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Anti-Syrian war sentiment has roots in Vietnam's tough lessons

Published: Monday, June 29 2015 5:51 p.m. MDT

Rusty Sachs takes part in a Vietnam War protest in Rusty Sachs takes part in a Vietnam War protest in "Winter Soldier," a documentary about atrocities committed by U.S. forces. (Milliarium Zero And Winterfilm Collective)

Fifty years ago this week, one of the first organized protests occurred against the Vietnam War. We should honor that event, and we should be grateful that American citizens have learned enough since then to help avert another war with Syria today.

The date was Sept. 21, 1963, and a small group affiliated with the War Resisters League publicly declared its opposition to the Vietnam War and called for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from that conflict.

These activists from the War Resisters League didn't go home after this one September protest. Instead, they went on to play a key role for the duration of that war, organizing rallies and civil disobedience at induction centers. They even helped draft resisters find refuge outside the United States.

I wasn't a draft resister. Seven years after this protest, I was a young draftee who chose to enter the Army rather than go to Canada or to jail. But I respect the commitment and courage of the War Resisters League, just as I respect the commitment and courage of those who believed their government and thought they were doing the right thing by going to Vietnam.

I am both a veteran (in some eyes, a patriot) and one who questions the morality of war and killing. I went to Vietnam, but once I returned home, I joined Vietnam Veterans against the War.

Life is not an either-or proposition, I learned.

Today, 50 years after that early War Resisters League protest, we as a country also have learned an important lesson: that it's unwise to go fight in someone else's civil war, especially when our national security is not crucially at stake.

Even President Obama admitted in his speech to the nation on Sept. 10 that Syria doesn't pose "a direct or imminent threat to our security."

That concession destroyed his case for war, and it's one reason why the vast majority of Americans oppose it.

And many Americans, like those in the War Resisters League half a century ago, joined protests across the country against any U.S. military action in Syria.

I would like to think they played a part in the president's wise decision to choose diplomacy over warfare.

Doug Bradley, a Vietnam veteran in Madison, Wis., is the author of "DEROS Vietnam: Dispatches from the Air-Conditioned Jungle."

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