After nearly three days of deliberation at the recent annual conference of Northern California Veterans For Peace, the 10 chapters in attendance decided that one of their most pressing tasks was to tell the truth about the Vietnam War - in direct confrontation with Washington's current "rewrite the war" campaign. On Memorial Day, in May of 2012 President Obama and the Department of Defense launched the 50th anniversary remembrance of the Vietnam War (January, 1962 to April, 1975). The 13-year-long, $65 million commemoration, which will officially end in 2025, entails: 750 events, major media blitzes, educational campaigns, travelling museums, and much more.
From San Diego to Seattle, representatives from Veterans For Peace (VFP) met May 2 to 4 at the Mountain Home Ranch Resort, northeast of Santa Rosa. This was the fourth annual Spring meeting of NorCal VFP, the first three being held in Ukiah. The 45 in attendance at the three-day gathering were mostly veterans (the majority of whom served during the Vietnam war) plus associate members - their non-vet supporters and peace activists. All were well aware of the US military's effort to, as they see it, "sanitize and mythologize" the Vietnam war. Thus national VFP has launched the "Full Disclosure Campaign: Toward an Honest Commemoration of the American War in Vietnam," which represents not only a challenge to Washington's positive spin, but a clear alternative to obvious implications that legitimize current and future unnecessary and destructive wars.
As part of the DoD campaign, September 20, 2013 was declared as National POW/MIA Recognition Day (Prisoner of War/Missing In Action). Yet the recent Sonoma County conference had a powerful and comprehensive presentation by Monterey VFP member Phillip Butler, who endured eight years as a POW in North Vietnam (1965 to 1973). "There are NO POWs left in Vietnam," declared Butler. He even co-authored a national resolution to state that Veterans For Peace take a public stand against the use of the POW/MIA flag and symbol, saying that "this symbol has become associated with revenge, and hatred for the people of Vietnam." Ironically, the resolution was defeated last fall by the general membership, the National Board of VFP recommending a 'no' vote, saying it would "cause friction" and "goes too far." A strong opponent of our country's "enhanced interrogation" techniques, Butler described his torture and mistreatment as a prisoner in his memoir "Three Lives of a Warrior" - his third life being his dedication to peace. When the abuses of Abu Graib and Guantanamo were revealed, "my PTSD came back," he said. "Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are all war criminals."
The keynote speaker at the regional was (retired Colonel and former diplomat) Ann Wright, an unstoppable peace activist who was one of only three State Department personnel to resign in 2003 in protest of Bush's invasion of Iraq. Since then she has been active with CodePink: Women for Peace, and many other groups, and had just returned in April of this year from a VFP annual Spring tour to Vietnam. The 17 tour participants each brought a minimum of $1,000 to donate to VFP-linked programs to address the on-going legacies of the war (Agent Orange victims, unexploded ordinance clearance and poverty). A total of three tours has delivered $70,000. This writer took 6 pages of notes on Wright's speech, which ranged from The Ukraine to Palestine, Latin America to the "Pivot to Asia," Assassin Drones to the War on Drugs, Whistle Blowers to Military Dissenters, and more.
Other major presentations were from Sonoma State University professor, Dr. Peter Phillips, of Project Censored, on "Transnational Corporations and the 9/11 Wars," (i.e. follow the money). Santa Rosa veteran Fred Ptucha then described constructing much-needed housing in Vietnam with the long-standing Veterans Vietnam Restoration Project, which originated from Garberville's VFP. Ptucha, being of Ukrainian-American descent, has worked for many years on Soviet, then Russian, peace relations.
Chapter Reports are always a vital component of the regional meetings. Sacramento's VFP chapter 57 has focused on monthly demonstrations and civil disobedience at Beale Air Force Base. though Beale makes Global Hawk drones, for surveillance, the killer Predator and Reaper strike drones could not do their deadly work without the intel. Held every last Monday and Tuesday, April 29th saw 13 arrested blocking the gates to Beale. The East Bay's chapter 162 were prominent at the "Pivot to Asia" conference, specifically focusing on current American and South Korean build- up on Jeju Island, off the coast of S. Korea. The site of a horrendous 1948 massacre by the S. Korean military, under over-all US command, the island's residents are mounting very strong resistance today to construction of a huge American base.
San Francisco's Chapter 69, being in an area with a population of 3 to 4 million, depending on where the line is drawn, is a very busy chapter indeed. Participation in speaking tours, demonstrations, events, parades, exhibits, projects, actions, etc. are all a part of the group's seemingly non-stop efforts. Fleet Week, a 5-day-long promotion of the military was cancelled last October due to federal budget cuts, but promises to come back with a vengeance this fall. IVAW and VFP will be ready with tables, literature and face-to-face conversations with the thousands who attend along San Francisco's Embarcadero waterfront. The Hoa Binh (Peace) Chapter 160 of VFP in Vietnam was represented by a recent returnee from the March/April tour. Progress on UXO (unexploded ordinance) removal and preventative education has definitely made headway in Vietnam, due in part to ProjectRENEW, a program started over 15 years ago by veteran Chuck Searcy, who has lived full time in Ha Noi since 1995. The tragic damage done by the herbicide Agent Orange and it's contaminant dioxin claims three to four million victims today, going into the fourth generation of Vietnamese children. The US has so far funded the clean-up of only one of 26 "hot spots." "We camped in Vietnam for 10 years, and left a mess. We need to clean up our campsite," a vet told the group. A House Bill: HR 2519, co-authored by Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee would address many critical issues attributed to the chemical weapon.
Mendocino County's Chapter 116 is still struggling with access to the Veterans Memorial Building in Ukiah. Chapter 11 of Santa Cruz is dealing with an aging vet population and the challenges of recruiting new, younger members. On June 12 and 13, Santa Cruz will host a meeting of all Peace and Justice Centers. San Jose's Chapter 101hosted the recent national GI Coffee House Tour and 'Refusnik' Speaking Tour. Chapter 91 in San Diego county has had great success organizing young vets in colleges. They have also raised tens of thousands of dollars for homeless vets, and housing for women vets and their children. "Arlington West" - hundreds of crosses on local beaches - was started by Southern California VFP chapters. By working with "Green Card Soldiers" who have been deported to Mexico and South America - often for minor incidences - a new cross border chapter of VFP is in the works.
Seattle's chapter 92 representative is also on the National Board, and gave an organizational overview, with recruitment of younger vets a top priority. Sonoma County's Chapter 71, the hosts, laid out their activities throughout the weekend retreat.
Of the dozens of important projects the NorCal chapters are working on, the last day saw a narrowing down to three: the Vietnam War counter commemoration, the situation of deported and "banished" veterans, and the task of growing membership - especially young members of IVAW (Iraq [and Afghanistan] Veterans Against the War). The annual national convention will be held July 23 to 27 in Ashville, North Carolina - the theme, Peace or Perish: Abolish War on the Planet and the Poor. San Diego will host the 2015 national in August - The War Abroad and the War at Home.
This August, 2014 will be the 50th anniversary of the "official" start of the Vietnam war - the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident.
To their credit, and knowing full well that most Americans now know their history, the Department of Defense website's Timeline states (here in edited form): "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. Three small North Vietnamese vessels engage the Maddox by launching torpedoes, each of which miss their mark. On the night of August 4, the USS Maddox and the USS Turner Joy, both in the Gulf of Tonkin, report being attacked by several smaller boats. However, later analyses of those reports make it clear that North Vietnamese naval forces did not attack the Maddox or the Turner Joy that night.
"In response to the North Vietnamese attack of August 2 and the assumed attack of August 4 in the Gulf of Tonkin, President Johnson orders, on August 5, the US Navy to launch Operation PIERCE ARROW from the aircraft carriers USS Ticonderoga and USS Constellation." Next came the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in Congress - with two courageous votes against - that started the war that would kill up to 8 million Southeast Asians, and well over 100.000 of our own. We wonder when any US governmental statement about the fallacies that led us into the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq will be up on the world wide web.