Like apparitions from a forgotten past, Vietnam War-era helicopters swooped down from the sky above Newnan, Georgia, 40 miles from Atlanta last month.
The vintage choppers landed at the local high school stadium, where pilots told students about the war in Southeast Asia, which took place before many of the teenagers’ parents and teachers were born.
Vietnam-themed classes at the technical school included aerodynamics and rotor blade design, along with history and social studies lessons, taught, in part, through the stories of local veterans.
Left unsaid: Millions of Americans, including many prominent Jewish leaders, opposed the bloody war. Members of the anti-war movement were not invited to speak at the Newnan events, according to a school spokesman.
RELATED Pentagon falsifies history of Vietnam war, December 10, 2014
The school’s lessons and related events are just a small part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s nationwide commemoration of the war’s 50th anniversary (which the Pentagon dates from the landing of the first expeditionary force of Marines at Da Nang in March 1965).
Simply put, the Pentagon is pushing to whitewash history. It hopes schools, civic organizations and state and local governments will hold ceremonies, mount exhibits and promote a version of history that honors those who fought the war while banishing from memory those who opposed it.
From the detailed timeline on its website devoted to the commemoration, you would not learn that Americans were protesting American involvement in Vietnam years before Congress authorized U.S. military action with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
You wouldn’t learn that within a month of the Marine landing in Da Nang 25,000 people gathered in Washington to call for the war’s end.
From three scant references to nationwide demonstrations in 1969 and 1970, you’d have no clue that what followed the introduction of American troops was unremitting protest, including student strikes at 500 campuses and civil disobedience that ranged from sit-ins, to efforts to halt troop trains to draft-card burning.
And, strangely, there is little mention of the 58,000 American dead, much less the millions of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians who perished in the ill-fated Cold War conflict.
In an effort to redress this one-sided account, some 1,500 people (I am one of them) most of them anti-war activists, but also veterans who fought in Vietnam, have signed a letter to Lt. Gen. Claude M. Kicklighter, who is overseeing the commemoration, asserting that:
“No commemoration of the war in Vietnam can exclude the many thousands of veterans who opposed it, as well as the draft refusals of many thousands of young Americans, some at the cost of imprisonment or of exile until amnesty was granted. Nor can we forget the millions who exercised their rights as American citizens by marching, praying, organizing moratoriums, writing letters to Congress, as well as those who were tried by our government for civil disobedience or who died in protests. And very importantly, we cannot forget the millions of victims of the war, both military and civilian, who died in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.”
The signers and others will hold their own Vietnam Peace Commemoration in Washington on May 1st and 2nd, to conclude with a vigil at the Martin Luther King Memorial.
Among the nine individuals to be honored at the commemoration as “elders” of the peace movement are Daniel Ellsberg, Judith Lerner, Marcus Raskin, Arthur Waskow and Cora Weiss. A leader of Women’s Strike for Peace, Ms. Weiss said in an interview, “We never put ourselves out as Jews,” but the majority of members were Jewish. She also pointed to the late Rabbi Leonard Beerman’s role as head of Clergy and Laity Concerned on the West Coast, saying the organization was crucial to the antiwar movement.
The Pentagon’s official website includes links to 112 press releases of commemorative activities nationwide. The peace commemoration is not among them.
This is not just historical amnesia: for those of us who as young men and women acted to oppose the war, it is the theft of a past that profoundly changed our lives, reshaping our idea of America, challenging our sense of duty, testing our courage, forcing us to take a stand.
But how Vietnam is remembered matters to more than those aging warriors who marched and risked jail and exile to oppose the war or to those who fought in the jungle: it matters to Americans now and to those to come.
The anti-war movement transformed the nation. Because of it, two presidents left office in disgrace. The protests forced Lyndon Johnson to abandon his race for a second term; they started the sequence of events that culminated in Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation.
What’s at stake is not only the past, but the future. One lesson we began to learn five decades ago is that we need to cultivate a healthy suspicion of candidates’ promises and government claims. Another is that there are limits on American power. And, perhaps most important of all, that an aroused public can bring about change.
The relevance of those lessons in today’s world is clear. They must not be erased.
Bernard L. Stein was editor of The Riverdale Press, where he won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, and of The Hunts Point Express and Mott Haven Herald, South Bronx community newspapers staffed by students at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
Source: The Forward, a Jewish periodical based in New York
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The Pentagon’s commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. Just how accurate is it?
The Pentagon’s commemoration of the Vietnam War was intended to honour veterans and, its website says, “provide the American public with historically accurate materials” suitable for use in schools. But the extensive website, which has been up for months, largely described a war of “valor” and “honor” that would be unrecognizable to many of the Americans who fought in and against it. The New York Times noted that its “Interactive Timeline gave “scant attention” to “the years of violent protests and anguished debate at home.” The website’s fact sheet listed the total American deaths, 58,253—but it didn’t mention the number of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians killed, commonly estimated at 3 million to 4 million. The facts about Vietnam were also a victim. Edwin Moise*, History News Network, on some “minor inaccuracies.”
There has been controversy recently over a program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, run by the Department of Defense. An article in the New York Times October 10, “Pentagon’s Web Timeline Brings Back Vietnam, and Protesters,” by Sheryl Stolberg, mentioned that I said I had found minor inaccuracies in an Interactive Timeline, that the Department of Defense has placed online as part of this project. I have been asked to cite examples.
I have looked at the timeline for the two years in which I am particularly interested, 1964 and 1968.
For 1964, I noticed the entries:
MAY 22, 1964: AIR AMERICA FLIES FIRST SEARCH AND RESCUE MISSION IN LAOS AND NORTH VIETNAM
Air America, formerly the Civil Air Transport, begins search and rescue missions in Laos and North Vietnam. Its first rescue of a downed flyer is 6 June 1964.
Comment: The first rescue of a downed flyer in Laos was on June 8, 1964. There had been an attempted rescue of a previous downed flyer on June 6, but it had failed. I do not believe any such search and rescue missions were flown in North Vietnam at any time in 1964.
AUGUST 2, 1964: GULF OF TONKIN INCIDENT (¼)
. . . On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox is stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin in support of South Vietnamese espionage operations off the coast of North Vietnam. . . .
Comment: The operations off the coast of North Vietnam were not espionage operations, they were armed attacks against coastal facilities. And the Maddox was not really stationed in support of those operations; the Maddox was on an intelligence-gathering mission.
When Nick Turse first asked me to look at the timeline early this year, the entries that caught my eye included:
JULY 11,1964: JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF (JCS) UNVEILED “94 TARGET LIST”
AUGUST 4, 1964: TWO U.S. AIRCRAFT DOWNED
I told Turse that the Joint Chiefs had not even come close to unveiling that famous list of 94 potential bombing targets in North Vietnam during July 1964, and that no American aircraft had been downed on August 4, 1964. These entries have since then disappeared from the timeline, probably as a result of prodding by Turse.
For 1968, I noticed the entries:
JANUARY 30, 1968: VIET CONG LAUNCH TET OFFENSIVE
From January 30 to February 28, 1968, an estimated 84,000 communist forces carry out a countrywide offensive that starts during the Vietnamese Tet holidays. Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops strike 36 provincial capitals and capture most of Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam. . . . In the central coastal area, the fighting starts on January 29 because enemy commanders there use a different lunar calendar.
Comment: This entry treats the Tet Offensive as having begun on January 30 for South Vietnam as a whole, but on January 29 in the central coastal areas. Each of these dates is one day off. It began on January 31 in South Vietnam as a whole, but on January 30 in the central coastal area.
JANUARY 31, 1968: BATTLE OF HUE BEGINS
. . . The defeat of the Communist forces at Hue possibly prevents them from taking the two northern provinces of South Vietnam.
Comment: The suggestion that if the Communist forces had managed to hold onto Hue, this might have enabled them to take the whole of the two northern provinces of South Vietnam, is an absurd exaggeration of the importance of Hue and of the forces fighting there.
FEBRUARY 24, 1968: NAVY ACTIVATES TASK FORCE CLEARWATER TO KEEP SHIPMENTS TO KHE SANH
Concerned that the water access to Dong Ha, the main transshipment point to Khe Sanh, would become cut off, General Creighton Abrams, Deputy Commander of MACV, requests that the Navy stand up a patrol force for the Cua Viet River. . . .
Comment: Dong Ha was not, during that period, a significant transshipment point, much less the main one, supporting Khe Sanh. If Khe Sanh had been getting supplies by road, Dong Ha would have been a vital transshipment point, but Khe Sanh was supplied entirely by air.
* Edwin Moise, a professor of history at Clemson University, is the author of Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War (North Carolina Press, 1996). He is currently writing a book on the Tet Offensive of 1968.