Today in labor history: end of the "Vietnam era"

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On May 7, 1954, the 55-day Battle of Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam ended with Vietnamese defeating French colonial forces.

On May 7, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford formally declared an end to the "Vietnam era."

"On the night of that first lottery [1969 draft lottery] I was in a lounge attached to a bar in Brooklyn with 19 friends who were also 18 years old. (The drinking age in New York State was still 18.) All the guys there lived in Windsor Terrace or Park Slope. We were all "Holy Name" or "St. Saviors." That's how you were identified - by your Catholic parish.

"It was on the TV. Each time they drew our hearts skipped a beat. Eight of us got low numbers: Joe, Dan, Bob, Donald, Greg, Dennis, Robert, and Bill. I can still see the looks on each of their faces when they realized they were sure to go. I pulled 328, a number that saved me. But it didn't save me the day I learned Joe was killed or on the days I learned that Bob, Donald, Dennis, Greg and Bill had been killed. I wanted so much to be back at the bar sharing a pitcher with them."

John Wojcik, People's World labor editor

"U.S. union members participated in the antiwar movement starting in the early 1960s, however no union body took an official position against the war until February 1965 when Local 1199 did. AFL-CIO President George Meany was an aggressive supporter of the war and attacked anti antiwar union members as Communists or dupes. Yet, from a relative few voices in the 60s, a majority sentiment developed in the ranks of labor against the war. The history can be found in Philip Foner's "U.S. Labor and the Vietnam War."

Some 58,000 U.S. soldiers and some 2 million Vietnamese died. Survivors, both in the U.S. and Vietnam, still feel the war's effects today, especially from the widespread use of Agent Orange. Vietnam and U.S. veterans continue to demand reparations for Agent Orange damage."

Teresa Albano, People's World editor

"As a young peace activist in the late 60s, I probably didn't always make a distinction between the soldiers fighting the war and the war itself. The soldier and the general were equally responsible.

But I don't make that mistake now. I place responsibility for war on its architects in high places and a social system - capitalism - whose logic is to expand, dominate, and make war when necessary.

Ricky, Tuna and Cotter were at the bottom of this hierarchy of war making, nothing but cannon fodder, working class kids whose lives didn't count for much in our government's war plans. None of them ever had a silver spoon in their mouths, either in life or at the moment of their death.

I will always wonder what kind of lives they would have lead. With no heroes welcome, no jobs, no counseling waiting for them, would they have had the internal resources and family support to come to terms with the war and to live productive lives?"

-- Sam Webb, CPUSA


"War is against the teachings of the Holy Qur'an. Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?"

-- Muhammad Ali

 

 

A little Vietnam history

Vietnam was ruled by Imperial China until 938 AD with the victory in the Battle of Bạch Đằng River. During the ensuing years of feudalism, Vietnamese royal dynasties ruled. The Indochina Peninsula was colonized by the French in the mid-19th century. Following a Japanese occupation during World War II, the Vietnamese fought for independence against French rule in the First Indochina War, eventually expelling the French in 1954.

The 1954 Geneva Conference "temporarily" separated Vietnam into two zones, a northern zone to be governed by the Việt Minh independence movement, and a southern zone to be governed by former emperor Bảo Đại. A "Conference Final Declaration" provided that a general election be held by July 1956 to create a unified Vietnamese state. Although presented as a consensus view [Soviet Union, France, United Kingdom, China] this document was not accepted by the delegates of either South Vietnam or the United States.

There was no "official" start of the Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, and known by the Vietnamese as the American War. U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia ran from December 1956 to the "fall of Saigon" on 30 April 1975. Saigon is now known as Ho Chi Minh City.

Ho Chi Minh led the Việt Minh independence movement for more than three decades, fighting first against the Japanese, then the French colonial power and then the US-backed South Vietnamese government. He was President of North Vietnam from 1954 until his death in 1969.

Photo: Late 1960s Vietnam Veterans Against the War demonstration in Washington, D. C.

 

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