Anti-war activism erased from national bicentennial by Vietnam veterans

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President Gerald Ford delivering remarks at the Old North Bridge, Concord, MA April 1975 for the bicentennial of the initial conflict of the American Revolutionary War. (Copyright Diana Mara Henry / www.dianamarahenry.com)

This July 4 marks the start of the final countdown to our country’s half-fiftieth birthday or, as the United States Half-Fiftieth Anniversary Commission, created by Congress in 2016, prefers to call the almost unpronounceable anniversary. from the date of the Declaration of Independence, “America 250”.

In its nearly 300-page report to the President, the Commission sees the years leading up to July 4, 2026 as an opportunity to “deepen our understanding of our history” through education, engagement and development. ‘unit. And yet, he fails to mention those historical events that citizens would do well not to repeat and therefore most need to know.

We could attend a rehearsal of the bicentennial coating.

President Ford’s moves and remarks appear to have been a concerted effort to erase the Vietnam War and, in particular, the anti-war activism of… American GIs and Vietnam veterans.

President Ford’s moves and remarks appear to have been a concerted effort to erase the Vietnam War and, in particular, the anti-war activism of those who knew from experience that American atrocities regularly occurred in Southeast Asia. : American GIs and Vietnam Veterans.

On the evening of April 18, 1975, President Ford kicked off the nation’s fifteen-month anniversary at Old North Church in Boston. After flashing “One if by land and two if by sea,” as the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in “Paul Revere’s Ride,” he flashed a third lantern to signal the start of the third century of the nation.

The next morning the president commemorated the 200e anniversary of the significant events that followed after Revere’s warning reached the towns of Lexington and Concord. Speaking at Concord, where colonial militiamen retaliated against advancing regulars, Ford linked the bravery and determination of the settlers to the nation’s current fighting power.

“From a nascent nation with a few ships,” the president intoned before the city’s famous Minute Man statue, “American sea power now extends to the farthest shores. From a militia of raw recruits, the US military stands at the forefront of the free world. “

In Lexington, the President commemorated the dead of the Revolutionary War by laying a wreath at the base of that city’s very similar Minute Man statue.

The following year, July 4, 1976, President Ford began the day’s festivities at Valley Forge, where the Continental Army endured a very cold winter.

The president then flew by helicopter to Philadelphia where he delivered a lengthy speech at Independence Hall defining the nation’s goal for its third century as the pursuit of “American leadership in world affairs.” It was a role he said the nation deserved. “The United States remains today the most successful realization of the universal hope of mankind. “We have yet,” he assured the massive crowd and people watching at home on television, “let’s show the way.”

At 2 p.m. President Ford and his wife were on the massive bridge of the USS Forrestal in New York Harbor, ringing a ceremonial bell thirteen times in commemoration of the original thirteen colonies.

President Ford never once mentioned the Vietnam War during these bicentennial events, although eleven days after his trip to Concord and Lexington, the forces the United States had fought against in Vietnam liberated Saigon, forcing the remaining Americans to evacuate.

“It was sad and tragic in many ways,” the president concluded at a press conference the following month when asked if there should be a commission to find out where the United States were wrong in Vietnam. “I think it would be unfortunate for us to rehash allegations about individuals that might be to blame or administrations that might be at fault.”

From the perspective of Ford and the United States government, the Bicentennial was an opportunity to start from scratch.

But first, the federal government needed to erase the nation’s still vivid memories of own US military personnel taking unprecedented action to end the horrors they knew to occur in Vietnam on a daily basis.

By the fall of 1970, more than 200 members of the Vietnam Anti-War Veterans marched in their jungle fatigues from Morristown, New Jersey, to Valley Forge. By performing simulated search and destroy missions along the way, they demonstrated how far the nation has fallen from the ideals of those Americans who refused to join in the massive desertion from General Washington’s army. .

The following spring, members of the VVAW visited the Old North Church to deliver a message to the people that President Nixon was stepping up air warfare in Southeast Asia despite his announcement that he was withdrawing US ground troops in the goal of keeping his campaign promise. of “peace with honor”. =

“One if by land, two if by sea and three if by air,” reads the VVAW press release describing the flares its members sent high into the Boston skies.

Over the next three days, anti-Vietnam War veterans from New England traveled Paul Revere’s route in the opposite direction, starting at the Old North Bridge, where they claimed allegiance to the patriotism embodied by the statue. Minute Man. Like the farmer who had left his fields to protect the rights of the settlers, they had given up their new civilian life to prevent the country they loved from being the imperialist aggressor their ancestors had fought to overcome. VVAW’s efforts gained national attention when the Lexington Selectmen ordered a mass arrest of veterans and hundreds of their civilian supporters for taking a stand against the Vietnam War on the city’s hallowed Battle Green.

In December 1971, twenty-five members of the VVAW struck again when they occupied several sacred American sites across the country, including the Statue of Liberty and Betsy Ross’ house, the latter a few blocks from the ‘Independence Hall in Philadelphia. There, at the house where the first American flag was said to have been made, anti-war veterans hung an upside down American flag in distress.

President Ford’s presence at the USS Forrestal best illustrates his intention to reclaim the GI and veteran anti-war protest sites. In 1967, the supercarrier had spent a month in the Gulf of Tonkin launching attack planes as part of an effort that ultimately dropped more ammunition on Southeast Asia than on all of Europe during the Second World War. the Forrestal only returned to the United States after 134 sailors were killed in a massive onboard fire caused by an electrical incident or pilot error. On June 10, 1972, while the ship was moored in Norfolk, another massive fire broke out on the supercarrier. This second fire was not an accident. Rather, it was the largest sabotage incident in US naval history. One of many acts of resistance to the Vietnam War carried out by Stop Our Ships (or SOS), it caused more than $ 7 million in damage and delayed the ship’s return to active service by three months.

While it is no coincidence that Ford’s bicentennial movements match those of VVAW and SOS, as the way we mobilize sacred sites and powerful symbols of our nation’s history and capabilities is essential to how we shape our future, his administration contributed to the amnesia of the Vietnam War. and revisionism. Lexington, Concord and Valley Forge are once again known for their role in the American Revolution and not as the places where Vietnam veterans played a significant role in turning the tide of the Vietnam War, while the POW / MIA flags which now fly under nearly every American flag, including the one atop the White House, tells a story of American victimization that contradicts our role as the most powerful military force in the world.

As the United States’ Semi-Fiftieth Commission notes, the next 250e the birthday is an opportunity to educate. However, the Commission’s goal of unity can only be achieved through the kind of honest assessment of the nation’s past that President Ford has sought to avoid.

Elise lemire
History News Network


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