FULL DISCLOSURE: TOWARD AN HONEST COMMEMORATION OF THE AMERICAN WAR IN VIET NAM
Initially formed in 2013 by members of Veterans For Peace, the VietNam: Full Disclosure campaign (VNFD) has been coordinated and facilitated by Howie Machtinger. The campaign’s working group (those who have most often shown up for conference calls scheduled by Howie) includes: Becky Luening, Jeanne Friedman, Paul Cox, Dan Shea, Doug Rawlings, Chuck Searcy, Tarak Kauff, Mac MacDevitt, Jill Godmillow, and Susan Schnall. VNFD began as VFP’s response to the Department of Defense establishment of a multi-year fiftieth anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War. It was clear the DoD’s official valorization of war veterans would leave out many inconvenient facts about the American war in Viet Nam.
The VNFD working group began by posting relevant articles and activities to the VFP website until it established its own site, vietnamfulldisclosure.org. Julie Dobson was recruited by Howie and served for several years as VNFD’s volunteer webmaster, posting articles relevant to the campaign on the website. Seen as a resource for educators, one of the components of the website is a month-by-month, year-by-year outline of war-time events, assembled by Howie.
This past year August, 2017-August, 2018 has been an active one for VNFD. The media event known as Burns/Novick, significant war anniversaries such as My Lai, and other special events have provided good opportunities to inform a wider public about the importance of an honest accounting of the essential criminality of U.S. aggression in VietNam. Following is an overview of the year’s projects and activities:
Writings, interviews, comments, and critiques related to the Burns/Novick 18-hour, 10-segment PBS series, The Vietnam War:
The VNFD website featured: questions to ask while viewing the series; talking points for each of the episodes; and many articles and commentaries written in response to the series. Postings included articles by Howie, which also appeared on Portside Monitor.
An interactive VNFD google group created after the 2014 convention became very active in the period leading up to and for the duration of the televised series, with the forum facilitating many interesting conversations about the war and the series. Found at http://groups.google.com/group/vnfd, the group currently has 204 subscribers. VNFD hopes to cull some of those conversations for a future publication that might also include selected critical essays and serve as a companion reader for students watching The Vietnam War.
Mike Ferner coordinated outreach to media that netted some good exposure for VFP around the airing of the Burns/Novick special. Publication of a special edition of Peace in Our Times, titled Full Disclosure: Truth About America’s War in Vietnam, edited by Tarak Kauff and Ellen Davidson, was distributed by VFP members at multiple screenings of previews of The Vietnam War, as well as at some national conferences-including the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee’s Pentagon Commemoration, and others relating to the American war in VietNam, as well as in various locales across the country. Another opportunity for publicity came with the possible nomination of Burns/Novick’s production for an Emmy Award. VFP resistance to the series receiving an Emmy led to a fundraising campaign and an ad placed in the entertainment trade magazine Variety with a print circulation of tohusands. The ad features the VFP logo, a classic photo of veterans marching against the war, and the headline, “Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam documentary Deserve an Emmy?” followed by a well-reasoned argument against the series receiving an award (see addendum).
1968-2018 Commemorative Activities in VietNam:
VFP Chapter 160 – the ex-pat chapter based in Hanoi, VietNam – hosted yet another tour of VietNam, coordinated by Chuck Searcy (assisted by Paul Cox and Denny Riley stateside), with no less than 40 travelers (many of them VFP members). The tour began in Hanoi with stops in: Van Canh Friendship Village; meeting with General Rinh, Presidnet of the Vietnam Association for the Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin; Ho Chi Minh Masoleum and house; Temple of Literature; meeting with Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations, Veterans Association of Vietnam; Hue; Quang Tri Province; tour DMZ and Vinh Moc Tunnels; visit to Quang Tri Mine /Action Visitor Center; visit Truong Son National Cemetery, Khe Sanh (former US Marine Base), tour of the Citadel; Da Nang and Hoi An.
The tour group met up with about ten additional VFP members at the My Son War Vestige Site near Quang Ngai for the official Vietnamese 50th anniversary commemorative ceremony at the My Lai Massacre site. VFP member Mike Hastie, after visiting the site in the spring of 2016, had taken it upon himself to raise funds to restore the mosaic mural depicting the horror of the events of March 16, 1968, and succeeded in raising over $8,000, double the amount he set out to raise. The Vietnamese overseeing the site put the money to good use in not only repairing the mural, but also preparing the grounds for the big anniversary event.
“An Open Letter to the People of Viet Nam” was presented to the Vietnamese by VFP members at a special private meeting after the main event. The letter, drafted by Doug Rawlings and signed by 477 Americans, offers our great remorse for the My Lai massacre, stating our complicity and our desire to make amends (see addendum).
The Chapter 160 tour culminated in Ho Chi Minh City with the opening of the exhibit organized by Ron Carver at the War Remnants Museum, Waging Peace in Vietnam, depicting active-duty military and veterans’ actions against the U.S. War in VietNam.
Fifty-year anniversaries of significant 1968 events brought media opportunities our way. U.S. peace veterans’ presence in VietNam for the My Lai commemoration and the Waging Peace exhibit garnered incredible coverage in Vietnam and beyond, thanks in part to the efforts of Ron Carver. Susan Schnall had an op-ed published in the New York Daily News, and a feature article about the veterans was published in The Guardian. On March 16, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the My Lai Massacre, Democracy Now! aired an interview with Paul Cox and Susan Schnall, taped in advance of their trip to VietNam, along with Ron Carver, who organized the exhibit honoring the GI antiwar movement at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.
1968-2018 Commemorative Activities in the USA:
An allied organization: the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee, focused on celebrating the Vietnam-era antiwar movement, held a commemoration at the Pentagon on October 20-21, 2017 in Washington, D.C., at which Howie Machtinger spoke on “The Antiwar Movement Then and Now: Unlearned Lessons,” and Susan Schnall presented a paper on “The Impact of the Vietnam War on American Veterans.”
In concert with the 1968 anniversary, an interactive traveling “My Lai Memorial Exhibit,” conceived of and coordinated by Chicago VFP associate member, artist Mac MacDevitt, began touring around the U.S., and was hosted by many chapters up and down the West Coast. The exhibit was designed to help viewers: honor the tragic impact of our political and military actions on the people of Vietnam, a proud and cultured people with long history of resisting foreign domination; understand the U.S. governmental and military policies and practices that led not only to this atrocity but other mass killings on the ground and from the air; actively engage in a creative process to reach deeper emotional understanding of these tragic events; and encourage people to work for peace and social justice in the world today.
On September 27, 2017, a radio Interview about GI Resistance on KQED in San Francisco featured the voices of war resisters Paul Cox, Keith Mather, Tom Hurwitz, and Susan Schnall. Planning is now underway for an October 14, 2018, fifty-year commemoration of the GI resistance that took place at the Presidio in San Francisco.
On May 22-24, 2018, the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame hosted a conference titled “Voices of Conscience: Antiwar Opposition in the Military,” where over 100 attendees gathered to examine the implications of historic and current GI movements for peace. VFP Executive Director Michael McPhearson and members Susan Schnall, Skip Delano, and Jonathan Hutto were among presenters at this conference, with video available at https://kroc.nd.edu/news-events/videos/.
Annual Memorial Day Activities:
Doug Rawlings spearheaded a fourth annual Letters to The Wall event, collecting a total of 78 letters that were placed at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., on May 28, 2018. Roger Ehrlich again coordinated setting up and manning of the Swords to Plowshares Belltower near the Vietnam Memorial for the entirety of Memorial Day weekend, a powerful hands-on memorial activity that encourages dialogue between visitors and Veterans For Peace. Links to the letters, photos by Ellen Davidson, and other documentation of VFP Memorial Day observances in D.C. can be found under the Memorial Day tab on the VNFD website.
An Open Letter to the People of Viet Nam
We acknowledge that this terrible massacre was a clear atrocity, but also we recognize that it was not an anomaly — that it is one of many such abominations that many of our soldiers inflicted on the people of Viet Nam during the American War.
We acknowledge the deep and tragic suffering we have caused you — death, destruction, the ruin of your land, and the torturous rending of your social fabric.
We acknowledge the great sacrifices you have made to resist our government’s global, imperial designs, including battling the civil strife our military forces brought to your society as they pitted governments they manipulated against your resistance forces. Many of our soldiers deepened and exploited the divisions in your society.
We acknowledge the virulent form of racism that our government brought from our country into yours as it made almost no attempt to understand your rich history and culture.
We acknowledge that this racial animus led us to assault your people with what our government leaders imagined was “impunity,” using our Pentagon’s almost unlimited funding and massive firepower to kill, maim, and poison your land and people.
We acknowledge that even after our armed forces had withdrawn from your country, abandoning our government’s colonial designs, many U.S. government officials continued to wage economic warfare against you to thwart your efforts as you rebuilt your reunified country.
Therefore, we pledge the following:
We will make an honest effort to try as fully as possible to understand and feel the impact of the war on your families and your land, to empathize with your struggles and suffering and to share our experience with others.
We who were directly engaged in this war will continue to publicly confess our complicity in your country’s suffering.
We will do all in our power to make amends by supporting efforts to assist you in the healing of your land and your people.
We pledge to keep learning, and taking to heart, the lessons our people should have learned from the American War in Viet Nam as we work to attain peace and social justice in our own country.
We who were complicit in the American War in Vietnam will continue to search our consciences as we face our own direct and indirect participation in a system that enabled our government to start and escalate this war against your land. We cannot undo the wrongs we have done, but we will use our remorse to work for world peace.
PRINT REPORT HERE: FULL DISCLOSURE Annual Report Becky Changes2018 BL