Please Do Not Thank Me For Viet Nam

By Tom Motko (March 30, 2020)

(For National Viet Nam Veterans’ Day 3/29)

Please do not thank me for Viet Nam.
Just welcome me home and let me finally rest.

Gratitude misplaced grants you no absolution.
Congratulate my survival and my brothers’
but atone for your country and its sins.
Do penance for the whores and the half bloods,
put flowers on the toddler’s graves and the burning Buddhists,
beg forgiveness of the poisoned waters and bloodied jungles,
and the ravished tribes, and the raped and beaten daughters,
and for Con Son Island, and the lost, wandering ancestors.
Bow your head for the chemical waste and the gored oxen,
the cluster bombs, free fire zones, and body counts.

But, please do not thank me for Viet Nam.
Just light a candle and let me finally sleep.


Veterans Have Fought In Wars–And Fought Against Them

By Michael Messner (November 11, 2018)

File 20181105 74760 kqu38h.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A member of Veterans for Peace marches during the annual Veterans Day parade in New York, Nov. 11, 2017.
AP/Andres Kudacki

Michael Messner, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

If President Donald Trump had his way, the nation would be celebrating the centennial of the World War I armistice on Nov. 11 with a massive military parade in Washington, D.C.

But that won’t be happening. When the Pentagon announced the president’s decision to cancel the parade, they blamed local politicians for driving up the cost of the proposed event.

There may have been other reasons.

Veterans were especially outspoken in their opposition. Retired generals and admirals feared such a demonstration would embarrass the U.S., placing the nation in the company of small-time authoritarian regimes that regularly parade their tanks and missiles as demonstrations of their military might. And some veterans’ organizations opposed the parade because they saw it as a celebration of militarism and war.

Veterans of past wars, as I document in my book “Guys Like Me: Five Wars, Five Veterans for Peace” have long been at the forefront of peace advocacy in the United States.

Trump was inspired to have a U.S. military parade after watching this French one in 2017.
AP/Carolyn Kaster

Politicians’ betrayal?

Over the past year, the advocacy group Veterans for Peace joined a coalition of 187 organizations that sought to “Stop the Military Parade; Reclaim Armistice Day.” There is a deep history to veterans’ peace advocacy.

As a young boy, I got my first hint of veterans’ aversion to war from my grandfather, a World War I Army veteran. Just the mention of Veterans Day could trigger a burst of anger that “the damned politicians” had betrayed veterans of “The Great War.”

In 1954 Armistice Day was renamed as Veterans Day. In previous years, citizens in the U.S. and around the world celebrated the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 not simply as the moment that war ended, but also as the dawning of a lasting peace.

“They told us it was ‘The War to End All Wars,’” my grandfather said to me. “And we believed that.”

The New York Tribune on Nov. 11, 1918.
Library of Congress

Veterans for peace

What my grandfather spoke about so forcefully was not an idle dream. In fact, a mass movement for peace had pressed the U.S. government, in 1928, to sign the Kellogg-Briand Pact, an international “Treaty for the Renunciation of War,” sponsored by the United States and France and subsequently signed by most of the nations of the world.

A State Department historian described the agreement this way: “In the final version of the pact, they agreed upon two clauses: the first outlawed war as an instrument of national policy and the second called upon signatories to settle their disputes by peaceful means.”

The pact did not end war, of course. Within a decade, another global war would erupt. But at the time, the pact articulated the sentiments of ordinary citizens, including World War I veterans and organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who during the late 1930s opposed U.S. entry into the deepening European conflicts.

In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the law changing the name of the holiday to Veterans Day, to include veterans of World War II and Korea.

Eisenhower on June 1, 1954, signing the legislation that changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day.

For my grandfather, the name change symbolically punctuated the repudiation of the dream of lasting peace. Hope evaporated, replaced with the ugly reality that politicians would continue to find reasons to send American boys – “guys like me,” as he put it – to fight and die in wars.

World War I, like subsequent wars, incubated a generation of veterans committed to preventing such future horrors for their sons.

From working-class army combat veterans like my grandfather to retired generals like Smedley Butler – who wrote and delivered public speeches arguing that “war is a racket,” benefiting only the economic interests of ruling-class industrialists – World War I veterans spoke out to prevent future wars. And veterans of subsequent wars continue speaking out today.

There have been six U.S. presidents since my grandfather’s death in early 1981 – Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump – and each committed U.S. military forces to overt or covert wars around the world.

Most of these wars, large or small, have been met with opposition from veterans’ peace groups. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Vietnam Veterans Against the War was a powerful force in the popular opposition to the American war in Vietnam. And Veterans for Peace, along with About Face: Veterans Against the War remain outspoken against America’s militarism and participation in wars in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Were he alive today, I believe my grandfather would surely express indignation that American leaders continue to send the young to fight and die in wars throughout the world.

Still, I like to imagine my grandfather smiling had he lived to witness some of the activities that will take place this Nov. 11: Veterans for Peace joins other peace organizations in Washington, D.C. and in cities around the U.S. and the world, marching behind banners that read “Observe Armistice Day, Wage Peace!”The Conversation

Michael Messner, Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Two Key Areas Where the President Ignores Historical Trends

By Mark Naison (June 5, 2018)

Two key areas where President Trump either distorts historical trends or cynically presents false information for political gain are the following:

First, the notion that our “ inner cities are plagued by crime” and face a terrible crisis which liberals have ignored. If this was 1995, those remarks might have been relevant, but in 2018, they show a failure to recognize major historic trends. In the last twenty years, murder rates in most American cities have plummeted, both because of the decline of the crack epidemic and gentrification. The majority of poor people now live in the suburbs and gang issues and poverty related violent crimes have migrated with them. Hempstead and Newburg, for example, small cities near NYC, are far more dangerous, and far poorer than Harlem or Bedford Stuyvesant

Second, the notion that immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, bring crime and violence with them does not conform with statistical information or lived reality. In New York City, mass immigration to the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens has coincided with plummeting crime rates and the rebuilding of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Immigrant workers, store owners, health care providers, and valedictorians of are far more indicative of the immigrants contribution to NYC than drug gangs. MS 13 are outliers, dangerous, but despised by the hardworking self sacrificing immigrant majority.

I realize that many of the President’s supporters will dismiss what I just wrote as Fake News” but playing fast and loose with Demography and History is the essence of demagoguery, and if you are comfortable with that, well, that’s your burden to carry when you look at yourself in the mirror.


Interview: Lani Roberts


After twenty two years of award-winning teaching of moral theory, feminism, and ethics of diversity at Oregon State University, Dr. Lani Roberts retired and eventually moved to eastern Oregon. Soon after she moved there, she began teaching again, but this time, she taught citizenship classes as a volunteer for the largely Mexican immigrant community of Hood River, Oregon. She also helped to create a local chapter of the international group, Women In Black.


What are the sorts of experiences in life that led you to become an activist?

I would say the underlying principle that guides my (political) activism is “silence is consent” and I do not want to be seen by anyone as a consenting to the wrongs I am able to address. This, I believe, explains my continued activism even in retirement. My politics is who I am and I have not ceased being that woman in retirement. One of the highest values I hold is integrity.

I was raised in a home where no racist language was permitted whatsoever.  That doesn’t mean my parents weren’t racist in some sense because they did not see the treatment of the local Indigenous folks for what it was even given the “No Dogs No Indians” signs in local stores. The utter degrading harm done by the isms has always been in the forefront of my awareness thanks to my parents, thus my focus on the philosophy of oppression through my career.

During high school, I hung out with a group of friends (some are still friends to this day) who were in a borderland between the Beat generation and before the Hippies. We talked politics all the time. This was in the early 60s, and our awareness included the civil rights movement.

My political activism began in fall 1964 when an instructor in Writing 121 assigned this question:   What do you think about what’s going on in Viet Nam?  I went to the library at the University of Oregon and did research and came to the conclusion that it was a civil war and we (the US) had no business being involved there.  It was mostly young men in my age group who were being drafted.  So, I became an antiwar protestor, marched in the streets, often taking my older son along with me, from the time he could first walk.  Since then, it’s been a matter of moral integrity to me to resist wars.

For a while, I did research for the San Francisco Mime Troupe in 1970.  It was a cooperative where everyone earned the same, and it was a small amount. Part of our obligations was to attend a Mao meeting every Sunday afternoon.   Mostly, I researched the life of Che Guevara at the Cal Berkeley library for one of the playwrights.  It was all done on microfilm in those days.

My Hippie/Counterculture years introduced me to, and made me a believer in, growing our own food, communal living, cooperative stores, home birthing, taking care of the natural world, etc.  It amazes me sometimes how much the Hippie culture is widely embraced today.

I went back to school in my mid-30s after my mother’s death when I fully realized or groked (Heinlein – Stranger in a Strange Land) that life was finite and I’d better get busy. I began my Ph.D. program at age 40, as a single mom to my younger son. Even though Epistemology was my first love in Philosophy, I consciously decided to focus on Ethics, as a sort of counter balance to what I saw around me.  Studying moral theory only heightened my desire to act against wrongs and for the good, as well as giving me good reasons for doing so.


Since you retired, you started teaching citizenship classes and started standing with a group of women called the  Gorge Women in Black, in Hood River, Oregon. What motivated you to get involved in this work?

I started standing as part of the international Women in Black at OSU within one week of the United States bombing in Afghanistan just after the 9-11 event in NYC. I was distraught that we were destroying peoples who had nothing whatsoever to do with 9-11.   A friend asked me if I knew about Women in Black. I looked it up and it was a perfect fit. We stood once a week for 10 years at OSU until I retired.   Standing with Women in Black is me using my own body to interrupt the unconsciousness of passersby, to call attention to the wrongs and pains done to other folks.  It is also a focused meditation for me. A friend here in Hood River and I were agonizing over the world wide war the US was waging and I mentioned Women in Black to her. We began standing weekly on the main street downtown in February of 2015 and continue today with others joining us. For me, it is entirely voluntary with no obligation for anyone, including me. It is one of the best things I do for myself and others on a regular basis.

women in black gorge

Teaching the citizenship classes here (just finished the twelfth one) is one way I can use my skills as a teacher, do something I love, and make a concrete, real difference in peoples’ lives.   It does not suit me to attend meetings and talk about things.   But, when there is something real and concrete I can do to make a difference, that’s when I get involved.  I have also been tutoring English learners at the community college here, twice a week when classes are in session for the past six years.  It’s another concrete action that makes a difference.  I also get to use some of the linguistics I studied as an undergrad.


What gives you hope for the future?

I have been struggling with this given the state of affairs in the US today, but it is young people who have compassion and a consciousness of the harms we (United States) do both here and abroad.


What do you think are the most significant obstacles to social justice in the future?

Lack of awareness and compassion for others.


Are there any lessons you think you have learned from all these years of sustained activism?

I think the thread throughout my now 50 plus years of political activism is concreteness– embodied action that makes a difference, whether helping folks become citizens or interrupting the thoughtlessness of most people’s lives.


Interview by Joseph Orosco March 2018

Ken Burns’ “Vietnam” Lacks Critical Consciousness

By S. Brian Willson (September 29, 2017)

I am interested in history, and recognize the importance of story telling as part of the process of understanding people’s history. But it is important as well to distinguish between the art of story telling, and the critical historical analysis of structural patterns and causes.

US policy in Viet Nam is well established in the historical record, and it is unambiguous. As Noam Chomsky has long concluded, the US intended “a conscious application of principles of imperial planning” immediately following Japan’s surrender in WWII, enabling re-establishment of French colonization.

And correspondingly, the record is clear that the Vietnamese intended to assert their independence even a few days BEFORE Japan’s announced surrender in August 1945, which had occupied Viet Nam during the war, after more than a century of French occupation.

So, the historian’s task is to frame the record from the evidence in which the interesting and important story telling occurs. In Viet Nam the historical record is very clear:

On June 22, 1945, six weeks after Germany’s surrender, and almost eight weeks before the increasingly expected Japanese surrender, President Truman issued a policy statement supporting France’s efforts at re-colonizing Viet Nam following Japanese surrender, in opposition to aspirations of self-determination.

On August 11, 1945, learning Japan was planning to announce surrender on August 15, the Vietnamese began preparation for retaking Hanoi from the still present Japanese, and by late August was re-seizing other areas of Viet Nam.

In late August, 1945, French General and head of the then Provisional Government of the French Republic, Charles de Gaulle, met with President Truman in Washington, DC, at which time discussion included a revived post-WWII France, including the future of its Viet Nam colony wherein US interests would be preserved in the future of a French Indochina.

August 29, 1945, the Vietnamese established their first national, provisional government.

August 30, 1945, long time Vietnamese leader of the Vietnamese independence movement, Ho Chi Minh, sent the first of eight letters to President Truman requesting support for Vietnamese independence. All letters went unanswered.

September 2, 1945, before 400,000 people in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh announced establishment of Viet Nam’s independence. Guest included several US OSS officers who had worked with Ho’s guerrillas at the end of WWII rescuing downed US air crew, while also providing the US intelligence on Japanese military activities.

By mid-September, President Truman was providing weapons to the revived French military inside Viet Nam. On September 22, the US-armed French attacked Saigon seizing it from the Vietnamese who had begun to re-claim areas throughout the country.

October-November 1945, Truman provided as many as a dozen US military troop ships transporting thousands of US-armed French and Foreign Legionnaires to assist France re-colonizing Viet Nam.

And this pattern of US criminal and immoral invasion, occupation, and destruction of Viet Nam to thwart genuine Vietnamese aspirations for the simple goal of self-determination, continued until April 30 1975.

So, I find Burns and Novick’s promotional comments for their PBS series, “The Vietnam War” – that they wanted a “fresh eyes” about the war, that there is “no single truth” about the war, that they wanted to “be strictly neutral” about the “civil” war – to be disingenuous. They frame the series as a war “begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings”, and that “we are all searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy”.

This is ahistorical framing that sets up the viewing audience to overlook the silence of the great lie of the war – that it was needless in the first instance, and all the suffering and misery and mass murders were for naught except for one very clear cause – that of the intent of the US to thwart Vietnamese independence by any and all means necessary.

Thus, the grotesque immorality and criminality of the US, that began in the genocide of the Indigenous Americans masked by our divine predestination for being the good guys, continues. The shame is just too painful to acknowledge and honestly face.

Of course, the 18 hours of footage reveals historical, riveting graphic war footage, complemented by many interviews with Vietnamese and US persons. The viewing audience is provided with a variety of perspectives to discuss, and reflect upon about the long war. So, there is voluminous important history to provoke national conversation on the war.

But the critical question that is obsfuscated in the intriguing 18 hours of this momentous documentary has been omitted – the Lie that led to the greatest crime of the latter half of the 20th Century. We escape again into perpetual war, into silence.

In conclusion, I submit the PBS series is severely misnamed. Its honest title might be “The Vietnam War from many perspectives”, or something similar. But it is not about “The Vietnam War” – it is about the war from many perspectives, absent the historian’s analysis of the structural causes of the needless suffering due to the behavior of the US.
The critical “search for meaning in this terrible tragedy”, the search for “healing”, the desire to “inspire thinking and talking about Vietnam…in an entirely different way”, is again an opportunity lost.

It does inspire more needed conversation about the war, as it omits the critical framing that could potentially radically alter the US American consciousness – that our cultural consciousness has always been self righteously imperial, and has been accomplished with virtual impunity. We are not the good guys, and never have been. We are in perpetual war as we watch TV, as we shop, as the government bombs, and the war-makers make obscene profits.


How Should Peace Activists Think About Chemical Weapons?

By Chris Lowe (April 9, 2017)

A question for peace and anti-war and international law oriented friends:

As I have been thinking about the recent episodes in Syria of the apparent sarin gas attack by the Syrian government and the U.S. bombing in response, I have started to wonder about the way we, or at least the media, talk about “chemical weapons.”

All explosives are in some sense chemical weapons. Alfred Nobel the inventor of dynamite was a chemist. Even bullets are propelled by a chemical reaction. 

Sometimes the distinction is drawn relating to “weapons of mass destruction.” The at least partial validity of this can be seen if we reflect on the scale of mass deaths caused by several deployments of poison gas by Hussein in Iraq in the 1980s, for example. Causing mass death may have been an element of the original international law ban going back to the experiences of World War I.

A related idea is indiscriminateness. Poison gas is uncontrolled once released.

Yet scale varies widely. The recent chemical bombing in Syria reportedly killed about 80 people. A single 2000 pound bomb or a barrel bomb, or a car bomb, exploded in a crowded area, often causes similar scale deaths. At the other end, I have seen activists locally in Portland criticize use of mace and tear gas by police as chemical warfare, and I think at least some agents used to repress demonstrations are banned for use in war under international law.

More to the point is this: Does singling out chemical weapons becomes a cover for mass destruction and indiscriminate killing caused by mass application of “conventional” weapons?

The horrors of gas attacks in the First World War were real, but the vast majority of mass deaths and maiming came as the effects of artillery and machine guns combined with the cannon fodder mentality of moral cretins commanding the armies. Most anti-war people are familiar with and have thought about fire bombings in World War II and the “carpet bombing” mass bombing horror campaigns of the U.S. in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

In Syria, the country has been wrecked, hundreds of thousands killed, and millions displaced by mass indiscriminate use of “conventional” artillery and bombs.

What is the right approach to this question? Is it to give up the distinction?

Is it to try to consistently point out when we speak of chemical or nuclear weapons that while their specific mass indiscriminate qualities matter, conventional weapons deployed at scale also cause mass, indiscriminate death often directed at civilians?

Is it to focus on mass warfare in all forms so as to shift the focus to warfare and militarism?

Something else?


Presidents and Politicians: Products and Practitioners of Propaganda

By S. Brian Willson (March 18, 2016)

Thinking of this post about Trump’s voluminous lies, I thought it instructive to share info about the fact that the entire system actually does run on lies to preserve power and profit. Continue reading “Presidents and Politicians: Products and Practitioners of Propaganda”

Should the Bundy Group in Eastern Oregon Receive Jail Time for Trespassing?


By Chris Lowe (January 7, 2016)

Here is another comparison to think about regarding the group of armed trespassers on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. An 84 year old nun, Megan Rice, was given an almost three year sentence in federal prison for breaking into a US government nuclear facility in an act of civil disobedience.  She eventually served two years and then was released last year. Continue reading “Should the Bundy Group in Eastern Oregon Receive Jail Time for Trespassing?”