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Why the War in Vietnam?

Click on the title above, and it will take you to a PDF of an old anti-Vietnam War leaflet.

Spent Sunday night at my mother’s and she had found it in her storage. Simple black and white thing – no graphics. My parents believe it may have been the first anti-Vietnam war leaflet in San Francisco. It was their creation.

They first pulled it out when I was in high school. Having read some of the SWP stuff I was bringing home – triggering bad memories of their own run-ins with the SWP and similar groups back in the 60s and early 70s, they took it out to show me how political literature ought to be written.

But first a little history. Note that the group members all put their names, addresses, and phone numbers on the back. Naivete. They learned quickly that it was a bad idea. Note that there are four Kirks on the list. Evelyn, my aunt, died a few years back.

At least one other person on the list, Gayle Figueroa, was a family friend who died just a couple of years after this leaflet was printed.  Joseph (now goes by Jose) is still alive and kicking.

My parents don’t remember much about the others on the list, except that they were all in their late 20s or older – some of them from radical families and others Civil Rights Movement veterans (with plenty of overlap between the two). Ace Delosada was a bit older, and was active in the CIO before it merged with the AFL – I know this from an old library archived newspaper article I found online.

There was plenty of political activity in Berkeley at the time, largely the Free Speech Movement on campus, as follow-up to the CORE activities against job discrimination in grocery stores and the anti-HUAC demonstration which radicalized so many of them at City Hall. There was not much outside of labor happening in San Francisco. The North Beach scene was never really political in anything other than a cultural way, and the Haight Ashbury was just starting to percolate. I did not know until I saw this leaflet again (and didn’t notice it 30 years ago) that my parents had moved us from Mill Valley to Castro Street. By the time I was two, we lived on Cole Street in the Haight (and left for Moss Beach and the Blue Lady well before the Summer of Love when I was three). So this leaflet was printed in 1965 or perhaps early 1966.

And it generated an enormous response.

These were older activists – some of them seasoned. Grounded. And they understood the Socratic approach to rhetoric. I think it is one of the best written leaflets I’ve seen. It doesn’t tell you how to think. It’s primarily a series of questions. Designed to simply make you think. It avoids words like “imperialism.” And it avoids slogans like “Say No to the War in Vietnam!” It invites the reader to find his/her own voice. It respects the reader.

And the activists who understand this concept are far and few. Part of the reason I was drawn into the Christian left movements, even before I seriously considered religion itself, was the approach of humility and respect sometimes lacking in the secular movements, particularly in the hard old and new left milieus.

Still, the leaflet resulted in threatening phone calls, and other harassment. But the group grew rather quickly.

The group that formed would evolve into the San Francisco contingent of what would become known as The Peace and Freedom Party. My parents didn’t stay involved. They thought that Eldritch Cleaver was a bad choice to run for President in 1968, but supported him anyway. By 1972, they were supporting McGovern even though they liked the P&F candidate – Dr. Benjamin Spock. When I want to cast a protest vote because the Democrat is too conservative or otherwise undesirable, I opt for the P&F Party candidate more often than the Green, and I wish they would merge. We don’t need our fringe groups splintered at the ballot.

Anyway, just thought I would share.

Posted by email request from Lauren Oliver.  The name Jean Houston sounds familiar to me.  Did she write Farewell to Manzanar?  I’ll Google it when I have a few minutes.

Dear friend ~

Welcome to an exciting experience .  Join Dr. Jean Houston on Wednesday evening, May 16, 5:30.   An evocative story-teller and philosopher, Jean will share with us highlights of the story of the Great Peacemaker, fundamental to the founding our own American democracy. 

Click to Register for Jean’s call
   You’ll receive an email with the phone number and pin to join Jean Houston Wednesday, 5:30pm Pacific & 8:30pm Eastern Time.

Jean will invite you to join the rich opportunity of a monthly talk by an eminent peacemaker, following the themes of the Peacemaker’s journey.     The Social Artistry Teaching Learning Circle Teleconference is a yearlong program, designed to support you to launch a local Peacemaker Circle.

You can step into the possibility of creating a Circle of Peacemakers in your own neighborhood, and gain the support of a face-to-face Circle to become your best self and fulfill your unique purpose in the world: your peacemaking work that will make a world of difference.

 Invite a friend to the call.  Forward this email so they can Register now.

You can see more about the program at

Addendum:  Nope. Different person, similar name.

Not the popular dodging of the Vietnam War, but the almost universally condemned dodging during World War Two – where war opposition was mostly limited to pro-fascists, crypto-isolationists, absolute pacifists, and dogmatic Trotskyists.  This man, Noboru Taguma nicknamed “Sonny Boy,” did not fit into any of these categories, and I suspect that few would begrudge his position today, even if they disagree with it.  In fact, he didn’t really oppose the war.

An excerpt (But go through the link to read the whole excellent piece):

When Noboru received his draft notice after being in the camps for two years, he refused. He did not need a college degree or a sophisticated understanding of the Constitution to take an impressive stand for the rights of citizenship and to demand some respect for his parents. If his parents were freed from the camps and allowed to go back to their farm in California, he would serve proudly, but until then, he refused. He was one of the first Nisei to refuse the draft. Even though James Omura, later defender of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, suggested that these first Nisei were rash in their arguments and too disorganized to make a difference, Taguma did not back down. The JACL leaders, most notably Min Yasui and Joe Grant Masaoka, came to see Noboru Taguma and the other first four resisters in an effort to convince them to give up the fight. As Taguma recalled, “the JACL say, sacrifice your life to prove your loyalty.” But that was just crazy in Noboru’s mind. “We were loyal to America,” he said, “but the government itself was un-loyal to us.” With the support of his father, who urged him to stick with whatever decision he made, Noboru Taguma resisted the draft and later renounced his citizenship in an effort to bring the family together and to get them to Tule Lake – a little closer to home than Granada, Colorado. Despite the fact that Taguma’s efforts to reunite the family did not work out as planned, and despite the fact that the JACL did not recognize his principled resistance until 2002, Taguma knew that he did the right thing in standing up against injustice during the war.

Salt of the Earth, and among those few who can claim credit for having pulled us away from the brink of self-destruction, just by being who he was.

Addendum:  Thanks to Mitch who found a link to Taguma’s obit, and a pdf of his letter to, I guess whatever was the contemporary counterpart to the Selective Service Administration.  There’s also a photo of Taguma through Mitch’s link in the thread.

The speech which turned even some of his own against him, although his first speech against the war was at a Clergy and Laity Concerned conference at the Riverside Church on April 4.  I don’t know what made this one worse in some peoples’ eyes.

Jim Wallis’ reflections.

Sara Palin’s reflections.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I’m not sure what’s going on here, but it does appear that a left solidarity group in Chicago is being targeted by the FBI.  Following some raids and searches of homes in September, sans arrests or charges in the short term, several activists received subpoenas to appear before the Grand Jury last month.  A few more just received similar subpoenas.

Apparently they’re being called to talk about foreign nationals in Colombia and the Middle East with whom they work, and they are concerned about providing information which could result in their friends’ imprisonment or worse.  I don’t believe anything like this has happened since the 1980s when Sanctuary Movement members refused to provide information about Central American war refugees they had sheltered.

I’ve been looking for neutralish media coverage of the events, and they’re hard to find.  Most of the organizational links suggest that some of them are fronts for the Freedom Road Socialist Organization – an organization I dealt with on occasion when I was active in SF.  They’re a neo-Maoist dogmatic group, but hardly “radical” in the sense of advocating violent protests or anything of the like.  I seriously doubt they are guilty of anything, and the failure of authorities to arrest or press charges would suggest as much.  Is this harassment aimed at intimidating dissent, or are they conducting investigations to generate intelligence for “allies” such as the Colombian regime, Israel, or other Middle Eastern countries?  Either way, they probably won’t get much cooperation from this group.  They can be held in contempt, but not indefinitely.

In either case, this is a disturbing situation for anti-war activists all around the country as solidarity work generally involves contacts with people who may simply be on foreign government s— lists.  It puts activists in a very tough spot, and whether it is government design, will discourage interaction between groups across national borders.

If anyone has any more information, please post it.

From someone who emailed it to me.

Oppose the Government’s ruinous foreign wars
U.S. Out of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq

Rally at the Courthouse in Eureka
Saturday, October 17th at 1 PM

I’m just glad that some of the Code Pink activists have the depth to listen to their sister organization in Afghanistan.  I don’t know where I fall in terms of policy in the country, but sometimes life just isn’t simple enough to accommodate an ideologically based absolutist position.  Do progressive activists really want to pull out of the country and leave girls vulnerable to the men throwing acid on their faces for showing up to school to learn how to read?  Do American feminists continue to  argue that the burka in Muslim culture context is actually a symbol of empowerment?  Bear in mind that a large number women in Kandahar, upon arrival of American troops, tossed their burkas into piles on the streets and torched them.  Afghan women, the feminists, are afraid.

Kudos to Medea Benjamin for thinking it over.  And it’s not an easy paradox – reminiscent of the progressive activists during the civil rights era who had mixed feelings about the use of National Guard to enforce integration.  Certainly her intelligence can respond to the cognitive dissonance, integrating the new data into a fresh ideological framework.  Of course, preferable would be the loosening up of dogma and the recognition of nuance and complexity.  Advocating independent thinking however carries a price.  Slogans are harder to write.  You can’t work speeches off a template of “isms” and villains.

Solidarity carries certain responsibilities.  Maybe the peace movement in general can learn to listen a little.  It’s out of practice.

That was the name of my “affinity group” in my first civil disobedience action.  An affinity group is loosely, and perhaps pretentiously, modeled after the anarchist cells (“grupos de afinidad”) in Spain during the Spanish Civil War who organized in a fairly non-hierarchal manner and found themselves shot at by communists as well as fascists.   It operates on a decision making process known as “consensus,” which is in theory a non-hierarchical alternative to majority rule, though I often found that it was more authoritarian in the lack of formal process checks on the more dynamic members of the group to manipulate the discussion.  That may be a topic for another thread some day.

Meanwhile, this post is for posterity.  My political experiences weren’t particularly unusual or more dramatic than those of any young activist during the 1980s.  There’s a popular perception that the activism of the 60s ended with the “me generation,” when in fact in terms of numbers there were far more students socially involved in the 1980s.  We may not have had the flair for street theater of the generation before us, and most of us chose quieter approaches: soup kitchen volunteerism, PIRG organizing, blending science and politics into environmental studies majors, and electoral work most prominently expressed in the Jesse Jackson campaigns.  But we also organized and attended demonstrations.  I’ve already posted some reflections on them.  We also had the “direct action movement” out of which some of the local brands of activism would evolve.  There’s a history being lost.  The Baby Boomer activists have plenty of outlets for their history.  The Gen X activists also have some stories.  This is one of them. (although technically speaking, my year of birth was the last official “baby boom” year).

Anyway, for those unfamiliar, the affinity group has been a chief mode of organization in the “anarchist” wing of the environmental and anti-war movement.  In my freshman year of college, I joined up with a group of fellow UCSC students to attend a protest of MX missile testing at Vandenberg Airforce Base down near Santa Barbara.  The MX, later named by Reagan the “Peacemaker” in an Orwellian irony appropriate for 1984, two years before the things were actually installed and activated (they’ve recently been decommissioned).  They were high powered MIRV missiles which were ostensibly intended to survive a Soviet first strike in order to take out Soviet cities even if most of us were already dead.  However, a number of strategic experts felt that the missile’s first strike capabilities would put the Soviets on edge and bring us closer to midnight on the Doomsday Clock.  There was extensive opposition to the testing and a protest was organized for the Spring of 2003.

That’s the backdrop.  This is an account of my first civil disobedience action.  I don’t think it’s remarkable.  Plenty of people who will read this have much more experience than I, and probably have much more fascinating tales to tell.  But it’s a small part of history which shouldn’t get lost.  And I have a few reflections.  Food for thought. Read the rest of this entry »

The tension within the anti-war movement between the declining pacifist tendencies, the “anti-imperial solidarity” tendencies, and everyone in between has pretty much played out in favor of the second grouping.  The prevailing notion in the movement is that while nonviolent methods are appropriate for action the industrialized countries, we must understand the necessity for violent struggle on the international front and therefor not just the reactions of the oppressed to their circumstances based upon our own privileged realities.

I became active while in high school and I sided squarely with the “solidarity” wing.  Violence in the Wallersteinian “core” was imprudent, but necessary on the periphery.  We championed the cause of the military resistance in El Salvador, while opposing our own military policies.  There were elements which didn’t share the agenda, and I met a very articulate representative in seeking draft resistance counseling from the CCCO.  The woman pointed out that FMLN buttons were frequently adorned at demonstrations, but few knew anything about FDR, the actual political organization of resistance which was actually organizing and arguing the need for change unarmed, and thus more vulnerable to right wing death squad aggression.  Why did we rarely hear about them, when their mortality rate was much higher than the guerrilla fighter in the countryside?  I think a lot of it had to do with the romanticization in the afterglow of the 1960s publication of Revolution in the Revolution and a dozen or so movies made by film makers like Costa Gavras and Gillo Pontecorvo.

The bulk of demonstrations I attended during the 1980s were dominated by the self-defined “radical” or “revolutionary” crowd.  But the anti-nuclear crowd was a little more grounded in practical politics and reality, and was more heavily influenced by the peace tendency.  I was introduced to the intra-movement conflict when I became involved with the June 12th Coalition, organized for the Geneval Disarmament Talks and calling for a bilateral nuclear freeze.  The “radicals” wanted to broaden the agenda of the San Francisco march to include among other things opposition to intervention in El Salvador.  Despite stacking meetings and disrupting that actual work of organizing, the majority in the coalition kept the focus and over 100 thousand marched from Dolores Park to the Civic Center instead of the usual suspects of a few thousand ineffectual radicals which characterized the majority of demos I’d attended.

I was in my second year of college in the fall of 1983 when President Reagan ordered the invasion of the small island-nation of Grenada (slightly less populated than Humboldt County today).  It came as no surprise to me as I had been paying close attention to the politics around Grenada, and I was actually planning a visit to Grenada with some fellow students for the following summer.  The military had already rattled Grenadian nerves with naval maneuvers the spring before, and the poli sci professors had been warning us that the invasion was imminent, with some conservative students scoffing at the “conspiracy theories” then pouncing on the necessity of the invasion when it did happen in a manner reminiscent of the immediate transition of consciousness in Orwell’s 1984 when Big Brother suddenly switched enemies.  The week prior to the invasion had been depressing enough, with Maurice Bishop being overthrown and killed by a more radical faction and creating perfect conditions for invasion both militarily and politically.  The invasion took place one day following the truck-bombing of American soldiers in Lebanon killing several hundred.  I remember hearing about it and a number of us converged on the television lounge at Merrill College.  Several female students were already there waiting for a soap opera.  They were immediately resistant to changing the channel, but as as the preemption announcement came on they got up and left, tossing some obscenities in our direction as if it was our fault.  We spent the better part of the rest of the day staring at the screen in disbelief.  It had been our first headlines invasion since Vietnam, not including relatively minor incursions into the Middle East and Africa.

As you may remember, the war lasted a week.  The Grenadian defense itself pretty much collapsed on the first day, and the US military spent the rest of the week subduing about 500 well-trained angry Cubans.  We didn’t learn most of the details for months afterward, but just enough to trigger that above-described radical romance factor in young middle class leftists.  A group of us decided to head up to Oakland on the following weekend for a demonstration.  It was raining by the time we arrived and there was talk of cancelling the demonstration, but one woman vehemently objected:  “our brothers and sisters are facing bullets while we’re afraid of raindrops!”  Needless to say the demonstration went forward as planned, and we marched through downtown chanting the usual mindless “hey heys” and “ho ho’s.”  But the invasion wasn’t stopping, and it had the support of about 90 percent of the population, most of whom had never heard of Grenada prior.  I was on a kind of autopilot and wondered what had become of the Grenadans which had come to speak at UCSC the prior school year.  The Spartacus League, the RCP, the CWP, all the regular groups were there pushing their papers.  The placards were filled with words like “murder,” “butchers,” and “CIA.”  It was business as usual and it felt futile if not counterproductive.

I don’t remember any prowar demonstrators at that particular event, although a group of Moonies would counter-demonstrate an SF event a few weeks later.  However on one corner in Oakland we passed by two women holding signs advertising a “peaceful protest” for the following day.  They ignored the scattered boos.  I gave them a mild smile and tepid wave just trying to be civil and they nodded nervously without smiling.  It’s one of those moments in time I wish I could have back so I could leave the march and join them.  But like my fellow marchers I was pretty pissed off, and while the stupidity of some of the slogans were making me cringe, I wasn’t in the mood for nonviolence.  It didn’t seem to me at the time that it was what the Grenadians would want from us.  On the other hand, with Bernard Coard’s military coup, there hadn’t been much about the Grenadian revolution to defend anyway.  It was a pretty gray moment for me.

They might not have had an immediate impact on me, but a few of my fellow Santa Cruz students had been put off by the tone of the demonstration and the slogans.  While everyone around us was chanting some angry thing or another, several of the women in our group started singing John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance.  One of the demo monitors came over and tried to get them to engage the chant in conformance with the rest of the crowd.  The women ignored them until the guy accosted them and accused them of disruption.  Seriously.  I wasn’t in the mood for joining the argument and picked up the pace to get to the destination, some park downtown.  We all sat on the grass; listened to a couple of very predictable speeches which quickly spread from the invasion of Grenada to the wars in Central America, the occupation of Lebanon, racism in America, the need for workers to be organized, the right to an abortion; etc.; then headed back to Santa Cruz.


I’m just gathering my thoughts in this narrative.  I’m not trying to make any big philosophical arguments.  In some of the discussions about the antiwar movement in these threads I’ve been called everything from a “Zionist” (for the record, I’m not) to a “neoconservative” (not even close) from one side, and a “socialist” (not even sure what the word means anymore) or something equivalently predictable from the other side.  Rather than argue the labels, I’m just going to lay out some key moments in the progression of my world views.  I don’t think they’re coherent enough to warrant any sort of “ism” at this point in my life.  But I got pretty jaded on the left very early on, though I would still consider myself a leftist for most practical purposes.

So I’m going to post a series of accounts mostly in free form.  Maybe I’ll tie it all together at some point.  I’m not necessarily going in chronological order.  And I’m not necessarily going to wrap up each such post with a tidy message about how the left ought to be.  But during the 1980s, I actually went through a brief period where I questioned everything I believed and explored right wing groups and perspectives.  Ultimately I settled back into a leftist view, but I did and do see things from a different view.  When I see some of the “anti-corporate,” “anti-Zionist,” and other views which come across to me as dogmatic, I’m not making any profound judgments.  I was there.  I understand where you’re coming from.  Sometimes I still feel the way you do.  But the left, by any definition, has been wrong on some very big issues.  A left wing political philosophy sans any checks and balances in a number of countries was responsible for millions of deaths.  We can debate the numbers or whether the philosophy itself was inherently responsible for those deaths rather than the particular circumstances, but the fact of the matter is, the American left, by any definition, mostly soft-pedaled those horrors, including the small scale carnage which preceded the Grenadian invasion in 1983.  The calls to bring Coard and Austin to justice the week prior to the invasion disappeared as soon as the US was involved.  And yes, I agree that the situation should have been left to the Grenadians to solve on their own.  The point is, it wasn’t even a topic of conversation a week later except for some activists who argued that the coup had been a CIA set-up, though the mechanism was never made clear.  They needed clarity, not ambiguity or nuance.  And cognitive dissonance won the day, as it so often does.  And I think it’s a tragedy, for the possibilities a saner left might offer.  But unfortunately, former KPFA manager Pat Scott’s comments I think ring true:  “we had the old left, then the new left, and now we have the what’s left.”  I’m not quite so glum about it, but I really do think that the left has abandoned critical thinking to its peril.  If there’s any overall point to these threads and my radio show, that’s it.

I close this particular session by telling you that I became very intimate with some right wing politics, and my ultimate failure to drift into any of those camps had as much to do with disappointing similarities as differences.  I’ll probably get into that at some point as well.

Feel free to argue any points, make suggestions, ask questions, etc.  But I’m particularly curious to know if any of my experiences are similar to your own and I’d like you to elaborate.

A demonstration a few days ago, 10,000 in Tel Aviv protesting the bombing of Gaza.

A little bit of a contrast with half a century ago.

Addendum: These Israeli kids are going to jail for refusal to serve in the military.  Yes, military service is mandatory for women as well.

They are known as the Shministim and you can sign a petition on their behalf at this site, which also contains profiles of each of the conscientious objectors including their sentences.  Can’t find a translation of Shministim there (the boy in the video makes the translation, but I can’t make out what he says), but maybe someone here can help.

Second addendum: Meanwhile, here is a clip of one very brave young American woman, using her national status and the presence of a Korean news camera to at least calm the situation in one corner of the conflict.  It seems like they were ready to manhandle her until she started speaking English.  Whatever satisfaction she feels about the brief moment of restraint is undone as she looks at the violence across the way, wishing she can be everywhere at once.  Her conduct earned her some praise from a prominent conservative blogger.

Third addendum: The y0ung woman is Hawaida Arraf, co-f0under of the International Solidarity Movement.   Her father is Israeli-Arab.  Her mother is Palestinian.  She is Christian and an American, raised in Detroit.  She co-founded the group with her husband Adam Shapiro.


March 2020