Waging peace in Vietnam (books review)


Winter Warrior, a Vietnam Vet’s anti-war odyssey
by Eve Gilbert (telling the story of Scott Camil)
Fantagraphics Books, 2019, 96 pp., A$29

January 14, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — At the height of the US invasion of Vietnam around 500,000 US military personnel were involved. Of those over 50,000 lost their lives – and the US lost the War. 

The US defeat was due to the mass base of support in Vietnam for the revolutionary National Liberation Front, the huge anti-war movement in the USA and also the wave of opposition that arose among the US forces themselves. 

The expression “the Vietnam Syndrome” was coined to describe that mass civilian and military opposition. 

For decades following the 1975 defeat US foreign policy was hamstrung by the fear of reigniting the “Syndrome”. National liberation forces all over Africa and Latin America benefited from the inability of the US to directly use its military power.

In order to again be able to bomb and invade at will an ideological battle had to be waged against the memory of the anti-Vietnam War people-power movement. The success of our rulers in that regard is measured in the death toll in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries.

These two books are ideological hand grenades thrown back at the warmongers.

Waging Peace in Vietnam is a collection of short memoirs of active participants in all the facets of the GI anti-War rebellion. Winter Warrior, using graphic, comic-book style shows the terrible personal cost inflicted on at least one anti-war Vet.

Together they illustrate the enormous breadth, depth and courage of the GI movement.

In the opening pages of Waging Peace there is a two-page synopsis of the GI anti-war movement, which alone makes for astonishing reading. 

An illustrative example is the story of three who marked a watershed in the resistance, the Fort Hood Three: Dennis Mora, David Samas and James Johnson.

Johnson recalls that when he was first drafted in 1965, he had not formed an opinion about the War. However, from the first day of training he started to think.

“I understood that the treatment – or more correctly, abuse – of the GIs was designed not to train us to promptly obey orders as essential preparation for combat,” he says. “Instead, I was convinced that our mistreatment was more about crippling us intellectually, shutting down our reasoning so that we would be prepared to follow along blindly.”

All of the memories collected in this book hit on that same topic: the US military deliberately set out to break down recruits psychologically and then rebuild them into morally-blind killing machines. Moreover, they were trained as racist killing machines.

Scott Camil vividly recalls the racism that was indoctrinated into recruits.  “Kill that gook! Fuck that dink up! Kill!” his Drill Instructor shouted.

Johnson, Samas and Mora formed an unofficial Vietnam study group on their base and quickly came to see the injustice of US aggression.  They determined to refuse orders to go to Vietnam and to read a statement about that to an anti-war rally in New York.

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