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Page 30
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Waking Up To Peace

By Arnold Steiber

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Life has many chapters and we, as individuals, are many "people" within each chapter. As children we may be sons or daughters, friends, students, explorers, loved, abused. As teenagers our awareness expands, and our arrays of "people" expand. As we live, more chapters develop. Among other things, at this point in my life, I am a Vietnam infantry veteran.

When I left Vietnam in early 1971, I pretty much closed that chapter of my life. I floated for a few months, but basically I was okay. I never touched a weapon again, nor watched any violent movies, nor read anything about Vietnam. But in the background, something was there. Not always. It would fade for years at a stretch.

About seven months ago I was home alone at night. I turned on the TV. The movie "Platoon" was playing. My first thought was to turn it off. Then I thought, hey, after 30+ years, I can handle this. Besides, I was curious. Wow. Stuff was there. Especially the kids. The violence was real. I could smell Vietnam. I could hear it. I could feel it. Some was comfortable. I lived there. Some I couldn't watch. But it was there.

The next day I went on the Internet and looked up Vietnam Veterans Against The War on Google. I was amazed. They were still in existence. I read things I never knew. I followed the links. More new information. The more I read, the more I wanted to read.

I discovered peace groups, and "actions." I marched in my first peace demonstration in Ann Arbor, Michigan and helped form the world's largest peace sign. Wow. This was good. Maybe that's why I was in Vietnam — to help others realize that violence is not the answer.

I read more. I attended seminars. I met many terrific folks. I went to D.C. twice in March. I was nervous. The second D.C. march was "Operation Dire Distress" organized by Veterans Against the Iraq War and Veterans For Peace. A teach-in on Saturday (the tape is available from C-SPAN) and a march on Sunday. The teach-in was great, but the march was the ultimate high. About 500 veterans and friends assembled on the hill overlooking the Vietnam War Memorial. (I now refer to all war memorials as tributes to ignorance — not as an offense to those who died, but as a condemnation to the leaders who can't solve conflicts without hurting others.) We were separated from the Wall by twenty mounted police in their battle gear! America, what a place. There were reporters there from all over the world. I was interviewed by the BBC and gave them an earful. I only noticed one U.S. reporter, from NPR.

We laid wreaths at the major memorials, for all who have died in wars — ours and theirs. In the background, sitting in bleachers and looking very Sundayish, were about 300 politically correct folks listening to "patriotic" music and waving flags. Here we were, veterans, many with military clothes on (the Vietnam guys with jungle fatigues) carrying flags (some upside down) and signs, and marching for peace. And there "they" were, looking very antiseptic and proper. The irony was amazing.

After the wreath-laying we marched around the Capitol and did cadence. Some of the verse were priceless. Here's one: "Hey, hey, Uncle Sam, we remember Vietnam. They cheer you on when you attack, when you come home they turn their back." There are many more. The police and spectators looked baffled. It was powerful. The antiseptic folks stood on a hill and looked down on us. There were some young kids dressed as military recruits who taunted us; I think they were hired by the antiseptics. It was humorous.

After that experience I became even more committed to education, both for myself and helping to educate others. I started writing letters to newspapers, websites and other media and groups. I've sent booklets to individuals and groups. I "discovered" Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and have attended Mass at his parish. I made him an associate member of Veterans For Peace, and he was happy that I asked. I "discovered" Pax Christi, the National Catholic Reporter, the Nation, Sojourners, Yes! and many other groups and publications. The Internet is a beautiful thing.

I woke up, and it feels right. It's still difficult to speak out, but I feel that I can make a difference. Maybe that's why I was in Vietnam. Now must be my time. I am a Vietnam infantry veteran and a believer in a better world.

Arnold Stieber (VN 52nd Infantry 1970-71) is a Michigan contact for VVAW and a member of Veterans For Peace and of Vietnam Veterans of America.

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