Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) began inconspicuously in 1967 when six Vietnam veterans marched together in an anti- war demonstration in New York. This small group of veterans, taking the first step in spreading the concept of anti-war Vietnam veterans, questioned by many about their authenticity, and lacking in funds, were more interested in putting across their ideas through the media than in building a big organization. The organization grew slowly.
During the political campaigns of 1968 the idea began to spawn, and many peace campaigns included small contingents of anti-war veterans. Gradually, through chance more than through the concerted efforts of any one group, the idea of a separate veterans peace group spread and a growing number of these veterans joined VVAW. Yet by April 1970 the organization had only 600 members.
In August 1970, VVAW members confronted the national convention of American Legionnaires in Portland, Oregon. Two weeks later, groups of veterans gave public witness to their experiences in Vietnam with vivid performances of guerilla theater on an 80-mile walk from Morristown, New Jersey, to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Armed with rifles and red paint and using professional actors as "innocent civilians," they attempted to bring home what search and destroy missions in Indochina were really all about.
In February 1971, about 150 anti-war veterans met in a Howard Johnson's motor lodge in Detroit and conducted hearings on the acts of violence which they had either committed or witnessed during their tours in Vietnam. The hearings were called The Winter Soldier Investigation, a term derived from Thomas Paine, who had written in 1776: "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country." These veterans identified with those soldiers who had endured the grueling winter of 1776 at Valley Forge, and they came together in Detroit to tell Americans what their country was really doing in Vietnam. Many wanted to purge the guilt which grew out of an inability to find any moral reason for the brutality, the waste, the destruction, which they had seen. Some of their anguished testimony appears in the following pages. (The entire testimony was read into the Congressional Record by Senator Mark Hatfield, April 6-7, 1971).
Television barely covered the event in Detroit. It was a time when the news of the war crimes trial of Lieutenant William Calley was being broadcast over network television almost every night. Numerous people, including those connected with the news media, did not believe that many of these men were Vietnam veterans.
Something positive had to come out of Detroit, some hope for the future. It was difficult for these men to swallow the public's indifference. Out of the frustration grew the idea of a march on Washington. On April 18, 1971, about a thousand Vietnam veterans, each bearing some proof that he had been in Vietnam, arrived in Washington and set up a campsite near the Lincoln Memorial, ready to try once again to bring their case before the country. The pictures in this book recount what happened to them during the remarkable week which ensued.
But behind the pictures of the events in Washington lie the anti-war veterans themselves. Who are they? John Kerry spoke eloquently before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about why the veterans had come to Washington. A study conducted while the veterans were encamped on the Mall was even more revealing (see Appendix). Most of these veterans had come from the very heart of Middle America. Few had finished college, unable to capitalize on college draft deferments. Most were under twenty-five and had enlisted in the service. But perhaps most significantly, the study reveals that the majority of the anti-war veterans in Washington, once of moderate conservative outlook, had been radicalized by their experiences in Vietnam. It is their hope that Vietnam will not be just an immoral and obscene memory, but rather, as Kerry said before the Senate committee, "the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning." Thus, the New Soldier.
D.T. (David Thorne)
G.B. (George Butler)