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.


My Lai is the Essence of US American Foreign Policy

By S. Brian Willson (March 16, 2018)

March 16, 1968, My Lai Massacre, Viet Nam

Today, March 16, 2018, is the 50th painful anniversary of the US Army massacre that, in effect, represented the essence of US American policy of scorched earth from the air and on the ground in the US war. 504 completely unarmed Vietnamese were murdered in cold blood: 60 very elderly men, 182 women (of whom 17 were pregnant), and 173 children (with 56 being under one year of age). Not a single bullet was fired by the Vietnamese (they had no arms). Attrition – Murder more of them, as many as possible, call them enemy “VC”, even though the vast majority were mothers, children, and the elderly. A dead Vietnamese was a “dirty VC” ! Body counts. Body counts: The US measure of determining US success in a grotesque, barbaric, criminal invasion and occupation of an innocent people.

As you can see, we are a very enlightened people.

This model in the “Americas” was established by Eurocentric settlers acting as paramilitary as early as the 1600, conquering lands of North America from the Indigenous with virtual impunity. By 1776, Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence described the native residents as “merciless Indian Savages.” It is clear, however, from examining US history, who the most ruthless savages have been. In Viet Nam I discovered I was one of them.

The reason My Lai was not able to be ignored and hidden under the rug forever, is that US Army photographer Ron Haeberle documented the massacre, including the “ditch” scene in Viet Nam (see cover photo)



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.


The Grotesque Immorality of the US War Against Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia

By S. Brian Willson (September 10, 2017)

If the Burns-Novick 18 hour, 10 part PBS Series is to be an authentic revisiting the US War, then brutal honesty is necessary, which would certainly prevent such a pubic airing funded by US corporate monies.

As a Viet Nam veteran, I know the kinds of pain and suffering incurred by over three million US soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen, more than 58,000 of whom paid the ultimate price whose names are on The Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC.

However, if there is any redemption to the US culture It is imperative to identify very concretely the pain and suffering we caused the Vietnamese, the Laotians, and the Cambodians – people who only wanted to be independent from foreign occupiers, whether Chinese, France, Japan, or the United States of America. It was not a civil war, as the US concocted it to preserve imperial interests in Asia. The footage and stories told by Burns and Novick will be entertaining as war stories usually are, even sickening sometimes, and even educational, but will not ask or pose the fundamental questions that are imperative for the US American public to understand the utter immorality and diabolical nature of the criminal US invasion, occupation, and destruction of civilian societies committed with malice aforethought. In effect, the documentary will distract from any serious questions to challenge the myths of the US culture and nation state that have been perpetuated since our origins.

As honorably, and in some cases heroically, our military served and fought in Southeast Asia, we were nonetheless serving as mercenary cannon fodder for reasons other than what we were told. When I came to understand the true nature of the war, I felt betrayed by my government, by my religion, by my schools, by my family – in effect by the total cultural conditioning into “American Exceptionalism,” which did a terrible disservice to my own humanity, and in fact a disservice to all of us.

I am staggered by the amount of firepower the US used, and the incredible death and destruction it caused on innocent people:
• Seventy-five percent of South Viet Nam was considered a free-fire zone (i.e., genocidal zones)
• Over 6 million Southeast Asians killed, in Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia
• Over 64,000 US and Allied soldiers killed
• Over 1,600 US soldiers, and 300,000 Vietnamese soldiers remain missing
• Thousands of amputees, paraplegics, blind, deaf, and other maimings created
• 13,000 of 21,000 of Vietnamese villages, or 62 percent, severely damaged or destroyed, mostly by bombing
• Nearly 950 churches and pagodas destroyed by bombing
• 350 hospitals and 1,500 maternity wards destroyed by bombing
• Nearly 3,000 high schools and universities destroyed by bombing
• Over 15,000 bridges destroyed by bombing
• 10 million cubic meters of dikes destroyed by bombing
• Over 3,700 US fixed-wing aircraft lost
• 36,125,000 US helicopter sorties during the war; over 10,000 helicopters were lost or severely damaged
• 26 million bomb craters created, the majority from B-52s (a B-52 bomb crater could be 20 feet deep, and 40 feet across)
• 39 million acres of land in Indochina (or 91 percent of the land area of South Viet Nam) were littered with fragments of bombs and shells, equivalent to 244,000 (160 acre) farms, or an area the size of all New England except Connecticut
• 21 million gallons (80 million liters) of extremely poisonous chemicals (herbicides) were applied in 20,000 chemical spraying missions between 1961 and 1970 in the most intensive use of chemical warfare in human history, with as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese living in nearly 3,200 villages directly sprayed by the chemicals
o 24 percent, or 16,100 square miles, of South Viet Nam was sprayed, an area larger than the states of Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island combined, killing tropical forest, food crops, and inland forests
o Over 500,000 Vietnamese have died from chronic conditions related to chemical spraying with an estimated 650,000 still suffering from such conditions; 500,000 children have been born with Agent Orange-induced birth defects, now including third generation offspring
• Nearly 375,000 tons of fireballing napalm was dropped on villages
• Huge Rome Plows (made in Rome, Georgia), 20-ton earthmoving D7E Caterpillar tractors, fitted with a nearly 2.5-ton curved 11-foot wide attached blade protected by 14 additional tons of armor plate, scraped clean between 700,000 and 750,000 acres (1,200 square miles), an area equivalent to Rhode Island, leaving bare earth, rocks, and smashed trees
• As many as 36,000,000 total tons of ordnance expended from aerial and naval bombing, artillery, and ground combat firepower. On an average day US artillery expended 10,000 rounds costing $1 million per day; 150,000-300,000 tons of UXO remain scattered around Southeast Asia: 40,000 have been killed in Viet Nam since the end of the war in 1975, and nearly 70,000 injured; 20,000 Laotians have been killed or injured since the end of the war
• 13.7 billion gallons of fuel were consumed by US forces during the war
If there was space for all 6,000,000 names of Southeast Asian dead on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC, it would be over 9 sobering miles long, or nearly 100 times its current 493-foot length.


The Continuing Relevance of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Student Voices


By Joseph Orosco

In Winter of 2014, I taught a seminar on the political philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The class takes a historical view of King’s work, tracing his thinking from the period of the Montgomery Bus Boycott until his final works dealing with the Vietnam War and the Poor People’s March.  I asked students, at the end of the class, to reflect on what they had learned about King as a result of the class and how it compared to what they knew of him from their pre-college education. Continue reading “The Continuing Relevance of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Student Voices”

From East LA to Ferguson: The long line of violent police response to communities of color


By Joseph Orosco

The protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the past month have captured the nation’s attention, including many commentaries on the Anarres blog.  The on going tension draws attention to various issues:  continued racial inequality and white supremacy in the United States, and increasing militarization of civilian police forces across the country. Continue reading “From East LA to Ferguson: The long line of violent police response to communities of color”

Interview: Tom Motko

Tom Motko joined the U.S. Army in 1968 within a month of graduating from high school, was trained as a Vietnamese linguist/ voice intercept operator at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA and Goodfellow ABF, TX, and worked in a command subordinate to the National Security Agency. His duty stations included Japan, Taiwan, and Viet Nam. Continue reading “Interview: Tom Motko”

Interviews: Mark Rudd

From 1965 to 1968, Mark Rudd was a student activist and organizer for the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at Columbia University.  In the Spring of 1968, he was one of the leaders of the student occupation of five buildings in protest of the university’s involvement in the Vietnam war, and its racism toward African American residents in a nearby neighborhood.  He went on to become a full time organizer for SDS and helped to found the militant Weatherman faction that formed the Weather Underground.  This movement had as its goal “the violent overthrow of the government of the United States in solidarity with the struggle of the people of the world.”  From 1970 to 1977, Rudd was a fugitive from the federal government for alleged bombing and conspiracy.  Eventually, the charges against him were dropped and he emerged from the underground to become a community organizer on issues of Native American land rights, environmental justice, and the US military industrial complex.  He can be reached at his website:


What experiences did you have that turned you toward organizing?

In answering this question I’ll also add in a couple twists to the story:  not only how I discovered organizing, but also what turned me away from organizing and then how I came back to it.

When I was 18, a freshman at Columbia University in 1965, I fell in with a group of radical students which later coalesced into the SDS chapter.  Many of these kids (my point of view fifty years later) were “red diaper babies,” meaning children of communists, socialists, or labor organizers, which I was not.  They had grown up in the civil rights or labor movements, so they knew that the job was to grow the movement.  Every single one of our meetings, for years on end, every discussion, was about how best to “build the movement,” ie., to make it grow in numbers and understanding.

During this period, from 1965 to 1968,  the war in Vietnam escalated and also Black Power became dominant in what had formerly been called the Civil Rights Movement.  In trying to understand the war, we became anti-imperialist, meaning that we saw the underlying system of which the war was a manifestation; we also wanted to support, as white people who understood Black Power, the black radicals’ demands for self-determination and freedom.  So we “organized,” meaning we tried to figure out strategies to help our movement grow.  Our main strategy was to attack the administration of Columbia as being part of the war system and institutionally racist.  We thought this would create a personal connection to the issues for other students.  Our tactics were educational activities like teach-ins, setting up information tables, debates, talking with other students informally, petitions, demonstrations, confrontations, ultimately sit-ins and building occupations.  I’ve told this story in detail in the first part of my book, “Underground:  My Life in SDS and Weatherman.”


Here’s the amazing part:  it worked!  By 1968, responding to the murder of Martin Luther King and to the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the entire university became embroiled in a strike and rebellion, April-May, 1968.  It was the largest student action up to that point and became a model for campus rebellions.

Out of this success, however, came the seeds of defeat.  Those of us who had been pushing for Columbia SDS to be more aggressive and confrontational concluded that that was the key to our success.  We conveniently forgot about the years of organizing that went into the April rebellion.  Many of us were adherents of the cult of Che Guevara, in which exemplary action was valued way above the hard work of organizing.  At one point I told people “Organizing is another word for going slow.”

I became one of the founders of the Weatherman faction in SDS and subsequently the Weather Underground.  Both of these developments were utter failures from the standpoint of building the movement.  In fact, by December, 1969, SDS was dead, a victim of our own arrogance in thinking that the time was right for armed struggle.  Years later I analyzed the problem as substituting self-expression for strategic organizing.  Bombs and fighting cops may show how much people believe in the rightness of the cause (self-expression) but they do not cause people to join the movement and become participants themselves.  Self-expression as a tactic in a given struggle, such as committing civil disobedience and going to jail, may in fact be useful, but it can’t substitute for a strategy to achieve goals.

After seven and a half years as a federal fugitive, I turned myself in in 1977, eager to rejoin the above-ground mass movement.  I became active in opposing uranium mining and nuclear waste dumping in New Mexico.  In the ensuing decades I worked in the movement for nuclear disarmament, the Central American solidarity movement, the environmental and union movements, and now the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.  But it was only in 2003, after the Weather Underground documentary appeared, that I hit on an analysis of my old bad choices–that I had substituted self-expression for movement building.  It’s that insight that I’ve been trying to communicate since then.  That and the need for absolute nonviolence.


Who would you consider your social justice heroes and why?


The first hero who comes to mind is Miss Ella Jo Baker, Executive Director of Martin Luther King’s organization, SCLC and founding mother of SNCC.  For the last few years I’ve pursued a personal study project to learn about the history of the civil rights movement, especially SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, in Mississippi, 1961-1965.  It was Miss Baker who both laid a basis for and guided the successful organizing in Mississippi, the most racist and terroristic place in the whole deep South.  She introduced the students of SNCC to the principles of horizontal organizing, the development of leadership from below, the growth of a radical democratic vision.

I would refer people to two books for starters:  one is Charles M. Payne’s “I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: the Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle,” which tells the story of HOW SNCC pulled off its successful organizing in Mississippi.  The book reads like a manual for how to organize.  The second is a biography of Miss Baker, Barbara Ransby’s “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement:  A Radical Democratic Vision.”

One more set of heroes:  All the soldiers who organized against the Vietnam War within the military.  They made the war machine unusable.  It took great courage.


What gives you hope for the future?

Probably the fact that I’ve lived through successful mass movements–the anti-Vietnam War movement; the women’s movement; the gay rights movement; the anti-nuclear movement; currently the movement to stop global warming and for global climate justice.  Mass movements happen; they change society if not politics.


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

The one that comes immediately to mind is how deeply depoliticized young people have become.  Perhaps for good reason:  Who in their right mind would want to be a politician or join the ugly Democratic Party? Yet if we’re going to deal with public or government policy, which is everywhere affecting the people and the planet, we’ve therefore got to deal with politics.  There’s no way around this.

I always find it upsetting to hear people say “Nothing anyone does can make a difference.”  Fifty years ago no one ever said that.  We had the example of the civil rights movement, which everyone could see was making a difference.  Then the anti-war movement actually helped end the war.  The problem, as I see it, is that people don’t know about the mass movements of the 20th century plus don’t know about the organizing tradition that built these movements.  They did NOT happen spontaneously.

Perhaps if people studied history more, they might see a way out.

Of course the times changed over the last five decades, and with them technology and people’s outlooks.  All of these present challenges, but the really great thing is that there are thousands of people working on how to organize now.  It just hasn’t coalesced into mass movements yet.  Stay tuned.


In your view, was the Occupy movement an important moment in the struggle for social justice?

How could this be denied?  The Occupy movement succeeded in doing what the union movement had been unable to do for decades:  raise the question of income and political inequality to the level of mainstream discussion.  I still think it was some sort of miracle that took place in those few weeks in October 2011.  I can’t explain why it happened.

Most of the liberal-progressive-left, however, were hoping that Occupy would spark a left-wing Tea Party movement, which would go toward power.  That was out of the question, primarily because the dominant ideology of Occupy was anarchism, and anarchists don’t participate in elections.  They want power to dissolve.  (I’m not an anarchist, you might deduce).

Also, most of the Occupy people I’ve spoken with had no strategic goals other than raising the discussion.  Perhaps that was enough, and they did accomplish their goal.  Very few people I talked with considered a mass movement involving millions as a goal or even asked the question of power.  I’m not sure how they thought public policy was going to change, outside of some sort of magic.  It was a classic case of substituting a tactic for strategy.  So when the tactic of sleeping in public spaces was destroyed by brutal police attack, that was mostly the end.  A few elements of Occupy have continued to organize, such as Occupy Sandy in NYC, the Rolling Jubilee anti-foreclosure movement, and the movement against student debt, recognizing the need for building a movement. 


What do you think might be a way for younger generations to work in solidarity with organizers of your generation?

The question can also be reversed:  what can organizers of my generation do to work in solidarity with younger organizers?  We old people need to stop lecturing and saying, in effect, “We tried that and it didn’t work.”  I’m guilty of this a lot, in my impatience to help younger organizers avoid the mistakes we fell for.  Such as armed struggle and self-expression politics.  The more we can just offer ourselves as allies to people organizing, the more we can build relationships and learn from each other.

A relationship between generations of organizers has to include constant discussion of the differences and similarities between fifty years ago and now.  I suspect that deep down most young people feel that the technology and culture of this country have changed so drastically that nothing from the past is relevant.  Sort of the way I felt looking at World War I while I was growing up.  But that can’t be true.  Conversely, the technology and the conditions of life have changed enormously.  For example, student debt didn’t exist 50 years ago.  The cost of higher education, especially at the state schools, but including private universities, was nothing as compared to now.  And the means of communication and therefore organizing, are totally different.

But some lessons still carry over.


What books would you recommend people look at for social change and why?

Along with the two I mentioned above, I’d also recommend Tom Hayden’s 2009 memoir, “The Long Sixties.”  In it he lays out a theory of how mass movements grow, become victorious, and decline, then uses his 50 years experience as an organizer to explicate the theory.  And Jonathan Schell’s “The Unconquerable World,” which shows that force, coercive power, is ultimately weaker than the people’s consensual power.  This is the reason why so many nonviolent movements have triumphed in the latter part of the 20th century.  Schell’s book is a history of those movements but takes us into the 21st century by advocating for international law as an alternative to the war system which rules the planet.


Are there any movies you recommend for teaching about social justice and change?

Along with “The Weather Underground.” a 2004 documentary in which I’m featured, I always recommend that people view “Sir, No Sir!,” the story of the anti-war movement within the military during Vietnam.  Most people have no idea of how widespread the movement was among soldiers and how they organized.  Hundreds of thousands were involved.

A more recent movie that I recommend is “How to Survive a Plague,” which is the story of NY ACT-UP in the 80’s, when people were fighting for AIDS treatment.  It shows actual footage of meetings and debates.

Anything from two PBS series, “Eyes on the Prize,” about the Civil Rights Movement, and “A Force More Powerful,” a history of nonviolent strategy in the 20th century.

Surrender: Guerilla to Grandmother

Surrender: Guerilla to Grandmother
Join us for a noontime event and discussion with Katherine Ann Power on Friday, Oct 31st at Noon in MU206: Asian/Pacific Room.

Katherine Ann Power will talk about her evolution from student activist against the Vietnam War, to self-styled revolutionary guerrilla, to fugitive on FBI’s Most Wanted List, to her surrender and experiences as prisoner and penitent,  to her deepening commitment to live as a “practical peace catalyst.”

Power was underground for 23 years, much of that time in the Corvallis area, served six years in prison, and 20 years of probation.

Her book “Surrender” is due to be released soon.