Tuesday, November 15, 2005


"Politics is a very volatile arena. It should be entered with care. Our veterans (all of them) have served their country well. If only they could put these ideological differences aside. They fought the enemies of freedom and peace together; one would think they could do it at home, as well. They break my heart." Lynne Pittman-Wilder

BURYING THE HATCHET: Why Every Veteran Deserves to Wear White


Combat veterans have a back-to-back, foxhole bond not easily broken. Years of "human dynamics," philosophical differences, personal and societal stress can break down even the tightest connections. This Veterans' Day, VetSpeak.com is making a call to all veterans to bury the hatchet, find forgiveness, and give each other a break.

So much of what we know about each other is based on perception and, yes, misperception. It's time to check in and make sure that the grudge you've been holding all these years is a valid one, both on an organizational level and a personal one.

One case in point is Vietnam Veterans Against the War. For years, VVAW has labored under the public misperception that it is an all-Communist organization. Politics aside, who benefits from such a one-sided perception? The vets? The Cause? Or the detractors who seek to minimize, discredit and undermine an organization with a venerable 40-year history? VVAW vets and supporters "risked everything to tell the truth" through the years. They still do. Yet, some vets shy away from the organization for reasons they haven't checked the veracity of in years. Sounds like playing into "divide and conquer" techniques to me.

In 2005, VVAW has received the most financial support in a twelve-month period in its entire history. People all across the nation are putting their faith, trust -- and dollars -- into VVAW to end to the war in Iraq and help veterans get a fair deal when they get home. I, for one, know that there are many veteran brothers and sisters who hold back their support, feeling like something important was taken away from them "back then," putting their efforts in other directions.

Personally, I think it's time to give VVAW another chance. Maybe Veteran's Day is a good time to bury the hatchet and remember what VVAW did for us in "The Day." It not only provided a support system and place for veterans with extremely unpopular beliefs to stand together, it ushered many of us, vets and supporters alike, into an era of social activism that changed the world.

On October 29th, I spent fourteen hours with the VVAW National Steering Committee in Chicago. The perception that "VVAW Anti-Imperialist (VVAW-AI) is in control of VVAW is just not true. The website validates this right on the front page. To be sure, I walked right up to Barry Romo and asked him the question. His response was honest and straight-forward. He assured me that VVAW-AI was a rough spot in the organization's history. And like any diverse group of leaders in a national organization, there are multiple political philosophies at play.

After eight hours of meetings, and a few more hours of partying, did I perceive that any one philosophy was in control of VVAW? Were there pictures of Marx and Lenin on the walls? Absolutely not. Even if there were, who cares? While Barry is still at the helm (talk about commitment), he is also surrounded by a superlative group of activists and staff members who are no one's dupes. What I sensed is a cohesive, functional group, made up of both fresh new members, and long-term ones, representing a wide variety of philosophical beliefs and opinions. To even have long-term members (i.e., volunteers) continue to commit precious time to any social change organization is pretty amazing in itself. It proves that there is "something happening here."

The staff, too, showed this level of commitment. When I complimented the generous spirit of Jeff Machota who runs the VVAW office, Barry said that it's hard to find staff members who not only give 1000%, but also show up at the times when funds are short and there isn't even a paycheck in it for them. Jeff qualifies.

And in case you're wondering, I am not in Barry's (or anyone's) back pocket. In fact, ultimately, we didn't bond well. Maybe it was the comparison I made about he and Willie Hager ("You are bald with a black goatee, Barry; Willie is bald with a white one.") Whoops. Or a passing comment I should not have made about a veteran superstar who turns out to be a very good friend of Barry's. Sadness. The truth is, it's pretty daunting to walk into the National Steering Committee of VVAW. And it's too easy to get a little stupid when meeting people you admire. (A personal glitch.)

Barry did everything he could to open the doors for me. Just before the meeting started, he jumped up from his seat, walked over to me, and gave me a quick peck on the cheek. To me, that told the group, "Listen to what Diane has to say. She is welcome here." I was very appreciative of that. And I did feel listened to.

But the truth is, while it is more comfortable for us all to get along, THE MISSION IS THE THING. Barry knows this, I know this. Throughout the day, the mission was stated and restated: To end the war and treat the soldiers well when they come home. There was not one thing said about, "Well, that doesn't conform with the teachings of Marx," or whatever. Truly, VVAW is a group effort, made up of powerful entities who agree on some things and disagree on others. To me, that is a plus, not a minus. Who cares what picture hangs over anyone's bed or the books they read at night? In 1967, VVAW set a powerful mission for themselves, and all around me were men and women who keep showing up to the table and the streets, some for decades, to get the job done.

That evening, I was invited to party with VVAW at a Vietnamese restaurant. Once there, I did something I haven't done in years. Yes, I recently wrote an audiobook about VVAW with 8 original songs -- and sang them, too -- but I have not had the courage (or heart) to sing in public for nearly 20 years. That night, I listened to David Cline of Vets for Peace play the blues on the guitar. I watched Barry Romo dress up in clerical drag to entertain the troops. I listened to the heartfelt poetry of Californian Horace Coleman. I was mesmerized by the artistry and soul in the voice of Joe Miller's daughter Lisa. Almost everyone, it seemed, jumped up to do something, or put a lot of energy into supporting those who did. (Annie Bailey even baked some curiously delightful brownies.) And finally I got up, too. I sang "For What It's Worth," and "House of the Rising Son" with Bob Gronko, who played many songs with Anna Stange. I felt like a butterfly escaping a cacoon in those moments. It was all great fun. And much more, when you think about it.

Just before I left for Chicago, I received an email from Gerald Nicosia, author of "Home to War." (His book was partly panned by VVAW for alleged factual inaccuracies; I followed the scuttlebutt in VVAW's "The Veteran," magazine between Nicosia and reviewer Kurt Hilgendorf.) In his email, Nicosia asked if I would suggest to Romo that "it's time to make peace" because we're all on the same side.

I met Hilgendorf early on that day, and found him to be a very serious (possibly genius) young man. Like the rest of us, he put all self-conciousness aside to play some Rolling Stones tunes on the guitar. And it struck me, almost whimsically, that if Nicosia would just 1) show up to a National Steering Committee meeting, and 2) be willing to make a fool of himself like everyone else, maybe even do a duet with Hilgendorf, (I know, I can hear the comments) his peace offering might actually get heard. Even if you think that this is a bizarre suggestion, making music together just has to be a better form of communication than email -- which I would put money on is how Nicosia, Hilgendorf and VVAW communicated over "Home to War."

That evening, we all risked a fool's label and put our hearts in the music with no care about anything but the community of it, the fun of it and the soul of it. I could tell that this is something the group does a lot, and maybe that is why it remains so healthy and vital. What struck me is how alike we all are -- and how different. And what mountains we can still move (and what wars we can end) if 1) we show up and 2) we give each other a little room for error.

I felt warmed that these people, who surely could have treated me in a paranoid way, even let me in the door that day. They are professional activists, many with names I may not remember, but who share a sense of community and commitment I will never forget. At one point, Bill Davis, a massively committed activist, asked me about the background of someone associated with VetSpeak.com. "Does it really matter what the guy did in 1972?" I responded. "Which one among us can look back and see a completely clean slate?" He seemed to take this in, and I went just a little further. "You know, Bill, every veteran deserves to wear white. They really do."

I love and honor all veterans on Veterans' Day. Something that happened thirty years ago just doesn't matter today. People change, people grow -- and so do organizations. What matters more is the Mission -- and the common bond of experience and soul you all share. There is not one vet among us who does not deserve to wear white. Think about it, okay?


Thursday, November 10, 2005

SHELTER FROM THE STORM: Inside a Katrina Shelter, Part 2

Following is part two of a transcript of a tape made by Calixto Cabrera as a Red Cross Volunteer for Hurricane Katrina. While the news media frequently portrays the external affects, there is much to learn about the grit and fortitude of Americans through this "slice of life" experience of a Red Cross volunteer shelter manager (Calixto) and the hurricane survivors or "residents" he oversees.

FROM SEPTEMBER 19, 2005 (Synopsis):
I've been feeding Walt some line, letting him get to a point that one more outburst to any of my staff or to myself, and he's just plain out. His wife Judy, on the other hand, the lady who had been floating in the water for eight hours, was so appreciative of the Red Cross. She was an incredible worker, worked all the time. If I had three like Judy, life would have been so much easier in that shelter.

SEPTEMBER 22, 2005, time on deck: 22:18

Meadville, MS -- The Emmanuel Church was closing down. It was a shelter and it outlived its purpose. The shelter manager didn't want to shut it down because it was a good set-up and he's right. He got in contact with us, he heard about our situation and told us to come and check it out. I liked what I saw. It's a two-story building with several rooms upstairs and several rooms downstairs. It had a large area where the congregation gathered that could accommodate possibly about 92 people if set up properly. Per Red Cross rules and regulations, you have to have 4' wide area per cot, if I'm not mistaken, 4' by 8'. That would give us about 50 cots that we could set up down there.

I had originally intended to give the clients a voice in whether they wanted to move or not. In spite of the fact that the area was small, they hadn't seen this one so they really couldn't compare really well. We were set in over there. We were kind of used to what was going on; the madness and some of the problems were settling down except for the bickering between Erwin and Nicole, that's the cook and the cook wannabe. Everything else was just your typical problems of people having gotten their checks. Complaining about their checks both from FEMA and the Red Cross. Both organizations were giving evacuees money during this period of time. There was just a lot of grumbling and griping and dissatisfaction about how that was going along. Nothing out of the unusual.

There were times and moments when some people I don't think are ever appreciative about anything, no matter what you give them. But overall, the assemblage of people that were there were, in fact, appreciative of what they had going. They had food. They had a bed, albeit a cot. They had a place to stay that they were out of the weather. When they first moved into Mars Hill, apparently they didn't even have a cot. All of a sudden they had an air-conditioned place. And it was like yummy, but they had nothing else. And then they had an air conditioned place and got some cots. They were, again, appreciative. It was an uplifting of their conditions. And we were able to get blankets and pillows and stuff like that. And start getting some hot meals going. This was described to me by Jeremy. For the first while, things were going pretty well, and then the grumbling and stuff like that started setting in.

So, we're up the road now, it's time to move. I'd been gone for a while, and got back to Mars Hill, and Patty, my assistant shelter manager, that Monday had gotten a call from Ms. Nellie, who is like president or representative of the association that owns and runs that building and wanted to know when we were going to leave, how much longer the set-up was going to be. At the same time, the availability of Meadville was that Monday. Tuesday, it would be closed. And Meadville, while the building was billed as a church, it isn't really a church now. It's just a building. This company and this fellow bought it when the preacher got arrested for child molestation, rape and some other operation he had going here. Basically, it started out as a church but it quickly stopped became a church. It became a company building. Somehow, somebody contacted this guy and said, "Can we use this as a shelter?" And it was done. They've been really good about it. They fixed things quickly. They installed two showers. We didn't have it. They installed a vanity in one of the bathrooms. It didn't have it either. Just to be able to shelter the people here. That was very nice and I thought it was very gracious of this particular company, South Cellular(?).

The combination that we had to make a decision quickly as to whether we were going to take this building or not, and the fact that Ms. Nellie wanted to know when we were leaving, I just made an executive decision. I said, "Folks, we originally intended to give you a vote on this, that is no longer the case, we're moving."

Everybody was pretty good about it. Now, Walt, Judy and Erwin and another couple were not there when we moved. We had to deal with their gear. This is part of the lack of consideration factor. A shelter is not either a storage bin or a crash pad for people to take off, come back every few days, spend the night, take off again, that type of thing. You are either registered in the shelter -- you can go to work form the shelter, or if you're going back to inspect your home or what-not, you check out of the shelter and say, hey, I'm going to be gone two or three days, this is the kind of thing I'm planning on doing so that we keep you on the roster. All of this is an after-the-fact situation that came out of the shelter setup being abused like that by those three individuals in particular. We changed the rules to reflect this new reality. Hey, in 48 hours, if you haven't called back and checked back with us, you are considered out of the shelter and gone. That's what we did.

We moved over to the new place and we encountered a new set of realities. The police chief is like the only cop in town. Consequently, he's the police chief, he's his own chief. The County Sheriff is really the sheriff himself and four deputies. The Police Chief seems to be real friendly with the women, type of thing. And real nosey as to what's going on. Technically, I don't have to allow either one of them into the building unless they've been called or they suspect there is a crime going on, and then they need a search warrant.
In the interest of community let them in. (I never locked on to the name of either the police chief or the sheriff, so I'll just refer to them by their jobs, by their professions.) I met the coroner, his name is Mr. Peeler. I'll get his first name here in a little while. Met him. He likes to show his badge a few times. His wife, Mrs. Peeler, is trying to form a Red Cross chapter in town. I'm not sure why. It seems to me like a very straight -- this whole area, by the way, is Bible belt. Most of them are Baptist this and Baptist that. You know, that old "Fear the Lord thing." The culture here is steeped deep in the whole Bible belt mentality, which is fine, just as long as they don't lay it on us. If any of our people wish to participate in that, they are certainly free to do so. I kept monitoring their activity because it didn't want it poured down the throat of the residents of this shelter.

Well, Mrs. Peeler is also a member of the community who is kind of like a big fish in a little pond. She likes to let people know that. Mrs. Peeler and her husband have been very helpful in doing a lot of things. In some sense, I think they are coming from spirit, they're coming from the heart, they're coming from a good place. In other senses, I think they are letting ego and politics kind of get in the way and that impacts us here. The sheriff wanted to know how many people were in the shelter, and he then he wanted a racial background: How many black. How many Hispanics. And how many Anglos. He said that to me, and I kind of looked at him like, "I don't think so." I did not say, "I don't think so." I knew that I had no intention of giving this guy that information. But I didn't say anything. Apparently the police chief said the same thing to Patty, the assistant shelter manager. And she just plain said -- she actually took a firmer stand than I did publicly. She said, "I can't do that. It's not happening." And he said, "buy why -- the other shelter manager did." Which she was not supposed to, near as I can tell. Red Cross protects the people inside the shelter. This is their home for the duration. It wants to have them feel as comfortable as they can here. And that their privacy is protected. There is nothing like turning records over to the sheriff not to protect people's privacy.

He mentioned it to one of the people in her chain of command. We both have slightly different, except for here in the shelter, we have different people who we answer to. I mentioned it to mine as to what it is going on. There must have been some conversations at a higher level. They mentioned it to Tim, who is kind of like the overall regional guy here, overseeing the whole Red Cross operation. He apparently called National and talked to somebody there. Neither one of us said it from a perspective of "snitching" on the sheriff or the chief of police. It was like, hey, can you imagine these guys, in this day and age asking for that kind of information? We're not giving it to them.

Next thing we know, the Dept. of Justice is involved, and they are coming down to talk to the sheriff and the police chief and investigate this particular request. They stated that they'd been keeping an eye on Mississippi for racial kind of things, whatever that meant. As it turned out, they did come down, they called the sheriff. They called the police chief. They called Mrs. Peeler. I don't know if they talked to the coroner or not. They talked to Patty on the phone, but they never did come and interview her. They did not interview me. The long and the short of it is that we created a little stink for the sheriff and the police department with the justice department. Patty came in at another time and found the police chief looking at one of the check-out lists of our people. She said, "What are you doing?" and she took the list from him. And he said, "Well, what do I do to get my hands on that list?" And she said, "A warrant." And he said, "Okay, I'll call the judge right now." And he pulls out his cell phone as if he's calling the judge. And then he smiled, and put his cell phone away.

It was a bluff. I think between the two acts and neither one of us giving him the list that they requested, they just started backing off from the shelter. I talked to Tim a little more about their conduct and told him there was a good possibility I was going to have to crack down on the local chapter because they are all buddy-buddy and Mrs. Peeler is married to the coroner. And he's in there with the police chief and the sheriff. It's all one big happy family kind of thing. It was obvious to me that at Mars Hall I had to crack down on the residents. Over here, I was going to have to crack down on the chapter.

As it turns out, instead of "cracking down" as I did over at Mars Hill, what I did was, when they started doing that thing, like, when national moves into an area -- technically I'm a representative of national. When national moves into a chapter area, national is in control. At the same time, they have a lot of rules and regulations about "Don't just tromp over the chapter. Try and work with them. Try and be diplomatic. Try this, try that. Don't alienate them."

During the Colorado fires of 2002, we were the local chapter when national came in. And there were misunderstandings between the chapter people and the national people. Some people were left a little disgruntled. National pulled back from its heavier tactics once we started complaining and tried to work more with the chapter. So, I've been on the receiving end and of that and I'm aware of it. I personally did not want to do the same thing here. At the same time, I wasn't going to let the chapter dictate what goes on at this juncture, because I'm in charge of the shelter and not them. Even though it's their area.

So, slowly but surely, I started taking some firmer stances, by saying, "No, I don't think I want to do that," or "No, I don't think I want to do this. I've thought about it a lot, we're going to do it this way." I said it in a manner where, that's it. We're doing it this way. It doesn't matter how you want to do it. Thank you for your recommendation. And I take it as such. But I've decided to do it this way. And I did. I always listened to their recommendations. I wanted them to feel as included as possible. And sometimes I went with their recommendations because they were good ideas. And other times I just went with my own. They weren't happy with that. But they accepted the fact that, as time went on, that I was going to call the shots in reference to the shelter. And that included the police chief, the sheriff and the coroner. So, I finally got them all to back off and leave the shelter alone.

s I said before, I don't want to paint too heavy of a picture of Mrs. Peeler and the coroner. The reality is that they've done a lot for us. We ask them for something, they get it done. Most of the time they can get it done. This morning, at 4 o'clock in the morning, we were under a tornado watch. The siren went off that a tornado had touched down somewhere in the area. Actually, it was like thirty miles away, but it was moving in this direction. Those things can move pretty quickly. From the time the siren goes off, it could be anywhere from three to fifteen minutes before a tornado actually goes through an area. And that's not to say it will actually go through this area or even hit this building. They are erratic things. The alarm goes off. There is a big siren in the city that a tornado has touched down.

I jumped up quickly, because we had already discussed this with staff and the clients. I told them that we need to move quickly. We don't have to dilly-dally. Everybody helps everybody. Have a little water and maybe a book ready. We don't know how long we're going to be gone. Staff, make sure you have a flashlight with you in case we lose power while we're doing this evacuation. Zoom! Everything went into motion. It went off pretty well, overall. The coroner had gone and gotten himself a bus checked out to him. He had the bus parked right outside. So, we just immediately opened the doors and started loading people. It was raining pretty hard. We got a little wet, not bad. It was something, getting up all these elderly people and babies, and everything in between. They were all sleepy but, none of the kids were crying, none of the babies were crying. They could tell that something was wrong and the adults were moving quickly. So, there wasn't any of the kids that said a thing. They just went a long with it.

It took us about nine minutes from the minute the sirens went off to the minute we arrived over there at the shelter. So it went very quickly and very smoothly. But almost three minutes of that was wasted waiting on the coroner to come over because he was also the bus driver. Even though we have two national guardsmen here at the shelter now. And one of them has a license that he can easily drive that bus or something bigger. The coroner just said, "No, it's been checked out to me." He didn't hear about parting with the keys. "I can be over there within three minutes or so." that's what he said. So, there we sat, with the bus loaded, in the dark, the military Humvee with people and two vehicles loaded and ready to go, waiting on the coroner to show up. And it's raining. And, it's like, you don't know whether things are going to come out of it. Things just kind of go quiet, and then it sounds like a train coming down. Well, I kept listening to the thing, saying to myself, "Where the hell is the coroner?"

Finally, he shows up, parks, jumps on the bus - Vroom! We're off and rolling and we made it to the shelter. It went off like clockwork. No hitches, with the exception of the wait for the coroner. We stayed over at the courthouse shelter which is where we evacuated to. It was built in 1904, I think it was. Pretty solid building, certainly by comparison to the one we were in. Which I thought was a pretty decent building. Things went well. We had all these people in the hall. They had to sit on this slab floor. The Senior National Guardsman was a gunnery sergeant, had been in the military for thirty years, he wanted us to go upstairs into the courthouse, which actually was a little more comfortable than sitting in that hallway. But he said we should stay here until about twelve o'clock or so. And this is like 4 o'clock in the morning.

I'm looking at all these exhausted people. I'm kind of processing everything that I've heard the police chief say about the pattern of the storm, that this town itself has never been hit, but that the town just down the road just two miles has been hit a couple of times pretty bad. How quick it takes for a hurricane, what the squall lines were doing. I'm processing all this information, and thinking, "Well, should we stay here until 12 o'clock in which case it is gonna really affect all these people. Even upstairs in the courthouse where it is a little more comfortable because they actually had carpeting and stuff like that. It wasn't quite as hard. It would still be a hardship to stay there.

While safety was my paramount concern, the well-being of the clients was also high on my concern list. I knew that getting back to the shelter as soon as possible, and being able to get people back into bed. etc. was better for their well-being in the short run. I was caught in this dilemma of processing this information, listening to the various opinions of people I asked for opinions and what people thought. It was a mixed bag. Some wanted to stay, some people wanted to go back. Finally, after some thought, I said, "Okay, we're going back."

The one tornado had gone through the area. The all-clear was given. I just said, "Well, if we have to do this again (because there were squall lines coming through the area), then we're just going to stay. We'll bring some pillows with us the next time around, if we have to evacuate the shelter again; maybe some pillows and books. And this time we'll stay until afternoon or so, until after all these squall lines have moved through the area. And Hurricane Rita has moved up and away, far enough where it doesn't affect this particular part of Mississippi. So we did. We loaded everybody back on to the bus. We went back to the shelter. And we've been here since.

Now, it's 23:01. And again, there's hurricane watch on for tonight. I thought that would all be said and done by tonight. - Calixto Cabrera

Editor's Note: Walt, Judy and the others did find the new location, but they weren't willing to follow the rules. Calixto turned them away with a heavy heart, mostly because of Judy's contributions, appreciation and hard work. On the other hand, there was a lot to do, and cooperation was clearly the only way everyone could safe, warm and begin to rebuild their lives.

Friday, October 07, 2005

SHELTER FROM THE STORM: Inside a Katrina Shelter, Part 1 by Calixto Cabrera

This is a transcription from Calixto Cabrera about his 1st hours as a Red Cross volunteer shelter manager for Hurricane Katrina. There is much to learn about the grit and fortitude of Americans through Calixto's "slice of life" experience with the survivor/residents as they struggle to reclaim their lives.

SEPTEMBER 19, 2005

The date is the 19th day of September 2005. The time is 0401 in the morning, Monday morning. I am in McComb, MS.

Mars Hill Community Center and Red Cross Shelter

Where do I even start? Just a few minutes ago, I was lying in my bed thinking about all the things that I have experienced since I have arrived in Mississippi as a Red Cross volunteer. My heart was saddened when I saw the damage that Hurricane Katrina had wrought on Louisiana and Mississippi, primarily Louisiana and the City of New Orleans. Nature reclaimed the bowl that was the City of New Orleans and turned it into the lake that it was meant to be. It is, after all, a city below sea level separated from the ocean by an antiquated dike system that could not stand up to the likes of Katrina. Katrina hit the Louisiana/MS coast with a fury, Cat 4 the weather folk call it. This is to say a Category 4 hurricane came up against a Category 3 dike system. The result is now history. The largest human disaster in US history and Red Cross history.

The City of New Orleans is 80% under water, and so is the largest humanitarian relief effort in both US and Red Cross history. The political fallout from this disaster and the recovery effects will go on for years. I just wanted to give all of this a human face. It's 4:24 in the morning in the Red Cross Shelter in Mars Hill, MS. The babies, the elderly and all the rest of the 36 inhabitants of this shelter are still asleep. In just a couple of hours, they will all awaken and a new day will begin. The number of residents was 55 when I arrived and at 82 just before I arrived. Given how squeezed it was with 55 people, I can't imagine 82 people in here.

Patty, the assistant shelter manager tells me that about eight more people will be leaving this week. Those that have received their FEMA (that's Federal Emergency Management Agency) checks and/or their Red Cross checks have departed in the hopes of creating a meaningful life after their loss. In the big picture, it can be said that they didn't get much. The Red Cross checks are about $360 and the FEMA check is about $2,000. A paltry sum to try and reconstruct your life, given that everything you had is gone. The disaster has another side to it that is steeped in the human condition and affects all of us, residents and staff alike.

The Conditions at Mars Hill

Mars Hill Shelter is really kind of just a rectangular building. It did have a kitchen. It did have one flush toilet for the women and one flush toilet for the men. It had no shower, so a makeshift shower was built outside with a water hose. Later on, Red Cross brought in another one of those makeshift showers, so that we could have at least two makeshift cold water showers.

The weather has been extremely humid. (I have such a hard time with humidity, I really don't like it at all.) Nevertheless, there's lots of it at this time of year. And they have all these little bugs called love bugs. They don't really bite, but there's tens of millions of them all over the place. They land all over you and their name is apropos because all they do is make love. So, they land on you, they hook up, and they just start doing their thing. Hence the name. But there are so many of them, that it's really obnoxious. It's all in the air. The grills of the car are blackened with impact with these things. And yet, the swarms continue.

Inside the shelter itself, the cots are all close to each other. The people are all huddled together. Children and babies run all over the place. It's a lot of noise. We try to keep the volume down some, but kids are kids. It doesn't matter where they're at. They are going to make the most of their situation. They're going to play and laugh etc.; that's just what they do. We have parents and non-parents alike in here, and sometimes tempers tend to flare just a little bit.

There are a few people that I'd like to speak about. Walt and his wife Judy. There's this guy named Erwin, I'll come back to him. A woman named Nicole. She has six kids from about fourteen down to about a two year old. There's actually another family here, that kind of has a blended family, he's got some of his own children, and then he's got nieces and nephews with him. Where their parents are, I don't know. But he's got the kids and he's got ten of them. Well, he and she, it's a husband and wife. He works. I don't know their names to this day. She sleeps around all day. She does not monitor the children. In essence, the Red Cross personnel that are here are doing babysitting services, which is not Red Cross's mission to do babysitting services.

Right now, I think we have a total of 17 children, of varying ages, mostly under 10 years old. So, as you can see the volume. About four of them are babies, who are about a year and a half or two years old. They wake up at different times during the night crying and we just do the best we can with it because there's no separation. We're all living in the same place, we're all close together. Under the circumstances, the people are doing very well. But still, like I said, there are problems.

Erwin is one of two professional cooks that used to work in New Orleans and have ended up in the shelters. The one guy likes to cook a lot. He's told me several times that he loves to cook. Which works for me, because I love to have somebody cook for me, and I love to eat. His food is tasty but it lacks a lot of vegetables. It is a lot of an assortment of different types of meat dishes, meat and potatoes, and stuff like that. This lady Nicole and they really don't like each other. She wants to cook; she doesn't want to be an ongoing cook, but she wants to cook every now and then, which to me, is a reasonable request. He, on the other hand, has this whole attitude that it's his kitchen.

I stepped into this with them. Walt and his wife -- his wife had quite the experience. She spent eight hours floating on the river, floating in water, I guess I should say, holding on I think to a door for most of that. Walt, they got separated and Walt somehow got money from Red Cross to travel down to the area where he thought she was at. And he actually found her. He, in turn, has been injured. He has a ripped muscle in his right arm. He's a big guy, 6'3 maybe, has a real attitude about everything. He's real pissed off with Red Cross, in spite of the fact that the Red Cross gave him the money to help him find his wife, because the Red Cross nurses cannot write scripts for the pain he’s in-- the guy really needs some surgery in that arm to reattach that muscle. Well, he doesn't particularly want to go to the hospital. He supposedly went -- and I say supposedly because a lot of the information that we're realizing that people are giving us is either late in coming or not completely accurate. So, it's like they are, in many ways, their own worse enemies, insofar as our ability to help them because they just plain don’t tell us the truth.

Just prior to my arrival, apparently, two new nurses had just arrived, Laura and BJ. As I'm being introduced to people in the area, I see Walt and BJ talking and he's being obnoxious with her, he's saying: "You can't help me worth a shit." He's getting testy and tacky with her. And Jeremy -- I was going to speak originally about Jeremy. He's had two Red Cross classes, and he should have never found himself in a position of putting a Red Cross shelter together. But that is exactly where he found himself and what he ended up doing. Not only did he do it, but he manned it alone for two days. I don't know how many people were there during that two-day period, but it was just him. And Mars Hill is way out there. It's the southernmost of the shelters, and it's the furthest away. Most of the other ones are closer in, in very large churches, that are very comfortable, with a lot of amenities, several hot/cold running showers, several bathrooms, rooms where some of the residents can go to, and the ability to separate. Mars Hill had none of that, believe me, it was like the ghetto of all the shelters and it was having all these problems. Nobody really mentioned that to me when they asked me if I wanted to down to Mars Hills. And I said, well sure, it's just like I volunteered to be a shelter manager and that's where I ended up.

Jeremy did an incredible job under the circumstances. However, he really didn't know Red Cross rules and regulations. Consequently, he let people just do all kinds of things. People going in and out all hours of the day and night in the shelter. That made the security system not too good. At that point, the only two males were myself and Jeremy. The rest of the staff were female. We had three church women, Sally, Dana and Betty who came down from New Hampshire or something. They were a God-send, they really were. They just took care of the kitchen. Cleaned it up. Irvin was the cook, the Cajun cook I was talking about.

The other cook didn't cook too much. Irvin did most of the work, but Irvin had this attachment to the kitchen. "Nobody goes in the kitchen" and this and that. He and Nicole were very squared off. They had several arguments while were still in Mars Hill. I had to get that under control. It was just this pettiness between them that just drove me crazy. I did not sleep for roughly the first 36 hours between the combination of the traveling, being in this shelter, and all the noise at night. The children would stay up until 10 or 11 o'clock at night, and they'd just fall asleep from exhaustion. Jeremy wouldn't turn the light off until 10 or 11. The TV would be on until 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning. It was just a small place, you cannot have all of this and have people get decent sleep.

And then the children were being bussed; it was nearly an hour and a half each way. This meant that we had to get them up at 5:15 in the morning so that they could make it to school in time. Everything was just a mess.

And there's this problem with Walt. Walt had intimated the nurses. Now, the nurses were afraid of him and they were thinking of leaving. So, Jeremy leaves the next day. It's just me, myself and I and a female staff that is intimated by this guy. This guy is a big guy. Even with an injured arm, I'm wondering if I can handle him. I'm looking at all of these violations of Red Cross rules. Bear in mind, I'm not necessarily a stickler for rules, but some rules make sense under the circumstances. Like it would be nice to turn off the lights at 10 o'clock. It would be nice to turn off the doggone television at 11 o'clock at the latest, at least during the weekdays so that people can actually get some sleep.

People were resentful of me. They didn't know me; they did know Jeremy. Jeremy had some easy-going rules. People were messing up and leaving their trash all over the place. They weren't cleaning up after themselves. And the Red Cross staff was finding itself babysitting, which is not our job, and cleaning other people's messes because they wouldn't clean up after themselves is also not our job.

I got there on a Wednesday. By Thursday, later afternoon I was pretty damn tired. I was getting really pissed. I regretted several times having volunteered for this thing. I'd thought of quitting two or three times. Just walking the hell out and saying, "The hell with this, the hell with them, I'm outta here." I asked the Creator, look, "Put me where you want me down here, where I can do the most good, where I can affect the most people. I found myself at Mars Hill. I figured this can’t be a mistake.

I have good boundaries. I have no problem saying "This is the way it is." I tried to be respectful, but firm. I started applying my techniques. People were taken aback and they were, in fact, resentful. But I kept insisting, and they kept backing off because, after all, I am the Red Cross person in charge there. And if I say they go, they go and they know it.

Things kind of hit a peak when another fellow, who seemed to have some slight mental and drug problems (Judy, Walt and Erwin hang together and they all do drugs. It is clear they are all drug users.) The nurses were threatening to quit. My assistant Patty was also threatening to quit because she was afraid of Walt and the potential for violence that he represented. Patty comes to me and said, "This guy out here has said twice...'Come out here and I want to talk to you.'" I go out there and I open the door, and he's out there, all kinds of upset. I go out there and say, "What's the problem?" And he just starts going off on -- all I can tell you is that it had something to do with I.D's and how important it is to have I.D. And how Erwin didn't have his I.D. and has no right to say "No," and that he's wrong. And this other guy, I don't know his name. He's still in the shelter, and to this day I still don't know his name. But he also turned out to be a vet. He's just ranting and raving.

I really was patient, I tried to deal with this for about ten minutes. And then I just kind of said "f--- this, we're done talking." At that point, I was really pissed off. I have this guy going off in a potential for violence. I have Walt in here intimidating people. I said I have to get this thing under control. I called the police. We called the police, brought them in. The sheriff came. I had everybody inside, time for a meeting. And I wanted police backup for the meeting. It was time for me to draw the line and tell it like it is, to take control of this shelter. For the next thirty minutes, I told them what all the rules and regulations were going to be. I told them that we were Red Cross personnel, we were not the enemy. All of us had traveled a long distance -- I had personally traveled roughly a thousand miles to get there, other people had traveled even further still. We were not the enemy. We know you're frustrated. We know you're angry. We know you've undergone an incredible loss. It is because we know this, that we've all come to help to whatever extent or degree we can. Venting on us and making us the enemy just isn't going to work.

I told them lights out at 10 o'clock. Television out at 11 o'clock, Monday through Thursday, 12 o'clock Friday and Saturday nights. The door closes at 11 o'clock. Whoever's out there will not be allowed in after 11 o'clock. If they start banging on the door, we will simply not open it and just call the cops. Anybody who gives me any static, or there's a violation of the rules, depending on the nature of the infraction, they will either get one warning or they will be asked to leave immediately. Being stoned, being drunk, having drugs or alcohol on them while they are in the shelter, or a weapon, will not permitted. That is instant grounds for being told to leave. Those are not negotiable. I'm in charge of this thing and that I have the final say on everything that goes on in this shelter.

Anybody who doesn't want that to be the case -- You don't have to like it, but if you're not willing to adhere to the rules and regulations, this is a good time to pack your stuff and get out of here because I'm done. Henceforth and with, these regulations will be adhered to.

Some people actually were glad to hear about some of the rules and regulations. I told the parents that it is time for them to start taking responsibility for their children. The Red Cross is not a babysitter. Parents who leave their children unattended, per Red Cross rules and regulations, I have the right to call Child Protective Services and have the children removed from there, possibly have the parents arrested for child neglect. There will be no more of parents just leaving their children there, and we have no idea where the parents are or what's going on.

Some people were happy about this, some people were clearly unhappy about this. Pretty much, they all accepted it. Not that they had a whole lot of opportunity to do anything else. The big trump card that I held was that they didn't really have a whole lot of places to go. If they crossed me too much, they were going to be kicked out of the shelter. Then, they'd have yet another mini-tragedy after having undergone a big one, to be kicked out of the shelter. And I told them that I would call the other shelters to make sure that they couldn't register for those either.

I brought some control to the place. The personal bickering among the residents I was trying to keep a lid on that, at least to the extent that I could, knowing that I was going to have to either kick-out Nicole with her six kids or I'm going to have to kick out Erwin because these guys (our cook)-- He came out one day, just kind of screaming, "You better tell this bitch to stop or I'm going to kill her." I had to go over there and find out what the hell that's all about. If this keeps up, one of you are going to have to go. That's all there is to it. I'm not going to continue putting up with this.

As it turns out, at the same time, another center, the center in Meadsville was shutting down and the people were all but gone. The guy there, Bill "Schindler" got word to me that he knew that our shelter was pretty humble by comparison. He asked me if I wanted to move my people over there, which of course, I'd never done. We had to organize a move to that particular shelter, which we did. A bunch of people were gone, and their stuff was still in the shelter. This is another rule that I hadn't thought of at the time, but I was thinking of then now. If you leave the shelter for 48 hours without communicating with us, without telling us what is going on, as far as I'm concerned you've checked yourself out, and you've abandoned whatever possessions you have here. I reserve the right to throw it all out and check you out of the shelter. You are no longer a resident.

We also had a person who was a methadone addict for 18+ years. He'd been on legal methadone. They tried to detox him and take him off of the methadone one time according to his wife. He had a heart attack, he went into seizures. So, he's on this methadone, he has a very weak heart history. He's running out of this methadone. The nurses are very concerned for him. He could have a heart attack and could die in a very short period of time if he doesn't have his fix. This Red Cross, whiny-assed doctor, a Dr. H., who came there, he was volunteer, he came there to see Walt of all people. Dr. H. apparently is a retired doctor. He loses his ability to write a drug prescription, a controlled-substance prescription, i.e., a painkiller. Walt again went into his, "What the F'g good are you, you know? You have no more authority than the nurses. You guys can't do shit for me." You know, getting testy.

In reference to Walt, I've been giving him, feeding him some line, letting him get to a point that one more outburst to any of my staff or to myself, and he's just plain out. His wife Judy, on the other hand, this is the lady who had been floating in the water, she was so appreciative that Red Cross had given her husband some money and he had been able to get down there and find her. She was an incredible worker in the place. She just worked all the time. If I had three like Judy, life would have been so much easier in that shelter for me. So, I had this thing. If I'm going to kick Walt out, I'm going to have to kick Judy out. And it's unfortunate, but that's the way it's going to have to be.

As it turns out now, we've moved to the Meadville Center. They showed up: Irvin, Walt and Judy showed up to the old shelter. It was closed. They are trying to find out where we are; we'd left a sign. They finally meander to the new center, come in and I tell them, "Okay, well, you guys are going to have to be in the main area. Anybody that does not have children, whether they are single or married, will be in the main area." Judy tried to explain to me, gave me some doggone reasons why they shouldn't be in the main area. I said, "No, that's the way it is. That's where you all go."

So, apparently, I could tell that he didn't receive that very well and they left. They haven't been back since. Yet, they've left their gear there. Like I said, I still haven't gotten the word to them, that hey, 48 hours, this is it. I'm on leave today. When I get back, I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with their stuff tomorrow.

Now, the whole Meadville thing, is a whole other thing in itself. I'm glad to bring this thing up to the Meadville situation. I'll start talking about Meadville tomorrow, and what's going on there. It's just about 11 o'clock and I want to get to bed.

So, goodnight.

Part 2 Will be Published the week of 10/10/05

Thursday, September 29, 2005



How can a film like Winter Soldier, describing war atrocities witnessed by Vietnam veterans while in the service of their country, be overshadowed by anything? Overlooked, under-attended, denied and misunderstood, maybe. But upstaged? Could anything be that powerful?

Like life, one story often usurps another.

As searing, unscripted war horror stories emitted from the screen, weekend life on the University of Minnesota campus was business as usual. As I gazed into flaming, on-fire (or sometimes tired/covered) eyes of war veterans attending the movie and manning the Vets for Peace booth next to me, I witnessed (to name a few): a man running around in beekeeper clothes, very large security guards in pink shirts with night scanners, many tears and hugs, drunks and scantily clad women outside, a lot of preaching to the choir over buttons and handouts inside, ear-splitting rock music and swaying hips, all leading to a collage of personal revelations and memories.

As Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged our nation (and members of nearby Fraternity Row went on yet another keg run), veterans like Scott Camil and Rusty Sachs spoke their witness onto film and into 1970s microphones with a bullseye to the heart. Young veterans with too-old eyes seared my consciousness with verbal recollections intermixed with images of Vietnamese people walking in ragged lines along dirt roads, carrying children and possessions, begging for mercy or just looking dead-straight into the world unknown. How could I not grieve the contrasts?

Through the eleven screenings of Winter Soldier that I attended (most of them from the lobby) and two screenings of first-run films previewed in the same theater, a powerful, unscripted living montage of truth evolved for me:

 Opening Night: A new-semester crowd of partying U of M students, some drinking, some barely dressed, were arrested in numbers (368) far outshining the film's audience of 4 to 50 people a showing. Did any of these students have a clue about the gravity and substance of the film showing just a few feet away? Is the world so different today given, for example, the war in Iraq? Do America's young really have that kind of room and license to distance or deny life's realities?

 Saturday: (Not to interject a little humor): I saw a beekeeper racing down the street in front of the auditorium in full protective gear, followed seconds later by a swarm of angry bees. He took the honey in his hands to his office in the theater building and left a window open for straggling bees. Hours later (by his own account), 5,000 bees attacked the honey. He and his son frantically closed doors and windows attempting to stave off a bee invasion of nearby offices. Secretly, I hoped those insects would beeline their way toward Fraternity Row, and drive all those drunk/partying students (and the nearly 30,000 people who live within a few-mile radius) into the Bell Auditorium for a real education;

 Sunday morning: Scorcese's account of Bob Dylan's early artistic journey ran before Winter Soldier. (Interestingly enough, it did not play to a full theater either.) But there was Dylan, lying, cheating and stealing his way into our ears and hearts (but not our peace movements), with his absolute refusal to answer our stupid questions and conform to what we wanted him to be. On screen, a radiant Joan Baez, filmed in her comfortable kitchen, acknowledged her once-intense connection with "Bob" (accented by a gentle kick or two in the ass, see "Song to Bobby"); Dylan's spike-haired nephew spurned "Reserved for family" seating, laying low at the back of the theater. Just blocks away, Uncle Bobby had spent some of his early years on "Positively Fourth Street" in an apartment above Gray's Drug Store. Everywhere, I could feel the history.

 Thursday: A gigantic African-American man, in a black suit and pink tie, protected the sanctity of a preview of "The Corpse Bride" with body scanners and infrared cameras. (The crowd for this preview was full and rocking.) Exhibiting a noticeable lack of anger and an excellent personal outlook, this man told me how he helped integrate a powerful Southern railroad company in his youth, with his x-ray camera pointed playfully at my blouse;

 Nightly: Adam Sekuler, the MN Film Arts Program Director and a Wizard of Oz kind of guy, was the man who brought the film to the Bell (along with Vets for Peace and Women Against Military Madness). Almost single-handedly, he raced among the roles of emcee, projectionist, ticket taker, cheerleading squad and baggage handler (ah, don't you love non-profit jobs). Nearly as young as those hanging outside on Fraternity Row, Adam's commitment to bringing the film to the Twin Cities, and his knowledge and understanding of the subject, showed that not all is lost among the young.

 Nightly: Each Winter Soldier showing was introduced by veterans of the Minnesota Vets for Peace, Chapter 27. At least two or three members were present at all times to talk with the public, including Chante Wolf (1st Gulf War Veteran) and Vietnam Veterans Joe Johnson, Doug Drews, Tom Dooley, Barry Riesch and Ron Staff, committing time to the screenings as if they have no lives beyond The Cause. (It struck me how much we take commitment like this for granted.) These vets consistently give up precious personal time to voice their opposition to what is happening in America today. From them, and other veterans in the audience, I heard stories that echoed the film and went way beyond war experiences: stories of rows of executed prisoners; soldiers blown up by land mines and dead before they hit the ground; women ordered to dark boiler rooms by too-aggressive superior officers, shattered marriages and lives, chronic physical and mental aftereffects of war, and more.

 Closing Night: And finally, folding up the old card table that held the VetSpeak.com booth, I noticed a tiny label taped to the table's underside. "Abe and Ida Kaufman," it said. These are my husband's grandparents, both of whom died within the last twelve months at 97-98 years of age. Both committed most of their entire working lives, and free time, to activism and making the world a better place. Photos of them attending many major events across the U.S., like Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream," speech in Washington are everywhere in my husband's family, who as Quakers, share the load. Abe and Ida would have been proud to know that part of them was at every showing of this film in Minneapolis. These thoughts brought tears to their daughter Raquel's eyes, and she is a woman who does not cry easily.

Over dinner Sunday night, when it was all over, we had a late dinner at the Dinkytowner. The place was alive with the sleek, shimmering bodies of young college women moving to a Latin beat. In my mind, I took the gnarled hand of the veteran next to me and kissed it wordlessly. In that moment, I challenged myself, as I challenge the students at the University of Minnesota and all Americans, to look into the eyes of any veteran you know, no matter the war or politics. Listen to his or her testimony, his story, her wisdom born of experience. Listen not just for you, but for them–and for all of us. I dare you not to be moved.

Diane Ford Wood, 9/28/

Friday, September 16, 2005


A Firsthand Report (Unedited, Uncut) from the NYC "Re-Premiere" of the film Winter Soldier

by Nancy Miller Saunders

When VetSpeak spokesman Bill (Willie) Hager and I, along with speakers bureau members Terry DuBose, Alex Primm, and author Gerald Nicosia, confronted a Swift Vet crew of propagandists at Texas Tech’s 5th Triennial Vietnam Symposium in March, we came back together after decades of not seeing each other. It felt as if our reunion was meant to be, as if we were going with a flow that drew us together and gave us strength. I felt that flow again on August 12 at the sold-out “re-premier” of the film Winter Soldier, which I helped make 34 years ago.

Winter Soldier is that much-maligned documentary film of the Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI) conducted in the winter of 1971 by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). For three days, Vietnam veterans, all with verified military backgrounds, presented direct testimony about acts that occurred in Vietnam. Many of these acts were considered war crimes under international law, and the veterans testified that these crimes were SOP (Standard Operating Procedure)--accepted, condoned, and at times ordered by commanding officers and hidden from the news media. The vets’ revelations were a serious embarrassment for the United States. Consequently Winter Soldier, the WSI, and VVAW were bitterly condemned, and the film faded into documentary-film oblivion. Until last year.

The Swift Boat Veterans for (what they erroneously call) Truth (SBV) revived it as a weapon to use against Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry, who had been a leader of VVAW and appears in Winter Soldier. All over the media, the SBV charged that the WSI was a phony investigation in which anyone could just show up and relate wild fantasies to discredit all Vietnam veterans. No self-respecting soldier or Marine, the SBV ranted, would set up or participate in such a fraud.

How do I know theses accusations are false? Because I was there. I helped film the WSI.

I know because my official title on the project was what was then called a "script girl." (You should have heard my father explode, "A WHAT girl?" when I told him.) With only two short breaks, I sat through the entire three days of testimony. I personally took notes on each panel, about who said what, at what time, and with descriptive details about each vet, so that we could synchronize the audio tape and silent 16-mm film we took home with us to edit into the film, Winter Soldier.

I know that the SBV’s accusations of fraud are wrong because, during my off-duty moments, I held sobbing vets and listened to them confide even more horror stories. They reminded me of rusty faucets that, once broken open, could not be shut off.

I know, contrary to what the SBV would have you believe, that VVAW was denouncing United States military policies in Southeast Asia, not the troops in the bush. I personally heard vets say this in a multitude of different ways. For example, they wanted to avoid creating government scapegoats like Lt. William Calley (who at the time was being court-martialed for the My Lai massacre), so they frequently reminded those of us transcribing the testimony to omit the names of veterans who were not present at the WSI. The official government story about My Lai was that the massacre was an aberration. Not so, said the veterans testifying in front of our cameras. Vet after vet testified that war crimes, like the that massacre, were United States military policy, SOP.

I know on an instinctive level that what I heard at the WSI was true (as well as each vet could recall), because we—filmmakers and veterans—were together then. We were held together by the strength that comes of being united in doing what needs to be done, no matter how painful and no matter what repercussions we might face. It was the strength we shared again at the film’s “re-premiere” and that I felt when we came together at the TTU symposium last March.

I know that the WSI testimonies were true because, thanks to the Hot Springs (Arkansas) Documentary Film Festival asking me for permission to show Winter Soldier at their 2003 festival, I have seen it several times in the past two years. Seeing and remembering the pain in the faces of those young men as they recalled events they wanted only to forget, made the truth of their testimonies all too clear.

And I know that Winter Soldier is true because of the effect I have seen it have on those who see it, like a doctor with the Veterans Administration. He is now a better doctor to his patients because, having seen Winter Soldier, he has a clearer idea of their needs.

New York City, August 12, 2005

I almost didn't make it to the Winter Soldier “re-premiere. I knew the film was being re-released, but no one contacted me with the details. Maybe other members of Winterfilm (the collective we formed to make the film) were trying to divorce themselves from me because I chewed them out during last year's campaigns. When former VVAW leader John Kerry ran for president, while the United States was embroiled in another political war based on lies, I wanted everyone to see the Winter Soldier. I wanted to remind people of the toll taken on our sons and daughters, sisters and brothers whom we send to fight unnecessary wars for us.

So I contacted others in Winterfilm about re-releasing Winter Soldier before the election, but they refused. They were cooperating with Kerry's campaign managers and did not want his VVAW connection to harm his election chances. I excoriated them in a blistering e-mail in which I insisted that, whether Kerry agreed or not, the voters of this country needed to know the truth of his VVAW history before the Bushistas spun it against him. Which is just what they did. And Kerry lost.

I never heard from Winterfilm again. I wasn't even notified that Winter Soldier was being re-released, much less invited to join the filmed conversation among the collective members that has been spliced onto the end of the film.

Then, a week before the re-premiere, Scott Camil, a true buddy, called me. As a vet who had given testimony (which he can document) at the WSI and who is featured in Winter Soldier, Scott had been invited to speak at its re-opening. When he noticed that I was not included on the Winterfilm roster, he called to ask if I wanted to be. OF COURSE I DID. My credibility was at stake: Having confronted the Swift Vet crew at TTU I know how they operate. So I wanted my participation at WSI clearly verified before the SBV portrayed me as a liar. I did not want my absence on Winterfilm lists to give them and opportunity to accuse me of faking my participation on the film.

I first met Scott on the night before he testified at the WSI. Over time, I watched him transform himself from a Marine sergeant boasting of his daring feats, into a man who returned the medals he was proud of, and then into an implacable antiwar activist. Just as Winterfilm featured Scott in Winter Soldier, so I feature him in my manuscript, “Combat by Trial: Travels and Travails with 20TH Century Winter Soldiers.”

Once Scott stepped in, my invitation was issued and I dashed off to NYC. I arrived with Scott and his wife Sherry along with Ken and Cathy Campbell. Ken is now Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations and Director of International Relations Program at the University of Delaware. He is also the vet who shot down Sinclair Broadcasting's plans to show Carlton Sherwood's anti-Kerry film, Stolen Honor, just before the election. That film has a clip from Winter Soldier (a possible copyright infringement) of Scott's debriefing, in which Ken verified Scott's story before VVAW allowed him to testify. The two had served in the same unit and were reminding each other of actions it had taken. Sherwood contended that Ken was coaching Scott on what to say. Wrong. Ken sued for misrepresentation and only portions of the film were aired.

The five of us (Ken, Cathy, Scott, Sherry and I) planned to meet Rusty Sachs and his wife for dinner before the Winter Soldier reception. Rusty had also testified at the WSI and, two days before the film’s re-opening, he was interviewed by Terry Gross on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air.

Even when you go with "the flow," plans don't always go as arranged. We were still trying to hook up with Rusty when we arrived at the hotel where Ken and Cathy were staying and discovered a reunion of some of VVAW's earliest members and their spouses already underway in the hotel bar. We joined, of course. All faces had to be carefully examined to remove the changes more than 30 years of aging had wrought and the shaving of beards had revealed. The times they sure have been a-changin'. But we were still the way we were. The beards and fatigues were gone, but the vets dressed casually for a premiere (I was really hoping to finally see Scott in a suit). A surprising number of them—without consulting each other—wore Hawaiian shirts.

That sense of the absolute rightness of our being together again--which Scott and I (and other contributors to VetSpeak) had felt at TTU--was strong. About sixteen of us (all vets and wives, none from Winterfilm except me) followed "the flow" to a nearby Greek restaurant for a fine dinner. Rusty and his wife joined us just before we ordered, and later, stomachs content, we paraded down the avenue to the Walter Reade Theater at the Lincoln Center for the showing of one very powerful film.

During the reception before the showing I was unable to recognize the other Winterfilm people. While trying to identify them, I noticed a solitary man standing by himself. I asked him who he was, and he replied, "Jan Barry." Here was someone I had long wanted to meet, one of the original six members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Jan is a quiet, gentle, self-deprecating man with a talent for writing from the heart. I have always credited him with planting the seed that flowered into VVAW. That night, I felt honored to watch Winter Soldier by his side.

Winter Soldier is not an easy film to watch. There is a lot of pain and brutality, as well as the profane language of rage. But it is a true film because Winterfilm’s editors kept our promise to let the film make the vets’ statement, not ours. The vets helped with the editing, and provided photographs and 8-mm film footage they had shot while “in country.” Inescapably apparent truth is what makes this film so powerful. That truth is why, of all the films shot of Vietnam veterans in The Day, Winter Soldier is the one to be re-released. It is also why the turnout was so large that people had to be turned away from the theater. It looked to me as if as many people were turned away as were admitted. I heard there were a few protesters, but I didn’t see them.

After the showing, Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary) spoke and sang. Then Scott, Ken, and Rusty (all featured in the film) spoke. Four Winterfilm members planned to speak, but the climax of the evening came when they gave up their seats to four members of the newly coalescing Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). The IVAW earned standing applause, and my eyes still tear up when I remember watching them come down to the stage and take the places vacated for them. They were so young. Their stories were so horribly familiar, even if the details differed.

The "flow" I first felt in Texas, and then in the bar of the NYC hotel (where we were inebriated only on each others’ company), I now felt with a new generation of misused veterans. Added to that, was the coming together for me, later that evening, with two women from Winterfilm. There was a purpose in all this, one that can never be forgotten or overshadowed by slights, accusations or misunderstandings that are always part of any human collective.

I wrote this while the biggest coming together was still taking place outside W’s “ranch” in Crawford, Texas. Some of the VetSpeak team joined Cindy Sheehan and other Gold-Star parents in asking our commander in chief what their children died for.

What have 1,900 United States military personnel died for in Iraq? What did 58,000 die for in Southeast Asia?

Don’t let the bastards stop us from coming together and demanding answers to these and so many other questions.

Monday, September 12, 2005


Published in the September issue of
The Gainesville Iguana
, September 2005

by Scott Camil

Recently, I was asked to speak at a teach-in built around the Downing Street Memo, a secret British document that shows that the public was lied to to get our support for Bush’s war against Iraq. This “Memo” is actually meeting minutes transcribed during the British Prime Minister’s meeting on July 23, 2002—eight months prior to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. (The Sunday Times in London printed the text of this document on May 1, 2005.)

I was asked to speak about what it feels like to be a U.S. veteran who voluntarily served in war, only to come home and learn that my government had lied to, manipulated and betrayed me. I thought to myself, “This will be a real easy speech: It sucks.” The question made me think about the many similarities between the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq.

• United States involvement in both wars started with deception. In Vietnam, the deception included the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the SEATO treaty, the violation of the Geneva Accords, and the manipulation of the public with propaganda. In Iraq, we were lied to about weapons of mass destruction. We were Goebbelized (fed propaganda) to believe that there were links between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein, and we were led to believe that Saddam was evil because of what he did to his own people. It was our moral obligation to remove him, even though we empowered him and sponsored his actions. We were told that our effort in Iraq would help the war on terror; instead, it is giving the terrorists a rallying cry and has allowed them to operate inside Iraq, which Saddam Hussein never permitted.

• The U.S. Congress was derelict in its duty to the Constitution and our citizens. The Constitution provides for checks and balances and gives Congress the power to declare war. In both wars, Congress abdicated its responsibilities and gave carte blanche to the executive branch. This breach of responsibility cannot be overstated.

• Neither war had a realistic exit strategy. The general strategy was and is “might makes right,” and, “we’ll kick their ass and make them do what we want.” While we’re kicking their ass, we’re telling the public that we’re winning their hearts and minds. In Vietnam, we used to say, “Grab them by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow.” It didn’t work in Vietnam, and it isn’t going to work in Iraq. Every time you hurt the innocent, you bolster and inspire the anti-occupation forces.

• We claim that we will teach the Iraqis democracy and we will train them to be able to militarily gain control over the people of their country. We tried this in Vietnam and we called it Vietnamization. It did not work in Vietnam, and it won’t work in Iraq. We have still not learned from our misplaced arrogance. Both Vietnamese and Iraqi culture are thousands of years older than ours.

• In both wars, we thirsted for oil. President Eisenhower spoke of the importance of Vietnam’s oil to the US. Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world. The number one source of income of both countries is oil.

• In Vietnam, we trained, equipped and armed the South Vietnamese military and police. That enabled the anti-occupation forces (AOF) to infiltrate, get training, get equipment, and learn intelligence to help their cause. The same thing is happening in Iraq. When car bombers ambush military and police units on the way to a mission, it’s because of inside information. It’s almost as if we’re fighting ourselves because we’re equipping them and teaching them our military strategy.

• Part of our strategy in both wars was to eliminate the leadership of the AOF by assassination. In Vietnam, it was called the Phoenix Program. In that program, 41,000 Vietnamese citizens were assassinated. One of the men who worked in that program, Thomas O’Connell, has now become the U.S. assistant secretary for Special Operations. (Thomas O’Connell, before he came to this job, ran “Grey Fox,” a unit of Special Operations forces and CIA that assassinates those considered to be enemies of the United States.) Special Operations controls Task Force 121 and its plan for dealing with the AOF is called “pre-emptive man-hunting.” In both wars, there was monetary incentive to turn over neighbors who are leaders of the AOF to the Americans. That monetary incentive encourages people to turn in people they don’t like and get paid for it.

• In both wars, the United States carried the overwhelming economic and material of the burden of the war. They were international efforts in name only.

• Both wars saw a large drop in the international standing of the United States, which hurts our national security as well as our image.

• In both wars, the United States far outmatched the enemy in arms and technology and American troops didn’t have to worry about enemy aircraft.

• In both wars, the United States attacked countries that were not a threat to the United States. Neither country had the power nor the ability to strike the United States.

• In both wars, the borders were not secure.

• In both wars, the United States made secret illegal incursions into neighboring countries.

• Both wars saw the use of mercenary forces by the United States. In Vietnam, they were Laotian mercenaries. In Iraq, there are mercenaries from Latin America and corporate mercenaries. One of the ways that the United States has played with the numbers to make Iraq look like a smaller commitment than Vietnam is by changing who handles the infrastructure of the war. In Vietnam, the military handled it. In Iraq, private corporations handle it, thereby concealing the actual size of our military presence there.

• Because of poor planning, in both wars, the U.S. government had to turn to coercion to supply the manpower needed for the commitment. In Vietnam, it was the draft; and in Iraq, it is the backdoor draft known as 'stop loss.' Under stop loss, once you’ve served all the time in the military you’ve signed up for, you can be kept in the military for up to six months after the war has ended.

During the Civil War in the U.S., combat units were organized by cities and towns, so when a unit from a certain place would take heavy casualties, it impacted that place in a much more detrimental way than had those soldiers been split up from around the country. We changed the way we organized combat units so this wouldn’t happen anymore. Because Bush has bitten off more than the regular army can chew, this war has to be fought with a large percentage of reservists and National Guard, so again, as these units take casualties, certain towns and cities are taking a disproportionate share of the losses.

• Neither war was fought to hold land. You clear an area, you lose some men, you go somewhere else, only to come back and lose more men clearing that same area again. This creates a morale problem for the soldier.

• In Vietnam, the majority of casualties were from mines and booby traps. In Iraq, they’re from improvised explosive devices, commonly known as IEDs. An IED is a mine.

• In both wars, there was and is an increase in soldiers going AWOL (absent without leave).

• Psychologically speaking, it was the trauma of the war of occupation in Vietnam that led to the realization that soldiers in combat will have psychological scars that may last a lifetime. Now we hear that 30% of the troops coming home from Iraq have symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

• In both wars, there was and is a lack of concern for the safety of the troops. In Vietnam, we were given M16 rifles that didn’t work. In Iraq, our soldiers don’t have adequate body armor or armored vehicles.

• In both wars, there was lack of concern for the long-term health of the troops. In Vietnam, the use of Agent Orange still affects veterans and their families forty years later. In Iraq, the use of depleted uranium ammunition will have the same negative long-term effects on our troops and their families.

• In both wars, there was and is abuse of the citizens of the occupied countries by U.S. forces. There is much evidence of abuse of prisoners. In Vietnam, there were cases like My Lai and the testimony of U.S. servicemen at the Winter Soldier Investigation that show the type of abuse that went on. In Iraq, abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib Prison is so bad that our government is fighting to keep from the world the photographs and films of these abuses, including rape of children. In Vietnam, body count as a measure of success led to many civilian deaths. Because of the stigma the body count created, in the Iraq war, they’ve decided not to keep track of the people they kill. This lack of accountability results in countless deaths of civilians.

• Major Colin Powell was assigned to investigate what happened at My Lai. Being a team player, he whitewashed the investigation. A year later, an investigative journalist named Ron Ridenhour sent numerous letters to the White House, the Pentagon and Congress, asking them to do something about the massacre at My Lai. Congressman Morris Udall started another investigation, which resulted in the conviction of Lt. William Calley. This conviction whitewashed the responsibility of U.S. government policy in the massacre. Years later, Major Colin Powell became U.S. Secretary of State and, as a team player, he sold the Bush lies about WMD in Iraq to the United Nations.

• In both wars, the government has scapegoated lower ranking members of the military, placing all of the blame for criminal acts on them while denying any responsibility by leadership or policy. This is directly counter to the rules established at the Nuremberg Trials where the U.S. presided over prosecution of war criminals.

• In both wars, the mainstream news media, having initially bought the government’s deceptions, eventually followed public opinion and turned against the war.

• Journalists have died covering both wars. According to Reporters Without Borders, more journalists have been killed in two and a half years in Iraq (66) than were killed in 20 years of covering Vietnam (63). At least 20 of the journalists killed in Iraq have been killed by American troops.

• In both wars, the U.S. lauded big democratic voter turnout in the elections of their puppet governments. It didn’t make a difference in Vietnam, and in Iraq, because everyone who was on government handout had to show a purple thumb to get their water and food rations, we don’t really know how much of that turnout was for anything besides food and water.

When I think about occupation, I think about how would I feel if the United States were occupied. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that another nation decides that we need regime change in the United States. They present their justifications to the world before they unilaterally and preemptively attack us. Their reasons are as follows:

• The people of the United States do not have real democracy. They have voting systems without paper accountability. Their leaders are responsive only to the corporations and the wealthy.
• The United States is the only western nation that executes its own prisoners. It imprisons more of its people per capita that any other western nation.
• It refuses to abide by international law and ignores the World Court.
• It uses a much higher percentage of the world’s resources than its share in terms of population.
• It’s not willing to acknowledge the huge negative impact it has on the environment, putting the whole world at risk from things such as global warming and the use of depleted uranium in ammunition.

There are many things I could add to this list, but I think you get my point. I agree that all of the above is true and I agree that we need regime change, but I would never accept that change—as important as it might be to the world—if it came from the barrels of the guns of foreign troops occupying my country. Occupation only gives you control—and limited control at that—while you occupy. The occupier becomes a prisoner of his own policy. There’s no way to get out and save face. We have to have the integrity to admit our mistakes in Iraq and try to correct them. The longer we draw it out, the worse it will be for us.

It is very clear that the majority of the people of Iraq were much better off under Hussein than they are under Bush. Under Hussein, they had reliable electricity, running water and telephone service, their children could walk to school without fear, their wives could go shopping without fear, their fathers could take public transportation to work, their daily routines were safe. Those politically opposed to Saddam, members of Al-Qaeda, or a religious fundamentalists had problems. Under Bush, the regular people, the overwhelming majority of people, do not have the services or the safety they had before we invaded.

The U.S. war in Vietnam lasted 10 years. We are now hearing that our military commitment to Iraq may also take 10 years. There are a few bottom lines here for me:

1) Ten years from now, the only ones who will be thinking about Iraq will be those who have lost family members and friends and those who have lost parts of themselves physically or mentally. The rest of America will go on, just as it did after Vietnam.

2) There will come a time when we leave Iraq and the Iraqis will choose for themselves what they want just as the Vietnamese did. So the real question is how many must die and suffer before that happens. I don’t believe that more deaths and suffering will change the outcome. There are those that say if we “cut and run now,” all those who have suffered and died will have done so in vain. I ask those people how many have to die before it’s okay to cut and run? When there are 58,000 names for a wall of American veterans who have died in Iraq, will it then be okay to cut and run? Is that how many lives have to be thrown away before it’s okay to admit that we’ve made a mistake and do what’s right?

What should we do?

1) Withdraw all American troops and support services from Iraq immediately.

2) Turn over all responsibility except financial to the international community.

3) Pay the cost of repairing all the damage we have done. We broke it, we should have to pay to fix it.

4) Recognize the World Court and turn over to them everyone who is responsible for starting this war. Let them face justice.

5) Many American corporations are profiting mightily from this war. In return, they provide the economic support that allows these irresponsible and sometimes criminal politicians to hold onto their power. We must take the ability to profit out of war. If the troops are asked to show their patriotism by sacrificing life and limb, then let the corporations show their patriotism by sacrificing their profit.

6) Vote out of office every congressmember and senator that supported this war. There are those who say it’s not the fault of Congress, that there are many members of Congress who are good, decent people who got swept up in the politics of patriotism. But it is the responsibility of Congress to provide a check and balance to the executive branch. To allow the executive branch carte blanche because they wrapped a criminal policy in the flag is an abdication of their responsibility. Why would we allow them to stay in office when they have not been responsible? We need to set a precedent so that future congresses will take their responsibility seriously.

The argument that Congress has to support the troops allows the executive branch to commit the troops and then demand support for the policy, no matter how wrong. This puts the cart before the horse, keeps the troops in a place they do not belong, and mandates useless suffering and death.

For those congressmembers who argue that they were misled into starting this war, they allowed themselves to be misled. There were many voices against this folly of ours, including many of our citizens and most of the countries on this planet.

If we fail to take a stand that punishes those responsible for this crime, it will only be repeated again.

During the American war against Vietnam, we marched on Washington to confront our government, express our dissatisfaction with their criminal policies, and call for an immediate end to the war and the return of our troops. On September 24th, we will be marching on Washington for the same reasons. I urge you to join us.

Scott Camil is a Vietnam veteran. He testified about U.S. war crimes in Vietnam at the Winter Soldier investigation in 1971 in Detroit, a tribunal which is captured in the recently re-released film "Winter Soldier." Currently he serves as a counselor for the GI Rights Hotline and on the executive committee of The Suwannee St-Johns Group Sierra Club.

Thursday, July 28, 2005



The appearance of sites like the one above looks like an open door and a major opportunity related to the VetSpeak mission. I will be following up with ideas on how we can strategically deal with this. But for now, here are a few thoughts:

WHO IS BUD DAY? Nixonite Bud Day is an old right winger from the POW/MIA "movement" at odds with Kerry's POW Committee. The group also supported the findings of Nixon's cronies (like McNamara and BigBush who was then the CIA Ops man for SEA and the snake Kissinger) to write off unaccounted for POW/MIAs. Day has made a fortune from his Medal Of Honor and former POW status acting as a political operative for right wing Neocons.

I suspect that TrueBlue is right about the re-release of Winter Soldier being a major motivator for this new site. But, I also believe that the VVAW and Swifties Face Off at TTU last March put a hurt on them, too. Add to that the dialogues happening at our very own VetSpeak.com, and at blogs and forums throughout the nation, such as the Star Telegraph "Should We Leave Iraq," face offs many of us are familiar with.

We, and many others who are showing up online with our shared Objective to shine the light on Political Truth, are creating a stir that requires the Swifites and other Right Wing Neocons to think up new strategic initiatives. The operations of this "Proud Americans" group is just another use of the incredible amounts of money that the Right spends to steal the Flag and drain the resources of us who have only truth and experience on our side.

Those "Proud Americans" are also attacking Jane again. And that is one topic I am personally very well prepared to discuss. Much of what occurred with Jane back then happened on my watch as regional coordinator of the California/Nevada VVAW. I worked with Jane on "Coming Home," and I consider her a friend. Scurrilous lies, rhetorical BS and character assassination aimed used as fodder for political, personal, or capital gain (or, any other reason, for that matter) is indefensible. One Repubicon myth that we have definitely exposed to the masses during those days was that "Lefties ain't all sissies." These new attempts at smearing committed political activists and distorting the truth didn't work then and it won't work now. So I say to the Vietnam Veterans Legacy Foundation (i.e., Swifties): Bring it on. Truth is on our side.

Monday, July 18, 2005


By PeaceVet

What kind of high explosives were used in London?
No one is talking specifics.
I have started watching and
asking, and they don't want to talk about it. They are even
pissed at the French for confirming they are "military

Why is it that the farther in time that we get from the
London 7-7-05 bombings, the less certain are the official
descriptions of the high explosives used, and the more
muddled is the identity of the explosives? Yet, they were
so certain just 48 hours after the bombings.

On July 12th, the officials and media talked about
explosives found in cars, in bathtubs, and C4 “like”
explosives, rather than saying what kind of explosives were
used. Tell me they didn't already know what the
explosives' chemical make up was and if there were
taggents (biological or chemical paper additives that can
be used to verify the origin or validity of a document). I
watch CSI.

One reason to avoid discussing what kind of explosives
were used is that their source will be embarrassing to Blair
and/or Bush. Could it be that these explosives are from
the 350 tons of Iraqi explosives that the UN told the USA
about; but they were fumbled by the USA, and looted?


Monday, July 11, 2005


What follows is an inspiring (and to some, controversial) email written five years ago by Calixto Alfredo Cabrera to Diane Ford Wood. Back in The Day, Diane witnessed Alfredo's powerful rage over the war in Vietnam and the effects it had on America, the world, and his personal life. Although his actions as a VVAW member remained peaceful, his presence made Diane fearful; his eyes were continually dark with rage and grief. She always wondered what would become of him.

CALIXTO CABRERA, a veteran of Vietnam and the USMC, is a former member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. His photo is posted on the VetSpeak.com home page. An edited version of this email is included in Camouflage & Lace: My Journey with a Windbender.

Subject: WHAT'S IT BEEN? 28 YEARS? (Full-Text)
Date: 11/11/2000
From: Calixto Alfredo Cabrera
To: Diane Ford Wood

Dear Diane;

Wow, you're a voice from my distant past. Yes it has been 28+ years. I am 51 now and Sage was not conceived when we met. I will try and update you on the metamorphosis that I have undergone in this period of time.

The revolution as I understood it to be for me is dead and gone. It died a timely death. My awareness of social injustice and man's cruelty toward everything is still acutely high. I no longer see the system or some people as my enemies. As a matter of fact, I am trying in my heart to see no enemies at all, only people in pain. That is a big change from the person who wanted to join the SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army) that kidnapped Patricia Hearst so many years ago. I look upon those days as my days of rage.

You are right in your assessment that I was the angriest person that you or I have ever met. There is a long story behind all of this that I will not trouble you with, but it had a lot to do with the countless murders and destruction that I heaved on Viet Nam and of my spiritual path. I look upon Viet Nam and the post years as "The best of times and the worst of times." I do not mean this in a literary sense, but in a spiritual sense. Toward the end of my political activism, I became a big time (it took some time to build to this) drug dealer. Finally got sick and tired of doing that, too. I ended up feeling as head and heart sick about dealing dope as I did being in the Marine Corps. I knew that I had to get out of it and I did.

My heart sickness from what I had done in Viet Nam was still with me, still driving my anger which seemed to have an insatiable appetite for growing. I had a chip on my shoulder the size of Canada and the weight was getting very burdensome. I started dickering with metaphysics and it proved to be the way out of a quagmire that had become the long nightmare.

It took me 24 and 1/2 years to heal from the war. I am both happy and proud to tell you that I have done so. To date, I am the only Viet Nam veteran that I know of (I have heard of others, very few) that can say, "I have healed from the War." I believe that you, of all people, may appreciate that statement coming from me, as you knew me when my madness was deepening. I have two children now Sage, 25 (you know him), and Amber, 17 (thinks she's 25). I love them both deeply and thank God for them.

I still have healing to do on many levels about a great number of things. My life now is my spiritual path and the seemingly long path to Christ consciousness (presumptuous of me isn't it?) I am striving to find a way to love all people in my heart as I already do all children. It is a daunting task for I find it very easy to judge and to think ill of others even to this day. It's easy to speak courteously to another, it's quite another thing to see the divine spirit in them. My heroes are no longer Che, Mao or Lenin, but Jesus, Buddha, Allah, Mother Theresa and Gandhi.

My Love to you and your family. Please keep in touch.

Camo & Lace

Wednesday, June 29, 2005



Over the past two years, the Swift Boat Vets "For Truth" have spent millions in cybermoney trying to convince the American people of a concerted Communist link between Vietnam Veterans Against The War circa the '70s (VVAW, circa 1970s) and John Kerry. Meanwhile, Senator Durbin, D-Ill and Amnesty International is accusing US Forces of being on par with the Nazis & KGB in their handling of prisoners at Guantanamo and less well known locations.

How is anyone not dogmatically aligned to the Far Right or Far Left ever going to hear, feel, see, or know the Truth when faced with that kind of rhetorical investment? Those currently in political power (and those currently trying to regain power) are equally guilty of hiding and distorting the Truth to suit their own political, personal, or capital gain. They purposefully revise history to support their particular premises. See: Communism & VVAW by Bill Hager at VetSpeak.com.) As long as Big Money supports these efforts, the interests of the People become secondary to political gain and control of power.

A Rose By Any Other Name...

As long as I can remember, there are those designated as PC (Politically Correct) or Thought Police whose sole purpose is to defy the boundaries of decorum (other than their own) to shape the consciousness of the masses. Across the political spectrum, examples include Hitler's Gestapo, Mao's Red Guard and Russia's KGB.

Closer to home, in the 1970s, Nixon called upon the FBI and Plumbers -- some of whom are still on the job -- as political operatives and spokespersons for the Big Money on the Right.

In the 2000s, a strong example of Thought Police is the Swift Boat Vets "For Truth" on the Right and the ACLU on the Left. All are charged with furthering their particular political ideology at all costs, especially in situations where objective political Truth stands in the way of achieving their goals.

These PC/Thought Police attempt to subvert the will of the American people through misinformation and disinformation by revising history through the art of the "Political Spin". These tactics forsake the basic principles of the Constitution and the free will of the American people, the right to self determination as a People and the right to question and freely challenge political power without fear of political repression. These tactics -- although primarily aimed at Undecided voters -- affect all of us, not just the direct targets of their political spins.

All of the above-mentioned groups evolved, in time, to control or to attempt to control, the political consciousness of the Adoring and/or Toiling masses, and most importantly in today's volatile American political climate -- the Undecided Voter Masses, especially in political swing states. Undecided voters are the strategic targets of think tanks, PACs, 527s, and corporate/special interest lobbyists all funded by Big Money.

Unless the tides are turned here and now; these half-truths, character assassinations and redundantly rhetorical tactics might succeed. When we go to the polls, our votes should be cast on considered options based on our own personal beliefs, values, and knowledge gained from factual research. We have a personal and communal responsibility to seek the objective Truth, regardless of the mind-numbing redundancy, over- simplification and purposeful spinning of perspectives of Big-Money financed political operatives on both the Left and Right.

The American People must be given the resources and support they need to have their pragmatic political voices heard over the current din of political acrimony and to rally against the forces of political repression and historical revisionism. America's destiny belongs in the hands of the People, not in the hands of political operatives of either Political Party who use rhetoric to subvert Truth to further their personal, political and capital goals.

So, what does all of this have to do with the Durbin Debacle in the US Senate found in the title on this piece? Consider this: Are we really like Gestapo and KGB in our dealings with our enemies as Senator Durbin D-Ill claims? Or is there some light to be shed on those shameful remarks designed to win political hearts and minds?

For Truth to prevail, the Swift Boat Vets "For Truth's" untrue and undocumented claims about Kerry, VVAW and the Communist Party during the 1970s anti-war years -- and their attempts to rewrite history to their own purposes -- must be made public.