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From the National Office

By Barry Romo and Joe Miller

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Welcome to the Fall-Winter 2002 issue of The Veteran - our Veterans Day issue!

VVAW commemorates its 35th anniversary this year, a year when Bush's unending "war on terrorism" is terrorizing people in this country and all over the world and when the threat of a major conflagration in Iraq and throughout the Middle East hangs over all of us.

While we invite you to recall the historical influence and continuing relevance of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, we call upon all of you to rededicate yourselves to the tasks that have been ours for these past 35 years - the ongoing struggle for social justice and peace for everyone.

When VVAW was first established in 1967, we wanted to end the war in Vietnam, but we did so much more. We've made history and we've changed America.

Yes, tens upon tens of thousands of vets found a home (not to mention husbands, wives, partners, parents, ne'er-do-wells and malcontents). But we did not just camp; we did not hide out, feeling "unappreciated." No, we spoke out. We acted. We took our message to the American people and to the international community. We changed policies and minds through our commitment and our activism.

Long time peace and justice activist Dave Dellinger has said that we breathed new life into the peace movement. The largest demonstrations against the war were in the Seventies, not the Sixties: inspired by our arrival on the scene.

We were not only concerned about our brothers and sisters still in the military but about the victims of war as well. We showed our solidarity with the Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians by holding meetings, visiting their countries, and bringing up their side of the tragedy. We were the first to return and we continue to build friendship.

Yes, VVAW also began the whole Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) movement, nurtured and expanded it. There would not be compensation, vets' centers, or thousands of people alive today without our struggle. Agent Orange, educational benefits, the fight against homelessness, equal rights for women. Yeah, that was us, too.

We didn't have degrees or money, but we had experience and heart.

We were never blind to domestic ills, especially racism. We fought it in the South and the North. We faced the KKK and Nazis in Illinois, Mississippi, Alabama, Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, California and Florida.

In Miami, 1972, not only did we trounce and decimate Nazis, but VVAW was in the leadership of the Poor People's Political Campaign at the Democratic convention - the only predominantly white group along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, National Welfare Rights Organization, Tenants Union, etc.

We marched and fought in these struggles with pride, as we never did or could in the U.S. military. Of course, we did not go unnoticed by the FBI, the CIA and others. Tails, wiretaps, provocateurs, agents, investigations, trials and jail for many of us followed. The state came after us because we had served in the military. They had trained us, and they were afraid. It wasn't always easy in the movement. Many of us lost family, friends, and jobs.

The end of the war in Vietnam did not bring an end to our struggles. Real justice had not been achieved. We declared war on the Veterans Administration, and we demanded a decent shake for all vets, regardless of discharge, as well as amnesty for all draft resisters!

We took up the scourge of Agent Orange, following the lead of the courageous Maude De Victor, and we let Reagan/Bush know that there should be no war in Central America. We continued to warn the American public of "another Vietnam" (we in VVAW love the term "Vietnam Syndrome"), and again put our lives on the line to oppose the killing.

We did not stagnate, and we are proud of the younger vets who have found a home in VVAW over the years. Lebanon, Grenada, Panama and the Persian Gulf War (1990-91), all these have brought us new members. And yes, there are also people on active duty today who are members of VVAW.

We have a past and a present. VVAW also has a future, as long as real social justice and peace elude the peoples of the world. As veterans, we know the true costs of war extend beyond any battlefield, and we have a responsibility to educate our fellow citizens about this. With Bush's threat to veto a bill that includes $275 million for veterans' health care, we can see how hypocritical his administration is. They are certainly willing to go to war to produce more casualties, but they are not willing to pay for their own policies. This is nothing new to us.

We shall not sit idly by while Bush's endless "war on terrorism" engulfs the world and the "chickenhawks" like Cheney, Perle and Wolfowitz want to invade every country they happen not to like. VVAW members around the country and around the world must still speak out in high schools, colleges, pulpits, the halls of Congress and the streets. We still have to feed homeless vets and demand decent benefits. Why? Because it is crystal clear that this new American Empire is not willing to take care of anyone but the rich of the world.

So, on this Veterans Day, hold events that help to celebrate the longevity and the victories of 35 years of VVAW, and, more importantly, join with folks in your communities to continue the struggle toward a better future for a world of peace and social justice for all!


Barry Romo and Joe Miller are national coordinators of VVAW.

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