With the birth of my daughter at the end of October and the cold weather here in Chicago, I haven’t been getting out of the house much these days. Luckily, I received two books in the mail recently to keep me busy indoors.
The first is by Chicago author and veteran Rory Fanning — “Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America.” The book chronicles Rory’s journey by foot across the United States to raise money for the Pat TIllman Foundation and to find peace after fighting in Afghanistan. Rory was so moved by what he saw in Afghanistan that he become a conscientious objector to the war, so his perspective as a returned veteran is particularly unique.
The other book I’m currently reading is also a peace odyssey, but one set in Vietnam. Kent Hinckley’s novel “Hearts, Minds, and Coffee” takes place during the war and follows the story of one American soldier sent to a dangerous Viet Cong stronghold as punishment for his anti-war views. The soldier must “wage peace” with the Vietnamese people in the area in order to survive. Kent was so kind as to inscribe the book he sent to me:
What books are you reading this December? Are there any veteran or Vietnam-centered books you’d recommend?
Draft cards burning in front of the door to the Oakland Army Induction Center in December 1967. (From the Harvey Richards Media Archive)
Forty-six years ago this week, a coalition of 40 anti-war organizations staged “Stop the Draft Week” demonstrations. Protesters burnt their draft cards — an act which Congress had made illegal two years before — and rallied outside of military centers. The week was just the latest in what had turned out to be a year of anti-war actions. In April, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam led 400,000 protesters on a march from New York’s Central Park to the UN headquarters. Well-known peace activists like Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Dr Benjamin Spock addressed the crowd, along with Vietnam veteran Jan Berry Crumb.
Crumb had served in Vietnam in 1963 as part of a group of military “advisors” the US had sent to Southeast Asia to train the South Vietnamese Army. What he saw in Vietnam disturbed him and not long after returning to the US, he resigned from the military. In June 1967, Crumb and five other veterans joined together and founded the organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The organization would become a critical voice for anti-war veterans in the years to come. As Gerald Nicosia writes in “Home to War: A History of the Vietnam Veteran’s Movement”:
The organization would put Richard Nixon into a panic, provoke FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover into breaking the law in order to destroy it, precipitate the last major conspiracy trial of the era, and bring to prominence at least one leader of national stature, John Kerry.
A February 1971 ad for VVAW, which explained their reasons for protesting the war. This ad was funded by Hugh Hefner and ran in Playboy magazine.
The Vietnam veterans who protested the war in the 60s and 70s blazed a trail for modern anti-war veterans. But American veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today protest without the support of a large anti-war movement. They are more easily silenced because fewer people are paying attention. Afghanistan vet Joe Glenton wrote a piece in Vice magazine last week highlighting some of the American and British veterans who are speaking out against war. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in peace activism.