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Calling all patriotic veterans

In April of 1971, over a thousand veterans of the War in Vietnam participated in a series of anti-war activities in Washington. They called it “Dewey Canyon III” – named after two military operations where American GIs made “limited incursions” into Laos. (Dewey Canyon I and Dewey Canyon II). Of course the mythology that the civilian and military leadership of the US presented to the public back home was that American forces confined themselves to fighting only in Vietnam rather than in Laos and Cambodia. This mythology was debunked throughout the war but the words “limited incursion” had resonance with the official descriptions coming from Pentagon spokespeople.

[For example, marines killed in Laos as part of Dewey Canyon I, were listed as being killed in Vietnam. For those who want details without having to read lots of official history, see the Wikipedia page at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Dewey_Canyon]

Vietnam Veterans against the war (VVAW) had been formed by a handful of anti-war Vietnam vets in 1967. But it wasn’t until 1971, that the majority of Americans heard of them. Their first major public activity was called the “Winter Soldier” hearings. For three days (Jan 31 – Feb 2, 1971) veterans of the Vietnam war met in Detroit and testified publicly to atrocities they either committed or witnessed and other aspects of their wartime experience. The term “winter soldier” was used to contrast with the “summer soldier and the sunshine patriot” who were excoriated by Tom Paine in his 1776 pamphlet The Crisis that began memorably with “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis shrink from the service of their country.”

[for the entire pamphlet, see https://www.ushistory.org/paine/crisis/c-01.htm]

The idea behind the title of the Detroit hearings were that these were “winter soldiers” who were refusing to shrink from telling America the hard honest truths about Vietnam – truths the brass and civilian leadership were trying to hide from the rest of us.

[There was a film made of the hearings available a https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0204058/]

The “winter soldier” hearings did not make much of an impact on the general public --- though they were well covered in the left-wing and underground press. So VVAW decided to go to Washington to engage in public protests. Dewey Canyon III was called a “limited incursion into the country of Congress.” It involved lobbying, sleeping in front of the Capitol (in defiance of orders to disburse) and testimony before Congress (including Navy veteran John Kerry’s famous line, “How to you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”).

[for Kerry’s entire testimony, see https://speakola.com/political/john-kerry-veterans-against-vietnam-war-testimony-1971]

Dewey Canyon III involved media events (interviews on national news shows like Meet the Press) as well. The days of demonstrations culminated when hundreds of veterans threw their medals and ribbons over a barrier onto the steps of the Capitol. This action was a way of saying that they refused to accept the “thanks” of the military and civilian leadership who had ordered them to participate in an immoral, unjust war that actually went against the true “national interest’ of the people of the United States – and certainly against the will of the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

In my opinion, the mass media coverage of the activities of these Vietnam Veterans was a major turning point for the movement trying to force our government to stop attempting to defeat the Vietnamese nationalists. (And yes, in Vietnam the nationalist movement was led by communists, and when the Vietnamese finally defeated the US-government-created so-called “government of South Vietnam” in 1975 they took control of all of Vietnam which has been ruled by a communist party ever since.)

[For an outstanding book of oral histories of Vietnam Veterans who turned against the war as well as a useful chronology of anti-war activities by Vietnam Veterans see Ron Carver, David Cartright and Barbara Doherty, Waging Peace in Vietnam (NY: New Village Press, 2019)

Why am I bringing this up today? Well, the veterans who organized against the war knew from first-hand experience the damage that war brought for the Vietnamese and for the American GIs --- AND for our society in general. They had the “chops” to force the rest of America to listen. (Though the Nixon Administration tried to muddy the waters by creating an astro-turf “veterans” organization called “Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace,” the ploy never worked!)

I bring up this history because it might give us clues as to how to deal with the existential dangers our country faces today. Today, the United States confronts much more serious dangers than the costs of fighting a long unwinnable war. The writing of Barton Gellman in the Atlantic sets out the dangers very starkly.

[See Barton Gellman, “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun, January 6 was practice. Donald Trump’s GOP is much better positioned to subvert the next election,” The Atlantic, December 6, 2021. The article is available online at https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/01/january-6-insurrection-trump-coup-2024-election/620843/]

Gellman’s article is not the only warning available but it gives a great summary of what the Trumpists have already accomplished. The Republicans are already putting structures in place that will permit them to take over our country and suppress the opposition. These developments involve the traditional means of “rigging” American politics --- voter suppression and gerrymandering. (And it’s not as if this is new and out of the blue. Gerrymandering long has been the tried-and-true method of politicians selecting their voters so that voters would no longer be able to select their representatives! And the destruction of the democratically elected Reconstruction governments in the South beginning in 1868 and ending in 1877 --- with the last gasp of black-white political unity defeated in a hail of bullets and murder in 1899 in Wilmington, North Carolina --- was a massively successful example of voter suppression. Those voters remained disenfranchised until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act --- a law that tragically, the Supreme Court has already gutted in Shelby County vs. Holder [for the decision, see https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-96_6k47.pdf])

Yes, gerrymandering and voter suppression are being used in the current Republican slowly moving coup, but there is a much more important set of actions going on. There are state legislatures in battleground states preparing the legal structure that will permit them to certify election results different from how the people voted. State legislatures are setting themselves up with the wherewithal to steal the next election.

Just as the arrival of activist Vietnam Veterans gave the anti-war movement a strong legitimacy with the general public, I think veterans dedicated to protecting American democracy from Trumpism (or whatever name seems most appropriate) -- have to come front and center. (I am old enough to want to call Trumpism “fascism” but maybe that term won’t resonate with most of the public. I think good political strategists will have to come up with a good pithy term to describe Trumpism.)

In this fight, veterans need to organize to defend our democratic structures. They will be essential to counter renegade veterans’ groups like the Oath Keepers.

[According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the “Oath Keepers” are an extreme right-wing alleged “militia” founded in 2009 claiming to be the “true defenders” of the US Constitution --- hence the title “oath keepers” referencing the oath one takes to “Defend and Protect the Constitution of the United States Against All Enemies Foreign and Domestic” when one joins the US military. They encourage law enforcement officers and military veterans to join and claim thousands of members all over the country. They also tell their members that decisions of today’s military and civilian leadership should be disobeyed because they are “destroying” the true United States. For details, see https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/oath-keepers. Here’s one quote from the founder of the Oath Keepers which was recorded on January 20, 2021: “Trump actually failed. … He had a duty and responsibility to step up. But he failed to do that and he allowed a ChiCom puppet [this is the crazy guy’s description of Biden!] into the White House and I think we now need to just declare that to be illegitimate and refuse to comply with anything that comes out of his mouth, anything he signs, anything passed as so-called legislation. Label it ‘pretend legislation’ like the Founding Fathers did.”]

16 members of the Oath Keepers have been arrested for actions during the January 6 insurrection. The government of the District of Columbia has sued the Oath Keepers for damages incurred at the January 6 insurrection. The hope is that organizations that helped plan the so-called stop the steal rally and were complicit in encouraging and participating in the violent insurrection that followed will be bankrupted by judgements against them.

I believe that unlike the situation when the VVAW people were going against the brass and civilian leadership of the military back in 1971, today’s veterans standing up for democracy and against the Trumpists would have the support of many flag officers who take their oaths of office seriously.

Remember General Milley’s intervention with the chain of command when he feared that Trump might try to provoke a national security crisis by starting a war. Though he had no legal authority to insist that all orders from Trump flow through him, Milley took it upon himself to intervene in order to defend the peaceful transfer of power. He was actually risking a Court Martial when he did that.

But in 2024, a Trump demanding to be declared the winner because of fake “voter fraud” claims would have allies in various state legislatures inclined to send alternative slates of electors to Congress in January of 2025. If the Republicans take control of even one house of Congress in the 2022 elections, that will set them up to accept the “alternative” slates of electors. If that happens, it may be curtains for America as we know it, and even a courageous General Milley would not be able to do a thing about it.

I propose that a self-selected group of very prominent veterans issue a CALL for national demonstrations as the "election season" heats up in 2022. These could be from members of VVAW which still exists, from members of the various Iraq and Afghanistan veterans’ groups, or from the organization VoteVets. Any vets willing to reach for the brass ring should loudly sound the alarm as modern-day Paul Reveres. “The Republicans are coming for your rights and our democracy!” Alternatively, veterans’ organizations might call for a national conference to strategize on the best ways to defend American democracy from Trump and his Trumpist enablers.

If VETS were to call for these demonstrations and/or conferences --- If vets would sign full page ads all over the country making the case that DEMOCRACY is under assault --- if these vets would say that they fought for the American way of life in uniform and say they now are called upon to fight for it here at home --- this could be a "game changer" as was Dewey Canyon III back in April of 1971....

The goal would be to stop the ability of Republican Trump enablers to take over the machinery of elections in the various states and to keep the Democrats in control of both the House and Senate. Lots of patriotic Republicans who created organizations like the Lincoln Project and proudly proclaim that they are “never Trumpers” have come to the conclusion that despite their potential policy differences with Democrats all “small ‘d’ democrats” must vote for “big ‘d’ democrats” in 2022 and 2024 and subsequently until Trumpism is totally defeated.

As a non-vet myself I can only make suggestions and hope that enough veterans see the raging five-alarm fire ahead and decide to organize to put it out.

I would send money, help raise money, and support in any way possible (including future commentaries) a potential Dewey Canyon IV.

Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author with Howard and Paul Sherman of the recently published second edition of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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