Why I Support VVAW
By Ray O'Loughlin
Every issue shows up in my mailbox with The Veteran emblazoned across the top. But I am not a veteran. I did not serve in Vietnam or any other war and have never been in any branch of the military. So why does The Veteran from Vietnam Veterans Against the War come to me?
I could say, as some folks do, that, yes, I am a veteran of that era. In a way, I am. But I don't claim that status. In 1968, I gave up my student deferment and applied to my draft board in Cleveland to be classified as a conscientious objector to the war in Vietnam and all wars. They didn't accept my claim and when all appeals were rejected by that board, I was drafted. I refused to go. Though I had resigned myself to spending time in prison, I was never prosecuted for that federal felony. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the thousands who refused were never prosecuted, our act of conscientious refusal many times ending in a bureaucratic stalemate.
Does that make me a veteran? I don't see it that way because I see that status as unique and special. I'm a conscientious objector with a respect for those who have served in the military and gone to war. Oppose the war, not the warrior, as the saying goes.
While I believe that war is never a good idea, I also live in a world that sustains enormous military operations. They are created to go to war and they do. As a realistic idealist, I believe that once a nation asks/demands that its men and women enter harm's way to fight and kill and to suffer lifelong injury and die for you, then you create a sacred obligation surpassing all moral argument. It is an obligation that is an unending responsibility. It's an obligation not satisfied by a hollow "thank you for your service" on national holidays.
The war may be a horrifying moral (or military) catastrophe but that does not lessen society's obligation to support the veterans of that war. Vets are, or should be, entitled to full health care without question whether from the effects of Agent Orange or traumatic brain injury. They are, or should be, entitled to numerous benefits and supports to help them move back into non-military life. To see homeless vets begging on the street is a national embarrassment. To abandon a generation of vets to health problems and drug addiction—as the US did to Vietnam-era vets—is a disgrace and a crime.
So, I support VVAW because it advocates for fair and just supports and reminds this nation of its shameful treatment of its military veterans. That's one reason.
The other reason I support this organization is that VVAW speaks the truth in keeping alive the brutal and shameful history of the American war in Vietnam. Every article in The Veteran that relates someone's experience in those jungles brings back the reality of the war in a time when sheer spin predominates or sheer amnesia disposes of the reality. We can argue about the purposes and strategies of that war. But we cannot argue about the misery of its prosecution and how hard it was fought. We must keep the truth alive. Every issue of The Veteran is like reading the biblical prophets who did not foretell the future but testified about the past and present. So much of the debate over the history of that war tries to spin the experience one way or another. How about we first let those who were there tell their stories?
And so, I go on opposing war and bloated military budgets while I support people who did what I refused to do. Honor the warrior, not the war, indeed. And honor the history.
Ray O'Loughlin lives in Denver, Colorado.