Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

I grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was there that I became a peace activist.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


I returned home to Maine this morning on the train from New York City.  Fellow Maine Veterans for Peace (VFP) member Doug Rawlings and I were up early at our respective home stays to get to Penn Station for the 7:00 am train to Boston.  We had loads of time on the four-hour ride back to Boston and then another two-hour bus ride to Portland to review the remarkable trip. 

We got to the Judson Memorial Church yesterday at 1:00 pm to help set things up for the national VFP event called Full Disclosure: An Honest Commemoration of the American War in Vietnam that would run from 5:00-9:00 pm and drew over 200 people.  We helped hang banners in the huge church hall, put chairs out, and set up literature and food tables.  National VFP board member Tarak Kauff and his partner Ellen Davidson were the lead organizers and it was a pleasure to support their good work.

The photo above (taken by Ellen Davidson) is of a New York City artist who did a remarkable art performance piece for three full hours during the program.  Just as the event was to begin he slowly walked down the center isle toward the stage where something was hanging from a microphone stand and covered in a black shroud.  Dressed in a baggy uniform, and wearing oversized black boots, he carried a wooden military style rifle with a bayonet attached to the end.  Slowly he climbed the stage and dropped his rifle onto the floor and then removed the bayonet.  He carefully pulled the shroud away and a dummy was revealed that had a big red target on its chest. 

One thought that maybe he would stick his knife into the dummy's chest but instead he carefully took the knife and cut the target away from the dummy.  Then he removed the rope that was looped around the dummy's neck and gently lowered the dummy into his lap as he sat down on the edge of the stage.  Then the soldier reached over and opened a Red Cross marked first-aid kit and took out a large sewing needle and string.  He very carefully threaded the needle and began to sew the dummy up where it had been previously cut open.  

By now the speakers on the program had begun to address the assembled but the soldier continued to apply medical attention to the dummy.  He rested the dummy's head on a pillow made from a military blanket and applied white medical tape over the areas he had stitched up.  

I was deeply moved by this performance art and found myself moving from the rear of the hall to near the front so that I could better see the 'operation' that was underway.  Most other people had similar responses and it was just beyond imagination to see how the artist/soldier kept this whole process going for the next three hours.  For a long time he just held and caressed the dummy in a most loving way.  It was all so real.

Around 8:00 pm the Vietnamese ambassador to the UN spoke and thanked VFP for its long and dedicated efforts to bring peace and healing to their war ravaged nation.  The ambassador warned us to remain vigilant as 'some countries' were still pushing wars in order to control other nations (and their resources) under the guise of 'responsibility to protect'.  At the end of the ambassador's presentation the artist/soldier left the stage with him.

I later learned that the artist had turned down an honorarium for his remarkable presentation, only asking for $10 to reimburse him for taxi fare.  I was told that his father was a war veteran who had taken his own life some time in the past.

Obama has announced a plan, starting in 2012, for a 13-year commemoration of the Vietnam War costing more than $65 million. Rather than conducting an honest national discussion to learn from the U.S. intervention in Vietnam, the Pentagon is promoting a whitewashing of the war without acknowledging the terrible damage done to the Vietnamese people and land. Neither will the military propaganda campaign confront the lasting impact of this conflict on US soldiers and their families—from loss of life and physical disabilities and illnesses to the transmission of birth defects to their children caused by exposure to Agent Orange. The government will not mention the millions of Vietnamese, including women and children, who were captured, tortured, displaced, and killed. 

Nor will there be any representation of the heroic U.S. soldiers who resisted the war, or any real acknowledgment of massive domestic protest. And the Pentagon project will not pay tribute to the voices and postwar reconciliation activities of many antiwar veterans.

VFP is undertaking a national counter-effort to the Pentagon's attempt to rewrite the history of the Vietnam War.  The government intends to make the war appear to have been a noble struggle in order to more effectively sell future wars to unsuspecting citizens.  A people without a true understanding of their own history are blind and easily manipulated.

It was an honor to be at this first event by VFP to fully disclose the truth about the Vietnam War to the public.  It was an even greater honor to witness the heart stirring performance piece done by the artist who clearly understands the tragedy of war. 


Blogger Ellen D said...

Bruce, thanks for this beautiful write-up capturing Kevin Augustine's powerful performance last night.

4/27/14, 8:57 PM  
Blogger David Smith said...

It is so important that we tell the truth about The Vietnam War.
Obama thinks that the Iraq war was a mistake but really he accepts the fact that we make mistakes in this area.... Whoops... In Vietnam millions killed, a country poisoned... Now it seems it's OK to conduct our "wars" in the form of Drones...

4/28/14, 6:07 AM  
Blogger Zinn Reader said...

Bruce (and Doug), deep, deep thanks for your energy, your time, your writings, esp. your poems, and your unending commitment for helping to expose the lies told by our "leaders" who manipulate and indoctrinate our young people into believing they are "serving" their country to protect our "freedoms" and our "ideals" as a nation. As Lobo would say, "youse" guys are authentic "crap detectors," as are many of our brothers and sisters in VFP and IVAW, and VVAW, and other Peace & Justice groups. Let's all keep marching forward as we work to change the mind-set of too many who support racism, nationalism, and militarism.

4/28/14, 1:12 PM  
Blogger Lone Wolf Tribe said...

Bill Gilson forwarded me this blog. I was very happy to contribute to the evening. Thanks Bruce for your kind words.

5/1/14, 7:32 PM  

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