An Open Letter To David Harris

Note to readers – This essay was written while researching my memoir Moon Shadow Of War.

Link –

Dear Mr. Harris,                                                                                                   July 2013

Thank you for your principled stand on the United States War in Vietnam through the years. I just finished reading your book, Our War – What We Did In Vietnam And What It Did To Us (1996). As elements of the media play a constant drumbeat for war in Iran, Syria, Mali and elsewhere, your experiences and conclusions involving the U.S. War in Vietnam are as relevant as ever.

I also want to thank you for the explanation on how militarism has inculcated our culture. You feel it contributed to sustaining the war effort in Vietnam. Agreed. With some students, I helped start a Culture Of Peace Club at a community college out of a similar understanding that the country needs a vast cultural revolution.

Before I continue, it is important to know we are about the same age. The atomic bombing of Nagasaki happened a month after my parents brought me into the world. Through the years, those events, along with the Dresden bombing and others taught me that even the so-called good wars might be necessary, but not good.

We share some other experiences. I was brought up in the cowboy, John Wayne era. I have some wonderful pictures all decked out in the regalia of the wild, Wild West. Little did we know, as we went about shooting native peoples and other so-called bad guys, that we were being culturally trained to do the same to Panamanians, Dominicans, and a multitude of Asians.

I look in horror as I see young people subjected to ultra violent computer games, especially as advertised on T.V. sports channels. I’m sure you do too. There is certainly overlap also with the way sports are conducted and presented to young people. That “way” is intertwined with the military and violence generally. A mentality of win at any costs is part of that ”way.”

I also struggled through the Vietnam period. You took the draft resister route and prison. Mine was a different approach – avoid the military draft at all costs. I was drafted four times but managed to escape the grasps of the military. Some of it was luck. For example, I drew a relatively high number when drafted for a third time around in 1969.

Like you, I was a quiet, reserved young man. Unlike you, it took me longer to grasp the underpinnings of the U.S. War in Vietnam. I was a young teacher when I became a rank and filer in the anti-war movement. Passing out leaflets and petitioning were my forte.

I led nothing. The closest I came to a leadership role was when I worked with some students on a high school underground newspaper as a neophyte science teacher. More educators were fired during the late 1960s and early 1970s than during the height of the cold war. I was fired in 1972.

I also married and divorced in the 1970s. Like you, I then met the love of my life. I have two beautiful boys . . .’err young men.

Like you, I also visited Vietnam well after the war. In 1997, I attended a Math, Science and Technology conference there sponsored by Australians and by the Vietnamese. As the plane circled above Hanoi, the marches, the demonstrations, and the family conflicts during the U.S. War in Vietnam surfaced and swirled in my head. I thought the emotions of those early years were behind me. I was wrong. Tears welled up in my eyes as we descended out of the clouds.

What did puzzle me was a number of points in your fine book. I found the use of the word “we”, including in the title, both confusing and wrong.  You seem to include all of us and, in essence blame all of us, for the war.

You are a shining example of the inaccuracy of the “we.” In fact you proceed to name some of the real political culprits e.g. Henry Kissinger.  The worst part of the “we” approach is that it must be very confusing to younger generations who did not experience the U.S. War in Vietnam. It is important to clear this up in that young people need to learn similar forces, with different names, are at work generating wars in the Middle East.

The second point is the missing economic underpinnings of the war. Let me give just one example from Fortune Magazine in the mid-1960, as quoted from Victor Perlo’s pamphlet, The Vietnam Profiteers.

Herbert Fuller is an American promoter who wants to set up a $10 million sugar mill in South Vietnam. He is a “fervent believer in South Vietnam’s future. When the troops arrive to clear the area, as they sooner or later must, this American capitalist will literally be one step behind them . . . ‘I am in it for the money,’ Fuller says. ‘We could get back our investment in two years.’ “

Certainly the military industrial complex and all their “toys” you refer to in Our War were part and parcel of the economic thrust for the war and in sustaining it. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Kelly Brown and Root (KBR) were part of a long list that profited mightily from war. Contractors, like Blackwater now, and think tanks, like Rand Corporation and Project for a New American Century, were also part of the mix. The Iraq War has many similar examples. We need not go further than the former vice-president Dick Cheney’s company Halliburton.

Your fine book, The Last Stand, stares down at me from a shelf above my desk as I write this. The Last Stand can be used as a parallel example of how U.S. transnational businesses work abroad. Maxxam Corporation of Texas saw that the small timber company in Northern California controlling a large forest was, in their lingo, an undervalued operation. The mauling of the old growth forest and the valiant struggle of environmentalists there are history.

Halliburton really did the same thing but with an entire country. In this transnational company’s eyes, Iraq was undervaluing its oil resources, especially reserves in the ground. The U.S. military moved in and cleared the way for Halliburton to start sticking pipes into Iraqi desert sands.

There is no mystery in any of this. But it is scrupulously kept from our people in a mass, effective way by the media. Your books get some of the same mistreatment.

Whenever I feel myself slipping into inaction around these crucial issues, I take out an issue of Reader’s Digest, March 1968. The lead article is by Hanson W. Baldwin who is described as the, “distinguished military editor of the New York Times.” He states unequivocally, “There seems little doubt that Hanoi has abandoned hope of conquering South Vietnam by military force, . . .” So much for the distinguished Mr. Baldwin, although how can “conquering” be used here when a people are trying to unify their own country?

The piece ends with a statement by Clark Clifford from his confirmation hearing as Secretary of Defense, during the same period. He stated that, “The Vietnam war is a different kind of war and that is one reason why it is difficult, perhaps, for the American people to understand. We are fighting a limited war. We are not fighting to destroy our enemy.”

What was the result of this “different”, “limited war” and not trying to “destroy our enemy”? As you delineate well in Our War, over 3 millions people killed, multitudes injured, and an environment so polluted that babies are still born there with deformities.

Lies, as you well demonstrate in “Our War” concerning the U.S. War in Vietnam, have become part and parcel of politics. These extend right through the Iraq War. Cries of Al Qaeda in Iraq and weapons of mass destruction turned into so much hokum.

Concerning your DO Theory, it seems to treat all U.S. citizens simultaneously as perpetrators and victims. This extends to your WE GOT WHAT WE DID concept. Given the above, it is more THEY GOT WHAT THE U.S. GOVERNMENT DID. In fact if we are all indeed responsible for the war in Vietnam and the Iraqi War, really another U.S. War, that would seem to justify 9/11 and other such heinous acts. Why not then wanton, random attacks on any and all civilians if we are all to blame?

Unfortunately, the flip side of your WE GOT WHAT WE DID concept is a justification for terrorism as a strategy. I disagree.  U.S. imperialists and their puppets in Congress have names and addresses.

 You mention anti-communism once. This struck me as an understatement. The U.S. War in Vietnam was an extension of the cold war and the enormous profits realized by the military industrial complex. Remember the proliferation of the pro-war, anticommunist comic books in the 1950s? I’m sure we were both reading them if on opposite coasts. The so-called war on terror can now be added to anti-socialist, anti-communist rhetoric used to justify the military expenditures that constitute over 50% of the U.S. budget and keep the profits flowing.

The U.S. War in Iraq conjured up a different kind of bad guy and, as one example above explicates, it kept the profits sluices flowing for U.S. companies.

A looming question is, can those of us dedicated to peace and social justice stay the hand of this profit hungry, industrial, military, political cabal from going to war with Iran? The leadership there may be even loonier than Sadam but we cannot allow such characterizations to be used to bludgeon our people to accept another war in the Middle East. Israel, and the potential for the use of nuclear weapons, is in this combustible mix.

A million people marched in Tehran as a show of solidarity with our people and for peace after 9/11. We need to remind our people.

Again, I appreciate your books and your principled approach to life generally.

Respectfully, Len Yannielli