Thursday, September 13, 2007

Some Personal Thoughts on VVAW's 40th Anniversary

Horace Coleman

Forty years ago this year, in 1967, a group of Vietnam veterans who’d met each other at anti war rallies, marches and demonstrations started a group. There were fewer of them then you have digits on two hands. They had ambitious goals.

They wanted to end the war. They wanted to dethrone the politicians and fire the bureaucrats who’d started and continued it. They wanted to change the mindset of the people who supported it, those who had fought in it and those who would be sent to fight it.

Getting the Veterans Administration to acknowledge and provide better treatment for people affected by Agent Orange, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the usual physical ravages of war and improve the sub par treatment and conditions that existed in too many VA hospitals for too many veterans was also a priority.

Forty years, as human things go, is a long time. Four times as long as the Vietnam war lasted. Ten presidential terms. Many marriages, bands and companies don’t last that long. So, when VVAW celebrated it’s 40th anniversary more than a milestone was reached.

More time than a generation (a life time for some) has passed. Styles, economics, politics and different national concerns, priorities and needs--as well as new wars—have come about.

No longer is this “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” It never really was. That statement was just jingoistic and chauvinistic trash talk set to music.

Certainly there are brave and free people here. But an entire nation of them? We’re the land of the some what free where a minority of the world’s brave live. War wimps, not all of them politicians, run and put on the show that an audience of mostly armchair patriots watch.

It’s been that way since the Revolutionary War when there were Tories, people who were for who ever was in the area with force at the time while the basically indifferent were every where.

There VVAW was in Chicago—more wear and less hair for some, varying health ailments for others--people who hadn’t seen each other for years or never met but might have exchanged e-mail or phone calls. Those who were always up for a demonstration or a march and sometimes organized them. The spirit was as strong as ever and the flesh was still willing.

There were those who counseled vets about VA issues, psychological problems or helped an active duty service members (or a relative seeking help for them) with a problem. Those who visited and spoke at high schools, colleges and churches with students and congregations. Or provided literature, showed movies, took pictures, participated in debates, wrote articles or letters-to-the-editor, maintained and edited web sites. Those who organized and participated in stand downs. Those who did some or all of that—and more.

Founding members—like Jan Barry—and living legends like Al Hubbard and Bob McLane were present. Work horses like Jeff Machota were there. Willie Hager showed up with arm loads of a well put together tribute booklet that he and Diane Ford Wood edited and she and Gerald Nicosia funded. Many vets contributed remembrances and shout outs. W.D. Ehrhart, poet / writer, teacher, and anthologist read at a panel. VVAW stalwarts Marty Webster, Ann Hirschman and Ann Bailey were on a panel.

The booklet that VVAW put together for the 40th anniversary was crammed with historic photos, reproductions of newspaper stories, ads and flyers, prose pieces and poems by vets about key events, experiences and issues that happened during VVAW’s existence.

The last panel of the 40th anniversary celebration consisted of Iraq veterans, most of them members of IVAW, Iraq Veterans Against the War, was chaired by Aaron Hughes (president of Chicago’s IVAW chapter). Being last on the program was proper. It made everything else an opening act.

They’re veterans of another dubious war, more ignored than Nam vets because there’s no draft now. Civilian chicken hawks preen and squawk as loudly as politician chicken hawks about the need to protect America. Which doesn’t ask for their precious participation. These veterans are saddled with PTSD the Army too often attributes to “prior existing conditions” it can ignore, inadequate VA service, extended—and repeated—tours in the War Zone, new war related illnesses and diseases. And, a primarily indifferent public that thinks disapproval alone is enough to stop this stubborn stampede.

The Decider has decreed that 62 is `”young” so VVAW will be around for a while.

During the last visit I made to a high school, I said “I’m opposed to stupid wars.” That’s the essence of VVAW. That and changing the poor treatment given war veterans by the country they serve. A soldier can’t be the guard dog that bites any time fools with bad judgment say “Sic ‘em!”

VVAW still stands, “fighting for veterans, peace and justice,” honoring the warriors but not the bad wars. Those are tasks and a legacy I can live with. So can quite a few others.

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