Interview with Mr. David Ewing, VVAW
"It all started in 1967, with six Vietnam veterans marching together in a peace demonstration. Now, thirty-eight years later, VVAW is still going strong-- continuing its fight for peace, justice, and the rights of all veterans."
That's how the VVAW site introduces the organization and it seems to be true. The VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against The War) is still going strong. They are fighting for veteran's rights, fighting to keep appropriate health care funding for injured service members- both physically and psychologically, and reaching out to keep vets in touch through support groups. They have not stopped their unsung battles for each of those things, and more, long after the homecoming parades have stopped and the propaganda value of soldiers has lost its appeal to our leaders.
To those only familiar with the group through the prism of Swift Boat Veterans and Republican attacks on John Kerry's service during the 2004 Presidential election, please refer to the VVAW site where questions about the "Winter Soldiers" are answered with references and to the Pulitzer Prize winning report/series on "Tiger Force" called "Buried Secrets, Brutal Truths" by the Toledo Blade. which ran in 2004. That series, relying on previously (and some currently) classified documents as well as interviews, backs up the fact that what the returning soldiers from Vietnam were saying at the time of their return was true- despite all "spin" to the contrary.
The following is an interview VVAW's Dave Ewing of the Northern California Branch. Links are provided below for VVAW, their upcoming events, and for the IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Could you tell us a little about your organization?
All vets, and those that aren't vets but are supporters, are welcome to join VVAW. The group was formed in 1967 when Vietnam Vets that had returned from the war met others at a N.Y. City anti-war rally.
How does your organization accommodate service members who are objecting to the current war?
We encourage their resistance. There is an "Iraq Veterans Against the War" (IVAW) that is loosely modeled on our group and we let the veterans know about them so that they can focus their efforts with one group, the other, or both.
Do you coordinate with them?
Yes, we coordinate with IVAW and we do our own draft and military counseling in N.Y. City and Chicago.
Are the Iraq Veterans Against the War a part of your group?
No, IVAW has its own organization. We just help as needed. Because of our coordination and mutual goals, some Iraq vets and active duty soldiers have joined VVAW.
What is the VVAW position on the current Iraq war?
VVAW opposed the Iraq war before it began and continues to oppose it.
What has the organization done in opposition to the war?
We are sponsors, along with many others, of peace coalition demonstrations. We also speak at schools and do anti-militarization organizing.
What is your answer to those who say that questioning the war is undermining our troops?
Questioning the war, and ultimately ending it, will save their lives. That's how to really support the troops- and that's the support that they want. Most serving soldiers would come home at once if offered that option.
One often hears how the troops are behind this war 100% and that therefore civilians should be as well. Could you address the issue of how messages from the front are managed by the military?
Some T.V. interviews have been staged- remember George Bush's surprise Thanksgiving visit with the rubber turkey? But many real messages of protest are getting out via e-mail, letters, and returning soldiers. The anti-war Iraq Veterans group is growing quickly. Public support for the war is below 50%. That reflects, somewhat, the disaffection for the war. Of course, there is no doubt that some serving soldiers strongly support the war. Others support some aspects of the war. But, in general, we think troop support for the war is declining based on the outreach we have seen from the troops.
Do you see any parallels between this conflict and Vietnam? Any differences?
This war is more like Chechnya than Vietnam. The confessional violence gives it a no-quarter dimension that is much nastier than the civil war in Vietnam which was led by a secular communist leadership.
We rarely hear about those refusing to serve or those who are AWOL. Do you have some numbers on this?
We don't track those kinds of numbers. Having said that, there have been some notable cases recognizing some brave and celebrated resisters recently that have made it to the headlines but, for the most part, they are below the radar and that's how the military wants to keep them.
How hard have the 'stop-loss' orders hit the reserves?
The stop-loss orders hurt morale. That cannot be denied. They're also used as a means of coercing re-enlistments. Non-re-enlisting personnel are promised frontline jobs. The threat of stop-loss orders taken in conjunction with promises of safer jobs are used to either deceive or force people into signing up again.
What is your view on this administration's funding of veteran's needs and benefits?
The costs of treating the injured were unplanned for and higher than the Administration thought. That has a lot to do with how poorly this whole thin was planned out and how little the powers involved know about war. Our military hospitals are filled. When soldiers are discharged, they only get VA care, which is incapable of handling so many new cases. It's a mess. Care, across the board, is under-funded. There are already reports of homeless Iraqi war vets and a large number of Iraqi PTSD cases are showing up at the VA.
How do you deal with critics who say you are against all war and that you are betraying the country?
Bringing the soldiers home is the only sure way to support them. It's what they want us to do. As I said, if given a chance, VVAW thinks most of those in Iraq would leave today if given that option. So who really supports what the soldiers want- the Administration, the military, or the VVAW?
One of the biggest critics of the current war has been Scott Ritter. He has been ridiculed and dismissed even though his credentials are impeccable. Is this a common risk to people in your positions? How do you fight this attack?
Mr. Ritter was right. For that he paid, and is paying, a price. Generally, I think people listen to the VVAW. The biggest problem we face is there are so few forums for people to hear us. There is also a certain Vietnam Vet element that opposes us from time to time and runs interference for various Administrations, but they have little public credibility. On the subject, the silence of the VFW and the American legion on the war should not go unnoticed. I think they fear it's going badly and they want to distance themselves from Bush if he and the Republicans take a fall over the war.
Virtually every news station, cable and regular, has ˜experts" on giving a play by play of the war. The majority of them are employed as consultants by the station and also work for companies that profit from war. Have you tried to bring this to light?
The network news seems to be controlled by their marketing departments whose mission, aside from sales, is never to challenge a public prejudice. Since such challenges are the essence of good reporting, we, the country that is, are getting bad reporting.
How often have you or your organization been asked to appear on television?
About once a week in different parts of the country.
How do you get your message out?
Demonstrations, speaking engagements, our newspaper, and the occasional good reporting of some brave enough to challenge the status quo.
How do you feel about leadership that started a war having done everything they could to stay out of fighting in Vietnam?
Bush and Rove were smart to stay out of Vietnam. They were protected by class and privilege. They simply used their status, something the working class, which is the cannon fodder for wars, doesn't have access to. That's why the VVAW is against any draft. Conscription cannot overcome class and privilege.
What do you think of Dick Cheney's statement that he had "other priorities" when asked about Vietnam?
It's just one of the things that class and privilege allows a person to say- and to mean. The Repercussions of the average guy saying the same thing would be quite different. He wouldn't get away with it and he'd be jailed if he tried.
How clearly is the military's role defined in the Iraq conflict? Are our troops in a position, through training and otherwise, to oversee and guide the building of a democracy?
The military cannot rebuild Iraq. But I don't think that Bush is saying that. His most often repeated statement is that the "terrorists" must be defeated first and then we can rebuild the country. Since the resistance to our presence won't be defeated, there's no point in talking about rebuilding.
Often one hears that we must stay in Iraq because to leave would mean that those who died did so for nothing. It is characterized as showing disrespect for the dead. How do you respond?
Who, today, would sacrifice their son, daughter, husband, or wife to fight for such a silly principle? The weight of the death and suffering should fall on the bipartisan political leadership that launched the wars.
What is your organization's position on our dead being flown back in secret, often under the cover of night, and the public not being allowed to see the caskets?
The press, no matter what is said by the Administration, has a responsibility to the country to cover these newsworthy events.
Does the argument of "protecting family privacy" pass muster with you?
I would respect such a sentiment if it came from a military family. But more often than not, it doesn't. It's a protection established by the Administration to avoid any coverage, particularly visual, of bad news.
What do you make of the Bush's non-appearance at any funerals?
Smart move on his part. If he went, grieving relatives would confront him. Nick Berg's family is not exceptional in its condemnation of the war and of the Administration- there are many more. Unfortunately, aside from Cindy Sheehan, they aren't covered by the media which is too easily distracted and generally consumed by the sensationalism of a Michael Jackson trial or an occasional shark bite.
What about Rumsfeld's use of the automatic signature machine for condolence letters?
In my opinion, it was a purely symbolic mistake. A lot worse has been done that people aren't being held accountable for.
What do you think of recruiters using the "No Child Left Behind Act" and its provisions to target high school youth for recruitment, particularly in poorer neighborhoods?
That's a perfect example of the opposite side of the class privilege coin. Those in charge prey on us- the working class- to "flesh" out the army.
What plans do you have for future demonstrations of opposition to the war?
We'll be at the large, coordinated demonstrations this month.
Can anybody join your group?
Yes! If they agree with our principles, they are more than welcome to join.
How can those who don't have time but want to help you assist you in your efforts?
Please donate to our counseling project via the VVAW website.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
In 2004, both candidates and both parties supported the war. Despite all kinds of factional infighting against Bush, the Democrats still supported the war. I object to the way this war has been personalized as "George Bush's War". There was a wide consensus for this war in the U.S. and the British ruling classes. Take, for instance, Nancy Pelosi, the Congressional leader of the Democrats. She has voted for every war measure for the Patriot Act, and for every war spending bill that's come up. So where's the debate? Where's the opposition? Who should people rally around? The differences between the parties in this matter are so small that it's hard to tell them apart. Another thing to keep in mind is that, while it may not be popular or politically correct to say this, the liberal Democrats who oppose Bush are unquestioning supporters of all Israeli policy. One cannot understand the conflicts and hatreds in the Middle East if one only looks at one side of the story. Bush, the father, was more circumspect and more adept at reigning in some of the most extremist elements in Israel. Now the pretense of a balanced U.S. policy is disappearing.
What will the lesson of Iraq be?
The lesson of Iraq, for the world, will be that skillful, irregular warfare can defeat the U.S. Super-Power.
What do you think the solution is?
I believe we need a third party to challenge both the Republicans and the Democrats. Both parties are captive to corporate interests that now pretty openly determine tax and social policy. As a result, I voted for the Peace and Freedom Party in the last election.
Suggested Links for further information:
VVAW- Vietnam Veterans Against The War
Upcoming Events- Including the main demonstration at the White House Anti- Middle East Wars Demonstration on September 24, 2005 at 12:00 PM.
IVAW- Iraq Veterans Against The War
Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Inc. (VVAW) is a national veterans' organization that was founded in New York City in 1967 after six Vietnam vets marched together in a peace demonstration. It was organized to voice the growing opposition among returning servicemen and women to the still-raging war in Indochina, and grew rapidly to a membership of over 30,000 throughout the United States as well as active duty GIs stationed in Vietnam. Through ongoing actions and grassroots organization, VVAW exposed the ugly truth about US involvement in Southeast Asia and their first-hand experiences helped many other Americans to see the unjust nature of that war.
VVAW believes that service to country and communities does not end upon discharge from duty. They remain committed to the struggle for peace and for social and economic justice for all people. They continue to oppose senseless military adventures and to teach the real lessons of the Vietnam War. Par of their mission is to do all they can to prevent another generation from being put through a similar tragedy and to continue to demand dignity and respect for veterans of all eras. They define this as real patriotism and remain true to their mission.