Tuesday, April 18, 2017

When Veterans Protested the Vietnam War - The New York Times

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When Veterans Protested the Vietnam War - The New York Times
by Jan Barry
An ad in the April 9, 1967, edition of The New York Times caught my attention and changed my life. “We appeal to North Vietnam, if they really want peace, to stop bombing the United States — or else get the hell out of Vietnam!” stated a group named Veterans for Peace in Vietnam. A Vietnam veteran myself, I recognized it as a tonic outburst of G.I. black humor, a cheeky comment on the reality of who was bombing whose homeland. It also convinced me that there was a role for me to play, as a veteran, in exposing what the American government was doing in Indochina.
Posted to Vietnam as an Army radio specialist, I celebrated my 20th birthday in Saigon in January 1963, a very drunk soldier in the United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam. Two and a half years before the Gulf of Tonkin “incident,” we were already waging war — when we weren’t doing happy hours in bars from the Delta to Da Nang — under slick counterinsurgency slogans like “winning hearts and minds” and cynical unit slogans like “only you can prevent a forest” (motto of the Air Force missions spraying the countryside with chemical warfare herbicides). I’ll admit — some of it was thrilling. I caught flights on Air Force C-123s skimming treetops and bush-pilot planes flown by my Army unit transporting Special Operations teams in and out of hush-hush places, with B-26 and T-28 bombers and assorted other airplanes and helicopters flitting around, all part of a strategy to “pacify” rice-farming regions and jungle forests potentially harboring elusive Vietcong guerrillas, under the guise of being “military advisers” to a government we had installed.
Our mission was to hold Communist China in check. We occupied old French Foreign Legion posts, contemptuous of the French for being defeated by Vietnamese. Yet we seldom controlled much beyond our bases. Things in Southeast Asia, I learned, were not as upstanding as portrayed in official pronouncements. Declining a military career, I resigned from the United States Military Academy, where I went after serving in Vietnam, intending to write an exposé of our secretive, bizarre little war in Southeast Asia. That project got snagged in a tangle of new revelations as the war mushroomed in 1965-66 into an assault on the scale of World War II campaigns.

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