By John Ketwig (reviewer)
Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement
by Tom Hayden
(Yale University Press, 2017)
Tom Hayden was the voice of the Vietnam peace movement, and what an articulate and thoughtful voice it was. He died earlier this year, but before he passed on he left this final book (he authored approximately 22 books!) as a final statement and a fond farewell. Did he know it would be his last? We will never know. But reading "Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement" reminds the reader why Tom Hayden came to prominence at a turbulent time when a lot of people were making a lot of noise. His message is clear, accessible, well thought-out, and organized. Most of all, it is authentic. Tom Hayden was at the forefront of it all. He saw the big picture, and he dared to try to make it better. In recent years, the far-right crazies have given the word "patriot" a distasteful connotation, but in reading "Hell No" one can't help but be impressed by the author's patriotism, sincerity, and humanity.
"Hell No" is not a very big book in physical size, but it is enormous in content. It is primarily a very concise history of America's war in Vietnam, and the resulting turmoil in our streets. As this was written we are anticipating the unveiling of Ken Burns' 18-hour, 10-part PBS documentary on Vietnam. Virtually no one expects that series to be realistic, balanced, or at all controversial. The soundtrack CDs are already on sale on Amazon.com. One of them has popular music from the era. I can't imagine what the second, or "original" one contains. There is no soundtrack CD to accompany Tom Hayden's final word on the war. Reading it, one hears the truth ringing loud and true, and one sees a common-sense approach to America's foreign policies and morality that stands as a monument to all the opposition to the Vietnam War. This is a carefully crafted accounting of the goodness and resolve at the front lines of the struggle here at home, and the dirty tricks and fanatical resolve of the powers-that-be who managed, and profited from, the carnage. From start to finish it is a story of everyday, common Americans who had other things to do, but they perceived the importance of what was happening and said, clearly, HELL NO! In a very small package the reader is allowed to see a huge, horrifying record of man's inhumanity toward his fellow man, billions of dollars wasted, and a tragic, ill-conceived power play that poisoned our country's founding principles and resulted in the death of millions of people, plus the suffering of millions more. Tom Hayden was proud to stand up against what was happening, and I suspect he released this book at this time because he saw it all happening again.
John Ketwig is a lifetime member of VVAW, and the author of ."..and a hard rain fell: A G.I.'s True Story of the War in Vietnam."