Editor’s Note: Tom Hayden is speaking on September 17 at Angell Hall, the site of the first Vietnam teach-in in 1965, on the lessons of Vietnam for Iraq. Excerpts of the speech are here, the full text is at the Democracy Journal online.
I am joining many peace groups around America in expressing opposition to the escalation of the Iraq War into a quagmire that is likely to be costly in lives, tax dollars and our tarnished reputation.
Ann Arbor is the place, along with Berkeley, where the young American peace movement demanded a teach-in, an end to campus business as usual, an end to intellectual conformity and congressional hearings as we confronted the growing horror of the Vietnam War.
There are many parallels between the wars of our youth and the latest one unfolding. Once again, we need to suspend the monotony of our everyday lives and ask the questions that need to be asked. We cannot trust “the best and brightest” to have the answers any more than students trusted their pedigreed elders fifty years ago.
We need congressional hearings, full debate and a vote on authorization of this unilateral war. In 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” was contrived and exploited to stampede our country into a hasty and irresponsible authorization. Onlyc two members of Congress had the good sense then to vote “no” on the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which permitted an open-ended bloodletting for more than a decade before the Congress finally helped put an end to it.
I would hope that the present Congress learns from the past to check and balance the war “fever” gripping Washington as described this week by The New York Times. I would hope that the Obama administration rereads history and thinks again before excluding the Congress and the American public from a war by executive fiat. Only a congressional debate will give legitimacy to the very real questions—and consideration of alternatives—that many Americans deserve to have addressed about this crisis. Whatever the outcome of a congressional vote, the dissent deserves to be aired, the hawks must be held accountable and the questioning must begin. No threat justifies the exclusion of Congress from its constitutional role, nor the American people from a voice in a decision that will take American lives and resources.
The Obama administration needs to take its case to the United Nations as well, since war is being planned against Syria, a sovereign state, and because diplomacy, beginning now, will be the only way this conflict will end.
During Vietnam, we were told that the “faceless Vietcong enemy” was disemboweling innocent villagers, slaughtering Catholics, kidnapping children and imposing a dictatorship through aggression against South Vietnam. What we were not told was that our government was intervening in a civil war that had been set in motion by the French colonialists who we replaced in trying to “save” South Vietnam. We were fighting against a communist-led army, yes, but one who represented national independence to most of the Vietnamese people.