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      Monday
      Mar022015

      A Peace Movement Based on Justice

      Read this Vietnam comic book by the young civil rights leader Julian Bond, published in 1967, and I believe you will realize that we still are in a fierce battle between memory and forgetting, between twisted history and true history. Then consider participating in the May 2 commemoration of the first days of the anti-war movement in 1965.

      Julian Bond wrote this early people's history, with illustrations by T. G. Lewis, in 1967, the year after the Georgia legislature expelled him from elected office because he opposed the draft and the war.

      Julian is an honored elder of our generation these days, but public memory of his integrated stance on civil rights and the Vietnam War is largely forgotten, as is the price he paid along with so many others. The same brutal and racist politicians he fought at home were busy drafting young black men to die in Vietnam. These officials were not simply old-style southern segregations like Eastland and Stennis of Mississippi, but liberal Democrats like Robert McNamara in particular.

      In those days McNamara announced the "Project 100,000" to induct thousands of young men into the military from the inner cities program as part of the Great Society. These youngsters, illiterate and unemployed, were not qualified for the military draft until McNamara implemented his "liberal" solution. He drafted thousands who failed to reach the standards on the Armed Forces Qualifications Test, saying that:

      "The poor of America have not had the opportunity to earn their fair share of the wealth of this nation's abundance, but they can be given an opportunity to serve in their country's defense and they can be given an opportunity to return to civilian life with skills and aptitudes which, for them, and their families, will reverse the downward spiral of human decay."

      More than half the American soldiers killed in Vietnam were African-American, Puerto Rican, Mexican-American, Native American, and Asian-American, sending them to early graves instead of the jobs and training programs they were promised. In 1967, a presidential commission found that a "disproportionate" 22.4% killed in action the previous year were African-American. At the time, no figures were kept for Mexican-Americans, but their percentage among the dying was similar. [1]Puerto Rico was listed as fourth in combat deaths while being twenty-sixth in population ranking in the US. [2]

      That's why Julian Bond wrote his history as a comic, because his Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was committed that every person had a right to debate, decide and vote on the policies that would affect their lives. "Let the people decide", the slogan on a 1965 button, was unsettling to those in power, especially when it was demanded from the Selma bridge to military recruiting centers.

      John Lewis, now an honored member of Congress but then the chairman of SNCC, asked the question: "I don't see how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam and can't send troops to Selma, Alabama."[3]

      It spread from there, a peace movement arising out of the early days of the student civil rights movement. Soon Muhammad Ali, imprisoned for draft resistance, sent this message to the world:

      "My conscious won't let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me, they didn't rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father... Shoot them for what? ...How can I shoot them poor people, Just take me to jail."

      At the first national protest against the Vietnam War, organized by Students for a Democratic Society in April 1965, I remember organizing a busload of poor people from Newark to join the protest. SDS President Paul Potter issued these memorable words:

      "The real lever for change in America is a domestic social movement..."

      Paul and SDS were part of a new peace and different sort of peace upsurge, triggered by a new consciousness that the Vietnam War was about the same problems we were facing at home: racism, discrimination, poverty, sharecroppers from the Mississippi Delta to the Mekong Delta. Historian Clayborne Carson has said the movement was about Third World land reform. We all hoped that students would awaken [as they did], that liberals would awaken (as they did), that rank-and-file Democrats would awaken [as they did], but knew that the outcome of the American war would be decided in large part by people of color from America's inner cities to southern plantations.

      [To be continued in the Journal]


      [1] Jorge Mariscal, Atzlan and Vietnam, University of California, 1999.

      [2] Mariscal, p. 21

      [3] James Patterson, The Eve of Destruction, 2012, p. 79

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      Reader Comments (1)

      Thanks, Tom, for posting this. Here I am teaching a course on the Vietnam war era, and I totally forgotten about Julian's comic book - a great addition.
      I recommend a new book by Christian Appy - American Reckoning - on Vietnam and the American national identity. It is a thoughtful discussion, and accessible to undergrads while offering plenty of food for thought for scholars and activists.

      March 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTom Gardner
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