As a son of a veteran, I have seen the effects of war on a soldier by witnessing flashbacks and listening to my father’s horror stories from ’Nam. In a sense, I had to live through Vietnam with him as he was reliving it. Now, my generation is being asked to go and fight a war to “liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein.” People that I have gone to high school with are now in Iraq risking their lives for Big Oil. In thinking about my friends and even an ex-girlfriend now in Iraq, I began to recognize the relevance of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and their continued fight for veterans and American GIs.
I learned about VVAW in high school when I went to a meeting of the Progressive Resource/Action Cooperative (PRC). I saw a copy of their locally-made newspaper “The Veteran,” and I read a story about vets fighting for peace and social justice on all fronts. I was shocked since I was taught in my history textbooks that people who came back from the war were the enemies of the peace movement. I learned about the veterans getting off the plane and being spat upon, and the anti-American hippies who hated America. But here was a group of veterans, real veterans who had the credentials, telling me that my government has been and is continuing to lie to me about foreign policy. I was angered in a good way with the kind of anger you feel when you are betrayed and you want to correct that situation.
By reading Winter Soldiers: An Oral History of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War by Richard Stacewicz, I learned about the history of the anti-war movement from an anti-war veteran’s perspective. I read about the faith that each interviewee had put into the so-called American Dream only to discover that the dream was being undermined by their own government.
When they understood the brutal truth, these returning veterans quickly started organizing against the Vietnam War. They realized that the peace movement needed a veteran’s organization because how could the American public discredit a soldier returning from the war who was testifying to what the peace movement was saying?
Since they were vets returning from Vietnam, the Nixon Administration viewed them as a “threat to national security,” so the COINTELPRO was unleashed on VVAW. The FBI used infiltration, agent provocateurs, and informants in order to discredit, disrupt, and divide VVAW. The main reason why the Nixon Administration was so threatened by VVAW was because they were exposing the war for what it really was, not what the government and the media were portraying it as. After all of the dirty tricks played on VVAW, they are still here. They continued their resistance towards US foreign policy through out the Reagan/Bush/Clinton/BushII eras.
In 1971, VVAW convened the “Winter Soldier Investigations”, which had vets actually telling about their experiences of seeing or participating in crimes against humanity. One of these veterans was John Kerry, a 2004 Presidential hopeful. He now claims to have been “an angry youth” when he affiliated with VVAW. He isn’t with VVAW anymore. Kerry has voted to send our youth to war, thereby making more angry young men and women out of the current generation of veterans. He has also supported cuts in these veterans’ benefits that should be available to them when they come home. Meanwhile,VVAW has been organizing for veterans’ rights: amnesty for GIs, better VA facilities, and recognition of Agent Orange exposure and its debilitating effects on vets and Vietnamese alike. Recently,VVAW has organized two homeless veteran stand-downs a year. These stand-downs help serve homeless Veterans in urban cities like Chicago. VVAW has tried to get counseling for these underserved and forgotten members of our society. VVAW currently is at the forefront of the veterans movement to oppose the Bush II war on the Iraqi people.
Since that rainy day in Central Park, New York City, 1967, VVAW has continued to inspire and provide wisdom for current activists. On the local campus they do this by helping in the fight against the racist mascot of the University of Illinois, “Chief Illiniwek,” and in the C-U community they help the local anti-war coalition of AWARE, PRC, and SPA. This son of an unfortunate son sends his thanks to VVAW for its leadership and just being kick ass organizers and beer drinkers. Thank God that VVAW is still run by the “angry youth” of earlier wars. The next generation of angry youth will need the role models found in the VVAW.
For more information about the history of VVAW, view the video Citizen Soldier by Dennis Mueller.