Clear Actions Newsletter special edition: Honoring 30th Anniversary of nonviolent vet and activist S. Brian Willson’s ordeal

Memorial Day for me requires remembering ALL of the deaths and devastation of our wars, and it should remind all of us of the need to end the madness. If we want to end war, we must begin to directly address our out-of-control capitalist political economy that knows no limits to profits for a few at the expense of the many, including our soldiers.
— S. Brian Willson

About September 1, 2017….

At a time when the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick Series will examine the Vietnam War from many angles, we must still ask how do we avoid more devastation and the waste of blood and treasure on our planet. What have we learned? What not?

Clear Actions Newsletter offers this special edition, in honor of the 30th Anniversary of nonviolent vet and activist S. Brian Willson’s ordeal outside of Concord Naval Weapon’s Station, September 1st, 1987, while trying to block a weapons shipment leaving the base for Central America.

Whatever you make of Mr. Willson’s story, you will find a sincere and passionate person trying to grapple with his demons and those of his country, willing to face unpleasant truths and speak out, engage and create a new and more peaceful paradigm. Part of his story is the one we all hold dear: that none of our family members will have to go to war. Yes, some vets were treated badly when they returned. We all have to live with the trauma that inflicted on their already traumatized psyches. It is also likely that most of those protesting the war saw ordinary citizens caught between patriotism and unscrupulous leaders and wanted them home safe and sound.

In Willson’s story, you will find information the connects to Veterans who are most likely not represented in the Burns and Novick series. They are vets who believe in transformation and healing, and, yes, in having each other’s back.

*****

How do we, as US citizens, parse the fears of suicide bombers with our own culturally self-destructive engagement in violence, through racism; through a gun lobby that keeps our leaders from passing even minimal controls on who can own a gun; and through an economy based upon weapons production, the politics of extraction and warfare? These are questions that many have been sensitized to by, among other things, the Vietnam War. Veteran’s for Peace is an organization that began as part of that soul searching

One of the founders was Lt. S. Brian Willson, USAF. While many veterans have had to dig deep to come to terms with how our country uses its military might, and become part of an alternative brotherhood of Nam vets, there is likely not any one Nam Vet that has done more soul searching, study, travel, writing and speaking out about his reflections, convictions and personal beliefs regarding US militarism. When working as a Veteran’[s Outreach Coordinator in Greenfield, Massachusetts, he intervened in eighteen Nam vet suicide attempts. He is willing to go into the dark places and dig deep for what he calls “at-one-ment”. He has sought, and possibly achieved, much inner resolution of trauma and cultural transformation.

The Burns-Novick series on Vietnam is likely to uncover many unresolved questions and unhealed feelings about our country and our relationships to each other and to other countries, at a time when the US is not being perceived as a force for intelligent and diplomatic leadership on the world stage.

Are we flexible enough to recognize past mistakes, unsustainable approaches, and moral failings? What are they? How can we right the course?

There were warning signs in the 1960’s, such as this one:

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.

 

 

 

There were signs in the 80’s before the Gulf and the Iraq Wars:

 

There were people from all faiths, nationalities and all walks of life then, as there are now, who prayed and maintained a 24-hour presence outside Concord Naval Weapons Station during the Nuremberg Actions Vigil from 1987 to 1995. There were 2500 arrests during nonviolent demonstrations and 60 court cases to call attention to the death and destruction being caused by “military solutions” that were killing innocent civilians. Were they prophetic?

 

 

And there are signs now too.

Is this prophetic?

We invite your comments and your stories. If you would like to become part of a discussion group about the Vietnam War and the Burns and Novick Series, please contact Elizabeth V. Hallett at Peace House, 541-292-2106, in Ashland.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Brian Willson, Vietnam Veteran

Veterans for Peace

30-year Anniversary or Train Assault on Free Speech

Brian Willson(born July 4, 1941) is an American Vietnam veteranpeace activist, and attorney-at-law

 

“When we only memorialize US soldiers, while ignoring the victims of our aggression, we in effect are memorializing war. I cannot do that. War is insane, and our country continues to perpetuate its insanity on others, having been constantly at war since at least 1991. We fail our duties as citizens if we remain silent rather than calling our US wars for what they are – criminal and deceitful aggressions violating international and US law to assure control of geostrategic resources, deemed necessary to further our insatiable American Way Of Life (AWOL).”September 1, 2017

(A message posted on Facebook)

So, 30 years ago today, I was nearly killed by the US Navy munition train at Concord, CA Navy Weapons Station. Earlier I posted 3 photos relating to this crime of state – two of the train as it struck and rolled over me, and one of me being fit for my prostheses by prosthetist Wayne Koniuk.

How I survived is a miracle, but when the Navy ambulance came and left, saying I wasn’t lying on Navy property, there was a heroine present who took over a dramatic process stopping my bleeding as she directed 4 other friends who were present to aid in restoring my life spirit, waiting the 20 minutes before the county ambulance arrived. Her name is Holley Rauen, who was my spouse/partner. We had been married but 10 days. Her 14 year old son Gabriel Ortega was one of the 40 or so witnesses to the attempted assassination, a horrible scene, traumatic for all.

You can find the unique and spirited Holley Rauen on Facebook, and we remain soul friends to this day, even as we divorced on friendly terms in 1990.

Thank you Holley

Survivors: Brian, Holley Rauen, her son and Gabriel in 2007 at a reunion outside Concord Naval Weapons Station

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Background
Lieutenant S. Brian Willson, served as a 1st lieutenant, served as commander of a US Air Force combat security police unit in Viet Nam’s Mekong Delta in 1969. Troubled by what he saw, he was still trying to deal years later with the massive killing and destruction he saw there. When he visited Central America and realized that the US was intervening and promoting civil wars there, he recognized a familiar pattern. What follow are photos from his website with his own account of his experience as a peace activist. – Peace House Editor

1969, I stand as a dumbed-down 1st Lt in front of one of the counter-mortar radar units at Binh Thuy Airbase in Viet Nam’s Mekong Delta 90 miles south of then Saigon, today’s Ho Chi Minh City. I was the night security commander at Binh Thuy which, up to that time, was the most mortared of the ten US Air Force bases in Viet Nam.

I stand right, commander in front of a portion of my combat security unit after dispatch to Phan Rang Air Base, June 1969. (PHOTO: USAF)

Weary members of the Veterans Fast For Life, on their 40th day of an open ended, water-only fast on the east steps of the US Capitol building, protesting President Reagan’s Terrorist wars against the peoples of El Salvador and Nicaragua. The fast started on September 1, 1986. This day is October 10. Left to right: George Mizo, Brian Willson, Duncan Murphy, and Charlie Liteky. The fast ended on midnight of October 17-18 after George Mizo was diagnosed in critical condition. Charlie Litkey had been a chaplain at Fort Benning, GA. He received the Silver Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam, saving many others while he himself was wounded. He later left his medal at the wall, feeling it was a medal of dishonor to have fought in Vietnam.

The first Veterans Peace Action Team (VPAT) vigiling in front of the US Embassy, Managua, Nicaragua, late March 1987. Left to right: Rick Schoos, John Poole, Scott Rutherford, S. Brian Willson, Holley Rauen, and John Schuchardt.

Veteran’s Peace Action Teams sought to create a peaceful resolution to the Contra-Sandinista War in Nicaragua.

September 1, 1987, Concord, CA Naval Weapons Station. This scene is part of the Nuremberg Actions that were protesting movement of munitions on trains destined to kill campesinos, labeled by President Reagan as “Communists”, in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Trains transported the weapons from their storage bunkers on the base to be loaded on ships in the nearby Sacramento River for transport to Central America. I am sitting as a block holding my water bottle as I am just beginning to register that the train is not going to stop as was standard and legal protocol. Subsequently, the FBI determined that the train was accelerating to 16-17 mph in a 5 mph legal speed limit zone. I didn’t get out of the way in time and went completely under the locomotive and its box cars, miraculously surviving but losing both legs below the knee and suffering a severely fractured skull, along with a multitude of other injuries, including a number of broken bones. We learned that the FBI had been investigating myself, and one other veteran blocker, Duncan Murphy, as domestic “terrorist” suspects. The train crew had been ordered that day by their superiors to not stop the train. It is amazing that a friend, Bob Spitzer, was present documenting our arrests with his video camera and instead captured a major US government crime of attempted murder. [Before the Navy knew about the video, Willson was characterized as having thrown himself in front of the train. The nonviolent action had been planned and announced well before the train ran. Nonviolence trainings were a part of the preparation.]

Handcycling in front of the Veterans For Peace contingent at a 2003 anti-war march, Eureka, CA.

September 1, 2007 at The 20th Anniversary Celebration of Life \ Photo by Mike Hastie

This poster includes photos of those who stood on the tracks before the train assault, including WWII and Korean War vet Rev. David Duncomb, and WWII vet Duncan Murphy, who also attempted to block the weapons shipment. Dumcomb had been a weapons designer in the Army. Murphy had been a US Army Medic who witnessed the liberation of the concentration camp at Bergen Belsen.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Wikipedia at:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Willson#cite_note-B-Willson-1

By Jeff Manzelli S. Brian Willson (born July 4, 1941) is an American Vietnam veteranpeace activist, and attorney-at-law.[1]Willson served in the US Air Force from 1966 to 1970, including several months as a combat security officer in Vietnam. He left the Air Force as a Captain. He subsequently became a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Veterans For Peace(Humboldt Bay Chapter 56, California, later Portland, OR Chapter 72). Upon completion of Law School at American University in Washington, D.C., he became a member of the District of Columbia Bar. Willson has had a variety of jobs including penal consultant, prisoner rights advocate, dairy farmer, legislative aide, town tax assessor and building inspector, veteran’s advocate, and small businessman.

As a trained lawyer and writer, he has documented U.S. policy in nearly two dozen countries. Since 1986, Willson has studied on-site policies in a number of countries, among them:

NicaraguaElSalvadorHondurasPanamaBrazilArgentinaMexicoColombiaEcuadorCubaHaitiIraqIsrael (and Palestinian territories), Japan, and Korea, both North and South.

Documenting the pattern of policies that he says “violate U.S. Constitutional and international laws prohibiting aggression and war crimes,” Willson has been an educator and activist, teaching about the dangers of these policies. He has participated in lengthy fasts, actions of nonviolent civil disobedience, and tax refusal along with voluntary simplicity.

Senate aide

He was prisoner rights aide to Massachusetts State Senator Jack Backman, served on Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis’ homeless veterans and Agent Orange task forces, and worked with Massachusetts Lt. Governor John Kerry on Agent Orange and other veterans’ issues, later becoming a volunteer for Kerry’s first U.S. Senatorial campaign in 1984. After Kerry’s victory, Willson was appointed to his Veterans’ Advisory Committee.

Concord Protest and Injuries On September 1, 1987, while engaged in a protest against the shipping of U.S. weapons to Central America in the context of the Contra wars,[2] Willson and other members of a Veterans Peace Action Team blocked railroad tracks at the Concord, California Naval Weapons Station. An approaching train did not stop, and struck the veterans. Willson was hit, ultimately losing both legs below the knee while suffering a severe skull fracture with loss of his right frontal lobe. Subsequently, he discovered that he had been identified for more than a year as an FBI domestic “terrorist” suspect under President Reagan’s anti-terrorist task force provisions and that the train crew that day had been advised not to stop the train….

  1. Brian Willson (born July 4, 1941) is an AmericanVietnam veteranpeace activist, and attorney-at-law.[1]

Willson served in the US Air Force from 1966 to 1970, including several months as a combat security officer in Vietnam. He left the Air Force as a Captain. He subsequently became a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Veterans For Peace (Humboldt Bay Chapter 56, California, later Portland, OR Chapter 72). Upon completion of Law School at American University in Washington, D.C., he became a member of the District of Columbia Bar. Willson has had a variety of jobs including penal consultant, prisoner rights advocate, dairy farmer, legislative aide, town tax assessor and building inspector, veteran’s advocate, and small businessman.

He was prisoner rights aide to Massachusetts State Senator Jack Backman, served on Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis’ homeless veterans and Agent Orange task forces, and worked with Massachusetts Lt. Governor John Kerry on Agent Orange and other veterans’ issues, later becoming a volunteer for Kerry’s first U.S. Senatorial campaign in 1984. After Kerry’s victory, Willson was appointed to his veterans’ advisory committee.

While working for Massachusetts Senator Jack Backman, he investigated brutality at Walpole State Prison for more than a year, concluding in an official report that Walpole revealed “An Exercise In Torture.”

Concord Protest and Injuries

On September 1, 1987, while engaged in a protest against the shipping of U.S. weapons to Central America in the context of the Contra wars,[2] Willson and other members of a Veterans Peace Action Team blocked railroad tracks at the Concord, California Naval Weapons Station. An approaching train did not stop, and struck the veterans. Willson was hit, ultimately losing both legs below the knee while suffering a severe skull fracture with loss of his right frontal lobe. Subsequently, he discovered that he had been identified for more than a year as an FBI domestic “terrorist” suspect under President Reagan‘s anti-terrorist task force provisions and that the train crew that day had been advised not to stop the train.[3] Three days after Willson lost his legs over 10,000 people gathered for a non-violent gathering in support of Willson, and against arms shipments to Central America. Jessie JacksonRosario Murillo, wife of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega along with Willson’s wife of 10 days, and stepson all spoke. Joan Baez sang and played music during this gathering.[citation needed] At the same time a group of masked males, one wearing a Sons of Italy T-shirt, took it upon themselves to tear up the wooden train tracks where Willson was run over.[citation needed] Some protestors sat on the tracks, trying to prevent them from disrupting the otherwise peaceful protest.[citation needed]

In 1989 a music benefit was held in San Francisco to help raise funds for Willson. Performers who turned out in support were Nick Gravenites with guests Jerry Garcia and Pete SearsJackson Browne played a set, and Ed Asner and Wavy Gravy spoke.[citation needed]Mimi Farina and Pete Sears later played a folk set for protesters just outside the barbed wire surrounding the naval base. They built the stage on some old railroad tracks using a generator for power. Their show was filmed by police from a tower just inside the base.

For years after the Willson incident, anti-war protesters maintained a 24-hour-a-day vigil at the weapons depot, which shipped between 60,000 and 120,000 tons of munitions each year to U.S. forces and allies, a Navy spokesman said.[4]

Willson filed a lawsuit contending that the Navy and individual supervisors were given ample warning of their plan to block the tracks, and that the train crew had time to stop—which the subsequent official Navy report confirmed. The train crew filed a lawsuit against Willson, requesting punitive damages for the “humiliation, mental anguish, and physical stress” they suffered as a result of the incident, which was dismissed. U.S. District Judge Robert Peckham said Willson did not plan to cause the railroad workers any distress, because he assumed the train would stop before hitting him.[4]

Willson later agreed to settle his lawsuit against the government and train crew for $920,000.[5] He now walks with prostheses.

Minneapolis folk-punk group Boiled in Lead dedicated their version of the traditional Irish antiwar ballad “My Son John,” from their 1989 album From the Ladle to the Grave, to Willson.[6]

Willson helped create Veterans Education Project (VEP) in Massachusetts; Vietnam Veterans Peace Education Network (VVPEN) in New England; National Federation of Veterans For Peace (NFVFP) in 1986 in Washington, DC; Veterans Fast For Life (VFFL) in 1986 on steps of the US Capitol, a water-only fast that concluded after 47 days, which led to the four fasters being placed on a domestic “terrorist” watch list; Veterans Peace Action Teams (VPAT) in 1987, training and sending observation and work teams into Nicaragua and El Salvador, a project that lasted 3 years; Nuremberg Actions at Concord, CA in 1987; Institute For the Practice of Nonviolence in 1988 in San Francisco; and The People’s Fast For Justice and Peace in the Americas, a 42-day water fast on the steps of the US Capitol in 1992. Willson was an early member of Veterans for Peace.[7]

Willson, an avid biker, using his handcycle on a road trip, ever on his quest for a nonviolent and environmentally sustainable world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Organizations[edit]

Wilson helped create Veterans Education Project (VEP) in Massachusetts; Vietnam Veterans Peace Education Network (VVPEN) in New England; National Federation of Veterans For Peace (NFVFP) in 1986 in Washington, DC; Veterans Fast For Life(VFFL) in 1986 on steps of the US Capitol, a water-only fast that concluded after 47 days, which led to the four fasters being placed on a domestic “terrorist” watch list; Veterans Peace Action Teams (VPAT) in 1987, training and sending observation and work teams into Nicaragua and El Salvador, a project that lasted 3 years; NurembergActions at Concord, CA in 1987; Institute For the Practice of Nonviolence in 1988 in San Francisco; and The People’s Fast For Justice and Peace in the Americas, a 42-day water fast on the steps of the US Capitol in 1992. Wilson was an early member of Veterans for Peace.[7]

Writing and film-making[edit]

While working for Massachusetts Senator Jack Backman, he investigated brutality at Walpole State Prison for more than a year, concluding in an official report that Walpole revealed “An Exercise In Torture.”

His first book, an autobiography, On Third World Legs (Chicago: Kerr) was published in 1992. He is Executive Producer of Santa Cruz Film Foundation, currently working on a documentary about the history of U.S. intervention in Korea that directly led to the Korean War, which he considers “one of the remaining unresolved international crimes of the Twentieth Century.”

In 2011, his book Blood on the Tracks was published.[2]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See also[edit]

  Biography portal
  United States Air Force portal

References[edit]

  1. Jump up ^Willson, S. Brian (2011). Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson. PM Press. ISBN 1-60486-421-4.
  2. Jump up to: ab Democracy Now: “Blood on the Tracks”: Brian Willson’s Memoir of Transformation from Vietnam Vet to Radical Pacifist
  3. Jump up ^McDonnell, Samantha (November 1, 2011). “Peace activist speaks at SUNY Fredonia”. The Observer.
  4. Jump up to: ab LA Times: Legless Peace Activist Says Award Near
  5. Jump up ^“Demonstrator Maimed by Navy Train Settles Suit”. The New York Times. August 9, 1990.
  6. Jump up ^Jones, Steven L. (20 June 2015). “You Can’t Win a Race with a Cannonball: Goya, Guernica & My Son John”. SingOut!. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  7. Jump up ^“Veterans for Peace: The First Decade” pp 249-50
  8. Jump up ^The Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Recipients List Archived February 7, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.

 

External links[edit]

 

 

“On this US Memorial Day, May 30, 2016, I want to preserve the memory of all aspects of the US war waged against the Southeast Asian people in Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia – what we call the Viet Nam War – as well as the tragic impacts it had on our own people and culture. My own healing and recovery requires me to honestly describe the war and understand how it has impacted me psychically, spiritually, and politically.”

The Grotesque Immorality of The US War Against Viet Nam: S. Brian Willson

June 5, 2017 – 11:20 am

Celebration of Memorial Day in the US, originally Decoration Day, commenced shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War. This is a national holiday to remember the people who died while serving in the armed forces. The day traditionally includes decorating graves of the fallen with flowers.

As a Viet Nam veteran, I know the kinds of pain and suffering incurred by over three million US soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen, 58,313 of whom paid the ultimate price whose names are on The Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC. The Oregon Vietnam Memorial Wall alone, located here in Portland, contains 803 names on its walls.

The function of a memorial is to preserve memory. On this US Memorial Day, May 30, 2016, I want to preserve the memory of all aspects of the US war waged against the Southeast Asian people in Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia – what we call the Viet Nam War – as well as the tragic impacts it had on our own people and culture. My own healing and recovery requires me to honestly describe the war and understand how it has impacted me psychically, spiritually, and politically.

Likewise, the same remembrance needs to be practiced for both our soldiers and the victims in all the other countries affected by US wars and aggression. For example, the US incurred nearly 7,000 soldier deaths while causing as many as one million in Afghanistan and Iraq alone, a ratio of 1:143.

It is important to identify very concretely the pain and suffering we caused the Vietnamese – a people who only wanted to be independent from foreign occupiers, whether Chinese, France, Japan, or the United States of America. As honorably, and in some cases heroically, our military served and fought in Southeast Asia, we were nonetheless serving as cannon fodder, in effect mercenaries for reasons other than what we were told. When I came to understand the true nature of the war, I felt betrayed by my government, by my religion, by my cultural conditioning into “American Exceptionalism,” which did a terrible disservice to my own humanity, my own life’s journey. Thus, telling the truth as I uncover it is necessary for recovering my own dignity.

I am staggered by the amount of firepower the US used, and the incredible death and destruction it caused on an innocent people. Here are some statistics:

  • Seventy-five percent of South Viet Nam was considered a free-fire zone (i.e., genocidal zones)
  • Over 6 million Southeast Asians killed
  • Over 64,000 US and Allied soldiers killed
  • Over 1,600 US soldiers, and 300,000 Vietnamese soldiers remain missing
  • Thousands of amputees, paraplegics, blind, deaf, and other maimings created
  • 13,000 of 21,000 of Vietnamese villages, or 62 percent, severely damaged or destroyed, mostly by bombing
  • Nearly 950 churches and pagodas destroyed by bombing
  • 350 hospitals and 1,500 maternity wards destroyed by bombing
  • Nearly 3,000 high schools and universities destroyed by bombing
  • Over 15,000 bridges destroyed by bombing
  • 10 million cubic meters of dikes destroyed by bombing
  • Over 3,700 US fixed-wing aircraft lost
  • 36,125,000 US helicopter sorties during the war; over 10,000 helicopters were lost or severely damaged
  • 26 million bomb craters created, the majority from B-52s (a B-52 bomb crater could be 20 feet deep, and 40 feet across)
  • 39 million acres of land in Indochina (or 91 percent of the land area of South Viet Nam) were littered with fragments of bombs and shells, equivalent to 244,000 (160 acre) farms, or an area the size of all New England except Connecticut
  • 21 million gallons (80 million liters) of extremely poisonous chemicals (herbicides) were applied in 20,000 chemical spraying missions between 1961 and 1970 in the most intensive use of chemical warfare in human history, with as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese living in nearly 3,200 villages directly sprayed by the chemicals
    • 24 percent, or 16,100 square miles, of South Viet Nam was sprayed, an area larger than the states of Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island combined, killing tropical forest, food crops, and inland forests
    • Over 500,000 Vietnamese have died from chronic conditions related to chemical spraying with an estimated 650,000 still suffering from such conditions; 500,000 children have been born with Agent Orange-induced birth defects, now including third generation offspring
  • Nearly 375,000 tons of fireballing napalm was dropped on villages
  • Huge Rome Plows (made in Rome, Georgia), 20-ton earthmoving D7E Caterpillar tractors, fitted with a nearly 2.5-ton curved 11-foot wide attached blade protected by 14 additional tons of armor plate, scraped clean between 700,000 and 750,000 acres (1,200 square miles), an area equivalent to Rhode Island, leaving bare earth, rocks, and smashed trees
  • As many as 36,000,000 total tons of ordance expended from aerial and naval bombing, artillery, and ground combat firepower. On an average day US artillery expended 10,000 rounds costing $1 million per day; 150,000-300,000 tons of UXO remain scattered around Southeast Asia: 40,000 have been killed in Viet Nam since the end of the war in 1975, and nearly 70,000 injured; 20,000 Laotians have been killed or injured since the end of the war
  • 13.7 billion gallons of fuel were consumed by US forces during the war
  • If there was space for all 6,000,000 names of Southeast Asian dead on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC, it would be over 9 sobering miles long, or nearly 100 times its current 493 foot length

 

I am not able to memorialize our sacrificed US soldiers without also remembering the death and destroyed civilian infrastructure we caused in our illegal invasion and occupation of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia. It has been 47 years since I carried out my duties in Viet Nam. My “service” included being an eyewitness to the aftermath of bombings from the air of undefended fishing villages where virtually all the inhabitants were massacred, the vast majority being small children. In that experience, I felt complicit in a diabolical crime against humanity. This experience led me to deeply grasping that I am not worth more than any other human being, and they are not worth less than me.

Recently I spent more than three weeks in Viet Nam, my first trip back since involuntarily being sent there in 1969. I was struck by the multitudes of children suffering from birth defects, most caused presumably by the US chemical spraying some 50 years ago. I experienced deep angst knowing that the US is directly responsible for this genetic damage now being passed on from one generation to the next. I am ashamed that the US government has never acknowledged responsibility or paid reparations. I found myself apologizing to the people for the crimes of my country.

When we only memorialize US soldiers while ignoring the victims of our aggression, we in effect are memorializing war. I cannot do that. War is insane, and our country continues to perpetuate its insanity on others, having been constantly at war since at least 1991. We fail our duties as citizens if we remain silent rather than calling our US wars for what they are – criminal and deceitful aggressions violating international and US law to assure control of geostrategic resources, deemed necessary to further our insatiable American Way Of Life (AWOL).

Memorial Day for me requires remembering ALL of the deaths and devastation of our wars, and it should remind all of us of the need to end the madness. If we want to end war, we must begin to directly address our out-of-control capitalist political economy that knows no limits to profits for a few at the expense of the many, including our soldiers.

Note: S. Brian Willson, is a trained lawyer who has been an anti-war, peace and justice activist for more than forty years. His psychohistorical memoir, “Blood On The Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson” was published in 2011 by PM Press. A long time member of Veterans For Peace, he currently resides in Nicaragua.

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