May 7, 2010

Geoff Millard: My part in a veterans delegation to Vietnam.

From the 26th of March until the 9th of April I was lucky to be a part of a veterans delegation to Vietnam in order to do research in preparation for an upcoming push for legislation to alleviate the suffering of the people of Vietnam that has plagued them since we first started using agent orange in 1961.
Vietnam may seem an odd place for an Iraq vet whose parents had not even met when the last US forces retreated in defeat hanging from helicopters, but somehow I was the perfect piece to complete a very complicated puzzle. You see there are many connections to be made between the two wars but I was there because both were toxic battlefields that left veteran and civilian alike scared for many generations.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s it was not conservative veterans groups who were talking about the effects of agent orange (more specifically dioxin but for common understanding I will simply use AO as my reference), it was VVAW and CCI. As much as revisionists would love to write antiwar veterans from history or minimize them as a small force (as they are trying today with IVAW) the reality is that while the VFW would not allow Vietnam veterans to join their ranks antiwar vets were creating a new generation of leaders. These brave souls were the ones to first paint the words agent orange kills our soldiers on banners.
One of these young leaders would leave to form VVA but his roots are undeniably with VVAW. It is from the work of antiwar veterans that any compensation for AO has been granted. Thus it must again be antiwar vets that take up their banners and fight for compensation for the now three generations of survivors who have lived 35 years in a toxic battlefield that Americans have long since forgotten.

I was amazed to see veterans of both sides share war stories as easily as stories of their children, most of whom are many years my elder. These vets also share diseases that are just as much the legacy of Vietnam as is that black mirrored wall on the north west side of our national mall, just to the left of Lincoln's feet.

My thoughts often wandered forward in time to the day when I would go to Iraq. When I would meet with my former foe. When I would help press my government to take responsibility and provide relief for the toxic battlefield we have been creating since the first gulf war. That day will come and I hope soon. As our troops slowly withdraw from this illegal nightmare we were thrown into it is now up to my generation of veteran to speak loudly, or yell if we must that;

Depleted uranium is killing our soldiers in Iraq & Afghanistan.

We must fight for compensation and treatment before thousands die from DU as they did from AO. We must link our struggle for justice with that of those left alive in the toxic battlefields that we are now slowly pulling out of.

If not for the power of the antiwar movement shock and awe would have been genocidal in scale. If not for us Obama would not sit in the oval office. If not for us our troops would see no light at the end of the tunnel. And if we stop now then justice for our veterans and for those who will continue their lives in Iraq & Afghanistan will never be reached.

I'm proud of my trip and I am proud of the work done by VVAW, VFP, and IVAW. I am proud that while some spend their time protesting antiwar veterans, we the antiwar veterans are hard at work for peace and justice for all.

-thanks to IVAW

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