From Vietnam Veterans Against the War,

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On the Necessity of Struggle

By Bill Branson

From the National Office

Our politics and political unity were forged in our opposition to the war in Vietnam. Some of us were drafted, others volunteered. Many fought in the jungles, some in the rear or offshore. Many of our fathers and uncles fought fascism. All of us changed over there, often more intensely after we returned. As VVAW emerged from the late 1960s, we fought to bring our brothers home and to stop the senseless killing of the Vietnamese people. We realized the Vietnamese had the right to defend themselves and that we were on the wrong side. We realized that our service did nothing to advance freedom or democracy abroad or at home.

Some of us lost comrades and part of ourselves to the war while in Southeast Asia. Others lost the struggle once back home, whether from the ravages of Agent Orange, PTSD, or any other effects of the dehumanizing war we engaged in. Our advancing understanding of the war and our role in ending it helped us realize that a fight for democracy was going on in the streets of the US. Our struggle continued as we fought to save Vietnamese lives and the lives of our brothers and sisters affected by that war.

Our strength was in organizing. One lonely picket sign is an honorable start, but the power for change lies in organizing others and educating the public about the true costs of war and the role of the US Empire.

We learned that the Military Industrial Complex would use us and spit us out. It was up to us to save each other. We fought for recognition. We fought for care from the VA. We fought against the senseless loss of life. Not just for GIs, but also for Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians. The nuances of war and the rights to self-defense and self-determination meant that most of us did not emerge as pacifists but as anti-imperialists who engaged in struggle and solidarity. When imperialists test the boundaries of international norms, we understand the importance of speaking out.

As such, we recognize:

• the imperial might and expansionist impulses of Putin and his Russian cronies. The struggle for self-determination and freedom from Russian control of the Ukrainian government and people is still paramount;

• the difference between engaging in self-defense and the unjust destruction of a population. The Palestinian people must have their state without the puppet regime imposed by Israel. A permanent cease-fire is the first step toward reconciliation. The US can bring about this cease-fire by stopping all arms shipments to Israel; and

• the chaos that is spreading throughout countries that don’t catch the spotlight of global media. Autocratic rulers and armed criminals create humanitarian crises that ripple across the world as people flee their homelands in search of safety and better lives for their families.

Those of you reading this have survived (mostly) the damaging effects of war. Some of us are now seeing our problems accelerated due to what we experienced and were exposed to. In many cases, our aging has exacerbated these mental and physical injuries—thereby seeming to run our clocks out sooner than desired.

We know that combatants and non-combatants of every war will also carry these burdens into their futures.

The number of vets who take their lives every day is still unacceptable and unpardonable. It is a cost of war deferred and ignored. But we cannot condone or applaud a vet taking his own life to make a political statement. The words that they may say or write before death can in no way balance that loss of life. Being part of the struggle means we keep engaging with others.

VVAW welcomes vets and non-vets from all eras as they come to an understanding of the costs of war and imperialism. Many of us have found meaning in organizing with others and value in engaging with mental health professionals when we need to. For whatever reason it happens, suicide is a tragedy. We don't need fewer people in the struggle, we need more.

We know our time is not infinite, but we won't give up the fight for VVAW's goals. While we've won many struggles, the VA could still be better and open to all who served regardless of discharge status. And GIs are still being used and tossed away in wars for profit.

The act of living is not easy, especially as we see so many of our fellow neighbors and residents of this country engage in and support racism and fascism. As many of us grab our canes, walkers, or wheelchairs, we know our time storming the gates has passed. And the gates are no longer as easy to storm. Life is challenging and complex; easy solutions are not found in a news feed or an ideology that can be purchased off the shelf.

What we can do is tell our stories. We can share our wisdom with our families, our political representatives, and with current and prospective GIs. And we still have libraries and learning centers to build in Vietnam. We can do this to show ourselves, as much as the current and future generations of Vietnam, that we honor our debts to them. Our time has not passed. In whatever ways we still can, we need to walk the walk and keep fighting for global peace and justice, and for GI/veterans' rights.

Bill Branson is a member of the VVAW Board.

Thanks to Jeff Danziger and Billy Curmano for their cartoons.Thanks to Marc Levy, Chuck Theusch, Khoi Tran, Joe Miller, Morgan Wachtendonk, Margarita Baumann, David Clark, Laurie Sandow, Nadya Williams, and others for contributing photos.

Jeff Machota
Bill Branson
Joe Miller

VVAW Milwaukee Agent Orange Demo.

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