Left Justified: Vietnam veterans to the rescue (again)!

Already Senator John Kerry, the Democrat running for president, is getting bashed for speaking out against the Vietnam War. That was way back in 1972. How many of you have seen pictures of the young Lieutenant Kerry with the brash but beautiful sex kitten movie starlet Jane Fonda? Of course, one of those pictures came about through the magic of computer manipulation, but the other shows Jane Fonda five rows in front of Kerry at an anti-war rally.

That second photo was taken before Jane went on her infamous tour of North Vietnam, where she tried to humanize the face of the enemy by meeting with them. “Hanoi Jane,” as she’s called now, has repeatedly apologized to veterans for being photographed while stupidly sitting behind an anti-aircraft gun.

But who now receives the ire of the crazed pro-war lobby? Of course, Senator John Kerry. He came home from Vietnam after serving a tour of duty that took him through the Delta on a riverboat. He was wounded three times and received a Silver Star for valorous service. But John Kerry joined other veterans who were sickened by the war policies that forced them to terrorize peasants and civilians.

Most who complain of the senator’s actions were war hawks who would still be sending our young soldiers to their deaths in Vietnam. That war was one of the few times veterans protested against the actions of their government. And it took those soldiers marching to the front gates of Congress, where they threw their medals at the government’s feet, before anyone paid any attention.

While I was in Vietnam (October of 1970 – 1971) there were few proponents of the war among my comrades and fellow soldiers. I turned against the war in February 1971, when I was but 20 years old and handled paperwork for all the 67th Medical Group in Da Nang. I served 12 months, and went from a proponent to an opponent, and returned to march with Vietnam Veterans Against the War in Miami in August 1972.

Now our country has found itself in a terrible jam in Iraq. A Republican president—this time one who started the war—has mismanaged its conduct, and again a Vietnam veteran must stand up and try to save the day.

When I heard Senator John Kerry was running for president, I signed up. Even though he’s more moderate on many issues,( politically I’m attuned to Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean), I was attracted by John Kerry’s history as a Vietnam veteran who returned to protest the war in which he served. That was my history!

So I am showing a movie. On Monday, April 5, Rockford Peace & Justice Action Committee will show Winter Soldier in honor of Sen. John Kerry winning the Democratic presidential nomination (film will be hosted at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St., Rockford). This is the Vietnam Veterans Against the War classic of 1972. Winter Soldier (110 min.) portrays the anti-war activists who served in Vietnam, returned and threw their medals back at Congress. In 1971, John Kerry was one of the founders of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

You’ll hear many complaints against Kerry’s actions during that period. Most of the complaints will come from the radical right and strong supporters of the present president. Please take what you hear with a grain of salt. Senator Kerry went on to do many good things in the Senate, but as a Vietnam veteran who opposed the war, I personally can’t think of anything greater.

During the early ‘70s when many of the veterans found themselves shut out of the American Dream and suffering from Agent Orange and post-traumatic stress disorder, there were few who would help. So they helped each other, setting up veterans’ groups, talking about their experiences and demanding that the Veterans Administration take their medical complaints seriously. They saved many lives—but not enough. Besides losing 54,000 young men (and some women) to a war that few support today, there were many lives lost from post-war trauma. Some people say that as many soldiers and returning veterans took their own lives, as lost them in the war. And that doesn’t count the wounded physically and spiritually.

If we had organized earlier, we veterans might have stopped the killing sooner. To those who say we could have won in Vietnam if we just had more firepower, I say we dropped more bombs on Vietnam than on Germany and Japan during World War II.

Anyone who speaks to the Vietnamese knows that they would be fighting us to this day if we hadn’t pulled out. Most historians agree that the war could have ended in 1968, instead of going on for another five years with little to show and much loss of life.

And I hope you noticed that I’ve written nothing about our present president’s service (or lack thereof) during the Vietnam War. I’ll leave that to the war hawks who’ll be scrambling for pen and paper to respond.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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