2015 VFP National Convention Report by Jack Doxey

By SDVFP Member Jack Doxey on August 11, 2015
Veterans for Peace National Convention
San Diego, California
August 5th to August 9th, 2015

Many of our members came from all over the country to attend our national convention in the beautiful city of San Diego. If you arrived at night you couldn’t help but notice the magnificent skyline and glistening lights that makes San Diego such a extraordinary city. However the city got considerably brighter by the presence of approximatley 400 members that carried into our town a message of “Peace and Reconciliation in the Pacific”.

We were honored to have Anthony Pico officially open our convention on Thursday morning with a cleansing ceremony. Anthony served his people for 26 years as chief of the Kumeyaay Indians. The balance of the convention was filled with keynote speakers who provided us with valuable information and inspiration to carry our message beyond the walls of the convention. Congresswoman Susan Davis, Ray McGovern, Phyllis Bennis, Marjorie Cohn and Dylan Ratigan are just a sampling of the talent that unselfishly contributed to the success of each day.

The Saturday night banquet was a gala event and our keynote speaker Seymour Hersh praised the Veterans for Peace for their unrelenting work of promoting peace and encouraged us to never to give up the good fight.

We would be remiss not to mention our recently restored ketch, the “Golden Rule” which sailed into San Diego harbor and in the process completed its new maiden voyage. The Golden Rule is all about “One boat, one mission and one incredible story.” Her original mission to abolish war and stop the testing of nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands still holds true today.

We closed our convention by going offsite to the campus of USD, Joan Kroc Center. The title of the event was: Peace and Reconciliation. After hosting a panel discussion, we all retreated to the beautiful garden area and conducted a bowl burning ceremony which symbolized the leaving behind of past hurts and moving towards a positive future reflecting peace and harmony amongst all people and countries.

A special thanks goes out to our chairperson, Gary Butterfield, from the San Diego host chapter who tirelessly worked to make the convention a success. And yes, from all accounts it was a big success.

Jack Doxey
San Diego Chapter member

VFP Convention 2015: A Reflection

VFP Convention 2015: A Reflection
By Michael Bassett

I am grateful to Veterans For Peace (VFP) for the life-changing experience they gave me at the VFP 30th Annual Convention recently held in San Diego, CA., and for honoring me with an invitation to speak before the Korea Peace Campaign about projects I’ve done on the Korean Peninsula – or as I call it “the worlds most advanced propaganda war.”

On my arrival, a Vietnam veteran was reciting his smell-of-war poem “Piss, Shit, and Blood.” A few more Vietnam veterans followed; a female vet spoke of rape by superiors, and a former officer spoke on the suicide of his brother that couldn’t “get over” the war to the satisfaction of his father.

A former British SAS soldier who fought in Afghanistan sat in the front row next to an Iraqi Freedom double-amputee, and a WWII D-day survivor. The SAS soldier disobeyed gag orders against sharing things he’d seen and done. Threatened with punishment, he went on to denounce his Oath of Allegiance, returned his medals to the British Empire, and shared his stories with the world regardless.

The veterans’ poems painfully resurrected memories of: people burying people alive, and children with missing limbs; destroyed villages and mass migration; crimes against humanity and global instability – corporate and political greed that fueled it all. War is cruel and inhumane. The lies that stab America’s jingoistic instruments of democracy into the global psyche are largely and manipulatively ignored, but these veterans came to expose them.

As they uprooted the truths of war from their souls, a healing process began in mine; followed by an overflow of tears.

Like others there, at some point I too found myself overseas, charging the “liberating instrument” of war forward into foreign societies, until one day I did it so many times that I learned to see the world through the eyes of my enemy. It took years for me to cope with the cognitive dissonance that ensued, and many more to make sense of it. Admittedly, at some point I diverged from brainwashing enough to have sympathy for my enemies.

At first it felt unpatriotic to care about the enemy’s point of view, but the longer I suppressed it, the more frequent the hauntings came. I realized at the convention that the most patriotic thing a veteran can do is – on our return home – to share what we’ve seen, and then oppose, undermine, and reject the war machine on every front. We must dis-incentivize war and greed in order to create a permanent and lasting, peaceful coexistence.

Indeed, VFP members maintain a united front on that objective, and view ‘the necessity of our mission’ with a survival mentality. VFP members shared with me their peace-waging efforts, which were nothing short of heroic and awe-inspiring.

At dinner I met a double-amputee who – contrary to my first assumption – lost his legs (and a frontal lobe), not in Vietnam, but in an act of bravery and resistance against the war machine — when he laid on tracks to block a train en route to South America and filled with weapons to support the Contra Wars. He called ‘war’ a “war crime,” yet the government he very honorably served had labeled him a domestic terrorist for opposing the acts he’d learned were evil by witnessing them first-hand in service to his country.

But as I came to find out, none of these veterans fit the “domestic terrorist” mold. They highlighted the importance of sharing stories, peaceful protest, and non-violent civil disobedience as their strategy to ending our addiction to war. And VFP members (as I learned) make global contributions beyond peace activism. A group based out of Vietnam conducts chemical and munitions cleanups, and another group builds homes (free-of-charge) in disaster area’s, and in the remains of conflict zones.

The following days of speeches, seminars, forums, and panel discussions were delivered by vets who were highly-educated and respected members of their communities. They were doctors, lawyers, professors, CEO’s, politicians – and all shades of retired government officials ranging from CIA officers to diplomats.

In their midst I felt a level of inspiration missing since my days in uniform. And I gained what felt like a long-lost family. My heart was truly touched by their war stories and peace activism. VFP members are living proof that small groups can have noticeable, positive impacts on the world.

The 2015 Convention theme was “Peace and Reconciliation in the Pacific.” Appropriately, the convention fell on the anniversaries of the nuking of Hiroshima (06.08.1945) and Nagasaki (09.08.1945), and the division of the Korean Peninsula (10.08.1945). As we know, the Korean War is the final remnant of WWII, yet there hasn’t been peace and reconciliation in Asia despite the “end of the Cold War.”

Everything we discussed of the unending Pacific wars can be symbolically represented with one picture – an image of two USN officers and a beautiful woman eating a “Mushroom Cloud” cake just a few months later.

It is almost as if the United States has revised history and brainwashed Americans to such thorough extent that in our national psyche, the suffering of Asia is lost for basking in our successes fighting the “Great War” in Europe (a topic of discussion for another time).

It is time for America to remember traumas of the Forgotten War in Korea; and dedicate ourselves on this 70th anniversary of the peninsula’s division to ending this perpetual crime against humanity that is the Korean War.

I now realize that my healing process – my own “re-humanization” – began the moment I first questioned war as an instrument of national policy. Thanks to VFP I know that to complete my therapy (and do my patriotic duty), I must commit myself to completely rejecting war as an option and lead by acting for peace.

Veterans For Peace President Barry Ladendorf on Ralph Nader Radio Hour

From Ralph Nader Radio Hour:

Ralph talks about the human and financial costs of war to Barry Ladendorf, the President of Veterans for Peace. And journalist, John R. MacArthur, tells us why President Obama would push for a bad “free trade” deal like the Trans Pacific Partnership. Plus Ralph answers more of your Facebook questions.

Listen now on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour website!

Agent Orange: Terrible Legacy of the Vietnam War

By Marjorie Cohn and Published on Truthout

Mai Giang Vu was exposed to Agent Orange while serving in the Army of South Vietnam from 1968 to 1974. He carried barrels of chemicals to spray in the jungle. His sons were born in 1974 and 1975. They were unable to walk or function normally. Their limbs gradually “curled up” and they could only crawl. By age 18, they were bedridden. One died at age 23; the other at age 25.

Nga Tran is a French Vietnamese woman who worked in Vietnam as a war correspondent. She was there when the US military began spraying chemical defoliants. A big cloud of the agent enveloped her. Shortly after her daughter was born, the child’s skin began shedding. She could not bear to have physical contact with anyone. The child never grew. She remained 6.6 pounds – her birth weight – until her death at the age of 17 months. Tran’s second daughter suffers from alpha thalassemia, a genetic blood disorder rarely seen in Asia. Tran saw a woman who gave birth to a “ball” with no human form. Many children are born without brains; others make inhuman sounds, Tran said. There are victims who have never stood up. They creep and barely lift their heads.

Rosemarie Hohn Mizo is the widow of George Mizo, who fought for the US Army in Vietnam in 1967. After he refused to serve a third tour, Mizo was court-martialed, spent two and a half years in prison and received a dishonorable discharge. Before his death from Agent Orange-related illnesses, Mizo helped found the Friendship Village where Vietnamese victims live in a supportive environment.

Dr. Jeanne Stellman, who wrote the seminal Agent Orange article in Nature, said, “This is the largest unstudied [unnatural] environmental disaster in the world.”

Dr. Jean Grassman, from Brooklyn College at the City University of New York, stated that dioxin (the active ingredient in Agent Orange) is a potent cellular disregulator that alters several pathways and disrupts many bodily systems. She said children are very sensitive to dioxin, and the intrauterine or postnatal exposure to dioxin may result in altered immune, neurobehavioral and hormonal functioning. Women pass their exposure to their children both in utero and through the excretion of dioxin in breast milk.

These were five of the 27 witnesses who testified at the International Peoples’ Tribunal of Conscience in Support of the Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange, which was held in Paris in 2009. I served as one of seven judges from three continents. We heard two days of testimony from Vietnamese and US victims of Agent Orange, witnesses and scientists, including the five witnesses cited above. We saw firsthand horribly disfigured individuals who had been exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

The panel of judges found the following:

  • From 1961 to 1971, the US military sprayed chemical products that contained large quantities of dioxin in order to defoliate the trees for military objectives.
  • The chemical products caused:
-direct damage to those exposed to dioxin, including cancers, skin disorders, liver damage, pulmonary and heart diseases, defects to reproductive capacity, and nervous disorders;
-indirect damage to the children of those exposed to dioxin, including severe physical deformities, mental and physical disabilities, diseases, and shortened life spans;
-damage to the land and forests, water supply, and communities of Vietnam, some of which may be permanent. This includes the extinction of animals that once inhabited the forests and jungles of Vietnam, disrupting communities that depended on them; and
-erosion and desertification that will change the environment, contributing to the warming of the planet and dislocation of crop and animal life. The damage to the environment of Vietnam is “ecocide.”

After examining the evidence, the panel determined that the US government and the chemical manufacturers knew that dioxin, one of the most dangerous chemicals known to humans, was present in one of the components of Agent Orange. Yet they continued to use it and in fact suppressed the 1965 Bionetics study that showed dioxin caused many birth defects in experimental animals. It was not until the results of that study were leaked that the use of Agent Orange was stopped.

The panel also concluded that the US war in Vietnam was an illegal war of aggression (crime against peace) against a country seeking national liberation, in violation of the United Nations Charter. It further decided that the use of dioxin was a war crime because it qualified as a poisoned weapon in violation of the Hague Convention and customary international law. Finally, the panel found that the use of dioxin was a crime against humanity, as it constituted an inhuman act perpetrated against a civilian population in connection with a crime against peace and war crimes.

Several international treaties provide the right to an effective remedy for violations of human rights law. They include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The United States has ratified all of them.

Moreover, in the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, the Nixon administration promised to contribute $3 billion for compensation and postwar reconstruction of Vietnam. That promise remains unfulfilled.

Although US veterans of the Vietnam War have received some compensation for Agent Orange-related illnesses, the Vietnamese people have never seen a dime. The US government has funded the cleanup of dioxin at the Danang airport, only one of the 28 “hot spots” still contaminated by dioxin.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) has introduced H.R. 2114, the Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2015. If enacted, the bill would lead to the cleanup of dioxin and arsenic contamination still present in Vietnam. It would also provide assistance to the public health system in Vietnam directed at the 3 million Vietnamese affected by Agent Orange. It would extend assistance to the affected children of male US veterans who suffer the same set of birth defects covered for the children of female veterans. It would lead to research on the extent of Agent Orange-related diseases in the Vietnamese-American community, and provide them with assistance. Finally, it would lead to laboratory and epidemiological research on the effects of Agent Orange.

Following the 2009 Paris tribunal, I participated in a delegation to Vietnam to present our findings to President Nguyen Minh Triet of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. I told the president that it struck me that even as US bombs were dropping on the Vietnamese people, they distinguished between the US government and the US people. The president responded, “We fought the forces of aggression but we always reserved our love for the people of America … because we knew they always supported us.”

Now, 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, we must support the Vietnamese people who continue to suffer some of the most horrific legacies of that war. Contact your representative and demand that he or she co-sponsor H.R. 2114.

By Marjorie Cohn and Published on Truthout

Who Was Hugh Thompson?

Historical excerpt

Hugh C. Thompson, Jr. (April 15, 1943 – January 6, 2006) was a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. He is chiefly known for his role in stopping the My Lai Massacre, during which he was flying a reconnaissance mission. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Thompson joined the US Navy in 1961 — then US Army in 1966 and trained as a helicopter pilot. He volunteered for the Aerial Scout Unit and assigned to Task Force Barker to fly over Vietnamese forests and try to draw enemy fire, to pinpoint the location of troops. Serving as one door-gunner, his Crew Chief was Sp4 Glenn Andreotta and his other door-gunner was Sp4 Lawrence Colburn, both of whom would later receive recognition for heroism for their role at My Lai, though Andreotta died three weeks after the event.


An American Hero

by Jack Doxey

Hugh Thompson Official Portrait
Hugh Thompson, Jr.

The story I am about to share with you took place in Vietnam over 47 years ago. I would venture to say that most Americans have never heard of Hugh Thompson but on March 16 1968 he put his life and his reputation on the line in order to save some innocent civilians from the ravages of war. The whole event has been shoved into the dustbin of history. It’s like it never happened. Our government and military have a memory that is “hard wired” to remove any nasty events like the massacre at My Lai.

May I humbly beseech our country, our government and every American citizen to never forget but rather “learn” from the events that unfolded 43 years ago at the tiny village of My Lai.

So here is the story:

It was March 16 1968, and things seemed peaceful. The weather couldn’t be any more beautiful. Hugh Thompson, a 24 year old Army helicopter pilot, serving in Vietnam, was thankful for the clear weather. He and his two man crew left their compound and headed for what they were told was a suspected North Vietnamese stronghold. As they arrived at the small village of My Lai, Thompson maneuvered his helicopter between two tree lines. His crew member, Larry Colburn said: “You could smell the jungle and see the fog rising up. It was, by all accounts, a beautiful day” We were flying low and could clearly see the villagers. As hard as we looked, we encountered not one Vietcong. The village was occupied by women, children and old men. It was Saturday morning and they were carrying empty containers and baskets. It was obvious that they were heading to the village market. It was an activity that was probably carried out, in the same fashion, by their ancestors for generations.”

Thompson decided to move out of the area and check another nearby village. Once again no enemy was encountered. They swung their helicopter around and headed back to the village of My Lai. They dropped below the tree line and were skimming across the jungle floor. They could clearly see the villagers but this time nobody was moving. They were all dead. Women, children, infants and old men and women were piled up like cord-wood in a long irrigation ditch. To the horror of Thompson and his two man crew, they were witnessing an American army platoon, lead by Lt. Calley, in the process of systematically murdering 400 to 500 innocent Vietnamese villagers.

Helicopter pilot CWO Hugh Thompson speaks with reporters at the Pentagon Dec. 4, 1969, after testifying before a board looking into the original investigation into the My Lai massacre in South Vietnam. The Army will award Thompson the prestigious Soldier's Medal for his efforts to save Vietnamese civilians during the massacre in a ceremony at Washington's Vietnam memorial on March 6, 1998. (AP Photo/File)
Helicopter pilot CWO Hugh Thompson speaks with reporters at the Pentagon Dec. 4, 1969, after testifying before a board looking into the original investigation into the My Lai massacre in South Vietnam. The Army will award Thompson the prestigious Soldier’s Medal for his efforts to save Vietnamese civilians during the massacre in a ceremony at Washington’s Vietnam memorial on March 6, 1998. (AP Photo/File)

Hugh Thompson landed his helicopter. He placed his two men between the soldiers and the ditch. He instructed his two crew members to open fire on their American comrades if they attempted to kill one more villager. Hugh Thompson went about convincing ten terrified villagers to come out of a small earthen bunker that they were hiding in. He also discovered an 8 year old boy in the ditch. He was alive and was clinging to his dead mother.

Thompson called for additional helicopter support and they transported these few remaining villagers to a hospital and saved their lives. Hugh Thompson personally brought the young 8 year old boy to the Quang Nhai Hospital which was run by catholic nuns. The mother superior met Thompson and only at that time did he release the young boy to the care of the nun.

Paula Bock, a journalist for the Pacific Northwest Magazine, who was reporting on this tragedy said: “When you are young, thousands of miles away from your home town, terrified and surrounded by all sort of craziness it is very easy to lose your moral compass.”

The unspeakable actions of these American soldiers are not to be condoned however they are, in my opinion, symptoms of a deeper problem that exists in our country.

The Soldiers Medal
The Soldiers Medal

Could the real problem be that our government has developed a bias for violence and war? This bias for violence has been systemically institutionalized into the thinking of many American citizens. Our government’s “Might Makes Right” mantra is constantly communicated in the newspapers, TV and in the war games that we allow our children to play. Yes, our government is creating more Lt. Calleys and more My Lai massacres.

So why are we surprised when young soldiers do things similar to what was experienced in the tiny town of My Lai? It’s because they have been exposed to violence throughout their entire life. Our country inexplicably draws itself to violence and war, much like a moth draws itself to a lit candle. Symptoms of this show up in some startling statistics. The United States currently has 760 military installations throughout the world and argues that it is not empire building. We have a military budget of more than 700 billion dollars per year. This is more than the combined spending of all industrialized nations throughout the world.

“I hate war” said Dwight D. Eisenhower, “as only a soldier who has lived it can, as only one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity”

If ever the citizens of the United States should be vigilant and question their government now is the time. Seeking the truth and speaking out when you believe your country is not taking the moral high ground is not an option it is a responsibility. Dissent, rather than being unpatriotic, is the highest form of patriotism.”

At this very moment the entire world is embarking on a period of major transition. The recent earthquake in Japan and the ensuing Tsunami should jolt us into the reality that all people and all nations exist, at best, on a very fragile planet and that we need to view all people and all nations as family and work together rather than against each other. Let the United States take the recent events as a wake-up call and as a nation, abolish war as an instrument of national policy.

Let us, as a nation, take the moral high ground. Let us turn to hope and not despair. Let us transition from war into peace. Let us, as a nation, rediscover our moral compass and once again let the rest of the world view our nation not as a problem but as a solution. Let us win the admiration from the world not because of our firepower but rather our “spiritual power.”

The Soldiers Medal Certificate
The Soldiers Medal Certificate

In the Media

Seattle Times: The Choices Made: Lessons Learned from My Lai on Drawing the Line
CBS News: An American Hero
Thompson’s Recollection of My Lai: and “…you can take these wings right now ’cause they’re only sewn on with thread.”
NPR:, May 22, 2004: “You did the right thing […] but don’t look for any rewards.” Interview with Thompson, regarding Specialist Joseph Darby, the Hero of Abu-Ghraib:

Books

The Forgotten Hero of My Lai: The Hugh Thompson Story
Four Hours in My Lai