Editor’s Note: The following is the text of a speech delivered to the Vietnam Peace Commemoration on May 1.
Who will tell our story when we are gone? So much was never remembered, and now the time is rapidly passing.
We need to resist the military occupation of our minds. Once-discredited falsehoods are being resurrected again. As one example, the recent acclaimed film Last Days of Vietnam depicts the Vietnam War as one of aggression from the North with a green dagger of invasion pointed to the South. That was the claim of the State Department's "white paper," which we debunked in 1965.
As other examples, the Pentagon's website trivializes the Pentagon Papers and revives the Phoenix assassination program, shut down in 1971, as misunderstood by the media. The United States was winning the war in the South, many still claim, when Congress and the peace movement pulled the plug. They cannot face the families of 58,000 Americans who died in a needless war, nor the invisible millions left dead in Indochina. Blaming the peace movement is the expedient escape from their responsibility. Or the war is said, with shrugs, to have been one big mistake with no one to blame at all.
The official history thus becomes a hecatomb burying our story of the war.
This is our last battle, our legacy to the next generation. We may all be gone by the fiftieth commemoration of the fall of Saigon ten years from now. The war makers could win on the battlefield of memory what they lost on the battlefields of war. We must not let that happen.
We need everyone in the peace movement to write their stories down in journals so that the story of the peace movement can be preserved as a living archive. That's how the stories of past social movements were recorded.
We need a new generation of historians to tell the story of the peace movement as a truly historic revolt which helped end the war, terminated the forced draft, toppled two American presidents, might have elected a president were it not for assassinations and shook our country to its foundations until the madness was ended.
Our peace movement had power and we need to summon that power again. We need to protest the continuing exclusion of our viewpoints from the forums of the powerful. We must be present at memorials ahead, from the first draft resistance to the first peace campaigns, from the GI revolts to the March on the Pentagon, from the killings at the Chicano Moratorium to Kent State and Jackson State, from the release of the Pentagon Papers to the fall of Richard Nixon.
We need a faithful commitment to remove the unexploded bombs and mines from Vietnam and fund the mission of preventing Agent Orange from dooming future generations to birth defects and disabilities.
We need to call out and ask for the resignations of those who have never apologized.
The disaster that began in Vietnam still continues as an ongoing conflict between empire and democracy. The cycle of war continues its familiar path, with memory its first casualty. The demonization of enemies. The fabricated pretexts. The casualties covered up. The costs hidden off budget. The lights always at the end of tunnels.
We need to assert ourselves in history again.
We sit in conference at the NY Presbyterian Church in Washington DC on May 1-2. Then we hold a solemn march of rededication, arriving at 5 pm May 2 at the Martin Luther King memorial. We will reclaim Dr. King as a peace and justice leader from those who tried to quiet him when he spoke against the war. We will remind people that a mule train from the Poor People's Campaign carried Dr. King's memory through the streets of Chicago in August 1968, just months after he was murdered. We will thank him at the Memorial on May 2 and pledge to defend his legacy.