Vietnam

Immigration Activists Deliver 136K ‘Stop the Raids’ Signatures to White House

Image via Megan Cagle/Church World Service

With chants of “Hey, Obama, don’t deport my mama!” and "Que queremos? Justicia! Cuando? Ahora!" a diverse group of immigration activists and leaders made their way from St. John’s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square to rally at the White House on Tuesday. They were there to demand that the Obama administration stop deporting Central American asylum seekers and instead grant them Temporary Protected Status. With them they carried boxes full of more than 136,000 petition signatures calling for the same.

Vietnam Agonistes

THIS YEAR MARKS multiple 50th anniversaries of the U.S. escalation of the war in Vietnam and the beginning of major anti-war protests. To mark the anniversary of the war, the Pentagon is sponsoring an official, multimillion dollar Vietnam War Commemoration to “thank and honor veterans.” This program has been criticized as a Vietnam whitewash and an attempt to rewrite history. The Pentagon commission will sponsor more than 1,000 events around the country that will have the effect of honoring the military and obscuring, behind a façade of false patriotism, the painful truths of the Vietnam War.

The Pentagon’s commemorations are missing any consideration of critical unlearned lessons, such as: 1) the Vietnam War was unjust and never should have been fought, 2) wars of military intervention have failed and should be avoided, 3) militarism and war have corrupted U.S. political decision-making, and 4) diplomacy, development, and peacebuilding strategies are preferable and more effective means of resolving international conflict.

Also missing from the Pentagon’s plan is any mention of the massive public opposition to that war, including from many of us who were GIs and veterans. There is no acknowledgement in the Pentagon’s official events of Howard Zinn’s important truth: “In the course of that war, there developed in the United States the greatest anti-war movement the nation had ever experienced, a movement that played a critical part in bringing the war to an end.”

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Redemptive Verses

POET BRUCE WEIGL inhabits two places in his life, in his work. Two places that could not be more different. But in the course of our conversations, I come to think of them as a single place, the way two hands are part of a single body. One place is Lorain, Ohio. The other is Vietnam.

Ever since the Vietnam War ended, the life of this mill worker’s son has swung between those two far-flung poles.

I met Weigl at a Starbucks in Manhattan’s East Village. I was interviewing a friend of his, Adrie Kusserow, about her book of poems on South Sudan. Weigl was content just to drink his coffee and listen to us talk. He intervened only once, when Kusserow and I began decrying public indifference to South Sudan’s pre-independence history of slaughter, enslavement, and banishment by Sudan.

“If I may defend my fellow human beings here, there are so many places in the world today where there is suffering. It is understandable that people may miss one or two,” he said.

The suffering of the Vietnamese, and of soldiers like himself who fought in Vietnam, is still burned into his psyche like some gory tattoo. It is to be found in every one of his 13 books.

In his poem “Ice Storm,” from The Abundance of Nothing (TriQuarterly Books), short-listed for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, he writes:

I got my own personal Jacob’s ladder,
buddy, reader, listener to this
sad song. I built a temple for the ghosts
because they just kept coming.

Weigl’s work is strewn with ghosts: ghosts of Vietnamese children hit by American fire (but also the cherished non-ghost, his adopted Vietnamese daughter, Hahn), the ghosts of a soldier’s legs severed by a Bouncing Betty, the ghost of his own lost self, inflicted miserably on bar girls. He constructs a stairway of ghosts that empties into a redemptive space. A space that has prevailed over the ghosts, while being unable to actually evict them.

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Beyond the Dreamer

IN THE LAST YEAR of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. struggled with what are best understood as existential challenges as he began to move toward an ever-more-profound and radical understanding of what would be required to deal with the nation’s domestic and international problems.

The direction he was exploring, I believe, is far more relevant to the realities we now face than many have realized—or have wanted to realize.

I first met King in 1964 at the Democratic Party’s national convention held that year in Atlantic City—the occasion of an historic challenge by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to the racially segregated and reactionary Mississippi Democratic Party. I was then a very young aide working for Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Sen. Nelson authorized me to help out in any way I could despite President Lyndon Johnson’s effort to clamp down on the fight for representation in the interest of a “dignified” convention that would nominate him in his own right after his rise to the presidency following President Kennedy’s assassination. Johnson didn’t want a bunch of civil rights activists muddying the waters and, not incidentally, causing him problems in the conservative, race-based Democratic South.

After much back and forth, the Johnson administration offered a “compromise” proposal that the old guard be seated (provided they pledged to support him) and that two at-large representatives of the MFDP also be seated.

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Learning from the Unspeakable

Lone gunman? President and Jacqueline Kennedy minutes before the assassination.

NOVEMBER MARKS the 50th anniversary of the assassination of our 35th president, an event that defined the life of the baby-boomers—a generation that, by sheer force of numbers, still sucks up most of the oxygen in U.S. culture. There are new books, reissued books, documentaries, made-for-TV movies, and a new Hollywood production, Parkland, starring that Everyman of the baby boom, Tom Hanks. But, anniversary hoopla aside, the JFK assassination and its aftermath can also provide us with some very timely lessons about the dangers that come with secret wars and unaccountable power.

Fifty-nine percent of Americans don’t believe the official story that Lee Harvey Oswald alone killed President John F. Kennedy, and this time the majority is right. The available evidence strongly suggests that the president was the victim of a murder plot that involved anti-Castro Cubans, enraged by his failure to back them up during the Bay of Pigs invasion, and their allies in organized crime who had been heavily invested in pre-Castro Havana. That was the conclusion of the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978, which also found physical evidence of another shooter at the crime scene.

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The U.S. Warfare State and Evangelical Peacemaking

AMID THE COUNTRY'S serious fiscal problems, our $775 billion annual defense budget, not to mention our tens of billions of dollars spent on intelligence and other national security expenses, is treated as sacrosanct. Budget-cutters, especially on the Republican side, do not train their sights on the defense budget as they seek to address our flood of red ink, but instead focus on dramatic cuts in the safety net for the poor.

According to former Reagan budget director David Stockman, our $775 billion defense budget is nearly twice as large in inflation-adjusted dollars as the defense budget of Dwight Eisenhower for 1961, during the Cold War. Our FY 2011 defense budget was five times greater than that of China, our nearest competition for this dubious honor; constituted over 40 percent of the world’s entire military spending; and was larger than the cumulative budget of the next 14 nations in the top 15. All of this occurs at a time when our infrastructure is crumbling, our schools are sliding, and one-sixth of our population cannot find or has stopped looking for full-time work.

Stockman suggests that no plausible national defense goals today justify this level of defense spending. He rightly points out that “we have no advanced industrial state enemies” akin to the USSR of Cold War days. He argues that what in fact supports a budget of this size is an ideology of “neoconservative imperialism” and an attempt to function as a “global policeman” even after the world has “fired” us from this role.

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The Fracture of Good Order

IT'S BEEN ALMOST 45 years since nine Catholic peace activists entered a draft board in Catonsville, Md., filled two wastebaskets with military draft files, and burned the papers in a parking lot. What made the headlines especially big was the involvement of two Catholic priests, Daniel and Philip Berrigan.

For many people, me among them, the Catonsville raid was a turning point in our lives. It also triggered passionate debate about the limits of peaceful protest. Could property destruction be called nonviolent?

The prime movers of the Catonsville Nine were Phil Berrigan and George Mische. Mische had worked for U.S.-funded groups fostering labor movements in the Caribbean and Latin America. Phil had fought as an infantryman in World War II, where his courage won him a battlefield commission. Dismayed that the peace movement was having no discernible impact on events in Vietnam, Berrigan became convinced of "the uselessness of legitimate dissent." He opted for firing the cannons of civil disobedience.

Many U.S. troops were draftees; few had a longing to go to war in a country that posed no threat to the U.S. and whose borders most Americans couldn't find on a globe. The key role conscription played in keeping the war going made draft-board files an obvious target. One of the nine, Tom Lewis, called the files "death certificates."

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From the Archives: March 1973

I have been subject so long to a Christian leadership that has spoken of living by faith, of the cost of discipleship, of how hard it is to follow Christ, of never being ashamed of the gospel, of taking up one’s cross. I have listened to scores of challenging preachers and teachers talk about Christ asking for all of a person’s allegiance.

Now I understand that all of this talk, which I took so seriously, has amounted to nothing more than a clearing of the throat and a shuffling of papers. The church has spiritualized out of existence the demands that Jesus made so concrete and immediate. When the crisis comes, the real message of the Christian establishment emerges: Do what you have to do to get by. Keep peace with the powers and forces that rule this nation. Don’t get involved. Maintain respectability. Be conformed to this world.

One of the deepest scars from this war for me is this: I will never again be able to bring to the church my child-like trust, my boyish zeal, my naive teachability. I have been stunned into silence and disbelief by the precision with which my Christian brothers and sisters and leaders have affirmed not only the authority of the state to rule (which I also accept), but the unquestionable morality of government policy.

Bill Lane was a contributing editor to The Post American, the precursor to Sojourners, when this article appeared.

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Grace Like a Balm

Anne Morrison Welsh remembers every detail of that day 30 years ago. Her husband, Norman Morrison, who served as executive secretary of a Quaker community in Baltimore, was home sick with a cold. He had just finished reading an article by a priest in SouthVietnam about the bombing of a village there.

"I remember we were in the kitchen," says Anne. "I was preparing lunch. We had French onion soup. I've never liked French onion soup since." Although Norman had resisted taxes, demonstrated, and lobbied in Washington, he said to her, "It's not enough. What can be done to stop this war?"

Anne recounts, "I'll never forget what I said: 'I don't know what more can be done. All I know is that we shouldn't despair.'"

Anne put their 1-year-old daughter, Emily, down for a nap and left to pick up their older children, Ben, 6, and Christina, 5, at school. When they returned, Norman and Emily were gone. Anne was making supper when the phone rang. A reporter asked her, "Are you aware that your husband has made a protest in Washington?"

Soon after, an official from the Fort Myer Infirmary at the Pentagon called. He explained that Norman had set himself on fire. He assured Anne that Emily was fine. Eyewitnesses gave conflicting reports about what had happened: Some say Norman laid Emily down on the pavement before soaking himself with kerosene, others say that he handed her to a passerby.

"Whether he thought of it that way or not, I think having Emily with him was a final and great comfort to Norman," says Anne. "And she was a powerful symbol of the children we were killing with our bombs and napalm-who didn't have parents to hold them in their arms. The important thing is that he released her. If he had taken Emily-and he could have-it would have been almost unbearable."

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1995
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