The wounds of the Vietnam War, though it ended almost 40 years ago, still seem raw. Last Sunday’s Conversation by an anti-war activist who spent time in prison for defying the draft drew strong responses from Vietnam War veterans. Bruce Dancis, a former entertainment editor at The Sacramento Bee, returned to Cornell University recently for a two-day conference on “Vietnam – The War at Home.” The conference observed the 50th anniversary of student activism on the Cornell campus and the impact on former students.
The question we asked readers to respond to: How has student activism changed from the 1960s anti-Vietnam War protests to today?
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Think about those drafted
Re “No regrets that I fought the Vietnam War machine” (Forum, Nov. 30): Having survived the siege of the Marine Corps’ combat base at Khe Sanh, South Vietnam, in 1968, no one is more anti-war than I. War is certainly a terrible thing that negatively impacts, mentally and physically, those who have had that unfortunate firsthand horrific experience.
That said, I applaud Bruce Dancis’ correct decision to serve his time in federal prison for his draft avoidance. I wonder, though, if Dancis ever considers the one who took his place in the draft.
Craig W. Tourte, Rocklin
War won’t leave me alone
I salute Bruce Dancis for living up to his beliefs and sharing them in his article. As a Vietnam veteran, I had firsthand knowledge of the awful things the war did to both of our nations. The student anti-war movement that spread throughout our nation helped create the political will to finally end our misguided efforts in supporting a corrupt South Vietnam government.
In March, I revisited this beautiful country to see what transpired since my tour of duty ended in 1968. The trip was cathartic and illuminating. The country is now left in peace to heal on its own.
I know that there will be an enormous amount of media attention directed at revisiting all of the fateful decisions. I feel that these dialogues, while sometimes painful, can only help all of us to heal and learn from our past mistakes. I’d be glad to meet and work with Dancis toward that end anytime, anywhere.
Jerry Kaplan, Davis
I was in Vietnam with the Marines in December 1966 when you tore up your draft card. You mention that you “condemned the shabby treatment (the GIs) received when they came back – not from the anti-war movement but from their own government.” So are you saying that you only condemn the government for shabby treatment and not the anti-war movement’s shabby treatment? For most Vietnam vets, the shabby treatment was far worse from the anti-war movement. That I know.
Randall Hoffman, Sacramento
Resistance to war not that simple
Gee, how prescient of Bruce Dancis, at the tender age of 18 in 1966, to know that Vietnam would turn out to be a terrible mistake. Perhaps he had a superior virtue or crystal ball to enlighten him about what we learned later. Perhaps, just in his first semester in college, he had already studied “Just War” theory and knew enough about our war plans to know the war did not meet those criteria.
For me, fighting with the 25th Infantry in Cu Chi, the rights and wrongs were not so clear. At that stage of the war, many felt an obligation to obey the rule of law. We had accepted the benefits our government had provided us. Dancis turned out to be right about Vietnam and he deserves credit, in the civil disobedience tradition of Socrates, Thoreau, et al., for accepting his punishment rather than running off to another country.
But Dancis is wrong to imply that mistreatment of returning vets was only by our government, rather than by the “anti-war” camp. Wearing the uniform in public was no picnic back then.
Dennis Franklin Coupe, Granite Bay
Andy Alexis – I would reverse the premise of the question above: The lasting impact of the Vietnam War and the student activism then is that in both Gulf Wars our leaders opted to avoid the issue of drafting young men by instead calling up reserve Army units to meet manpower requirements. Student activism now has not been a major issue in our recent wars, mostly because most of them do not have a personal stake in war.
Jacqui Naud – There is really no comparison between the Vietnam protests in the 1960s and ’70s to student protests today. The Vietnam War was divisive for the entire country and impacted every family. The issues being protested today by students (fee increases, Occupy Movement) pale by comparison. I can’t read anything about the Vietnam protests without remembering the massacre at Kent State.
Yolanda McLaughlin – Very interesting article; it took me back to the days of peace protests, flower power, the hippie movement. Student activism has certainly changed and not for the better. Many young people will be angry or insulted, but I strongly voice my opinions because then action was taken by many, today not enough! Although the anti-war movement failed to stop the war, it brought attention to it. Though there are many out there who protest the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, these are what I would call “silent protesters.” A few take to the streets, but not enough to make a huge impact. In order to make positive changes, one needs to be involved and not be afraid to take to the streets and call attention to many of the ills that have taken over: the economy, the homeless, the hungry, etc. But there is too much of a laid- back attitude … in other words, why should I go out and protest, (when) someone else will do it? And that’s what has brought student activism to a standstill.