Unstuck in time again, in a good way

It’s been forever, I know. I should have at least updated my other shop’s cheers as Sotomayor became a Justice, especially the soulful essay about how she, a wise Latina herself, felt during that confirmation ceremony. But given the demands of that other shop (go look! Make comments!) and that I’ve been writing the last two chapters of my book simultaneously, I’d made a conscious decision not to blog until I was done. Well, not completely conscious, or else I’d have put up one of those “Gone Fishin”signs.

But last week I finally went to this convention, which I’ve described to friends as “like going to a party where fully half your characters are there to answer the questions you never asked.” Veterans for Peace, founded in the wake of the collapse of the Nuclear Freeze movement, and containing many of the folks I’ve now been writing about for years.It began with a rousing statement from Rep. Donna Edwards (above), who like me isn’t a veteran, but who may as well be: her father was career military, and she remembers when her father was stationed in the Philippines and “if we wanted ice cream, we had to go all the way to  Quezon City” because in military facilities, including the huge Clark Air Force Base,  “all the hangars and freezers were filled” — she choked up — “with the caskets of young men and women who had died in Vietnam.” That told her, she said, “When we ask our young people to sacrifice, it’s our responsibility to get it right.”

I remember when Edwards was “just” the director of the National Network Against Domestic Violence, and we were working together on military issues: that one, like many of the issues jostling in  my brain and this book, was challenge and enriched by the information streaming everywhere last week.

coxMuch was  super-informal, with benefits: e.g. I warned Paul Cox (right), who I’ve known nearly 15 years now, that he was a star of my Vietnam chapter, and as a bonus he let me see and upload some 1969 photos he’d just got hold of.  (They proved what I’d always guessed: he was even more of a babe at age 19 than now.)

ellen_barfieldWRLAfter dropping by the Women’s Caucus — where I also got to check in at the long-pervasive issue of military sexual abuse and homophobia— I got to interview Ellen Barfield (U.S. Army 1977-1981, now on the board of War Resisters League.) Barfield told me about being stationed in 1980 at Camp Humphreys, in South Korea, when her unit and many others were suddenly put on lockdown during the Kwangju Massacre.

barfieldportraitWe were put on high alert; the combat troops were given orders, and up in our unit we started getting riot training.” she told me.  Asked by fellow officers if women should participate, she and other women said hell yeah, we’re soldiers too — but matters never got that far. “That’s as close as I ever came to combat,” Barfield reflects now. “But – it wouldnt have been combat, it would have been killing civilians!” Already a Nation reader who’d been struck by the grinding poverty she saw in Korea, she set about upon leaving the Army to learn more about U.S. involvement in backing up Sung’s repressive government. “People are kept for so long from knowig their history,” she told me.  She learned a lot from members of the then-newborn VFP such as former CIA Asia specialist aideChalmers Johnson and Brian Willson, who’d lost his legs protesting U.S. aid to repressive governments.

plow8bBarfield was soon drawn in by the nuclear-freeze movement, just as Philip Berrigan and the rest of the Plowshares movement were getting arrested  at nuclear plants all over the country: Barfield was soon doing the same at the PANTEX plant near her hometown of Amarillo, Texas, and has been a “soldier for peace” ever since. I learned some of the latter story from a panel on nuclear-weapons issues, where a hikabusha (survivor of Hiroshima) asked through a translator what the  U.S. was doing to teach its children about nuclear weapons.

At panels on The GI Rights Hotline and on active-duty resistance, I learned more about the still-ongoing cases of current resisters such as Agustin Aguayo (above), and of those in exile fighting for asylum, like Andre Shepherd (below), whose German support network includes a woman who’s been doing this work on and off since the Vietnam years.I didn’t think then — but do now as I write this – that if I had stayed at CCCO a mere year longer, I might never have felt able to leave.

Despite the friendliness of the members of Iraq Veterans Against War, though, I was perhaps too shy about the IVAW workshops, fearing they were tired of me already — something I regret and don’t, now.

johnjudgeBecause on my way out of town, I touched base with John Judge — who  has been doing this work literally since I was two years old, including with the G.I. Project of  VFP’s vibrant predecessor. John described for me what he witnessed when  Vietnam Veterans Against the War was  neutralized  by the Red Squad in 1974,  “destroy[ing] the single most visionary and effective peace group in history.”   (I’d already written about these events here, drawn from documentary evidence).

wintersoldier_bannerWhen the RU moved into VVAW’s Chicago headquarters (note the North Vietnamese star at the center of the logo), so did posters and newspapers with appropriately “militant” headlines, such as: VVAW BATTLES V.A. THUGS. A civilian volunteer named John Judge, who watched the transition, was astounded. “Were they really advocating physical violence against medical personnel?”

The transition did, Judge added, have its comic elements: “They came in with these handlebar mustaches and sideburns, like Stalin, and these flannel workshirts.” Romo and his RU peers also told Judge to stop reading a pop history book in his bag, because We only read Marx and Engels here. “I told them, Those books are 150 years old now.” But the new regime also purged any members they deemed not “correct,” which included many who had been working triple time to help the new veterans get what they needed.

The January 1975 issue of THE VETERAN, whose “Vets Fight V.A” article was just before the “Victory to the Indochinese,” was also its last until 1996. The closer RU got to its goals, the more complete the damage to an organization once powerful enough to scare Nixon.

road_from_ar_ramadi_coverThat conversation with John stayed mostly comic/elegiac.  We did touch on the question I’ve since been trying, separately, to sort out: if the same has already begun to happen to IVAW, perhaps under the influence of it outgoing board president Camilo Mejia, the brilliant young scion of Nicaragua’s revolution? I mention the latter fact in full respect; Mejia (with whom I share a literary agent!)  grew up in the fullness of a poet’s revolution, and his father, Carlos, wrote the Sandinista National Liberation Front’s national anthem. His speech last Thursday was compelling, as when he noted that the U.S.’  unfortunate Asian land war had left room for all the democracy movements south of the border.

But my concern was rooted in more than Camilo’s charisma: rumor has it that while I was worrying about ANSWER (Workers’ World Party) and World Can’t Wait (RCP) leeching off the younger group, I was too distracted by their sideshow to see the steady recruitment tactics of this group, only a few years younger than RCP and hipper/younger/jazzier in its presentation.

It’s not a meaningless question: dissenting soldiers are already being marginalized every minute. I hope those rumors are incorrect, but I’m not that optimistic.But my job now is to find out what actually happened, and to tell that story as honestly as I can.

(p.s. Thanks so much to Gerry Condon, whose comment below helped me correct some errors born of hurry and 50 percent humidity. That’s part of what this blog is for.)


4 thoughts on “Unstuck in time again, in a good way

  1. Gerry Condon

    Hey Chris,

    Thanks for some interesting insights into the tandem national conventions of Veterans For Peace (VFP) and Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) last weekend.

    When you get into the section about the commies taking over, though, you are treading on thin ice. While it is true that the new communist groups of the 1970’s competed within, weakened and even destroyed a number of progressive organizations, there is no evidence that this is happening today.

    You’ve got a few factual errors too. The antiwar coalition, Act Now to Stop War and to End Racism (ANSWER), was led by Workers World (WW) and is now led by a WW-breakaway group, the San Francisco-based Party of Socialism and Liberation. World Can’t Wait is led by the Revoultionary Communist Party. You had that reversed.

    The International Socialist Organization (ISO) has actively recruited members of Iraq Veterans Against the War. I will admit that I also had a few deja-vu concerns when I heard this. IVAW is a vitally important organization and I would hate to see it riven by the fighting of internal factions.

    But your concerns sound like good old-fashioned anti-communist to me (be very afraid of the boogy man) and I absolutely don’t buy that. In that context, your mention of Camilo Mejia’s father’s involvement with the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua sounds downright ominous. (And you incorrectly refer to Camilo as the new president of IVAW when in fact he is the outgoing chairperson of the board.)

    VVAW, VFP and IVAW are all led by pissed-off veterans of U.S. imperialist wars around the globe. These wars of imperialism are, as Marx correctly pointed out, an inevitable consequence of monopoly capitalism, which continues to concentrate more and more wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands. The only real alternative to capitalism is socialism (of some kind or other). So we should not freak out every time someone shows up with a socialist newspaper.

    If socialist activists and their organizations act in a principled and democratic manner (like not all the rest of us do), then they should be very much welcomed in the antiwar movement, including organizations of veterans who are waging peace.

    What is more of a threat, I think, aside from anti-communism, is – – well, I’ve heard this rumor that the pacifists are trying to take over. Beware of people smiling and quoting Ghandi. You can never be quite sure what they are up to….

    I will agree with you on one thing, though, Chris. Paul Cox is a real babe. I think he was born with white hair, so he’s always worn it really well 😉

    Wage Peace!

    Gerry Condon
    Vietnam-era veteran/war resister
    Veterans For Peace

    (206) 499-1220

    1. chrislombardi Post author

      Gerry – thanks for the fact-check; I worried that I might have the ANSWER/WCW affiliations flipped. Those I’ll fix, and Camilo’s affiliation.

      My feelings about socialism are more complex than you think; I honestly meant Camilo’s Sandinista roots as a proud heritage, actually. I do have a problem with old-left organizations, or old-right ones for that matter, rushing to “help” when they insist on reconfiguring whatever issue into their own framework. Not having the money, and no longer the work-credits, to offer an alternative for these guys, I can only watch and write. If I articulate my understanding of all this further, will you keep reading and keep me honest?

      Thanks for all you do for resisters, every day — Chris

  2. Gerry Condon

    Hi again Chris,

    Thank you for being so open to my critique. I certainly didn’t mean to assume the worst. But I do have a tendency to get a little righteous with my rhetoric, especially if you push certain buttons.

    Your response IS a great example of nonviolence in action. Of course, I was joking about the pacifist takeover 😉 Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the world were under the influence of pacifism and socialism – nonviolence and equality for all.

    No doubt, we all have seen many examples of wrong-headed and opportunist behavior by socialists and others who thought they were the bearers of truth and the one path to successful organizing. Whether they are communists, pacifists, anarchists, feminists, individualists, or whatever, they need to be called out when they undermine our ability to unite and successfully mobilize for peace and justice.

    But it is a big mistake to target folks just because they are on the left end of the spectrum, because we do not happen to agree with their ideology, or because we don’t come from the same race, class, gender, sexual orientation or life experience.

    I readily accept your invitation to keep in touch. Perhaps we can help keep each other honest, as you suggest.

    I very much appreciate who you are and how you struggle – and write and share yourself and your thinking – how you find your own way to wage peace.

    Thanks for the compliment about my working in support of war resisters “every day.” You remind me that I better get back to work.

    for peace and justice,


  3. Mic Hunter

    Are you aware of this book?

    Book Review
    by Gary Schoener
    Clinical Psychologist
    Executive Director
    Walk-In Counseling Center-, Minneapolis, Minnesota

    Essential Reading for all Americans
    Honor Betrayed: Sexual Abuse In America’s Military
    This is an extraordinary book. The topic itself is taboo. Dr. Hunter’s examination of it is broad, thorough, and covers a great range of topics, from incentives for enlisting to domestic violence in military families (five times higher than civilian settings), domestic killings, the role and treatment of women in today’s military, homophobia, sexual harassment, sexual assault, military leadership, etc.
    While mostly focused on the US military it does discuss some issues with Canadian military and presents some research on the military of other countries.
    Dr. Hunter takes you inside traditions and practices which may be unfamiliar and shocking. No holds are bared when he examines military slang, most of which cannot be repeated here because of vulgarity. Even having treated veterans for many years, I was not prepared for some of this content.
    This book confronts a great many myths with research data. Dr. Hunter notes that even the Pentagon acknowledges that many male veterans acknowledge having been sexually assaulted by their comrades in arms – and also notes that contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of such male victims are heterosexual. A full 28% of female veterans who were surveyed reported that they had been assaulted while serving their country. Dr. Hunter reviews data and dozens of case examples – some well-known cases, and some which did not receive much publicity.
    The issues of hazing and indoctrination are extremely shocking. Having treated veterans of a number of wars and also having worked with sexual and other types of abuse for 40 years, I was surprised and shocked by a number of these. Even extensive experience working with victims was not adequate preparation for some of these stories. The examples ranged from those in military academies to those in basic training and service situations.
    Dr. Hunter explores the impact of sexual assault, sexual harassment, hazing, and other aspects of service using research data, case examples, and some cases which have been litigated. Tailhook and other cases are reviewed and their eventual outcomes examined. He also examines torture, harassment of prisoners, and other forms of brutality – from Me Lai to Abu Ghraib.
    Dr. Hunter has peppered his text with a variety of current or recent cases, which is quite helpful. But he has a dizzying array of quotes and examples from military leaders and situations going back centuries. I don’t want to present too many in hopes that you will read the book and see them in context, but one sidebar (p. 113) is entitled “Ike & the Dykes” and is a fascinating story about Dwight Eisenhower I have never seen.
    Dr. Hunter covers a number of issues with military leadership and traditions. He examines parallels between military leadership and some of the behavior of drug addicted persons. There are interesting sections on attitudes towards women and the role of prostitution and official sanctioning of it over many centuries through the present.
    The last section of the book contains an array of in-depth personal accounts of a wide range of situations. Some of those who write identify themselves. Some are familiar cases such as that of Gregory Helle (author of A Walk in Hell: The Other Side of War) and Reverend Dorothy H. Mackey (co-founder of Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personel, Captain & Commander, Federal Women’s Supervisor of the Year, US Air Force Commendation Medal, US Air Force Achievement Medal). These ten personal stories which make up Part II of the book provides a rich set of case examples, which like the rest of the book, are very stirring to read.
    Despite the grim picture he paints, Dr. Hunter also has suggestions for change and even optimistic thoughts about it, noting that the military successfully dealt with racism against African Americans, and in some places this change preceded such changes in civilian life. This is not just about problems – it is about solutions.
    The book contains many fascinating pieces I was not expecting. I was fascinated by the “Pop Quiz” on p. 231 where one is asked to identify which “dangerous group” is being referred to – African Americans, Women, or Gays/Lesbians. Dr. Hunter has peppered the book with intriguing challenges to our knowledge.
    This is one of the best books on abuse I have ever read, and it stands alone in terms of the main topic – honor betrayed – sexual abuse in America’s military. I read it straight through – I had difficulty putting it down. I plan to read it a second time – there was so much of importance in it that it was hard to take it all in during one reading.
    This book should be required reading for citizens and legislators and all those who have anything to do with sending people off to war and welcoming them back home. Anyone who is offering service to veterans has, in my professional opinion, an obligation to read this book. There are many things in it which service personel are not likely to reveal.
    In case you are not familiar with Mic Hunter, he is a Licensed Psychologist and Marriage & Family Therapist who practices in St. Paul, MN. He’s the author of four other books including Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse, for which he received the Fay Honey Knopp Memorial Award from the National Organization on Male Sexual Victimization. If you haven’t seen it, I would also highly recommend a book he co-authored with Jim Struve – The Ethical Use of Touch in Therapy. He is the author of many articles and lectures and trains internationally.


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