Saturday, July 04, 2015

The 40th Anniversary Of The Fall Of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)-An American Ex-Soldier’s Story.

The 40th Anniversary Of The Fall Of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)-An American Ex-Soldier’s Story. 

Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956)

To those born later
Truly I live in dark times!
Frank speech is naïve. A smooth forehead
Suggests insensitivity. The man who laughs
Has simply not yet heard
The terrible news.
What kind of times are these, when
To talk about trees is almost a crime
Because it implies silence about so many horrors?
When the man over there calmly crossing the street
Is already perhaps beyond the reach of his friends 10
Who are in need?
It’s true that I still earn my daily bread
But, believe me, that’s only an accident. Nothing
I do gives me the right to eat my fill.
By chance I've been spared. (If my luck breaks, I'm lost.)
They say to me: Eat and drink! Be glad you have it!
But how can I eat and drink if I snatch what I eat
From the starving
And my glass of water belongs to someone dying of thirst?
And yet I eat and drink. 20
I would also like to be wise.
In the old books it says what wisdom is:
To shun the strife of the world and to live out
Your brief time without fear
Also to get along without violence
To return good for evil
Not to fulfill your desires but to forget them
Is accounted wise.
All this I cannot do.
Truly, I live in dark times. 30
I came to the cities in a time of disorder
When hunger reigned.
I came among men in a time of revolt
And I rebelled with them.
So passed my time
Given me to on earth.
I ate my food between battles
I lay down to sleep among murderers
I practiced love carelessly
And I had little patience for nature’s beauty. 40
So passed my time
Given to me on earth.
All roads led into the mire in my time.
My tongue betrayed me to the butchers.
There was little I could do. But those is power
Sat safer without me: that was my hope.
So passed my time
Given to me on earth.
Our forces were slight. Our goal
Lay far in the distance 50
Clearly visible, though I myself
Was unlikely to reach it.
So passed my time
Given to me on earth.
You who will emerge from the flood
In which we have gone under
Bring to mind
When you speak of our failings
Bring to mind also the dark times
That you have escaped. 60
Changing countries more often than our shoes,
We went through the class wars, despairing
When there was only injustice, no outrage.
And yet we realized:
Hatred, even of meanness
Contorts the features.
Anger, even against injustice
Makes the voice hoarse. O,
We who wanted to prepare the ground for friendship
Could not ourselves be friendly. 70
But you, when the time comes at last
When man is helper to man
Think of us
With forbearance.

Ralph Morris comment:

Yeah, sure I served in Vietnam, served Regular Army, after I kind of panicked when I got my draft notice from my “friends and neighbors” at the Troy, New York draft board in late 1966 and enlisted expecting, based on a foolish belief in the recruiting sergeant, that I would be placed in an electronics MOS by doing so. I can still remember my G.I. dog-tag number RA038341396, that RA in front of the numbers not like a lot of guys, guys who I wished I had been more like who had “U.S.” before their dog-tag numbers signifying that they were draftees, maybe kicking and screaming draftees like a guy I ran into in the G.I. anti-war movement in 1971, Fritz Jasper, who was a big guy in Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and who had served a year in an Army stockade before they let him out for refusing to go to ‘Nam.

But what did I know then. What did I know like Fritz who was one of those kicking and screaming draftees out of New York City, Brooklyn I think, about getting with Quaker-driven draft counsellors or military resistance counsellors once he knew after about three day in the Army in 1969 that he was in the wrong place and every instinct told him that year that he was going to ‘Nam if he didn’t do something quick to get the military’s attention. So he did first by refusing his orders and then by refusing to do a damn Army thing. They put his ass in some damn stockade down South   and were going to throw away the key before some people he was in contact with, some Quaker people or people who worked with Quakers got him some legal help and they went to federal court to spring him. Remind to tell you some more of his story sometime because it is kind of interesting when people ask me about military resisters then. That’s the big case I tell them about because I know it cold although I know there were plenty of others, plenty that got some coverage. Maybe better I will ask Fritz to tell his story sometime because, guess what, that resistance/stockade experience made a peacenik “lifer” out of him. He is working with Veterans For Peace down in the city just like I am in Troy (really the whole North Country area and in Boston when I visit Sam Eaton who has a big part in this story and the VFP chapter there needs warm bodies for an action.) 

And what if I did know how to make those anti-war connections. What good would it have done me since before ‘Nam I was enthrall to some pretty red, white and blue notions, some ideas it has taken my whole freaking dead ass life to break from, and I still breaking from. All I know is this, bloody, forlorn god forsaken Vietnam changed my life, probably has been the number one experience that has kept me going trying to light the lamp of peace. If I hadn’t I today probably would be like a lot of guys and gals who were waving South Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF) flags like I did later on when I got “religion” on the war issue. Waved that flag at the end when the “other side” came down Highway One in Vietnam in the Spring of 1975 like bats out of hell and resolved the whole thing in a couple of months, stuff that had taken thirty years of their blood and over ten of ours to conclude not to count the whole torn apart countries left in the wake. Those others have now long past made their peace with the American empire, made it quick and easy when the deal when down and the American government pulled the hammer down and they flinched when it counted a whole bunch of times since, times like Iraq 2003. Yeah, some people learn the hard way but they learn the lesson well.  

Yeah, what good would all of that knowledge done me then. See my old man, Ralph, Senior, ran a high precision electrical shop doing a lot of work for the big employer in the area, General Electric, a company which had many big contracts with the Department of Defense in those years and I worked for him a couple of years in high school and after I got out so I expected that I could do something useful for the Army with that skill. But see beside that little “error” in believing word one from that damn recruiting sergeant, First Sergeant Riley, a good old boy, a “lifer” ( a very different “lifer” from Fritz Jasper) from Arkansas who had already done two tours in ‘Nam and had blessed the Army each and every day for giving him shoes and three squares a day if I recall, the United States of America under the benevolent guidance of some damn Texan, Lyndon Johnson, LBJ, to be exact in 1967, 1968 was looking for nothing but “grunts” to comb the bushes and jungles of Vietnam. Looking for grunts to flush out every commie from every hut in every hamlet in that benighted country no matter how long it took and how much “collateral damage” ensued so I was trained as an 11B (Bravo), an infantryman, a “grunt,” “cannon fodder” although I didn’t pick up that last term until later, later when I got discharged, when people explained to me in concrete terms what I was, al that I was, to the people who ran the damn war.

That discharge business is important because unlike a couple of guys I heard about who were raising hell about the war, in Vietnam if you can believe that, yeah, raising holy hell, and guys I ran into later at Fort Dix who had joined the G.I. anti-war resistance after I came back to the “real world” I didn’t raise any hell while I was in the Army. (And knew nothing about Fritz’s case even though as he showed me a copy later it was publicized at Fort Dix via a G.I. newspaper, The Morning Report, run out of one of the G.I. coffeehouses that we sprouting up around military bases when the civilian anti-war movement, the radical students mainly, realized they had to get to the grunts if they were going to end the war on their terms not that of the American government.) Didn’t see the percentage in it, didn’t want to wind up in Long Binh Jail, the LBJ as everybody in-country called it, or worse, some long forgotten stretch out in the prairies of Kansas at Fort Leavenworth, the place where they now have the heroic Wiki-leaks whistle-blower Private Chelsea Manning doing a hard thirty-five year stretch just for telling the truth about American military atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Although this piece is about my own military service and what I did or didn’t about what was going on in Vietnam, mainly didn’t, except a few words to buddies over beers at the PX or over a joint in the barracks or boondocks the Manning case grabbed me, grabbed me hard and I took her case to heart. [For those not in the know or who don’t recognize the case by that name before her conviction and sentencing in August 2013 she was known a Bradley Manning which makes her being at the all-male prisoner Leavenworth that much  harder.] I went to many rallies in her support, raised money for the legal defense, circulated every kind of petition to get her free, still do, and went down to Fort Meade where she was tried by court-martial a few times. Yeah, call it guilt maybe, call it pay back, but I was supporting a fellow soldier in her hour of need, something I didn’t do back then. But enough of this.  

In ‘Nam whatever I did or didn’t do is where I got the “fire in the belly” to see that the whole war was off balance, didn’t make the kind of sense right there in-country that it did in faraway propaganda-drenched America, fighting commies, fighting dominos, picking up on my father’s “my country, right or wrong” mentality or my corner boys looking for some cheapjack glory learned from watching too many Green Beret-type movies. The reality: picking off random peasants who got in the crossfire because we were too scared to go forward if we thought VC was in the area or at night when we knew, not at first but by 1968, that “the night belonged to Charlie” as we called him, first as a term of disrespect but finally after Tet 1968 as an enemy worthy of respect whatever the NCOs and officers said. Jesus. Yeah, that’s the patriotic hogwash what I had to fight against, get rid of from my mind, and frankly it has been a lifelong struggle on some things. (But get this who would have thought that a sixty-something purple heart ex-soldier would be out on the hustings to get a transgender woman, Chelsea Manning, out of hard rock prison back then, now even.)       

But back in Vietnam days, in-country not affected too much by reports of draft resistance in 1967 although I had had heard on Armed Forces Radio the bit about the student radical trying to “levitate” the Pentagon (and thought it a weird thing to do with gunfire all around me) and like I said a little about guys bucking against the military system, mostly blacks who I got along with personally but there was a lot of black nationalism in the air and we didn’t’ mix that much in 1967 (1968 yes after the Tet offensive showed what the hell we were up against we made an “armed truce” to survive) but that was kind of so much air then. I had been progressively getting more and more fed up with the war, with the killing, with what it was doing to me, what it was doing to my buddies, and what the United States of America was turning me and them into, nothing but animals. 

I even extended my tour from the usual year (thirteen months really when you figure in the 30 days of R&R) to eighteen months so if I didn’t get killed I could get out a few months earlier from my three year enlistment (and get as a bonus stationed at Fort Dix at the end of my enlistment on the East Coast only a couple of hundred miles from home). Well I might have had a death wish or something extending my tour of duty but I made it out alive with only a small purple heart wound but when I got out in late 1969 I joined, not right away but soon, that VVAW that I talked about earlier. Yeah wound up joining the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the main anti-war veterans group at the time. Such a move by me and thousands of other soldiers who had served in ‘Nam is a real indication even today of how unpopular that war was when the guys who had fought the damn thing arms in hand, mostly guys then, rose up against the slaughter. I wound up taking part in a lot of VVAW actions around Albany and New York City mainly.

Nah, I thought I was going to but no I am not going to tell war stories here about what happened in Vietnam, the “dog soldier” stories because you can read about them, or see a movie like The Deer Hunter or Apocalypse Now, films like that to get a flavor of the heat and humiliation of battle or books by guys who did want to tell “dog soldier stories” like Mike Caputo, and Phil Jackson. What I want to talk about in this the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon is the “afterwards” part, the VVAW part, the May Day 1971 part, the “red collectives” in Cambridge part with my old friend and political activist associate Sam Eaton, and the part where I, not without some conflict came to cheer on the DNV/NLF offensive in the Spring of 1975 which led to the fall of Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, and left ashes in American governmental mouths (and mine too but for different reasons). 

I didn’t really want to tell any stories, didn’t want to think about Vietnam at all although that experience one way or another touches my soul every damn day I live. I had in fact for some years later denied to strangers that I had even served in Vietnam including one girl, Joyell who I ran into at an anti-war rally on Cambridge Common one time when I went there to visit Sam where she was waving a NLF flag which made me wince at first but she was a beauty and very smart too so I took a run at her and she at me, yeah, Joyell, a radical girl from Cambridge when that was a cool thing to be in say 1972, 1973,  whom I dated for a year and had told that I had been a drafter resister and when she found out I was a Vietnam vet, even with the VVAW imprimatur, had left me flat.

But see Sam, Sam Eaton, and I had been talking one night a few months back after having a few high-shelf whiskeys at our favorite watering hole, Jack Higgins’ Grille down just outside the Financial District near Quincy Market when I had come to Boston to see him on one of our periodic visits with each other and he said I “owed it to the movement,” owed it to “the generations that came after” to paraphrase a poem by Bertolt Brecht to tell how an average patriotic guy from a sternly patriotic Cold War “my country, right or wrong” family, neighborhood, city got “religion” on the issues of war and peace, and had kept the faith ever since despite having to swallow some sad truths like that I had fought on the wrong side of history in that fight, that whatever happened later the fight was for the Vietnamese people to figure out without the mightiest military power in the known world and in known history raining hell and damnation on those benighted people.

See Sam, a guy who didn’t go to war, didn’t have to go to war, because his draft board (his “friends and neighbors”) in Carver, Massachusetts had exempted him on the very reasonable grounds that he was then the sole support of his mother and four younger sisters after his drunken sot of a father (Sam’s term) passed away of a massive heart attack in 1965 is very keen on his history these days, has been since the days when we got involved in those “red collective” study groups back after the May Day 1971 fiasco. He had read that the United for Justice and Peace (UJP) was hosting a series of events commemorating that fall of Saigon by taking a retrospective look at what the American anti-war movement in general did to aid that decisive event and how the various civilian and military resistance movements, you know stuff like Fritz Jasper did by refusing to go to Vietnam when under military orders to do so, did as well. So he dragged me to that series and then bugged me for a couple of months afterward to write something like a cautionary tale from a guy like me who was not a draft or military resister but who nevertheless got “religion” on the war issue and unlike guys from VVAW like the current Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry didn’t forget the lessons when the “main chance” came along and he, Kerry, abandoned every decent instinct he ever had.      

So here goes. But like I said I don’t want to, maybe can’t tell war stories except maybe a little to show a point but no blood and gore stuff because all you need to know is 58,000 plus names on black marble down in Washington, D.C., hundreds of thousands injured with small physical wounds like mine or grievous ones like Johnny Jann from my platoon who lost both legs, mostly uncounted thousand with PTSD, a mass of unnumbered suicides, tons of guys who never made it back to the “real” world and wound up homeless living like Bruce Springsteen said like “brothers under the bridge,” Vietnam bombed back practically to the Stone Age maybe before if the Air Force generals had been totally unleashed, countless hamlets, villages, towns blown to smithereens, millions of luckless innocent people who didn’t bother a soul killed, almost as many “enemy” soldiers and “friendlies” too. Yeah, that is all you need to know.           

I remember commenting to Sam during the course of our conversations on the fact that no way, no way in hell, if it had not been for the explosive events of the 1960s, of the war and later a bunch of social issue questions, mainly third world liberation struggles internationally and the black liberation question at home we would not even be having the conversations we were having, not the two of us anyway, talking stuff about the virtues of the “enemy” which would have been treason talk if not legally then emotionally (both of also as we rattled on chuckling a little at using the old time terms, especially the use of “struggle” and “question,” for example the  black, gay, woman questions since lately we have noticed that younger activists no longer spoke in such terms but used more ephemeral “white privilege,” “patriarchy,”  “gender” terms reflecting the identity politics that have been in fashion for a long time, since the ebb flow of the 1960s). 

I (and Sam too) had imbibed all the standard identifiable working-class prejudices against reds, some of those prejudices more widespread than among the working class among the general population of the times, you know, like the big red scare Cold War “your mommy is a commie, turn her in,” “the Russians are coming get under the desk and hold onto your head,” anybody to the left of Grandpa Ike, maybe even him, nothing but communist dupes of Joe Stalin and his progeny who pulled the strings from Moscow and made everybody jumpy; against blacks (I had stood there right next to my father, Ralph, Sr., when he led the physical opposition to blacks moving into the Tappan Street section of town and had nothing, along with my corner boys at Van Patten’s Drugstore, but the “n” word to call black people, sometimes to their faces. Sam’s father was not much better, a southerner from hillbilly country down in Appalachia who had been stationed in Hingham no too far from Carver at the end of World War II and stayed, who never could until his dying breathe call blacks anything but the “n” word); against gays and lesbians (me and my boys mercilessly fag and dyke baiting them whenever the guys and I went to Saratoga Springs where those “creeps” spent their summers doing whatever nasty things they did to each other and Sam likewise down in Provincetown with his boys, he helping, beating up some poor guy in a back alley after one of his boys had made a fake pass at the guy, Jesus; against uppity women, servile, domestic child-producing women like our good old mothers and sisters and wanna-bes were okay as were “easy” girls ready to toot our whistles, attitudes which we had only gotten beaten out of us when we ran into our respective future wives (and me with Joyell too but don’t mention that to my wife Laura since all these years later she see red when I mention her name in any content) who had both been influenced by the women’s liberation movement although truth to tell they were not especially political, but rather artistic types.  Native Americans didn’t even rate a nod since they were not on the radar, were written off in any case as fodder for cowboys and soldiers in blue. But mainly we had been red, white and blue American patriotic guys who really did have ice picks in our eyes for anybody who thought they would like to tread on old Uncle Sam (who had been “invented” around my way, my Troy hometown way).      

See I, Sam too for that matter, had joined the anti-war movement for personal reasons at first which had to do a lot with ending the war in Vietnam and not a lot about “changing the whole freaking world” (Sam’s term). Like I said my story was a little bit amazing that way, since I had served in the military, served in the Army, in Vietnam. But like I already told you in 1967, 1968 what Uncle needed, desperately needed as General Westmoreland called for more troops, was more “grunts” to flush out Charlie and so I wound up with a unit in the Central Highlands, up in the bush trying to kill every commie I could get my hands on just like the General wanted.  

After I got out I worked in my father’s high precision electrical shop for a while to make some dough and head west, head somewhere not stinking nowhere Troy, not the woe begotten North Country. One day in 1970 I was taking a high compression motor to Albany to a customer and had parked the shop truck on Van Dyke Street near Russell Sage College. Coming down the line, silent, silent as the grave I thought later, were a ragtag bunch of guys in mismatched (on purpose I found out later) military uniforms carrying individual signs but with a big banner in front calling for “Immediate Withdrawal From Vietnam” in big black letters and signing the banner with the name of the organization in red-Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). That was all, and all that was needed. Nobody on those still patriotic, mostly government worker, streets called them commies or anything like that but you could tell some guys in white collars and ties who had never come close to a gun, except maybe to kill animals or something defenseless really wanted to. One veteran as they came nearer to me shouted out for any veterans to join them, to tell the world what they knew first-hand about what was going on in Vietnam. Yeah, that shout-out was all I needed, all I needed to join my “band of brothers.”                                

Let me tell you thought how Sam and I met in Washington on May Day 1971 because that will explain a lot of why I am writing this thing that almost half a century later still hurts my brain. I remember that I had first noticed that Sam was wearing a VVAW supporter button when I saw him on the football field at RFK Stadium and I had asked if he had been in ‘Nam. Sam, a little sheepishly, explained that he had been exempted from military duty since he was the sole support for his mother and four younger sisters after his father had passed away of a massive heart attack in 1965. (He had also said he had gone to work in Mister Snyder’s print shop where he had learned enough about the printing business to later open his own shop which he kept afloat somehow during the late 1960s with his high school friend Jack Callahan’s help and which became Sam’s career after he settled down when the 1960s ebbed and people started heading back to “normal” in the mid-1970s)

Oh yeah the reason we were in RFK was not for a football game, the NFL Washington Redskins did not play that game in May, but because we both respectively had been arrested along with thousands of others in a massive civil disobedience action that I will tell more about in a minute. Sam told me, since we had plenty of time to talk, the reason that he had joined the anti-war movement after years of relative indifference since he was not involved in the war effort had been that his closest high school friend, Jeff Mullins, had been blown away in the Central Highlands and that had made him question what was going on. Jeff, who like us had been as red, white and blue as any guy, had written Sam when he was in Vietnam that he thought that the place, the situation that he found himself in was more than he bargained for, and that if he didn’t make it back for Sam to tell people, everybody he could what was really going on. Then with just a few months to go Jeff was blown away near some village that Sam could not spell or pronounce correctly even all these many years later. Jeff had not only been Sam’s best friend but he said was as straight a guy as you could meet, and had gotten Sam out of more than a few scrapes, a few illegal scrapes that could have got him before some judge. So that was how Sam got “religion,” not through some intellectual or rational argument about the theories of war, just wars or “your country right or wrong” wars, but because his friend had been blown away, blown away for no good reason as far as that went.  

May Day 1971 was a watershed for both of us, both of us before May Day having sensed that more drastic action was necessary to “tame the American imperial monster” (Sam’s term picked up from The Real Paper, an alternative newspaper he had picked up at a street newsstand in Cambridge) and had come away from that experience, that disaster, with the understanding that even to end the war would take much more, and many more people, than they had previously expected. I, in particular, had been carried away with the notion that what I and my fellow veterans who were going to try to symbolically close down the Pentagon were doing as veterans would cause the government pause, would make them think twice about any retaliation to guys who had served and seen it all. I got “smart” on that one fast when the National Guard which was defending the Pentagon, or part of it that day, treated us like any Chicago cops at the Democratic Party Convention in 1968, treated us like cops did to any SDS-ers anywhere, and treated us just like anybody else who raised their voices against governmental policy in the streets.

I told Sam while were in captivity that I had been working in my father’s shop for a while but our relationship was icy (and would be for a long time after that although in 1991 when Ralph, Senior retired I took over the business). I would take part in whatever actions I could around the area (and down in New York City a couple of times when they called for re-enforcements to make a big splash).

I had, like I said, joined with a group of VVAW-ers and supporters for that action down in Washington, D.C. See the idea, which would sound kind of strange today in a different time when there is very little overt anti-war activity against the current crop of endless wars but also shows how desperate we were to end that damn war, was to on May Day shut down the government if it did not shut down the war. Our group’s task, as part of the bigger scheme, since we were to form up as a total veterans and supporters contingent was to symbolically shut down the Pentagon. Wild right, but see the figuring was that they, the government, would not dare to arrest vets and we figured (“we” meaning all those who planned the events and went along with the plan) the government would not treat it like the big civilian action at the Pentagon in 1967 which Norman Mailer won a literary prize writing a book about, Armies of the Night. Silly us. 

Sam and I after the fall-out from May Day were thus searching for a better way to handle things, a better way to make an impact because those few days of detention in D.C. that we had jointly suffered not only started what would be a lifelong personal friendship but an on-going conversation between us over the next several years about how to bring about the greater social change we sensed was needed before one could even think about stopping wars and stuff like that. (The story, in short, of how we got out of RFK after a few days was pretty straight forward. Since law enforcement was so strapped that week somebody had noticed and passed the word along that some of the side exits in the stadium were not guarded and so we had just walked out. And got out of town fast, very fast, hitchhiking back north to Carver first, and me later going back to Troy).

Hence the push by Sam toward the study groups led by “red collectives” that were sprouting up then peopled by others who had the same kind of questions. Collectives  which we would join, unjoin and work with, or not work with over the next few years before both of us sensed the tide of the rolling 1960s had ebbed. 

Old time high school thoughts even with the cross-fire hells of burned down Vietnam villages melted into the back of his brain crossed my mind when I first thought of Marx, Lenin (I, we, were not familiar with Trotsky except he had “bought it” down in Mexico with an icepick from some assassin), Joe Stalin, Red Square, Moscow and commie dupes. Sam had not been far behind in his own youthful prejudices as he told me one night after a class and we were tossing down a few at Jack’s in Cambridge before heading home to the commune where Sam was staying. That was the summer of 1972, the year I broke from my father’s business and spent the summer in Cambridge, the summer I first met Joyell, her waving in the breeze NLF flag and her jet black hair and pale blue eyes.  

I had gone out of my way to note in a blog entry for Fritz Jasper’s New York VFP chapter that before I got “religion” on the anti-war and later social justice issues I had held as many anti-communist prejudices as anybody else in Troy, New York, not excluding my rabidly right-wing father who never really believed until his dying days in 2005 that the United States had lost the war in Vietnam. I had realized that all the propaganda he had been fed was like the wind and my realization of that had made me a very angry young man from the time I got out of the Army onward. I tried to talk to my father about it but Ralph, Senior was hung up by a combination “good war, World War II, his war where America saved international civilization from the Nazis and Nips (my father’s term since he fought in the Pacific with the Marines) and “my country, right or wrong.” All Ralph, Senior really wanted me to do ever was to get back to the shop and help him fill those goddam GE defense contract orders. And like I said I did it, for a while.

I had also in that blog entry expressed my feelings of trepidation when after a lot of things went south on the social justice front with damn little to show for all the arrests, deaths, and social cataclysm when me and Sam had gotten into a latter study group in Cambridge run by a “Red October Collective.” That group focused on studying “Che” Guevara and the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky after an earlier introduction to the Marxist classics. Sam was constantly trying to figure out why we were spinning our wheels trying to change the world for the better just then and to think about new strategies and tactics for the next big break-out of social activism so he would drag me along half-kicking and screaming. At the end of each meeting we would sing the Internationale before the group broke up. At first I had a hard time with the idea of singing a “commie” song (I didn’t put it that way but I might as well have according to Sam) unlike something like John Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance, songs like that. As I, we got immersed in the group I lightened up and would sing along if not with gusto then without a snicker.

That same apprehensive attitude had prevailed when after about three meetings we began to study what the group leader, Jeremy, called classic Marxism strategy, the line from Marx and Engels to Lenin and the Bolsheviks. A couple of the early classes had dealt with the American Civil War and its relationship to the class struggle in America, and Marx’s views on what was happening, why it was necessary for all progressives to side with the North and the end of slavery, and why despite his personal flaws and attitudes toward blacks Abraham Lincoln was a figure to admire. All of which neither of us knew much about except the battles and military leaders in American History classes.

What caused the most fears and consternation for me was the need for revolution worked out in practice during the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917. I could see that it was necessary in Russia during those times but America in the 1970s was a different question, not to speak of the beating that we had taken for being “uppity” in the streets in Washington, D.C. in 1971 when we were not thinking thought one about revolution (maybe others had such ideas but if so they kept them to themselves) and the state came crashing down on us anyway.    

At the beginning in any case, and that might have affected my ultimate decision, some of my old habits kind of held me back, you know the anti-red stuff, Cold War enemy stuff, just like at first I had had trouble despite all I knew about Vietnam, what it had to meant to me and my buddies, that the other side had the better argument in history calling for victory to the Viet Cong.  But I got over it, got in the swing, mostly. Joyell and her energy helped a lot then too. And I still think that was the right outcome. Enough said.   

The Marxism did not come easy, the theory part, maybe for me a little more than Sam who had taken junior college night classes to bolster the small print shop he had built from nothing after Mister Snyder moved his operation to Quincy to be nearer his main client, State Street Bank and Trust (although for long periods his old Carver friend, Jack Callahan, managed the place when Sam was off on his, our anti-war campaigns). We got that the working-class, our class, should rule and be done with inequalities of all kinds but the idea of a revolution, or more importantly, a working class party which was on everybody’s mind in those days to lead that revolution seemed, well, utopian. The economic theory behind Marxism, that impossible to read Das Capital and historical materialism as a philosophy were books sealed with seven seals for us both. Nevertheless for a few years, say until 1975, 1976 when the tide really had ebbed for anybody who wanted to see we hung around with the local “reds,” mostly those interested in third world liberation struggles and political prisoner defense work.

Those were really our earnest “socialist years” although if you had asked us for a model of what our socialism looked like we probably would have pointed to Cuba which seemed fresher than the stodgy old Soviet Union with their Brezhnev bureaucrats. Yeah, those were heady times, we made a ton of mistakes but one that we didn’t make was having silent thrills in our hearts when the DNV/NLF troops came swooping down on Saigon April of 1975. Even if I gave the slightest pause at first hearing.   

Vietnam War: Reflections, Resistance and Implications
When: Monday, June 29, 2015, 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Where: encuentro 5 • 9 Hamilton Place • suite 2A • Boston

Remembering the Vietnam antiwar movement on the 40th anniversary of the end of the war


Film: "Only the Beginning: Operation Dewey Canyon 2" (Vietnam Vets throw away their medals, 1971)
Talk: "From Warrior to Peace Activist" by Pat Scanlon, Veterans for Peace
Talk: "Behind the scenes: a participant's view of the movement to Bring the Troops Now" by Marilyn Levin, United for Justice with Peace
Slide show: "Vietnam Today" by Duncan McFarland, United for Justice with Peace
2015 is the year antiwar activists are commemorating the 50th anniversay of the first antiwar teach-ins and national protests in 1965.  The Pentagon is also remembering the war with a well-funded project to sanitize the history and erase the atrocities and resistance -- funded with your tax dollars!  It's important to remember the true history.  After the program, the audience is invited to offer their personal reflections on the 1960s.
Sponsored by United for Justice with Peace and cosponsored by Veterans for Peace.

Why Communists Do Not Celebrate July 4th- A Guest Commentary

Why Communists Do Not Celebrate July 4th- A Guest Commentary


Guest Commentary:


"Why We Don't Celebrate July 4-Marxism and the "Spirit Of '76"- Workers Vanguard, Number 116, July 2, 1976


The burned-out tenements of America's decaying slums are plastered with red, white and blue posters celebrating a 200-year-old revolution. From factory bulletin boards and the walls of unemployment offices, patriotic displays urge American working people to join with Gerald Ford and the butchers of Vietnam in commemorating the "Spirit of '76." Class-conscious workers and militant blacks, like the colonial masses ground down under the economic and military heel of arrogant American imperialism, must recoil in revulsion from the U.S. bourgeoisie's hypocritical pieties about "liberty."

The Fourth of July is not our holiday. But the chauvinist ballyhoo of the "People's Bicentennial" does not negate the need for a serious Marxist appreciation of colonial America's war of independence against monarchical/ mercantilist England. Marxists have always stressed the powerful impact of the classic bourgeois-democratic revolutions in breaking feudal-aristocratic barriers to historical progress.

In appealing for support for the Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin in his Letter to American Workers (1918) wrote:


"The history of modern, civilized America opened with one of those really great, really liberating, really revolutionary wars of which there have been so few compared to the vast number of wars of conquest which, like the present imperialist war, were caused by squabbles among kings, landowners or capitalists over the division of usurped land or ill-gotten gains. That was the war the American people waged against the British robbers who oppressed America and held her in colonial slavery. "

It is also legitimate for revolutionaries to appeal to the most radical-democratic traditions of the great bourgeois revolutions. Yet the fact remains that the Fourth of July is a fundamentally chauvinist holiday, a celebration of national greatness. In no sense does it commemorate a popular uprising against an oppressive system, or even pay tribute to democratic principles and individual freedom. Attempts to lend the Fourth of July a populist coloration (or the Communist Party's popular-front period slogan that "Communism is 20th century Americanism") only express the capitulation of various fake-socialists to the democratic pretensions of American imperialism.


But neither can the traditions of 1776 justly be claimed by the imperialist bourgeoisie. Compared to the leadership of the colonial independence struggle, the present American capitalist class is absolutely degenerate. One has only to think of Franklin or Jefferson, among the intellectual giants of their time, and then consider Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter. The twentieth-century United States is the gendarme of world reaction, the backer of every torture-chamber regime from Santiago to Tehran.


The "founding fathers" would have been revolted by the men who today represent their class. The degeneration of the American bourgeoisie is appropriate to the passing of its progressive mission. The attitude toward religion is a good indicator. Virtually none of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were orthodox Christians; they held a rationalist attitude toward the concept of god. Jefferson would have walked out in protest at today's prayer-intoning presidential inaugurations.


The America of 1976 is the contemporary analogue of the tsarist Russia which the "founding fathers" held in contempt as the bastion of world reaction—the tsarist Russia against whose tyranny Lenin and the Bolsheviks organized the proletariat. It is to the world working class that the liberating mission now falls.


Was the War of Independence a Social Revolution?


Like the Fourth of July, Bastille Day in France is an official, patriotic holiday, replete with military marches and chauvinist speeches. Yet the events Bastille Day commemorates retain a certain revolutionary significance to this day. The French people's understanding of 1789 is as a violent overthrow by the masses of an oppressive ruling class. The French imperialist bourgeoisie's efforts to purge the French revolution of present-day revolutionary significance have not succeeded. A Charles De Gaulle or a Valery Giscard d'Estaing cannot embrace Robespierre or Marat, for the latter stand too close to the primitive communist Gracchus Babeuf, who considered himself a true Jacobin.


The American war of independence was also a classic bourgeois-democratic revolution, but it was not really a social revolution which overthrew the existing ruling class. The British loyalists were largely concentrated in the propertied classes and governing elite. However pro-independence forces among the planters and merchants were strong enough to prevent any significant class polarization during the war.


The English and French bourgeois-democratic revolutions had to destroy an entrenched aristocratic order. That destruction required a radical, plebeian terrorist phase associated with the figures of Cromwell and Robespierre. For the American colonies, winning independence from England did not require a regime based on plebeian terror. The war of independence did not produce a Cromwell or a Robespierre because it did not need one. Nor did it give rise to radical egalitarian groups like the Levellers and Diggers, or the Enrages and Babouvists. It never remotely threatened the wealthiest, most conservative planters and merchants who supported secession from Britain.

The consolidation of bourgeois rule in the Puritan and French revolutions required a political counterrevolution in which the Cromwellians and Jacobins were overthrown, persecuted and vilified. The radical opposition which sprung up in resistance to this counterrevolution became part—through the Babouvists in France—of the revolutionary tradition which Marx embraced.


Because the American war of independence did not experience a plebeian terrorist phase, neither did it experience a conservative bourgeois counterrevolution. The leaders of the independence struggle went on to found and govern the republic; greatly venerated, they died of old age.


The men who met in Philadelphia's Convention Hall 200 years ago realized their aims more satisfactorily than any other similarly placed, insurrectionary group in history. This achievement does not bespeak their greatness, but the limited, essentially conservative nature of their goals. The legitimization of black chattel slavery in the Constitution, without significant opposition, demonstrates the bourgeois conservatism of the leaders of the American Revolution. The "founding fathers" had no children who could claim that the principles of 1776 had been betrayed in the interests of the rich and powerful. The era of the war of independence did not give rise to a living revolutionary tradition.


John Brown's Body


There is a social revolution in American history which troubles the imperialist bourgeoisie to this day. It did not begin in 1776, but in the anti-slavery confrontations. The issue rose by the civil war and particularly the period of Radical Reconstruction—the intimate relationship between capitalism in America and racial oppression—awaits its fundamental resolution in future revolutionary struggle. The wasn't-it-tragic attitude of the bourgeoisie to the civil war era contrasts sharply with their celebratory attitude toward the war of independence. The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, unlike the Declaration of Independence, will never be a holiday in racist, imperialist America.


It is in the civil war era that there are parallels with the plebeian component of the French Revolution. The contemporary bourgeois treatment of John Brown resembles the French ruling class attitude toward Robespierre. They cannot disown the anti-slavery cause outright, but they condemn John Brown for his fanatical commitment and violent methods. The Reconstruction era of 1867-1877 is the only period in U.S. history which the present ruling class rejects an un-American extremism. Two important films, D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation and the later Gone With the Wind, are outright apologies for white supremacist terror against the only radical-democratic governments this country has ever experienced. The Compromise of 1877, when the black freedmen were abandoned to the merciless regimes of the ex-slaveholders, was the American bourgeois-democratic revolution betrayed. And the reversal of that historic betrayal awaits the victory of American communism.


Because of the American revolution's limited social mobilization, those whose principles ultimately clashed with bourgeois rule—the likes of Tom Paine and Sam Adams—were easily disposed of. The radical abolitionists—John Brown, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass— are the only figures in American history before the emergence of the workers movement whose commitment to democratic principles actually threatened bourgeois rule. For the same reason that the present-day bourgeoisie denounces John Brown as a dangerous extremist, we communists can claim the radical abolitionists as ours. Only a victorious American socialist revolution can give to the heroes and martyrs of Harper's Ferry and the "underground railway" the honor that is their historic right.