VVAW: Vietnam Veterans Against the War
About VVAW
Contact Us
Image Gallery
Upcoming Events
Vet Resources
VVAW Store


Page 28
Download PDF of this full issue: v33n2.pdf (12.1 MB)

<< 27. They Lied! poem29. Letters to the Editor >>

Letters to the Editor

By Arthur J. Toegemann

[Printer-Friendly Version]

War is probably the most difficult undertaking people engage in, completely contrary to all of our goals of health and government. Already a difficult decision, the war with Vietnam compounded this, misleading us into an action without cause or merit, an action we could only lose. There seems to be a vague agreement that what the United States did to Vietnam was a mistake. Realizing just how bad a mistake requires a courage many do not possess. This is why I tell people I am still protesting the war in Vietnam.

I've written a lot on this subject. I have a work-in-progress document titled "Conscience of the Country," a phrase an ambassador from Vietnam and I seemed to share when he identified Americans who protested the war as the conscience of our country. I've even written songs: "Conscience Of The Country," "Hearts And Minds," "My Friend Jim." I thank the VVAW for bringing some of it to you.

I have read a lot too, at the public library and online. I can provide a bibliography and list of websites. I still have a 1968 atlas cartographing the sham Republic of South Vietnam. There is an interactive website at knossos.shu.edu/gallery/V_Portfolio hosted by Seton Hall University that is very lively, and occasionally very disappointing.

My credentials: you may not consider me a veteran. The VA does not consider me a veteran.

I protested the war. There is evidence: documents, witnesses. Shortly after, I was forced, psychiatrically, to register for the draft in 1972 or face further incarceration in a mental hospital. I was told I didn't qualify as a conscientious objector; I used the term as defined, not shrunken and abused by the Selective Service. This subject is taken up at the National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objection, nisbco.org: it contains a proposal of having objection to the war with Vietnam, exclusively, classified as conscientious. I was classified as insane (schizoid personality disorder) and unfit for service: 4F. This has injured me socially and psychologically ever since.

Because of this experience of compelled registration, I recently told someone I am a veteran of that war. Remember, Nixon finally ended the draft in '73, a point of comparison. Like all 18-year-old American males: we are compelled by law to register for the draft. Such obligation means the nation owes us for registering, a policy not yet in place. Compelled, uncompensated registration is the first step in turning very young, inexperienced men into sadistic slaves, while "only following orders" is no defense.

Justified mutiny. In March of 1998 the Army awarded Hugh C. Thompson and Lawrence Colburn the medal of honor for standing up against U.S. troops at My Lai by placing their helicopter gunship between the troops and those unfortunate people, to oppose further massacre and for evacuation of the victims. VVAW has no such hardware, so must persuade by other means.

Nixon quit the draft only after noncompliance was so rampant that it had failed; violators were too numerous to prosecute. The Carter pardon would have acquitted my refusal to register. Whither the pardon (Presidential Proclamation 4483, January 21, 1997)? In 1977, the pardon was progressive, freeing a few draft resisters from prosecution. But! The pardon is an indictment when we deserve, instead, to be commended for protesting that war. It could be an aid to bringing about the true resolution to the matter: not to pardon but to commend the Vietnam War protester, commend and compensate and correct all records in error in this regard. Lobby Congress for this. Organize a class action federal tort claim.

I took up personal correspondence with my congressman on this matter. Lt. Gen. Samuel E. Ebbesen wrote back, "We [US Department of Defense] do not support the proposal [that Americans who opposed the role of the United States in Vietnam be 'fully exonerated, appropriately recognized and justly compensated.'] The reward of civil disobedience, if any, is advancement of the cause for which the protest is waged. The price may be unpopularity or punishment. There is no need for Government recognition or compensation for acts of disobedience. Such action by the Government, beyond President Carter's pardon in 1977, could undo much of the healing brought by the passage of time since the end of the Vietnam Conflict." Full of dire hypotheses, typically paranoid, it fails even the relationship of time to healing. It seems unaware of an organization like the VVAW. It is probably entirely self-serving.

The period of 20 years for the release of classified documents passed in 1995. This was sent January 3, 1995, one month before the release of Robert McNamara's "In Retrospect: the Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam." I heard McNamara apologize, twice, when he toured the nation promoting "In Retrospect" and his much less popular "Argument Without End," for misleading us into the war with Vietnam, justifying that mutiny.

With all due respect: flying the MIA under the U.S. flag is symptomatic. It is, by design and use, painfully obvious. Although all wars have personnel that go missing, as honored by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it is the war with Vietnam that pushed this action through a Congress that has been mistaken before toward Vietnam. That flag accuses Vietnam of still holding prisoners of war, as if, by extension, the United States is holding prisoners to exchange. President Clinton, in spite of a reputation for protesting the war, signed the right to fly the MIA into law. It may very well be the initials "MIA" mean "Missing In America." This is what we get when the true cause goes neglected.

Exonerating mutiny underestimates the debt. Protest against the war with Vietnam should be recognized as rightful, legitimate service, alternative and/or additional.

I advise the VVAW to focus its energies and resources on this issue. VVAW was created from a unique need. There are many, many legitimate causes in the world. I notice the VVAW publishing reports of some of these other causes. If the VVAW is to expand it should expand to include, as participants and beneficiaries, civilians that protested the war too.

It is important that the war with Vietnam remain the priority it is to us. If we don't do it, no one will. Lobby Congress for this. Organize a class action federal tort claim.

Please share any information that can help me with my situation. Thank you.

Arthur J. Toegemann
Providence, Rhode Island

[Non-veterans are welcome to join VVAW - see next page. —Ed.]

<< 27. They Lied! poem29. Letters to the Editor >>