Antiwar Vets Join the Conversation at the Vietnam Wall
Anthropologists have found that in traditional societies, memory becomes attached to places.
T.M. Luhrmann, New York Times Op-ed May 25, 2015
Members of Veterans For Peace came from as far away as San Diego to be part of the annual Memorial Day ceremonies at the Vietnam War Memorial on the mall in Washington DC. A wide range of Americans were in attendance on a beautiful, sunny day. Some rubbed names of loved ones with pencils onto pieces of paper; others left significant items at the base of the Wall. These are collected and warehoused.
Vietnam veteran poet Doug Rawlings from Maine devised a program called Letters to the Wall. It’s an on-going project of Full Disclosure, which is connected to Veterans For Peace. Full Disclosure was created to counter the current US government and Pentagon propaganda campaign commemorating the Vietnam War. The project, operated with $15 million-a-year in tax-payer funds, was begun on the 50th anniversary of the Marine landing in DaNang in March 1965.
Full Disclosure members attempted unsuccessfully to meet with Pentagon managers of the program to discuss the limitations of its website, especially a timeline of events concerning the war. The timeline emphasizes things like Medals of Honor awarded to US soldiers, but it leaves out much of the complexity and the unpleasant realities of a war that began at the close of World War Two in 1945 when US leaders chose to support French re-colonization of Vietnam. Vietnamese guerrillas were US allies against the Japanese and admired their American comrades-in-arms. After the French capitulated, the war went on until 1975, when the US left Vietnam. Going through the website and reading the timeline, it’s easy to get confused and think that the Vietnamese somehow attacked us and that our soldiers were responding bravely to being attacked. Indisputable historic facts such as how the agreed-upon unification elections designated for 1956 were scotched by US leaders (who knew Ho Chi Minh would win by up to 80% of the vote) are altogether missing on the Commemoration website. The overwhelming reality that US soldiers were sent halfway around the world as an occupying army is lost in the interest of honoring the courage and sacrifice of Vietnam veterans.
Here’s how Rawlings described the letter project for those interested in writing a letter: