San Diego Veterans For Peace Speak Out on War!

50 years ago, American boys, most under 20 years of age, committed unspeakable acts against a civilian hamlet in Vietnam. Over 500 women, children (yes! there were babies!) and old men were slaughtered by American soldiers. Civilian “collateral damage” is a tragic cost of any war; the My Lai massacre only exemplified it at a highly public level. The San Diego Chapter of Veterans For Peace is named after Hugh C. Thompson, the courageous US Army helicopter pilot who landed his chopper and, along with fellow crewmen, intervened against fellow American troops to end the carnage at My Lai. Thompson reported the “incident” up the chain of command but was met with indifference and ridicule by authorities.

50 years removed from My Lai, today we see American troops in over 120 countries, with US bases in over 80. Most of these troops in our “volunteer armed forces” are Whites, Blacks, and Latinos of limited economic means. They are the ones who risk their lives to further our endless series of wars. We are embroiled in multiple wars and conflicts, and the “Doomsday Clock” has just been advanced 30 seconds closer to midnight, due to escalating tensions over possible nuclear war. Drone warfare is commonplace with mounting civilian casualties, as American warriors in Nevada routinely target and kill in places around the globe. We see weapons of war – the AR-15 rifle, used by our teenagers against each other in high schools.

As citizens, we must draw connections between our foreign war policies of the past and those of today. We must see the links causing the violent war culture bleeding into our civilian lives. Absent the military draft most people do not see the true, total costs of war. Politicians continue to over-fund the Pentagon without any dissent and then reduce spending on programs that benefit our populace. If we fail to speak out, we are complicit in the wars our government conducts in our names.

The My Lai Memorial Exhibit, by allowing you to take part in the artistic process, honors the over two million Vietnamese civilians who died in what we call the “Vietnam War” but what will forever be known in Vietnam as the “American War”. This Memorial Exhibit offers 3 interactive opportunities to dialogue, build a sculptural collage and to share your artwork and comments. You will be able to participate in a strong, anti-war response to the Pentagon’s $63 million campaign to sanitize and to glorify this unnecessary, unjust and immoral military action. The Exhibit is suitable for high school age and above.

The 50th anniversary of the My Lai Massacre will be March 16, 2018 and the San Diego and Chicago Chapters of the Veterans For Peace, the San Diego Peace Resource Center, and the American Friends Service Committee invite you to the following events. These issues are as important today as they were 50 years ago!

Wednesday, March 14: World Beat Center, 2100 Park Blvd, SD 92101; Display open 2PM – 9PM
Speakers Program: 7:30 PM, Dennis Stout, Barry Ladendorf

Thursday, March 15: First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego, 4190 Front St, SD 92103
Display open Noon – 6 PM

Friday, March 16: First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego, Display open 2PM – 9 PM
Speakers: 7:30 PM, Dennis Stout, Marjorie Cohn, Barry Ladendorf

Saturday, March 17: SD Peace Resource Center, 3850 Westgate Pl, SD 92105;
Display open 12PM – 5 PM.
Speakers: 6:30 PM, Church of the Brethren, 3850 Westgate Pl., SD 92105
Fernando Suarez del Solar, Lori Saldaña, David Valladollid

•Marjorie Cohn, Attorney, Author, Legality of War Expert, Drone Warfare Expert;
•Fernando Suarez del Solar, Anti-War Advocate, lost son in Iraq War, Guerrero Azteca Founder;
•Barry Ladendorf, Naval Officer, Attorney, past President of Vets For Peace;
•Lori Saldaña, Peace Advocate, Was President Pro-Temp and on Veterans Committee of CA Assembly;
•Dennis Stout, Photographer, Vietnam Army veteran, offers personal testimony;
•David Valladollid, Purple Heart Vietnam Vet, CEO of Parent Institute for Quality Education, CA Student Aid Comte.

For more information please contact: Gary Butterfield, garyvfp@gmail.com

To view the My Lai Memorial webpage, go to: http://mylaimemorial.org

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

Christmas 1914 truces: a brief moment of sanity amidst industrialised slaughter

The text below is re-posted from our friends at Veterans For Peace UK.

 

As classic anti-war dance anthem All Together Now is re-released, Nick Megoran says why commemorating the 1914 Christmas truces is so important.

Britain seems to have gone truce-mad. This year’s Sainsbury’s Christmas TV advert is a hugely-expensive and carefully produced film about British and German soldiers sharing friendship and chocolate in December 1914. The Premier and Football Leagues, with the encouragement of Prince William, have been holding truces themed-matches and photoshoots.

The unofficial truces that spontaneously took place at Christmas 1914 were amongst the most poignant moments of World War 1. Up to 100,000 men the length of the western front found themselves singing the same carols which led to them meeting up, exchanging gifts, and burying their dead. Some stopped to worship or play football together.

‘It was an extraordinary and most wonderful sight,’ recorded 19 year-old Arthur Pelham-Burn, 6th Gordons, of a bilingual Christmas worship service held in no man’s land. ‘One has given me his address to write to him after the war,’ a soldier from Gateshead wrote home about a German he befreinded. ‘They were quite a decent lot of fellows, I can tell you… I am sure if it were left to the men there would be no war.’

Needless to say, it wasn’t left to the men. The high commands of all sides were enraged, and crushed the truces with orders backed by threats, and by replacing men on the front line by those ‘untainted’ with the truces.

The use of these truces by supermarkets and sports franchises has sparked outrage. Historian Neil Faulkner argues that ‘when big corporate organisations like the Premier League and Sainsbury’s talk about the Christmas Truce, they trivialise it. We should condemn their hypocrisy.’ Instead, Faulkner welcomed as ‘excellent news’ the re-release this week of classic pop song about the truces, All Together Now.

A host of music stars under the banner of ‘The Peace Collective have come together to re-record The Farm’s 1990 hit. Originally written by lead vocalist Peter Hooton and guitarist Steve Grimes, the song interprets the truces as a rejection of war – then and now. Going head-to-head with an X Factor creation for the Christmas number 1 slot, with proceeds going to the Red Cross rather than Simon Cowell, the re-release is surely something the peace movement should champion.

Not convinced

But not everyone is convinced. Activist [and VFP UK member. Ed.] Bruce Kent thinks that, ‘The 1914 Christmas Truce is getting a bit overplayed.’ He describes the truces commemorations as ‘Good heartwarming stuff,’ but complains that they leave out bigger questions such as why the war occurred, why there were relatively so few conscientious objectors, and why we are still pushing ahead with the Trident weapons replacement programme at a time of crippling national debt.

Kent has a point. Like the poet-soldiers often revered by the peace movement, the men who took part in the truces didn’t renounce war. However reluctantly, they were fighting again hours or days later, and 15 million people would perish before the mass slaughter was finally brought to a halt by strikes, mutinies, and US armed forces flooding into Europe.

Mark Perryman, of Philosophy Football, has similar concerns. He welcomes the re-release of the song as ‘Anything that celebrates the cause of peace rather than cheers for war has to be good,’ especially when ‘done in the spaces of popular culture rather than on planet placard.’ However he worries that in the process of being supported by the Premier League, ‘it seems to have lost that cutting edge,’ becoming ‘more a celebration than a questioning – and that’s a pity.’

So is All Together Now still radical after all these years?

All Together Now was born as anti-war song. Originally entitled ‘No Man’s Land’, its six verses described the outbreak of the truces, the political embarrassment they caused at home, and the high command’s efforts to crush them and prevent them recurring. When recording it in 1990 for the album Spartacus, four of the original verses were excised, and a chorus added based on Johann Pachelbel’s haunting Canon in D Major. A third verse, beginning ‘Same old story again / nothing learnt and nothing gained… let’s go home’ was added as a searing attack on the upcoming US-led war on Iraq. This was historically-informed, anti-war popular culture at its best: recalling a deeply subversive moment of the past to critically reflect on violence in the present.

Although an anti-war song, its very popularity as a dance anthem led to its radical political message being watered down. The low point of this was its 2006 re-recording by Atomic Kitten for the football World Cup. A computer-animated version featuring Goleo and Pille, the ‘official mascots’ of the corporate jamboree run by corrupt and unaccountable FIFA, removed all references to the First World War and the truces. Worse still, Atomic Kitten’s own video version entirely depoliticised the song, transforming it into a sordid eroticisation of the female body.

Political edge

The 2014 re-recording recaptures the original political edge: not only the name Peace Collective, but also its donation of profits to the Red Cross makes this intention clear. Peter Hooton explained that initially, ‘there was talk of doing it with the British Legion, but we wanted a non-political, humanitarian organisation doing work in conflict zones around the world to help victims of war. The Red Cross has a historic link to the First World War, helping all sides.’

Hooton is scathing of the Sainsbury’s advert. ‘The First World War was about market share – the rise of German industry. Sainsbury’s is worried about losing market share to German companies – Lidl and Aldi. It is ironic that the ad uses the Christmas truce in a sentimental way to protect market share against German companies today.’ The advert, he admits, ‘is brilliantly produced, but it doesn’t put anything in context.’ In contrast, as the opening words of the song insist, in thinking about the truces it is vital to ‘remember (boys) that your forefathers died/ lost in millions for their country’s pride.’

This is ultimately why commemorating the truces is so important – memory. The way we remember the past is not neutral, but informs how we understand the present. The military-political establishment has colonised so much of civilian space. Innumerable monuments in town and village centres, and countless plaques in hospitals, universities and churches, confuse sacrifice for slaughter and hide mass murder behind memorials.

There is nothing innocent about the government’s programme of funding or encouraging World War 1 commemorations, from local schools researching the names on war memorials to the ‘Tower of London Remembers’ poppy-fest. David Cameron indicated the political intent here when in 2012 he unveiled massive funding plans for the commemorations, saying he wanted ‘A commemoration that captures our national spirit in every corner of the country… like the Diamond Jubilee.’

Why remember

That’s why it is important to remember the truces, because – if only temporarily – ordinary men recognised their common humanity and implicitly rejected the nationalistic belligerence of their superiors. ‘We were cursing the generals to hell,’ wrote Sergeant George Ashurst of the Lancashire Fusiliers about the officers who restarted the fighting. He was infuriated that people in Britain were sanctimoniously condemning him and his comrades for fraternising: ‘…We want them here in front of us instead of Jerry so we could shoot them down,’ he stormed.

And that is also why the Christmas truces in particular are worth marking. In spite of the capture of the season by corporations producing drinks and toys, the basic Christian festival of Christmas contains images and messages that the military-political establishment find deeply unsettling.

Welcoming the release of the song, Dr John Heathershaw, a politics lecturer at Exeter University and a leader of Pinhoe Road Baptist Church, which is marking the truces this year, said, ‘The Christmas truces give us hope that the senseless violence that is perpetrated by all governments, including our own, can be ended if we recognise Christ’s call to love God and one another, not worship our nations.… Those who either valorise or sentimentalise war today do so in the vain hope that it makes us safe. Jesus told us that was nonsense and his birth, death and resurrection mean that our hope lies in living without violence.”

Likewise, Jill Segger, of progressive Christian think tank Ekklesia, said that All Together Now reminds us that the Christmas Truces ‘face us with uncomfortable facts – that officers on both sides had to force the men back to their guns, as high commands were terrified that fraternisation made them ‘more aware that [in the words of the WW1 socialist slogan] “A bayonet is a weapon with a working man at each end of it.” No wonder the military has found it hard to colonise Christmas.

We should commemorate the truces. They were a brief moment of sanity amidst the horrors of the industrialised slaughter of trench warfare, and enraged the elites who benefitted politically and financially from the war’s continuation.

If the schools, churches, and football teams in our locality have overlooked them, encourage them to mark them next year or at any other Christmas during the centennial commemorations. Free resources such as those created by the Martin Luther King Peace Committee make this easy. But The Farm’s original admonition in the song is vital: only do so if we are prepared to change the way we live now.

Ben Griffin, of Veterans for Peace, welcomes the re-release of the song and puts its challenge well: ‘It is important to remember the truces today only if we are willing to foster in the present the spirit of those who on Christmas Day 1914 put down their weapons and walked out to meet the enemy.’

So regardless of where you shop for your Christmas goodies, buy All Together Now and after a year marked by the sinister glorification of the war, this Christmas let’s really celebrate something worthwhile – peace. Even if that peace only lasted a few hours.

This article first appeared on the NO GLORY website.