In 1971 Viet Nam Veterans’ Against the War (VVAW) conducted a testimonial based on the atrocities and horrors they participated in during their time “In Country.” They called it Winter Soldier, inspired by Revolutionary War hero Thomas Paine’s call for patriots to act for their country in times of crisis.
Some of us remember the days when revolution was in the air, when we had a civil rights movement, women “burning” their bras, a sexual revolution, and a very powerful anti-war movement. Events such as the assassinations of prominently outspoken Americans, as well as students being shot at during Kent State protests, moved the masses of people into a state of upheveal.
Veterans returning from the war in “Nam” were joining in the loud voices to end the war. They did it by forming a strong organization, using their anger and throwing their medals over
Then came Detroit when they converged to speak about the horrors of the war. The testimonials were graphic, real and heartwrenching, but it went almost unnoticed. The pro-war right called them liars and cowards, and succeeded in almost destroying the validity of the statements made by returning vets.
Now, 37 years later, Iraq Veteran’s Against the war (IVAW) has decided to recreate in a style that is all their own, new and hip, a Winter Soldier II shining a light once again on the horrors and atrocities of war.
Today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., 6 veterans spoke to a room packed with cameras and reporters from every outlet, politically left to right. The announcement was to kick-off the next 3 days of testimonials from over 200 veterans and GI’s from around the country who will be recounting a particularly personal misery that they witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The media was gentle on the panel, considering what the next few days would uncover. One particular reporter asked about IVAW’s connection with CodePink and A.N.S.W.E.R. and if those particular organizations had sponsored the work of IVAW. Kelly Doherty, former MP in Iraq, and Executive Director of IVAW, stood up at the microphone with her serious stare, calm demeanor and beautiful porcelin skin and green eyes, and eloquently told the reporter that from the inception of the organization, VFP had helped support them in their fledging moments in 2004. She, along with 3 other Veterans, had stood on a stage in Boston, denouncing the war. Some members did protest alongside anti-war groups such as those mentioned, and many others, but their closest affiliation and allies were groups such as Veterans for Peace, Military Families and VVAW.
In the evening, live broadcasting took place and a panel discussion with some of the “oldies but goodies” took place. Barry Romo, original founder of VVAW and union organizer for the last 39 years, David Cortwright, author and historian of the GI resistance in Viet Nam, Tod Ensign, longtime veteran’s rights activist and Gerald Nicosia, friend of Ron Kovic, author of “Born on the 4th of July” and wounded in Viet Nam.
Ron Kovic’s statement was read to the crowd and his passion for supporting this new group of resister’s was overwhelming. He said that by stepping forward “they were not just saving lives, they were saving the life of our nation.” Kovic expressed his disbelief that he is now seeing all over again what happened back when he was fighting an illegal and immoral war, and that the empire must be broken with this new generation of resistance fighters.
David Cortwright author of “Soldiers in Revolt,” agreed that only with resistance from within the military who “listen to their conscience” would end this war, as this resistance ultimately did that in Viet Nam.
Tod Ensign, Director of Citizen Soldier, author and supporter of the Different Drummer Café (www.differentdrummer.com) in upstate New York formed to replicate the coffee houses of the 60’s, passionately spoke of the young breed of soldiers he is meeting who eerily remind him of the past. He spoke of the similiarities between the anti-war candidate Richard Nixon, and his “secret plan” to end the war and those 2 democratic candidates who also have a plan to end the occupation of Iraq, but he says “who the hell knows what that is!”
Of course Barry Romo, being a labor organizer for 35 years, was much less eloquent in his speech, but had the audience riveted in the stories of the past. He witnessed the war in “Nam”, testified in the first Winter Soldier, and can only be described as a great colorful character. One story he recounted was the patch that signifies the VVAW, an upside-down rifle with a helmet on top, on red fabric. He remembered when they created that patch and had them made in East Asian countries such as Japan and the Philippines. The patches were “churned out by the thousands” and were worn by soldiers “in country.” He mentioned that in 1968 the North Vietnamese issued a statement, which is little know today, that “if any NV soldier sees an upside-down rifle patch on any soldier’s uniform, they will not shoot them.”
What Winter Soldier could mean to the current political situation in this Country is a complete unknown. All the testimonials will be broadcast live, and also streaming on the internet (see schedule at www.IVAW.org/wintersoldier). The members of IVAW are prepared for having their stories attacked, belittled and turned against them, as happened in 1971. However, these next few days could represent a turning point that we have all been waiting for.
It is up to those of us in the anti-war movement, and there are millions of us who are against this occupation of Iraq, and escalating rhetoric of war with Iran, to promote the events of the next few days in a way that we have never done before. Word must get out to the impenetrable wall of the corporate media, to those on the street who don’t even know what IVAW is, and to the young men and women in this country who are on the verge of walking up to that recruiter and signing on the dotted line.
We are ready for Day 2, the full testimonials.