[WAGING PEACE] In Vietnam, Honoring ‘the Backbone of the Anti-War Movement’—U.S. Soldiers

From the exhibit “Waging Peace: US Soldiers and Veterans who Opposed America’s War in Vietnam,” recently installed in the War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

On March 19, a few days after the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre in My Lai, a new exhibit opened at the popular War Remnants museum (Bảo tàng Chứng tích Chiến tranh) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The exhibit, called “Waging Peace: The U.S. Soldiers and Veterans Who Opposed America’s War in Vietnam,” features active duty and recent U.S. veterans who worked in various ways to oppose the war in Vietnam.

“It is important to honor the soldiers who said ‘No’ and it is important to show young people around the world that even against the greatest odds, even when you are in the belly of the beast, your resistance can win,” says Ron Carver, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, who curated the exhibit. “In the United States, many people know there was an anti-war movement, but very few people know that there were soldiers who were the backbone of that antiwar movement.”

The exhibit was installed through the efforts of Veterans for Peace, the Ho Chi Minh City Union of Friendship Organizations, and the Ho Chi Minh City Peace and Development Foundation.

Speaking at the open of the exhibit, Susan Schnall, president of the New York chapter of Veterans for Peace, said, “I come before you today as a Vietnam-era veteran of the American war in Vietnam, to recognize and to take responsibility for my government’s war on your country. Today, we have a responsibility to those we harmed, and to those who were harmed in our name.”

After the museum’s ribbon cutting ceremony, James “J.J.” Johnson, one of the “Fort Hood Three” who refused to go to Vietnam in June 1966, spoke to The Progressive. He said it is important to tell these stories to younger activists, but “we should also listen, we should also step back. Whatever they can take from this is important, but what young people are doing today is inspiring and encouraging.”

A dialogue titled “Looking Back on the Past—Building a Brighter Future” was held in the museum on March 20. U.S. anti-war activists gathered with former North Vietnamese soldiers to share stories of their time during the war. Johnson, one of the veterans seated at the table, spoke of forming a study group while in the military, inspired by the words of Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in opposition to the war. “The embers of military resistance soon burst into flames,” Johnson said.

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U.S. and Vietnamese veterans gather with peace activists and museum staff for a discussion at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, March 20, 2018.

Colonel Trần Thế Tuyển addressed the group, saying “Although the war has been over for decades, as you are aware, the impact and consequences are still felt by succeeding generations of Vietnamese. Even though our country is living in peace, the consequences of the war have yet to be fully addressed.”

Noting that tens of thousands of Vietnamese suffer the effects of Agent Orange and civilians are still being killed or maimed by unexploded munitions, “the U.S. administration and the U.S. military,” he said, “have a responsibility to help Vietnam overcome the consequences of the war.”

Dr. Trần Xuân Thảo, new director of the museum, closed the discussion by talking about the War Remnants museum becoming a place where people come “not just to remember the past, but to continue building peace based on a sound understanding.”

“So many have come today to share their thoughts,” she continued, “we will have to do a dialogue like this again—and not only for those with gray hair, but for younger generations to understand what happened when war broke out—for the sake of peace in the future.”

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Norman Stockwell is publisher of The Progressive and recently returned from a trip to Vietnam.

Norman Stockwell