Thursday, January 9, 2014

1971 and the War in Vietnam Goes On

 Everyone supported the troops in Vietnam in the 1970s but very few people supported the war! That support was waning by the day and the presidency of Richard M. Nixon was crumbling and forced him into actions he never would have authorized in 1972 had the protesters in the streets not been so seriously damaging his policies.
by Charlie Leck

I loved the troops who were fighting for us in Vietnam. I respected them and thought them the bravest men about whom I’d ever heard. And, I wanted them brought home because I’d figured out that the war they were fighting was both unjust and internationally unneeded. I started speaking out publically about the war in 1968 and that year I joined the McCarthy movement against it and supported Gene McCarthy’s campaign for the Presidency.

Few people on the streets of America understood the war. They bought the simplistic explanation of the politicians who supported it – that we were fighting communism and its expansion. In fact, it was much more complex than that and the war had very little chance of U.S. success and thousands of American troops and innocent civilians were dying for undefined causes. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had erred in sending troops as advisers to South Vietnam’s military and President John F. Kennedy compounded the mistakes by increasing the number of troops and allowing them to take actions beyond providing advice. After Kennedy’s death (1963), President Lyndon Baines Johnson kicked the war into another gear and began pouring funds and troops into the effort to accomplish the unaccomplishable.

I began thinking seriously and thoughtfully about these questions in 1965. Led by a graduate school professor I greatly admired, I began reading the real histories of modern Vietnam and realized it was wrong and immoral to support the cruel and dictatorial government of South Vietnam. I began to have sympathy for the small groups that had begun to protest.

In the summer of ’67, emboldened by the growing size of the protest (yes, I’m admitting my earlier cowardice) I stepped out into the street to join my first protest. Along with hundreds of other people, I walked along Washington Avenue in Minneapolis, singing the songs of protest and urging other people to wake up and join us. The size of the protests in every city in America were now growing from hundreds to thousands. President Johnson’s response was to step up the bombing of the Vietnam countryside, killing more and more totally innocent citizens.

The first great break in the protest movement happened one March night in 1971, when a small band of young people found the courage to break into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. They stole documents that showed how furiously the FBI was working to stop the protesters in virtually any manner they could. I urge you to look at the short documentary video that the New York Times has produced called A HEIST THAT CHANGED HISTORY. It is a remarkable and absolutely intriguing report about young protesters, including Bonnie and John Raines, who broke into that FBI office and uncovered amazing and embarrassing evidence of activities that the FBI used to quash descent. Were the activities of the protesters criminal? Well, yes! Also noble and brave? Indeed!

By this time, Richard M. Nixon had become the President of the United States. He whole-heartedly supported the activities of J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI.

When the young protesters turned their evidence over to the Washington Post, holy hell broke out in America. President Nixon became apoplectic and began giving orders to find the people responsible. It is easy to trace the line between this event to Nixon's eventual break-in at the Democratic Party Headquarters in the Watergate Building in Washington.

You’ll be amazed as you watch this video that shows the young people responsible for the break-in at the FBI office in Media. Watch it here!

In addition, a new book, The Burglary, written by the reporter, Betty Medsger, to whom the young protesters turned over their stolen evidence, is now on the market and is amazing reading. And, Johanna Hamilton has done a documentary about the incident that I am told is really extraordinary. I plan to see it soon.

I hope you’ll watch this NY Times video. If you do, as you watch it, think about the recent “crimes” of Edward Snowden and allow yourself to wonder – just wonder – about whether it was a crime or an act of heroism.

More than 47,000 American troops died in the Vietnam War and more than 171,000 additional brave military men were wounded. Don’t tell me I “disrespected” the troops by protesting the war. I loved them and wanted them home where they belonged! And, with all my heart, I admire those brave American citizens who recognized the tragedy of that war and stood up to protest against it. My feeling of respect for Bonnie and John Raines is enormous.


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