Friday, January 12, 2018

Jerusalem: Capital of One or Two Peoples?

On December 6, President Trump announced, “It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” For twenty-two years Presidents, both Democrat and Republican, including President Trump six months ago, signed a security waiver postponing this move to avoid complicating and harming prospects of achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Last week, President Trump declared boldly, “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.  This is nothing more, or less, than recognition of reality.” 
What President Trump and his White House team failed to recognize is that “reality” about Jerusalem is complicated by the city being the geographical and cultural center of legitimate bone-deep national aspirations of not one, but two peoples – Jews and Palestinians, and the heart of three religious traditions. That reality has led everyone involved in seeking peace to agree that the status of Jerusalem realistically can only be resolved in the context of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reaching an agreement on a formula for sharing the City.
According to a recent University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, two-thirds of Americans oppose the U.S. unilaterally making this move now, and even Republicans are closely divided. According to an American Jewish Committee poll, less than 20% of American Jews support taking this step immediately. The Union of Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish religious denomination, and pro-Israel/pro-peace JStreet both raised concerns about the wisdom and timing of the move. President Trump did deliver on a promise to some of his base, including his rightwing billionaire big donor Sheldon Adelson and a slim majority of fundamentalist Evangelical Christians.
 In the Middle East, while the President’s announcement pleased supporters of Israel’s current rightwing government, many Israeli advocates of peace opposed the move.  The announcement deeply angered Palestinians and frustrated Saudi and other Arab leaders on whom the White House appears to be depending for help in reaching a peace agreement.  The announcement completely ignored examples of two popular Israeli national heroes, Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin, who understood the complex, sensitive realities about Jerusalem.
In Fall 1967, shortly after Israel won the Six Day War and occupied Jerusalem, a young impetuous Israeli soldier raised the Israeli Flag over the city. General Moshe Dayan immediately ordered the flag to be taken down, warning that Jerusalem was too sensitive to be treated in such a cavalier manner.
Five decades later in 1995 during the Oslo negotiating process, Republican Senator Bob Dole and Representative Newt Gingrich introduced a Bill to mandate moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Bill won overwhelming support in Congress. Despite strong support for the Bill from AIPAC (viewed as the American lobby for Israel), Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and many Israeli and American Jewish supporters of the peace process were worried by the Bill. Rabin, who staunchly supported Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital, was concerned that the Bill could derail peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Motivated by Rabin’s concern and her own, Senator Diane Feinstein, a dedicated supporter of Israel, successfully introduced an amendment to the Bill that enabled the President to sign a waiver every six months, postponing moving the Embassy based on “national security considerations.”
Attempting to reassure critics who viewed his Jerusalem announcement as provocatively partisan, President Trump declared, “This decision is not intended, in any way, as a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement.  We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians. Positively, the President did also nuance his announcement by stating clearly, “We are not taking a position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders.  Those questions are up to the parties involved.” On January 2, appearing to contradict this nuanced position, President Trump tweeted, “We’ve taken Jerusalem off the table.”
The Jerusalem announcement and this latest tweet have cast a dark cloud of doubt and pessimism over the Trump Administration’s promise soon to unveil a plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace and over U.S. creditability as mediator.  The simplest step the President could take to clarify the U.S. position and help restore confidence and creditability would be to announce that as the U.S. currently recognizes (West) Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel, so as part of a mutually acceptable two-state peace agreement, the U.S. will recognize (East) Jerusalem as the Capital of Palestine. Such an announcement would help mitigate the harmful effects of the move and could, indeed, kick start negotiations for a realistic two-state peace agreement

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

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Preventing War in Korea:
Lessons from the Iran Nuclear Deal
The possibility of war in Korea presents the greatest danger of nuclear war since the Cuba Missile Crisis.  The danger is compounded by the fact that both North Korea and our own country currently are headed by erratic and potentially irrational leaders.
Despite clear differences in the two situations, there are lessons from successfully negotiating the Iran Nuclear Deal that can provide guidance for what we need to do related to North Korea.  Here are six lessons:
First - Just as urgency to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons provided impetus for negotiating a deal, so dangers of war on the Korean Peninsula provide urgency for resolving this crisis by diplomacy.
·        In 1950-53 the Korean War, memorialized in David Halberstam’s book, The Coldest Winter, caused 4 million deaths. And the war never ended. Estimates of how many would die in war in Korea today range from tens of thousands to millions, if nuclear weapons are employed, which then also would risk worldwide nuclear war.
·        Experts agree that a preemptive U.S. attack on N. Korea would have unpredictable but likely catastrophic consequences. Congress should act immediately to prevent President Trump from starting a war without congressional authorization, by supporting H.R.4140/S.2016 and S 2047.
Second - Remembering history accurately is essential, and not something we Americans are good at doing.
·        Our tendency to see the world as “good vs. evil” (and, of course, we are “the good”) leads to dangerous misunderstanding and unrealistic policies. In his 2002 State of the Union address George W. Bush ignorantly and dangerously declared “Iran, Iraq and North Korea the “axis of evil.”
·        In relation to Iran, most Americans bitterly remember the hostage crisis of 1979-80, but tend to forget that in 1953 the U.S. orchestrated the overthrow of the elected Iranian government of Mohammad Mossadegh and in 1988 we shot down an Iranian passenger plane killing 300 people.
·        In relation to North Korea, Kim Jong-Un’s and Donald Trump’s wild rhetorical threats are scary news, but news media mostly fail to remind us that in 1950 President Truman publicly threatened to use nuclear weapons against the North, and that the US introduced nuclear weapons into South Korea in1958, apparently violating the Armistice and ignoring the warnings of our allies. That was fifty years before the North developed its own nuclear weapons. Remembering this history is essential to understanding North Korea’s fears of us
Third - Both unilateral and multilateral communications are important.
·        We learned from the Cuban Missile crisis and from the Iran negotiations that one on one communication between leaders is very helpful and that having a direct “hotline” is vitally important in a crisis.. The US needs a hotline with North Korea.  (Frankly, I’d prefer if Secretary Tillerson or Mattes were on our end of the hotline.)
·        Multi-lateral negotiations P5+1 (Five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, with the U.S. delegation headed by a woman, Wendy Sherman) were key to achieving the Iran Nuclear Deal.
·        Six-Party talks involving China, N. Korea, Japan, S. Korea, Russia and the US succeeded in reaching agreement in 1994 that delayed N. Korea’s weapons program for a decade. After that agreement broke down, neither side pursued new talks with sufficient creativity and determination. Negotiations involving all these parties are needed again now, aimed at reducing the immediate threat of war and, in the longer run, aimed at finally ending the Korean War and achieving permanent peace.
Fourth – Popular Movements and People-to-People Diplomacy Can Help Push Governments Toward Peace
·        Growing international momentum to abolish nuclear weapons, including the July 7, 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year, and Pope Francis’ recent declaration condemning not only the use, but possession of nuclear weapons provide powerful positive pressure for resolving the Korea crisis.
·        The most dramatic and important people to people initiative in relation to Korea is “Women Cross DMZ,” endorsed by the National Councils of Women of both South and North Korea, urging a three point program:
“A freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program in exchange for a US security guarantee and suspension of US-S. Korea joint military exercises; start of a peace process, including significant involvement by women, to end the Korean war; and a liaison office in Washington and Pyongyang to heal legacies of the war, including retrieving remains of soldiers killed in the war and helping reunite Korean families.”
·        South Korea’s newly elected President Moon Jae-In who favors pursuing talks with the North makes the women’s initiative even more relevant and timely. The U.S. should more actively seek President Moon’s advice.
Fifth - Sanctions can serve a useful role by increasing pressure for reaching a resolution, but without diplomatic efforts and negotiations, sanctions will not be sufficient.
·        Sanctions were useful in pressing for a deal with Iran, but clearly it was the serious give and take of multilateral negotiations that produced the agreement.
·        Rather than trying to pressure China to increase sanctions on North Korea, the U.S. needs to cooperate with China, and with South Korea, Japan and Russia to develop a common strategy for multilateral negotiations.
Sixth - Effective serious negotiations require both parties to give as well as get and “the gives” and “the gets” have be perceived as being equivalent.

  • It is totally unrealistic to expect N. Korea to agree to the US ultimate goal as a precondition for negotiations. Indeed, it seems negotiations have to begin realistically acknowledging N. Korea already possesses nuclear weapons.
  •  Some version of “Freeze for freeze,” as in China’s view or the Women’s Call makes sense and is a more realistic goal.
·    Negotiations to reduce tensions and prevent war should be combinedwwith developing a process aimed at the longer term goal of ending the war and achieving peace and normalization on the Korean Peninsula.

*A Hopeful Scenario Involving the Iran Nuclear Deal, North  Korea and Israeli-Palestinian Peace.  Preserving the Iran Nuclear Deal is essential both for what it accomplishes related to Iran and as an example to encourage a negotiated resolution of the crisis with North Korea. President Trump has promised to kill the Iran Deal, in part because of Iran’s support of threats to Israel from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, though these issues were never part of negotiations with Iran. Killing the Iran Deal would very likely kill the prospect of negotiating a deal with North Korea.

President Trump also has promised to achieve the "unltimate deal" between Israel  and the Palestinians. If there is progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace in the form of a mutually acceptable two-state solution with peace and security for both peoples; and the U.S. positively builds on accepting West Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel by announcing it will accept East Jerusalem as the Capital of Palestine, this would have significant positive effects in the region and on Iran. It would strengthen President Rouhani and moderate elements in Iran and very likely lead to Iran supporting the peace agreement and ending support for threats against Israel. That, in turn, would contribute to preserving the Iran Nuclear Deal and encourage a diplomatic deal with North Korea.

December 2017

Thursday, November 9, 2017

On GUN Control: People are More Principled And Practical Than Many Politicians

            In the wake of many mass murders in our country, including the latest last weekend at a church in the small Texas town of Sutherland Springs, public opinion, among both Democrats and Republicans, including NRA members and national police organizations, has shifted to where majorities support expansion of background checks and restrictions on purchase of assault weapons. The question is whether politicians will pay attention to people’s views and support sensible stricter laws or, as most politicians have done up until now, march in lock step to lobbying by the NRA. 
          The NRA wasn’t always a big-moneyed lobby and wasn’t always against restrictions on guns. Growing-up in New Jersey as a teenager in the 1950s, I joined the NRA and remember its major emphases were on teaching good marksmanship and gun safety. In the1930s, responding to the deadly use of machine guns by gangsters, the NRA supported restrictions adopted in the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act. Following the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Bobby Kennedy in 1968, the NRA worked with the White House and Congress to support extending and tightening gun control legislation.  

It was during the 1970s, and dramatically in 1980 with their endorsement of Ronald Reagan for President, that the NRA reversed direction. Now, the NRA focuses on lobbying against any gun control measures and gives politicians grades which, combined with providing or withholding crucial campaign funds can determine if a candidate is elected or not. The conflict between growing majority popular support for some more controls and the NRA’s rigid opposition to any gun restrictions is dramatic and should be disturbing to all Americans who want to prevent violence and who believe in democracy.

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and NRA Public Communications director Dana Loesch rightly criticize Hollywood’s sick addiction to violence. While Hollywood provides culturally destructive inspiration for violence, by promoting massive gun sales and resisting even modest gun control measures, the NRA consistently contributes to people possessing more and more weapons to commit violence. 

            A few facts from reliable recent polls reveal how popular views have changed and how out-of-step the NRA is in relation to majority opinion among Americans. According to Gallup polls, just eight years ago the percent of Americans who believed laws controlling firearms should remain as they are (approximately 43%) was nearly equal to the percent who believed the laws should be made more strict. Today, almost twice as many Americans (60% to 33%) believe gun control laws should be more strict.

            Polls in 2016/2017 by CBS, CNN, Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and Washington University in Missouri show that between 84% and 94% of American voters (Democrats and Republicans) support requiring background checks on all gun buyers. A Pew Research Center poll reveals that 79% of Republicans or Republican-leaning gun owners who are members of the NRA would support measures “preventing the mentally-ill from purchasing guns” and 72% support “barring gun purchases by people on no-fly or watch lists.” I assume similar or even greater numbers of NRA members would support keeping guns out of the hands of persons with serious criminal records like Devin Kelley who committed the mass murder in Sutherland Springs Texas.

A Pew poll in spring 2017 showed that majorities of both Democrats and Republicans support banning assault-style weapons. While 80% of Democrats support such a ban, sadly so far, while a majority, only 54% of Republicans support a ban. 

            Appreciating how studies show that some stricter gun control laws can help protect police as well as the public, the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, which includes nine national law enforcement organizations, supports expanding required background checks. And seven of the nine national organizations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCC), also support a “ban on new semi-automatic assault weapons.”

            The NRA opposes any and all of these sensible restrictions on guns, and will work with big money to defeat candidates for office who support them

            In this election season and in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, people should demand that every candidate for city, state or federal office declare support publicly for expanding background checks on all potential gun buyers and for banning purchase of assault weapons. Allowing the NRA to block these majority-supported sensible stricter gun control measures not only represents a threat to the lives of more innocent people, but also represents a threat to democracy.

Monday, October 30, 2017

“Faith Over Fear” Conference in Everett
Challenges Islamophobia Industry
By Ron Young
Many of us may know people who fear Muslims, and we may have heard how hate crimes against American Muslims have increased dramatically in the last two years. But only a few of us may be aware that there is a well-funded industry using mis-information and lies to generate the fears and hatred. That was the focus of a conference at Trinity Lutheran Church in Everett, Washington this week attended by local faith and civic leaders, including city and state officials and two Police Officers.
This is one in a series of programs entitled “Faith Over Fear: Standing with Our Muslim Neighbors” being held in a dozen cities and towns across Washington State, sponsored by Neighbors in Faith, the American Muslim Empowerment Network (AMEN), and Faith Action Network.  The program provides a model that organizers hope will be copied in other states. The two speakers were Aneelah Afzali of AMEN and Reverend Terry Kyllo of Neighbors in Faith.
In a time when there is a lot of popular anxiousness and anger, spawned by people’s experiences of economic , cultural and national insecurity, it’s easy to stir-up fear and hatred against other people whom we do not know. Most of us don’t know any Muslims personally. We’re probably unaware but affected negatively by how Islam is featured in primetime news coverage more than any other religion and how the images of Muslims in the media and in movies and TV series are overwhelming negative and frightening.
Suggesting that awful actions of some Muslims are representative of Islam or all  Muslims is like saying that beliefs and actions of the Ku Klux Klan are representative of Christianity and all Christians. But that’s exactly what the multi-million dollar Islamophobia Industry does. Read the report Fear, Inc.: 
Well-documented facts can help counter the false negative images of Islam and American Muslims. See for common false assertions and factual responses, and visit the Southern Poverty Law Center’s online guide that monitors anti-Muslim extremist groups like “Act for America.”
Here are a few examples of what many of us learned at the conference:
·        A 2009 Gallup Poll found that American Muslim women are the second most highly educated religious community in the U.S. and are just as likely as American Muslim men to have a college degree.
·        A 2011 Gallup Poll found that, “Of the major religious groups studied, Muslim Americans are the staunchest opponents of military attacks against civilians.”
·        Sharia is an Arabic term that refers to Islamic practices and path. American Muslims follow the path by practicing charity, praying, taking care of family and neighbors, and performing other compassionate acts. American Muslims believe in respecting the U.S. Constitution and obeying the laws of the land.
·        Very similar to the “Golden Rule,” in Jewish and Christian teachings, Prophet Mohammad taught, “None of you will have faith until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”
While facts like these can help overcome false images of Muslims, even more effective is getting to know Muslims personally.  Speakers at the conference suggested that we find ways of publicly meeting and welcoming our Muslim neighbors: arrange to visit a Mosque or invite a Muslim to come speak at our church or host an interfaith exchange or forum. (Neighbors in Faith or the Council on American-Islamic Relations can help organize such activities.)
Speakers also urged us as individuals and as communities to respond actively and publicly to hateful rhetoric and threats toward Muslims. Speak out, including on social media when you hear hate speech directed at Muslims, and encourage your friends to speak out. Show up with signs and support when there is threat to a Mosque or a hate crime incident. Urge your church, synagogue, neighborhood association or work place to post a sign of solidarity with Muslims. Write an op-ed article or letter-to-editor about American Muslims you know and how we must stand together in support of American values of religious freedom, tolerance and diversity.  
People of faith and goodwill in neighborhoods across our state, and all across our country, have power to assert what is central to all our faith traditions: Love of God and love of neighbor. Now is the time to act.  

Ron Young is Consultant with twenty-five American Jewish, Christian and Muslim national religious leaders working together for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Ron lives in Everett and can be contacted at

Friday, October 20, 2017


I was cold, huddled amid a mass of others sitting on a concrete ramp leading down toward an entrance to the Pentagon. We had marched, climbed over a falling-down piece of fence, and there we were...six hundred disparate souls come together to say no to the Vietnam War and the draft.  We wanted to raise that symbol of the war off its foundation and say yes to what we believed America stood for.

I was twenty-four years old that October in 1967. A child of refugees who fled Austria after Hitler’s Anschluss, I now often wonder if my parents would gain entry into this country under the current administration’s immigration policies.

In Vienna during World War I, my mother’s family was poverty-stricken and through a program of the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), she and her sister were sent to Holland to be housed and fed for a time. When my parents came to America, she, a Catholic and my father, a non-practicing Jew, decided to affiliate with a Quaker meeting. I grew up there, absorbing the teaching that there is a light common to all people and we strive to honor that light which is common to all of us by standing against war and discrimination.

We had music! My father studied and sang opera in Vienna though he later decided on a career in aerospace engineering. We sang. We made music together. There was Beethoven’s Fidelio and Ninth Symphony and Mozart’s Magic Flute, odes to finding and giving voice to freedom. My brother brought home Joan Baez, The Kingston Trio, The Weavers. Music and words were increasingly woven into my expression of belief.  My own “personal troubadour” was Phil Ochs. He once came to a teach-in and even though there were only 5 people in attendance, he sang his heart out.

      ‘I can’t add my name to the fight when I’m gone...
       I can’t try to right what is wrong when I’m gone...
       I guess I won’t be singing on this song when I’m gone...
       So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.’

I still hear your voice, Phil.

As I recall, the night before we levitated the Pentagon, a group of us went to hear Judy Collins. And she sang me to the next day.

I was on the cusp of the Baby Boomer generation, born a year or two before its official start.  So I was in some ways traditional, anticipating college, grad school, marriage, family, job...and in others part of the huge social and personal changes sweeping our country.

In high school I joined members of our Meeting who went to Ft. Detrick to protest against research into biological and chemical warfare. I walked along US 1 with two Indian pacifists who were teaching non-violence along their journey.

In college I joined civil rights and peace activities and along with my passion for the revolutionary writer/artist William Blake, I thrilled to hearing IF Stone and Carl Oglesby. From them I began to understand the connection between individuals and the institutions we people...and what is required of an involved citizenry in times of crisis.

One college professor (of Shakespeare, alas) failed one of my papers because it was late after I attended a peace rally. He told me I would never amount to anything with my attitude and behavior. I told him I wanted both schooling and social action. It shocked him when I won a graduate fellowship and honorable mention in another, despite his rants. It was to further study William Blake and archetypal patterns in literature that I entered grad school in Toronto (William Blake and DH Lawrence: The Politics of Art)... and drove a young draft resister who was refused conscientious objector status across the border.

After grad school I was engaged by the Canadian and American Friends Service Committees to work on peace education and with high school students on social issues. A group of young people wanted to talk with draft board clerks, the women who staffed the Selective Service System offices where young men registered for the draft.  The students thought we could convince these clerks that sending young men to die via an inequitable draft in an undeclared war was wrong.  It wasn’t that simple. Those women showed they believed just as deeply in what they did as we in what we were saying and doing. How to bridge that divide?

We organized a peace caravan that traveled to various cities meeting with civic and religious groups to speak and engage in conversation about the war and the draft. At one meeting in a crowded church basement a man stood up after I’d spoken and said:  “If I had a daughter like you I’d be so ashamed and I’d want her dead.”  Shock. Some fear.  Anger.  I wanted to scream at him all the swear words I knew.  But something in me led me to ask him the question that led us to a conversation, if not resolution: Why?

I went on to a career in nonprofit social action (Women Strike for Peace, Clergy and Laity Concerned, the ACLU, Save the Children to name a few). I was arrested with a group of interfaith clergy for praying for peace in the Capitol rotunda. I visited American POW’s in North Vietnam and brought them letters from family and to one a pair of glasses as he’s broken his.  And subsequently I went on to hold a senior position in a global communications and advertising firm where I focused on helping companies communicate successfully with their stakeholders. Carrying on, I am now an executive and career/life coach working with corporate leaders and individual people in their 20’s to their 80’s to achieve their “next.”

Levitating the Pentagon was my first act of civil disobedience. We sat on that ramp and the police came with huge hoses and sprayed us with icy water as we heard the paddy wagons approach. I got pneumonia.

That levitation and the events of October ’67 were a milestone for disparate individuals and organizations which came together for common cause.  Labor, religious, women’s rights, student, civil liberties and other organizations convened (not always easily and cohesively) because the war had to end... and because we all knew we had to help make that happen together.

As I string together these pieces of my younger life and subsequent living, levitating the Pentagon is one of my proudest stories. In committing to lift that symbol of the war off its foundations, I know that for me and for the many movements that converged, it was we who we who were lifted and, I pray, are rising still.

Trudi Schutz
October 2017
Trudi Schutz was National Coordinator of the March Against Death in Washington, DC November. 13-15, 1969, in which more than 38,000 Americans walked single file in state by state delegations, starting with Alabama, from Arlington Memorial Cemetary to the Capitol, carrying the names and calling out the names at the White House of American soldiers from their state who had been killed and the names of Vietnamese villages destroyed in the war.

Friday, September 29, 2017

PBS Vietnam War Documentary – Commentary on Episode Ten

Episode Ten deals with the end of the war, with the Vietnam Memorial Wall and memories, and with some of the war’s legacy issues.  There’s much in this episode that stirs me, brings tears to my eyes, renews my anger at the war, and reminds me of lessons yet to be learned to prevent future wars.

The film’s images of tragic division among Vietnamese at the war’s end– victorious NVA and southern NLF fighters and fearful, fleeing south Vietnamese reminds me of what Madame Nguyen Thi Ninh told my wife and me in March on our visit to Vietnam. Leaning close to us as a way of making sure we knew what she was about to say is very important, she said, “More terrible than all the bombing and violence is the way America divided Vietnamese society, divided Vietnamese as a people.” Madame Ninh supported and served the National Liberation Front  and her country in several posts, including after the war as Vietnam’s Ambassador to the European Union; her brother served as a Captain in ARVN, the U.S-backed South Vietnamese army.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have said that the Vietnam War was a tragedy, which certainly is true. While there is wisdom in the film’s publicized slogan that, “There is no single truth in war,” Burns also has said, “At the war’s end, a country disappeared.” That is not true. As the film repeatedly reveals, while never having the courage to explicitly acknowledge, the “country” that disappeared at the war’s end was created and sustained by the United States  Even when the U.S. provided Saigon with more than a half million American soldiers and massive aid and weaponry, “our side” wasn’t winning. As Episode Ten dramatically reviews, when the U.S. withdrew, ARVN collapsed and the Saigon regime of Generals Thieu and Ky fell.

            Duong Van Mai Elliott, who worked on the Rand Corporation’s Pentagon Papers study and most of whose family fled at the war’s end, is quoted saying, “There were many mistakes made by the Americans, but the biggest mistake was creating the sense of dependency.” The film shows that it was much more than “a sense of dependency.” From our earliest involvement supporting the French, America’s war, rationalized by anti-Communism, was a war against Vietnam’s independence. What the war’s end actually marked was the completion of the Vietnamese struggle for national independence. Vietnam is one country and after one hundred years, in Spring 1975 it was finally free from foreign military control and occupation.

            There were two other images in Episode Ten that particularly stuck with me. One was of U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin resisting preparations to evacuate, as he stubbornly insisted that Saigon was not about to fall. While the film suggests he may have been suffering mentally from a bout of Pneumonia, Martin’s view also represented how deeply and dangerously delusional U.S. policy was. The other image, which also appears in the book, The Vietnam War, by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns (page  561) is of Henry Kissinger and five other white men in suits standing and sitting comfortably in the White House,  joking and laughing aloud, at the same time as Saigon is falling and Vietnamese dependents of America’s War are fleeing for their lives.

           The aftermath of the war was bound to be difficult and painful. While the film makes a point of acknowledging that the “bloodbath” so loudly and often predicted by defenders of the war never happened, the process of recovery and reconciliation was very hard, including the forced reeducation for many supporters of the Saigon regime. At the time this was happening, the same NLF woman leader my wife and I met in March publicly criticized her government's reeducation program as being much too rigid and lasting too long.

Other legacy issues include unexploded ordinance which has claimed many thousands of Vietnamese lives, mostly of children, since the end of the war, and the multi-generational effects of massive spraying of Agent Orange. The U.S. government has been shamefully slow and reluctant in dealing with the effects of Agent Orange on American soldiers. Inspiringly, many American veterans are involved partnering with and supporting Vietnamese who are working on addressing these ongoing effects of the war. Both the film and the accompanying book could have informed us about how to make contributions to American/Vietnamese projects, like the Mine Action Center in Dong Ha or Peace Trees Vietnam, dedicated to healing these wounds of war. Unfortunately, they didn’t do this.
The other major issue I need to comment on is how the anti-war movement is portrayed, not just in Episode Ten, but in the whole eighteen hours of the film. Frankly, given Burns and Novick’s claim that one of the film’s two major goals is to understand what was happening on the home front during the war, their portrayal of the anti-war movement is pathetically weak, two-dimensional and, at some points, deliberately biased.

In my responses to the other nine episodes, I’ve cited specific examples of when and how Burns and Novick ignore or provide very sketchy treatments of significant actions and persons in the anti-war movement starting with their failure even to mention the self-immolation of three Americans - Alice Herz, Norman Morrison and Roger LaPorte in 1965.

Burns and Novick give almost no film time to tracing the growth of draft resistance and resistance within the military, and none to the role of religious communities and women's organizations in inspiring and expanding the anti-war movement. Their treatment of Martin Luther King's decision to publicly oppose the war is simplistic and much too brief. While they interview and quote dozens of veterans, except for one activist, Bill Zimmerman, they don’t do interviews or personal stories of any war resisters.

The growth of anti-war demonstrations from a few hundred participants to thousands and more than a million in the Vietnam Moratorium deserves much more attention, including interviews with some of the persons who organized these demonstrations, as well as with participants. Just as debates about military strategies were a focus in the film, so there should have been more attention to debates about strategies within the anti-movement.

As Todd Gitlin writes in his essay on the anti-war movement in Geoffrey Ward’s book accompanying the film, “The millions who passed through it –and they were many millions – were as various as America itself.  .  .  .the movement encompassed members of the armed forces and the clergy, women’s groups, trade unionists, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, nurses, teachers, social workers, scientists, architects, and city planners.” The various, multiple stories about the movement are told poorly if at all in the PBS film.

As I skimmed through  the index to Geoffrey Ward’s book which also pretty closely reflects what is and isn’t covered in the film, I was shocked by how few, if any, references there are to national organizations that played major roles in educating and organizing Americans in opposition to the war. Assuming you may be familiar with at least some of these and without going into details about what each organization did, here’s a list of several national organizations with the number of references in the book's index:

American Friends Service Committee – 0; Business Executives Move for Vietnam Peace – 0; Catholic Peace Fellowship and Protestant denominational peace fellowships – 0; Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors – 0; Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam – 0; Fellowship of Reconciliation – 0; Institute for Policy Studies – 0; War Resisters League - 1; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom – 0; and Women’s Strike for Peace – 1.
Here is a partial list of organizations formed in the1960s explicitly to educate and mobilize opposition to the war and how many times they are referenced in the index:

Coalition to Stop Funding the War - 0; Chicano Moratorium - 0; Committee of Liaison (with American POWs) – 0; Indochina Peace Campaign – 1; Indochina Summer – 0; National or New Mobilization Committee to End the War – 0; Resist – 0; Student Mobilization Committee – 0; Vietnam Moratorium Committee - 1; We Won’t Go – 0.
Several important existing national organizations developed strong anti-war positions as the war developed, including the Leadership Council of Women Religious, National Student Association, National Council of Churches, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (Reform). None of these organizations are referenced in Ward’s book or in the film.

 There is a special page in the book, which features a photo of Jane Fonda sitting and expressing solidarity with a North Vietnamese artillery battery, a clearly insensitive spontaneous and counterproductive act for which Fonda apologized many times. Accompanying the photo is text listing several Americans who visited Hanoi during the war, including Cora Weiss who organized the Committee of Liaison to carry mail between American POWs and their families.

The juxtaposition of the photo and names of anti-war activists angered many vets and clearly was intended to associate anti-war activism with disloyalty to country. The anti-war activists whose names appear in that text, including Jane Fonda, and the millions of Americans who opposed the war in Vietnam don’t deserve that biased, shoddy treatment. In failing to portray and personalize the anti-war movement in the way they successfully do with many veterans, Burns, Novick and Ward fail to accomplish the goal of promoting understanding about what was happening at home during the war.

The film makes a major contribution to understanding what happened on the battlefields of Vietnam, including some of the ways the war affected soldiers. Even in that focus, the film fails for not including more about thousands of Vietnam veterans suffering PTSD, homelessness and suicide.  

We have a lot more work to do in understanding and overcoming divisions in our society - divisions that didn’t start with the war in Vietnam but got deeper during it, and recently are exacerbated by Donald Trump, first as candidate and now as President.

During the Vietnam War, as National Youth Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), Ron resisted the draft, led an interfaith/interracial mission to Saigon focused on repression, carried mail from between their families and American POW’s in Hanoi, and coordinated national peace marches on Washington, DC in November 1969 and May 1970. Ron lives in Everett WA and can be contacted at

Thursday, September 28, 2017

PBS Vietnam War Documentary – Commentary on Episode Nine

            Episode Nine of the PBS  documentary, “A Disrespectful Loyalty,” covers the period January 1971-March 1973, including the U.S./ARVN offensive in Laos,  the trial of Lieutenant Calley related to the massacre at My Lai, the emergence of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and mass anti-war demonstrations in Spring 1971, President Nixon’s war strategy related to the1972 election campaign against Senator Mc Govern, the North Vietnamese/ National Liberation Front 1972 “Easter Offensive, U.S Christmas Bombing of North Vietnam in December 1972, tensions between Nixon and President Thieu in Saigon about negotiations, and the Paris Peace Agreement on January 27 1973, calling for withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Vietnam and the release of Prisoners of War.

            Near the beginning of Episode Nine, President Nixon talking about the offensive into Laos, which is failing, says to Henry Kissinger, “It’s a win, see.  . . .I don’t care what happens, this is a win.” The cynical dismissal of what is actually happening on the ground, but even much worse, the dishonesty  and apparent absolutely callous disregard for the many Americans and Vietnamese being sent to their deaths on behalf of failed policies is part of what fueled the formation of Vietnam Veterans Against War (VVAW).

            With very few exceptions, the utter failure by senior U.S. political and military leaders to acknowledge and take responsibility for failed American war policies in Vietnam, policies which many of us understood were unjust and immoral in the first place, contributed to some of the negative public reaction to Lt. Calley’s conviction for what he and others did in My Lai. Afterall, many people said, Calley was “just doing his duty.”  The other even more disturbing and broader basis of support for Calley is the view that he was “just killing  Gooks.”

Burns and Novick acknowledge in anecdotes how racism was a significant contributing factor in America’s war in Vietnam, but even based just on the evidence they present, the subject deserved a much deeper treatment and accounting. Why didn’t they include one or two of those special subject vignettes the film does well or include an essay on the role of racism in the accompanying book by Geoffrey Ward.

            The film’s coverage of John Kerry and John Musgrave participating in the VVAW action at the Capitol on April 18 is good. That the film has followed Musgrave over several episodes and allowed him to tell his personal informing and moving. If Burns and Novik had done the same with one or two men who had resisted the draft and perhaps gone to prison, allowing them to tell their personal stories, the film would have been less biased and been more helpful to us all in understanding  more clearly what was happening on the home front.

As the U.S. strategy to end the war came to rely more on negotiations, the problem presented by the Thieu regime became more evident. Already in 1969 Thieu’s position was that four issues were “not negotiable" - No coalition government, territorial integrity (i.e., of South Vietnam which meant No to one government for all Vietnam, unless it’s Thieu’s government,), No to participation of the Communist Party and, No to neutralism.” All of these issues were ones that leaders and followers of Vietnam’s “Third Force” movement viewed with more flexibility and in some cases held the exact opposite view. For example, many in those ranks, including such key leaders as Madame Ngo Ba Thanh, Thich Tri Quang, National Assembly member and publisher of Tin Sang newspaper Ngo Cong Duc, and General Duong Vanh Minh, courageously advocated for formation of a coalition government in South Vietnam several years before the end of the war. They and their supporters viewed this as absolutely essential to ending the war and negotiating reunification of the country. 

The Thieu/Ky government was adamant on these issues and used suspicion of disagreement with their views as a basis for arresting and imprisoning people. In 1969, the U.S. Embassy in Saigon publicly acknowledged that the Saigon regime was holding at least 50,000 political prisoners, most of them supporters of the Third Force. In 1970, thanks to a hand drawn map by Loi Nyugen, a former political prisoner, members of a US Congressional delegation on a visit to Con Son island prison were able to find and photograph the infamous Tiger Cages where hundreds of prisoners were tortured. The photo taken by then senate staffer, later Senator Tom Harkin appeared on the cover of Life Magazine July 17 1970. 

Burns and Novick failed to deal substantively with the political positions and significance of  the Third Force movement.The fact that there is not even a reference to the Tiger Cages in the film or in Geoffrey Ward’s book should be a source of serious embarrassment to all three, but I fear it is not.

            Many of the most prominent leaders of the non-Communist Third Force movement may have died. Some also suffered under the Communist government which came to power at the end of the war. Some are still alive and /or their friends and children could tell their stories. To the extent that the United States had paid more attention and provided any significant support for the ideas advocated by Third Force leaders and supporters the transition toward the end of the war and reunification could have been less wrenching and painful. Even more basically, if Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson had paid more attention to these Vietnamese early on rather than ignorantly and arrogantly imposing the rule of Ngo Dinh Diem, there wouldn’t  have been an American war in Vietnam in the first place.

Vietnam is one of many countries where Cold War blinders caused the United States to commit disastrous policies. The costs of doing this in Vietnam, in terms of American and Vietnamese lives (and Cambodian and Laotian lives) were staggering.  The failure of the film more substantially to address this basic issue in U.S. policy and thus address deep divisions in our society resulting from the war represents a waste of some portion of the enormous amount of resources devoted to the film. This also represents the film's failure to shine light on deeper lessons we need to learn. In figuring out why Burns and Novick failed to do this, it may be the case that some funders didn’t want to dig that deep..