Love for the Vets and G.I.s on Veterans Day, Veterans: Your Only Real Friend is the Anti-War Movement

by ERIC MANN originally posted on CounterPunch online magazine, November 11th, 2014.

There are at least three gifts we can give to the veterans and G.I.’s on veterans day. One is to bring all the troops home, close down all 800 U.S. military bases, provide “jobs or income now” and the most extensive program of medical and psychological support for the vets–and the entire working class–and to demand that our government apologize to the peoples and nations all over the world for its wars of aggression and apologize to the working class men and women it sent to kill and be killed to expand its empire.

The second is to restore the historical record of the great movement against the war in Vietnam and its profound support of the troops. That movement, demanding, “U.S. Out of Vietnam–Bring the Troops Home–included perhaps 100,000 or more men who were drafted, refused, served, organized in the army, deserted, went into exile, rebelled, and upon return opposed the war with all their might. The “troops” were a critical component of the anti-war movement and must be again.

Third is to support the work of Iraq Veterans Against the War —– who oppose the endless Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama world wars and support the people of Ferguson and Palestine–in the long tradition of courageous anti-war work throughout U.S. history. You have to read their Foot Hood Testimonies Report–heartbreaking and courageous testimonies of G.I.’s at Ford Hood, Texas, about the profound brutality of the U.S. army towards its own soldiers–as the “all volunteer army” is driven to carry out acts of terrorism against civilian populations by their commanding officer–producing countless deaths followed by catastrophic injuries in the line of duty, PTSD, depression, guilt, and despair. Brandon Harris, just among the G.I.s whose riveting testimony is presented, states, “In no way am I proud of any of my deployments anymore. I absolutely think that every single deployment I went on did more harm than good—without question.” This is critical work as the U.S. cynically generates mock outrage against ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban–who it uses interchangeably as enemies and allies as pretexts for its efforts at world domination.

So once again the system trots out its cruel and hypocritical Veterans day, a hollow spectacle in which the war industry tries to justify and perpetuate centuries of racism, conquest, genocide, and crimes against humanity and its perpetual war state. What a sad, hypocritical system “celebrating” the men and women who have risked life, limb, mental and physical health for an endless series of unjust wars that the U.S. turns on and off like a faucet–all for the sake of a declining empire and the profits and egos of very sick ruling class.

As an organizer and strategist I see our present condition defined by The System’s Counterrevolution Against the Great Revolution of the Two Decades of the Sixties–lead by the Vietnamese and Black Liberation Movement. Like others who share my politics, we see that Revolution beginning in 1955 with the Bandung Conference of Non-Aligned Nations, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the murder of Emmet Till and ending in 1975 with the Vietnamese victory over the U.S. Given that all revolutions begin as ideas in the minds of revolutionaries the system is working 24/7 to suppress the people, the history, and the ideas that lead to a world-wide united front against what we called, and should still call, “U.S. imperialism.”

Re-writing Our Own Revolutionary History.

One of the most cruel and vicious lies of the system is to claim that the G.I.’s came home from Vietnam to derision and hatred from a hippy, Black militant, radical anti-war movement–when in fact just the opposite was true. The anti-war movement was deeply involved with the G.I.s themselves, lead by a broad united front including many G.I.s. The truly remarkable film, Sir, No Sir, shows stories of the depth of anti-war activities including massive rallies of G.I.’s (that would be militarily suppressed today) the direct revolt among the G.I.s, the drug use to avoid the horrors of war, and yes, the war crimes committed by many G.I.’s on direct orders from the U.S. generals.

We chanted “LBJ, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today” because we knew that the president of the United States was the arch war criminal and the soldiers were under a military dictatorship called the U.S. army. And yet hundreds of thousands of the 2.6 million soldiers who went to Vietnam over that long war and many more who refused to serve in the first place resisted the war–tens of thousands actively through organizing, resistance, protests, refusing to report or refusing to fight–while many soldiers “fragged” that is, killed their commanding officers rather than go into battle against the people of Vietnam. For in fact it was the U.S. government who was the enemy of the G.I.’s and the anti-war movement who was their friend–and that is true today as well.

The anti-war movement was very multiracial but the Black Liberation Movement provided the revolutionary theory and practice for all of us.

* The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee as early as 1965 put forth the view, “Hell No, We Won’t Go” to Vietnam, arguing their fight in the U.S. and internationally was against colonialism in Mississippi and Vietnam.

* In 1967, 64 percent of all eligible African-Americans were drafted, but only 31 percent of eligible whites. During 1965-66, the casualty rate for blacks was twice that of whites. Malcolm X was the among the first to speak out against the war, arguing that Black people in the United States were an oppressed people who should take their struggle to the United Nations as an internally oppressed people entitled to human rights. He welcomed Fidel Castro to the Hotel Theresa in Harlem when he was rejected by the Manhattan hotels near the U.N. and explained the Black people in the U.S. were part of colonized people all over the world.

* On April 4, 1967, speaking at Harlem’s Riverside Church, King announced that he could not denounced Black people rebelling in the streets of U.S. cities while his own government was “the United States was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” He observed that the war in Vietnam was “doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away” where “Negro and white boys kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. King blamed the system not the G.I.’s and condemned the U.S. war machine for “its cruel manipulation of the poor.”

The amazing film, “Sir, No Sir” shows the story of a vibrant anti-war movement among the G.I.’s. It shows scenes of massive anti-war rallies among G.I.’s in Japan, Black soldiers protesting, promised by the army responses to their grievances, only to be attacked and imprisoned by the army in its usual M.O. of the double cross.

* Bob Dylan, in his “Masters of War” blamed the system, the capitalists, the ruling class, not the soldiers, for the perpetual state of war.

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks.

You fasten all the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion’
As young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud.

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul.

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand over your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead.

Phil Ochs, a great anti-war balladeer, joined us in SDS when we occupied Columbia University against the Institute for Defense Analysis the university’s racist gym in Harlem. He sang, “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore”

Oh I marched to the battle of New Orleans
At the end of the early British war
The young land started growing
The young blood started flowing
But I ain’t marchin’ anymore

For I’ve killed my share of Indians
In a thousand different fights
I was there at the Little Big Horn
I heard many men lying I saw many more dying
But I ain’t marchin’ anymore

It’s always the old to lead us to the war
It’s always the young to fall
Now look at all we’ve won with the saber and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all

Now the labor leader’s screamin’
when they close the missile plants,
United Fruit screams at the Cuban shore,
Call it “Peace” or call it “Treason,”
Call it “Love” or call it “Reason,”
But I ain’t marchin’ any more,
No I ain’t marchin’ any more

The great Muhammad Ali was a brilliant orator and organizer. He not only lost his world heavyweight title. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison because they rejected his conscientious objection to the war because they rejected his authentic Muslim beliefs which contradicted the hypocritical Christian ideology used to justify the war. His case was overturned on appeal but today Ali would be in prison for years or decades as a “non-violent terrorist” as the U.S. government makes up an infinite number of categories as it goes along to silence and imprison dissent. Ali went on a speaking tour of college campuses and Black communities to organize opposition to the war. As he explained,

“I ain’t draft dodging. I ain’t burning no flag. I ain’t running to Canada. I’m staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I’ve been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for my right here at home. “

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