Language is telling; so are facts. With the approach of the “full panoply of Orwellian forgetfulness” that is a 13-year, $65 million commemoration of the Vietnam War by the same people who started it, it’s nigh on impossible to reconcile Obama’s “valor of a generation that served with honor fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans” with the savage years many “remember, with painful acuity, as other than glorious” – years of lies, loss, rage, trauma, protests and the deaths of millions of innocents. Seeking to “speak truth to power,” Veterans For Peace are rejecting an official narrative they say sanitizes and mythologizes an unconscionable war – and likely helps legitimize further such wars – by organizing their own Peace and Justice Commemoration as part of a larger Full Disclosure Campaign. Its goal is to “truly examine what happened during those tragic and tumultuous years,” and use those lessons to prevent them from happening again.
From the start, many have questioned what longtime activist Tom Hayden calls the “staggering” idea of a commemoration orchestrated by the Department of Defense. Citing the Pentagon’s questionable “version of the truth” that for so long sustained an immoral war, he convincingly argues that, “If you conduct a war, you shouldn’t be in charge of narrating it.” Almost everything about the project, from its website full of glossy pictures of smiling veterans to its very language – its mission to “assist a grateful nation” in thanking veterans, Obama’s thinking “with solemn reverence upon the valor of a generation,” its initial labelling of the massacre of 500 women, children and older men at My Lai an “incident” – bears out the notion that the project’s goal is largely “an ex post facto justification of the war,” or to rewrite history in order to repeat it with as little opposition as possible.
In a petition for revisions that sparked their decision to hold their own commemoration, over 500 veterans and activists argued for “an honest remembrance of what actually went on in Viet Nam.” They seek recognition for the “many thousands of veterans” who opposed or came to oppose the war, who refused the draft, went to jail, left the country, marched in protests; for the millions who marched, prayed, organized; for the military establishment that for years lied, propagandized, made deadly mistakes, and lied again; for the thousands of hapless soldiers thrown into a war of choice who suffered, died, anguished and then came home broken, traumatized and often abandoned – startlingly, more Vietnam veterans subsequently died by suicide than in battle; for the millions of Vietnamese civilians killed, maimed, poisoned, traumatized, driven from their homes, crippled by land mines, their children later disfigured by Agent Orange; for the rage and regret felt by so many Americans towards the war’s lies and losses that a new term was created to express their weariness – the Vietnam Syndrome.
To right those wrongs and expose those truths, Veterans For Peace are now looking for stories, ideas, articles and photos for their own commemoration. “It is incumbent on us not to cede the war’s memory to those who have little interest in an honest accounting, and who want to justify further acts of military adventurism,” they argue. The war, they insist, is a cautionary tale: “What are the consequences of trying to control the fate of a people from afar with little understanding or interest in their history and culture…or their human desires? What are the consequences of dehumanized ideologies used to justify wars of aggression? To honor the Viet Nam generation and to inform current and future generations, we should make every effort to pass on a critical and honest history of the war.”
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