Tag Archives: Vietnam

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The Champ in Our Corner

By Dan La Botz

After Muhammad Ali refused induction — we had the champ in our corner.

When in June of 1963 I graduated from Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach, just south of San Diego, California, I went to my local Selective Service Board—the draft board—and registered as a conscientious objector. My paternal grandfather, a Dutch immigrant and baker, was a socialist pacifist and his four sons had registered as conscientious objectors (C.O.s) in World War II and two of them—my father Herb and my uncle Bert—had been drafted and had done what was called alternative service (the alternative to serving in the military) at a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Big Flats, near Elmira, New York.

At the camp, my uncle Bert had become involved with a group associated with leftist Dwight McDonald and pacifist Dave Dellinger, and so when at the end of the war in August 1945t the C.O.s weren’t released from the camps, he joined the protests, strikes, and walk-outs among the 12,000 men around the country still being held. It was called the “End Slave Labor in America” movement. The federal government put Bert in prison for short while, but then all of the C.O.s were finally let go.

So, as you can see, it was fundamentally my upbringing that led me to register as a conscientious objector. Continue reading The Champ in Our Corner

The Burden of Atrocity

We are years into a 13 year Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, officially underway since May 2012.  If that math seems messy, it is one small indication of the  long, deep, and still confounding legacy of that war.  Faculty member Penny Lewis wrote about our memory of the class dynamics of the antiwar movement in her book, Hardhats, Hippies and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory (Cornell University Press, 2013), and returns to the subject in a review essay published in Jacobin and Salon this past week. 

Testifying in 1971 as part of the Winter Soldier Investigation, a war crimes hearing sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton distinguished the American war in Vietnam from other conflicts:

There’s a quality of atrocity in this war that goes beyond that of other wars in that the war itself is fought as a series of atrocities. There is no distinction between an enemy whom one can justifiably fire at and people whom one murders in less than military situations.

Concluding this thought by reflecting on the experience of soldiers and veterans, Lifton observed, “Now if one carries this sense of atrocity with one, one carries the sense of descent into evil.” Continue reading The Burden of Atrocity