Last August, America began observing the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The Pentagon has $63 million to commemorate the long war, which lasted until 1975. Pentagon priorities are to thank and honor Vietnam War veterans, to highlight the service of the armed forces in the war, and contributions on the home front.
There is a website for the Pentagon commemoration at http://www.vietnamwar50th.com/. Activists in the peace movement during the war saw the website and found it to be mostly propagandistic and needing correction. I agree.
The Pentagon commemoration omits contributions of the peace movement “on the home front” that helped bring an end to the war. It was a movement of leaders and activists: veterans, mothers, wives, children, civil rights, faith, labor, student and academic progressives. Chicanas were part of it.
To correct the distortions, a peace commemoration is being organized. The first step is a conference on Friday and Saturday, May 1-2, in Washington, D.C., titled “Vietnam – The Power of Protest – Telling the Truth – Learning the Lessons.”.
The conference has a star-studded program of progressive leaders of the past half century: Dolores Huerta, Danny Glover, Daniel Ellsberg, Phil Donahue, former Congresspersons Pat Schroeder, Ron Dellums and current Reps. Barbara Lee and John Conyers, singer Holly Near, and more.
In addition to Dolores Huerta, three other Mexican-American/Chicanos are in the program: Luis J. Rodriguez, Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, who marched in the National Chicano Moratorium against the war as a teenager on August 29, 1970; Dr. Jorge Mariscal, Vietnam veteran, professor and writer about the Chicano movement and the Vietnam War; and myself, who chaired the National Chicano Moratorium. We helped form a new group, the Chicana Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee, to support the conference and to educate our communities on the truth and lessons of the war.
The largest peace activities were in the East and Midwest. The greatest impact of the war was in African American and Latino communities. Protesters Martin Luther King, Jr. and Muhammad Ali were the major African American leaders of those protests.
Early Latino protests by leaders like Congressman Ed Roybal, journalists Ruben Salazar, Francisca Flores and Enriqueta Vasquez, and activists Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Corky Gonzales, Reies Tijerina and Bert Corona was not covered. National publicity came when police attacked the Chicano Moratorium and confrontation ensued, which the establishment and media blamed on the community.
The 30,000 demonstrators showed that huge percentages of Chicanos were against the war, considering that Mexican Americans in the 1970 census were only about 2.5 percent of the population.
Armed Forces statistics report “Hispanic” fatalities in the war as 349, but the truth is that there were closer to 10 times that many fatalities. National GI Forum Leader Ruben Treviso says that one of every two Latinos in the war was in a combat unit, one of every five was killed in action, one out of every three was wounded.
Poverty and discrimination were causes of the high death rate, but official policy was the main cause. Project 100,000, instituted in October 1966, reduced Armed Service standards for language proficiency and “mental and physical” deficiencies. The people of color and poor troops brought in under the program were over 10 percent of the total, serving disproportionately in combat, while predominately white college students were exempted from the draft. We will be reporting back on the conference soon.
The Chicana Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee (CVPCC) can be contacted at phone 323-229-1994, email email@example.com, and CVPCC, 1107 Fair Oaks Blvd, South Pasadena, CA 91030.
Photo: U.S. soldier adiding wounded comrades near Hue, Vietnam in 1968. | Art Greenspon/AP