vietcong" prisoners, but decided not to participate because such a passive role would be a "bore" and a "drag". More than 150 combat veterans gathered and began a long march through the countryside toward Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The veterans, recipients of more than 100 purple heart medals combined, had enlisted the help of the Philadelphia Guerrilla Theater Company and also volunteers from Nurses for Peace. These participants went in advance of the march and planted themselves in the towns along the march route. The veterans wore whatever combat fatigues and military gear they still possessed, and carried toy rifles in place of real weapons. With the aid of the actors previously stationed in the march destinations, the veterans tried to recreate the brutal realities of war. As the column of veterans passed through the communities, they cordoned off the towns and "interrogated," "tortured," and "shot" the actors posing as civilians. Leaflets were then handed out to onlookers, explaining that such events were regularily occurring for real in villages across Vietnam. The event culminated in a rally at Valley Forge, where speakers and sponsors of the event included Senators George McGovern and Edmund Muskie, Reps. John D. Conyers, Jr., and Allard Lowenstein, Karen Burstein, Bella Abzug, Mike Lerner, Army First Lt. Louis Font, Paul O'Dwyer, John Kerry, Joe Kennedy, Rev. James Bevel, Jane Fonda, Mark Lane, Donald Sutherland.

Winter Soldier Investigation

In January 1971, VVAW sponsored The Winter Soldier Investigation to gather testimony from soldiers about war crimes being committed in Southeast Asia as a result of American war policies. Intended as a public event, it was boycotted by much of the mainstream media, although the Detroit Free Press covered it daily and immediately began investigating what was being said.

Veterans applying for participation in the investigation were asked if they witnessed or participated in a whole list of transgressions, including search and destroy missions, crop destruction, POW mistreatment.

This event was financially supported by the efforts of several celebrity peace activists. Winter Soldier Investigation testimonies were read into the Congressional Record by Senator Hatfield. In 1972, VVAW continued antiwar protests, and released Winter Soldier, a 16mm black and white documentary movie showing participants giving testimony at the 1971 hearing, as well as footage of the Dewey Canyon III week of protest events. Membership in the VVAW was over 20,000 just after this WSI event.

Dewey Canyon III - Washington, D.C., April 1971

This peaceful anti-war protest organized by VVAW took its name from two short military invasions of Laos by US and South Vietnamese forces. Dubbed Operation Dewey Canyon III, it took place in Washington, D.C, April 19 through April 23, 1971. It was referred to by the participants as "a limited incursion into the country of Congress." The level of media publicity and Vietnam veteran participation at the Dewey Canyon III week of protest events far exceeded the Winter Soldier Investigation and any previous VVAW protest event.

Led by Gold Star Mothers (mothers of soldiers killed in Vietnam), more than 1100 veterans marched across the Lincoln Memorial Bridge to the Arlington Cemetery gate, just beneath the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A memorial service for their peers was conducted by Reverend Jackson H. Day, who had just a few days earlier resigned his military chaplainship. Included with his passages of scripture and citations of poetry was a personal statement, including the following:

Maybe there are some others here like me--who wanted desperately to believe that what we were doing was acceptable, who hung on the words of "revolutionary development" and "winning the hearts and minds of the people." We had been told that on the balance the war was a good thing and we tried to make it a good thing; all of us can tell of somebody who helped out an orphanage, or of men like one sergeant who adopted a crippled Vietnamese child; and even at My Lai the grief of one of the survivors was mixed with bewilderment as he told a reporter, "I just don't understand it ... always before, the Americans brought medicine and candy." I believe there is something in all of us that would wave a flag for the dream of an America that brings medicine and candy, but we are gathered here today, waving no flags, in the ruins of that dream. Some of you saw right away the evil of what was going on; others of us one by one, adding and re-adding the balance sheet of what was happening and what could possibly be accomplished finally saw that no goal could be so laudable, or defense so necessary, as to justify what we have visited upon the people of Indochina.

The Gold Star Mothers and a few others approached the cemetery gate to enter and lay wreaths, but the gate had been closed and locked upon word of their impending arrival. They placed the wreaths instead along the gate, and peacefully departed.

The march reformed and continued to the Capitol, with Congressman Paul McCloskey joining the procession enroute. McCloskey, and fellow Representatives Bella Abzug, Donald Edwards, Shirley Chisholm, Edmund Muskie and Ogden Reid addressed the large crowd in a show of support. VVAW members defied a Justice Department ordered injuction that they not camp on The Mall, and they set up camp anyway. Later that day, the District Court of Appeals lifted the injuction. Some members headed directly into the halls of Congress to lobby against the U.S. participation in the war in Vietnam. They presented Congress with their 16-point suggested resolution for ending the war in Vietnam.

On Tuesday, April 20, a couple hundred veterans listened to hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on proposals to end the war. Other veterans, still angry at the insult to the Gold Star Mothers when they were refused entry to Arlington Nat'l Cemetery the previous day, marched back to the front gate. After initial refusal of entry, the veterans were finally allowed in. That afternoon veterans perform guerrilla theater on the Capitol steps re-enacting fighting scenes from Vietnam. That evening, Senators Claiborne Pell and Philip Hart held a fund-raising party for the veterans. During the party it was announced that Chief Justice Warren Burger of the United States Supreme Court had reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals. The veterans were given until 4:30 the following afternoon to break camp and leave the National Mall. It was noted that this was the fastest reversal of an Appeals Court decision in recorded history.

On Wednesday, April 21, more than 50 veterans marched to the Pentagon and attempted to surrender and turn themselves in as war criminals. A Pentagon representative took their names and then turned them away. More veterans continued to meet with and lobby their representatives in Congress. The guerrilla theater re-enactments were moved to the steps of the Justice Department. Senator Edward Kennedy joins the veterans on the Mall. The veterans all expected to be arrested for continuing to camp on the National Mall, but no arrests occurred. Several of the patrolling park police officers reassured the veterans that arrests were not going to be made, despite orders to do so.

On Thursday, April 22, a large group of veterans demonstrated on the steps of the Supreme Court, and demanded to know why the Supreme Court had not ruled on the constitutionality of the war in Vietnam. The veterans sang "God Bless America" and 110 were arrested for disturbing the peace, and were later released. John Kerry, as VVAW spokesman, testified against the war for 2 hours in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before a packed room of observers and media. [1] (http://www.c-span.org/vote2004/jkerrytestimony.asp) Lobbying on Capitol Hill by the veterans continued all day. A Washington District Court judge angrily dissolved his injunction order, rebuking the Justice Department lawyers for requesting the court order and then not enforcing it. Veterans staged a candlelight march around the White House, while a huge American flag was carried upside down in the historic international signal of distress.

On Friday, April 23, more than 800 veterans, one by one, cast down their medals on the steps of the Capitol, repudiating the Vietnam war and the significance of those medals. Several hearings in Congress and the Senate were held this week regarding the media's dissemination of misinformation about the war, as well as on atrocities committed in Vietnam. The veterans planted a tree on the mall during a ceremony to symbolize their wish to preserve life and the environment.

Senators George McGovern and Mark Hatfield helped arrange at least $50,000 in fundraising during preparations for Dewey Canyon III. The VVAW paid $94,000 for an ad to advertise this event in the April 11, 1971 New York Times.

Walter Reed Memorial Service

In May 1971, the VVAW and former Army chaplain Reverend Jackson Day conducted a service for veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Injured and disabled veterans who were inpatients at Walter Reed were brought into the chapel in wheelchairs. The service included time for individual prayers or public confession, and many veterans took the floor to recount things they had done or seen for which they felt guilt or anger. This would be the last service performed by Jackson Day for almost two decades.

Operation POW

Operation POW, organized by the VVAW in Massachusetts, got its name from the group's concern that Americans were prisoners of the Vietnam War, as well as to honor American POWs held captive by North Vietnam.

The event sought to tie antiwar activism to patriotic themes. Over the May, 1971 Memorial Day weekend, veterans and other participants marched from Concord to a rally on Boston Common. The plan was to invoke the spirit of the American Revolution and Paul Revere by spending successive nights at the sites of the Battle of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill, culminating in a Memorial Day rally with a public reading of the Declaration of Independence.

When the participants tried to camp on the village green in Lexington, at 2:30 a.m. on May 30, local and state police awoke and arrested 441 demonstrators for trespassing. All were given the Miranda Warning and were hauled away on school buses to spend the night at the Lexington Public Works Garage. The protestors later paid a $5 fine and were released. The mass arrests caused a community backlash and ended up giving positive coverage to the VVAW.

Kansas City meeting

During a meeting in Kansas City in mid November 1971, Scott Camil a radical leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War proposed the assassination of the most conservative members of Congress, as well as any other powerful opponents of the antiwar movement.

According to interviews with VVAW members who were present at the Kansas City meeting, Camil organized something he called "The Phoenix Project," named after the original Phoenix Program operations during the Vietnam War used to destroy the Viet Cong leadership by targeted assassination. Mr. Camil's Phoenix Project plan was to execute the Southern senatorial leadership that was backing the war including John Tower, Strom Thurmond, and John Stennis. In Camil's words, "I was serious. I felt that I spent two years killing women and children in their own fucking homes. These are the guys that fucking made the policy, and these were the guys that were responsible for it, and these were the guys that were voting to continue the fucking war when the public was against it. I felt that if we really believed in what we were doing, and if we were willing to put our lives on the line for the country over there, we should be willing to put our lives on the line for the country over here." [2] (http://innerspace-unltd.net/writing/camil.html) The assassinations were to be executed during the Senate Christmas recess. The plan was unanimously voted down by the VVAW National Steering Committee. No violence or attempts of assassination were ever made on anyone by the VVAW.

Post Vietnam War Activities

By 1973, US combat involvement in Vietnam ended, and VVAW changed its emphasis to include advocating amnesty for draft resisters and dissenters. President Jimmy Carter eventually granted an amnesty in 1980. The VVAW also organizes several programs and fundraising events in support of veterans.

Similarly-named different group

The relatively small group Vietnam Veterans Against the War Anti-Imperialist (VVAW-AI) is not a faction, caucus or part of VVAW. The VVAW web site describes VVAW-AI as "the creation of an obscure, ultra-left sect called the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) ... designed to pimp off of VVAW's history of struggle." In the mid-1970s, as VVAW membership severely dropped after the end of the war, members of Bob Avakian's militant RCP were able to gain influential positions in the VVAW, including the National Office. A rift in the remaining membership formed due to the opposed ideologies, and Avakian's group formed a separate organization, Vietnam Veterans Against the War Anti-Imperialist (VVAW-AI). VVAW filed and won a lawsuit prohibiting Avakian's group from using the VVAW name, logos and materials.

Further reading

  • Kerry, John, and Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The New Soldier. MacMillan Publishing Company: October 1971. ASIN 002073610X

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KerryNewSoldier.jpg
Image:KerryNewSoldier.jpg

  • Nicosia, Gerald. Home to war : a history of the Vietnam veterans' movement. Crown Publishers: 2001. ISBN 0812991036
  • Retzer, Joseph David. War and Political Ideology: The Roots of Radicalism Among Vietnam Veterans. Doctoral thesis. Yale University. 1976.

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