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Post Vietnam Veterans and Anti-War Protesters Together: A Proposal for WAIS '17
Created by John Eipper on 10/06/16 2:57 AM

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Vietnam Veterans and Anti-War Protesters Together: A Proposal for WAIS '17 (Edward Jajko, USA, 10/06/16 2:57 am)

On September 29th, Michael Sullivan wrote that he was "curious to see how many WAISers served in the Vietnam War or actively protested the war, as they would have to be in their 60s or older today... [S]o much has happened to all of us and to the world since the Vietnam War. Plus in the early 1960s prior to Vietnam, we had the Bay of Pigs and the Missile Crisis taking place in Cuba."

Michael said further, "With 43 years having passed since the last American troops participated in combat operations in Vietnam, I wonder how many of us older folks have changed our views from what we felt in 1965 at the start of massive US troop deployment, then after Tet and the My Lai incident in 1968, then in early 1973 when the fighting for US forces ceased, until now in 2016 where we have the advantage of hindsight?" And he proposed: "This could be a super discussion topic for Cuba WAIS ‘17."

JE then commented: "An excellent idea: I wonder if this will be Cuba's first-ever panel discussion on the Vietnam war that includes US veterans."

A couple of thoughts on this proposal. While it would be extremely interesting to have a serious discussion of the Cuban Missile Crisis, right there in Cuba, I have some reservations. Were the WAIS conference to be held again at Stanford, or Adrian, or Torquay, I would not find this at all problematic. To the best of my knowledge, when WAIS met at Stanford the last couple of times, there was little if any notice in our two major local newspapers and probably none in the Stanford papers (although I admit that I rarely see the student paper, the Stanford Daily, and only occasionally see the university's Stanford Review). But a meeting of an American-based international intellectual discussion fraternity, that was founded by a well-known Hispanist who in 1960 revealed to the world the preparations by Cuban exiles for an invasion of Cuba, is sure to be noticed and taken some advantage of by various elements of the Cuban government. A discussion of My Lai, of the opposition to the war, etc., would not necessarily be in our best interests.

I think I'll just be blunt. I think that the context of the meeting needs to be taken into consideration. Is Cuba a place where there is free and open academic and intellectual inquiry and discussion? Or is it a place where such discussion among foreign academics and intellectuals might be used for purposes of propaganda? I note an article that appeared in the San José Mercury News several days ago, under title "US teen program sparks Cuba backlash." According to the article, just after the reestablishment of relations between the US and Cuba and President Obama's visit, a State Department program, the Summer Leadership Program for Cuban Youth, which brought a number of 16-18 year old Cuban kids for family stays and various tasks to show American life, has come under intense government-organized opposition, with campus protests organized to protest the program as a tool of US government subversion.

From the article: "Cuba rejects the idea of any foreign government, above all the United States, working with Cubans independently of the government and the more than 2,000 state-run organizations that it describes as Cuba's genuine civil society. Virtually any organization operating without state approval is viewed as illegal and potentially subversive, particularly if it receives foreign aid." So much for the sweetness and light of Barack and Raúl.

I would submit that a society that has been taught since the 1950s to think in this way, and to view the US as an enemy, will seize an advantage in a US-based group holding a conference of free inquiry, particularly if the topic of the inquiry is opposition to the US government and its policies. A WAIS discussion in Cuba, of opposition to US government policy, to the Vietnam war, etc., will be fodder for Cuban propagandists.

I will add that I never served in the military. My wife's older brother, whom I never met, was a newly minted second lieutenant, a graduate of West Point, when he was killed in Vietnam in the Tet Offensive. He is buried in the USMA cemetery, near the Custer Memorial. My own older brother served in Vietnam before the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the big build-up. He was intelligence officer of IV Corps. He had a long career in the Air Force and as a most senior civilian employee at the highest levels of intelligence in the Pentagon, and now lies buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

JE comments: A most appropriate comment from Ed Jajko, as WAIS '17 kicks off exactly one year from today.  Ed makes a convincing point: as a US-based group with ties to Ronald Hilton, who was a Cubanist even before the Revolution, we will be under unprecedented levels of scrutiny.  What do other WAISers think?  Should we avoid the most controversial topics?

Greetings to our Polish-American colleague Edward Jajko (and all WAISworld) from Lublin.  We'll be here and in nearby Chruslanki through tomorrow, and then off to the city of Wroclaw.

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