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The Importance of Vietnam and VVAW: Then and Now

By Bill Branson

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Welcome to the Spring 2016 issue of The Veteran.

Since Vietnam Veterans Against the War's (VVAW) founding in 1967, we have fought against wars on all fronts. From the beginning, we have followed our organizing principles by joining in solidarity with the struggle against systemic racism, violence and oppression. In 1971 we went to Cairo, Illinois to support that struggle. In 1972 we protested at the Miami Republican National Convention and stood up against the American Nazi Party. VVAW has never supported a Nazi's right to speak and spew hate speech and we must all speak out against it now.

In the last year, we have witnessed a resurgence of such ignorant hate. Bundy's Citizens for Constitutional Freedom secessionist militia took over a wildlife refuge in Oregon. Leader Clive Bundy spewed racist speech about how African Americans would be better off as slaves. Donald Trump condones the beating of Black Lives Matter protesters, and encourages violence at his events. His green light for thuggery has created unsafe and hostile conditions for women and people of color. His calling for a ban on all Muslims coming into our country is nativist bigotry in its pureist and an insult to our Consititution. Had Bundy's militia been composed of people of color, would they have been allowed to stay on federal property that they illegally seized for so long? Or would it have looked a little more like Ferguson?

VVAW calls on you to take action against the resurging racism and xenophobia, to speak out, to take action, and to stand up in solidarity. Get and out vote on November 8. We know it is difficult to turn out for what we know are rigged elections. Some of the candidates, on both sides, are enough to make one nauseous. Think of it this way; if you could save one person, with your vote, would it be worth walking down the street and spending a few minutes in a booth? The outcomes of these elections, from local offices all the way up to the presidential race, can either give power to this systemic oppression of hate, or stop it in its tracks. You decide.

VVAW also continues to stand with the Vietnamese, as we have done since we began organizing in 1967. Archivists at WYSO, a public radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio, recently uncovered a speech made by longtime Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) member Barry Romo at Antioch College in January 1973. WYSO aired a two-piece story in February on Barry's journey from enlistment to anti-war protester. In late 1972, Barry represented VVAW on a peace delegation with Joan Baez, Telford Taylor and Rev. Michael Allen, delivering letters and packages to American POWs right outside of Hanoi. They were invited over by the Vietnamese government. What no one knew at the time, was that Nixon was about to start the Christmas bombings. The US military planes dropped over 20,000 tons of explosives on and around Hanoi over that ten-day period.

When Barry came back, he immediately hit the road to spread the word of what had happened, to talk about VVAW, and to build the movement to end the war in Vietnam. At Antioch College Barry said, "All my brothers and sisters in Vietnam Vets Against the War went over to Vietnam, and they pulled the triggers and they dropped the bombs. They did the actual genocide. They did the actual ecocide. They removed people from their ancestral homes. They stole food. But, one thing that has to be remembered is that we were nothing more than a trigger finger for the American society." One of the reasons Barry went as a VVAW delegate to Vietnam, was because VVAW saw the importance of working with the Vietnamese people. We saw that they were fighting for their country and that the US was the aggressor. Barry saw firsthand the damage Nixon's bombings did to the Vietnamese people. VVAW worked to stop the war and for years has worked for the normalization of relations with Vietnam and the Vietnamese people.

We have continued to work with the Vietnamese people, whose country and people are still devastated by the US war fought on their homeland. VVAW has fought to raise awareness on the effects of Agent Orange since the 1970s. In recent years, we have worked with The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) to raise awareness of the continuing Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. VAVA is a Vietnam-based organization of victims and activists fighting for victim's treatment, remediation, and recognition persisting and ongoing poisoning from the US dropping dioxin-laced Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

In December 2015, six members of VAVA came to New York and to Washington DC to speak to members of the US Congress, Vietnam-era veterans, and peace and justice activists about the continuing affects of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese people. VVAW presented VAVA with a check for $5,000. This money will help build 2 houses in the Quang Binh province for Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. This area was heavily bombed by the US during the war. VVAW members were so moved that they also personally contributed to VAVA as well. Please check out VVAW Board member Susan Schnall's article on page 1 for more information about VAVA's visit.

You will also notice the new format of this issue of The Veteran. Due to changes in the print industry, we are being forced to change the look of the paper. These changes will not stop us from being a voice for peace, justice, and the rights of all veterans as we have been for the past four and a half decades. As we go forward with this new layout, feedback will be appreciated.

Bill Branson is a VVAW board member and Chicago resident.

Thanks to Jeff Danziger and Billy Curmano for their cartoons. Thanks to Bill Branson, Brian Mattarese, Susan Schnall, Per Odman, Aaron Davis, Joe Miller, Jim Wachtendonk, Frank da Cruz, John Retallack, and others for contributing photos.

Charlie Branson
Bill Branson
Jeff Machota
Ellie Shunas
Jen Tayabji

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