Sunday, June 14, 2009

Flashback to the End of a War That Really Did End

April 30, 1975. The war was over. Really over. This wasn't like the peace treaty all the leaders signed in 1973 that didn't really end anything. No, this time it was over. The television in the University of Maryland Student Union showed video footage of helicopters leaving the U.S. embassy roof with a few remaining GIs and other Americans inside while Vietnamese hung on to the sides. Meanwhile the Vietnamese whose side had won were celebrating the entry of NLF and Hanoi forces into Saigon, which was now Ho Chi Minh City.
My friends and I were exhilarated. A war we had known most of our lives was over. A war which seemed an adventure when I was a young boy playing Little League baseball and war games and had become a source of fear and anger as I grew older. A war which took friends of mine and killed some, made others killers and zombies, and forced all of us to grow up before we were ready. A war which took my father away from my family for over a year and had us wondering every day whether he would come back. And had me wondering if my brothers and I would have to go also. A war which showed Americans what America was really about. An America which wasn't pretty, or even honorable. A war which I had begun opposing as a 13-year old by flashing a peace sign and singing "Give Peace a Chance" while my dad was in Danang, and ended up celebrating the victory of America's enemy.
The night of the Vietnamese victory, Pat M. and I invited ourselves to a Student Association-sponsored banquet at the University of Maryland. Pat was a friend and reasonably well-known on campus as a rabble rouser. He had recently begun attending meetings of the radical group I was associated with--the Revolutionary Student Brigades. Once he and I realized we shared a fondness for pot and a passionate dislike of the system, we began to spend lots of time stirring things up. Our roles as campus instigators had made us friends with the more radical elements in the student government which was run by a member of Youth Against War and Fascism at the time. Consequently, we were often invited to members-only functions. If we weren't, most of the time we went anyway.
As for this particular dinner, the food was good, but the wine was better. So much better, in fact, we lifted a half dozen bottles during the post dinner speeches and headed out to the streets to celebrate. On our way to Route 1 and the strip of bars immediately off the University of Maryland campus we stopped at a friend's dorm room and drew up a banner reading, "Long Live the People of Vietnam", and scored a couple tabs of acid and a corkscrew. After all, this antiwar movement was about more than Washington's war against the Vietnamese. It was a war of its own against the consciousness that started the war in the first place. John Foster Dulles, Richard Nixon, LBJ. The fear of communism, sexuality and marijuana. Many of us against Washington's war for empire were fighting another war to make our world a place where fear took a backseat to joy.
By the time we made it to the street the acid was edging out the fog of the alcohol and providing a nice clarity to the night. Pat and I opened a bottle of wine each, spread out our banner, and shouted some revolutionary slogans about Ho Chi Minh and so on. After a half hour or so, another thirty people had joined us. By then we were spilling into the streets, drinking wine and smoking weed. Of course, the police showed up.
The funny thing was, they didn't do much. After asking us what was going on, they told us to stay out of the road and drove off. I'm still not sure what Pat and I told them but, whatever it was, it worked. In retrospect, I put it among those moments where the clarity of psychedelic thought patterns befuddles the linear thinker, the authoritarian, so much that they just don't want to bother with figuring it out. So, instead, they left it alone and hoped we would just go away. Later, we headed into DC to celebrate with a few hundred other antiwarriors.

A couple weeks later, Gerald Ford ordered an attack on Cambodia after the merchant ship Mayaquez was seized and released. A final flurry of killing from a vanquished nation. A decade later, Ronald Reagan was heralding CIA-funded right-wing contras in Nicaragua and Islamic mujahedin in Afghanistan.
Now US soldiers fight the mujahedin's progeny in a war that guarantees its continuation as surely as it spawns another generation of hate. The forces represented by Reagan were the beginning of a long march back to the world that the antiwar movement and counterculture thought it could change. It's not that I'm saying (nor am I convinced) that the forces of linearity and authoritarianism have regained the control they had before the 1960s. However, they certainly have learned how to accommodate and neutralize those strains in the US political and cultural spheres that challenged them so headily back then.
The Democratic Party, which funds every war that comes along whether it started under their watch or not, has become what stands for an antiwar movement in the US. Meanwhile, in the United States, the real opposition to imperial war speaks to an audience deafened by the false hope of an Obama nation.

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