American Friends Service Committee
Sara Burke, Managing Editor
Sam Diener, Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
The Sorrow and the Pity: A Review of Patriots
Michael True, who lives in Worcester, MA, is a Fulbright lecturer in India on peace, nonviolence, and conflict studies. Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides. Christian G. Appy, ed. New York: Viking, 2003. 550 pp. $34.95.
"Of all the works on the Vietnam War - this is the big one," Studs Terkel proclaims. This compendium contains 135 interviews, selected from 350, of men and women veterans, military leaders, and policy makers from North and South Vietnam, the US, and the Soviet Union, as well as prisoners of war, draft resisters, artists, and journalists.
The book covers a 54-year period, from 1945, with the account of a US intelligence officer who parachuted into Vietnam to train Viet Minh guerillas to fight the Japanese army's occupation, to 1999, when US and Vietnamese veterans cooperated to locate unmarked graves of comrades. "We always wash the bones we find," Tran Van Ban said. "Then we wrap them in a white cloth and put them inside a plastic bag along with whatever information, if any, we might have about the person."
That same year, Anne Morrison Welsh, whose husband protested the war by immolating himself near the Pentagon in 1965, visited Vietnam for the first time. There she learned that generations of students know, by heart, a poem about her late husband.
In a truly remarkable achievement of editing, Christian G. Appy weaves many strands into a tapestry rendering the confusion, deceit, immorality, and bravery that characterized the US's longest war. Brief, well-written notes and introductions frame various sections that make up this extraordinary oral history, including a brief survey of US interventions since 1898.
So rich is the texture and particularity of the testimonies that one finds it difficult to choose representative ones; so many are simply unforgettable. Tom Grace, a casualty of the shootings on the Kent State University campus, May 4, 1970, for example, describes his parents coming to visit him in the hospital. He worried he had let them down. "They sent me out there to go to school and here I am shot."
Judith Coburn, a journalist in Vietnam, describes 1500 soldiers organizing an Independence Day peace rally at Chu Lai on July 4, 1971. "All the military authorities did was take a few pictures. After all, what were they going to do, bust them all?" Randy Kehler tells about his arrest by FBI agents posing as reporters at a demonstration in San Francisco. When a friend intervened and an FBI agent kicked him in the ribs, Kehler yelled, "Stop, stop, I'll go."
Then there are the unrepentant policy makers, such as Alexander Haig, who maintains that his major war-related contribution "was supporting the Christmas bombing" of 1972 (which killed 1318 civilians in Hanoi alone). Johnson's National Security Advsor,Walt Rostow, callously brags, "What Lyndon Johnson did was more costly perhaps than it had to be, but he saved Southeast Asia and we hold the balance of power in Asia today."
Would Rostow have been so blasé about the outcome if he had read the testimony of Tran Hhi Gung? A former Viet Cong guerilla now in her late 50s, she recalls participating "in so many fights for so many years, I can't possibly remember them all. I think it was justified. But if I went to America and killed people there, I would feel very sorry and guilty. Since the Americans came to my country, I don't feel guilty."
Evelyn Colbert, who worked at the Southeast Asia Division of the Bureau of Intelligence Research in the State Department, challenges Robert McNamara's claim that, as she phrased it, "we didn't know anything about Vietnam and what was really happening was not understood." She knows, from personal experience, "That's a lot of garbage." Although the work produced in her office and elsewhere on the impact of the war was pessimistic, "the record shows that dissent which contradicted the public optimism was ignored."
In addition to the individual testimonies, the factual information provided by the editor, including US soldier desertion rates and descriptions of South Vietnamese tiger cages, adds to the power and resonance of Patriots. For example, the US Army reported that even as troop levels dropped, fraggings in Vietnam mounted steadily from 126 in 1969 to 333 in 1971. Similarly, the White House Office for Drug Abuse Prevention found that "at the peak of the epidemic in the early 1970s, 34 percent of US troops had 'commonly used' heroin in Vietnam."
A reflection by author and veteran Wayne Karlin describes the
challenge Patriots poses to us: "There are so many
things that aren't finished, the hard truths and damage that need
to be faced and acknowledged, the humanity we couldn't see and
still need to see." A line from a poem by Nguyen Duy, quoted
in the book, is an appropriate epitaph: "In the end, in every
war, whoever won, the people always lost."