By Donald Dzagulones
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
December 1776, Valley Forge Pennsylvania. These words were written to inspire a dispirited band of American patriots whose number had diminished due to a series of defeats. Thomas Paine had begun a series of pamphlets which helped inspire the American Revolution. There were those, Tory conservatives, who branded Paine and his fellow patriots as traitorous radicals. The principals of freedom and liberty were radical ideas and independence the treason for which these patriots fought and died. They were the original Winter Soldiers.
January 1971, Detroit Michigan. Another group of dispirited patriots gathered and they too were branded as radicals and traitors. These young men had been dispirited not because of defeat on the battlefield but because of the callous disregard showed them and their brothers fighting and dying in a senseless war. Their treason was to speak the truth. They too were Winter Soldiers, and I'm proud to have been one of them. John Kerry was there, George Bush wasn't — he didn't qualify or care.
History clearly records why the original Winter Soldiers gathered, but the purpose of the assemblage of 1971 is either ignored or distorted. We gathered not to sensationalize our service but to decry the travesty that was Lt. William Calley's trial for the My Lai Massacre. The U.S. had established the principle of culpability with the trials of the Nazis at Nuremberg. Following those principles, we held that if Calley were responsible, so were his superiors up the chain of command — even to the president. The causes of My Lai and the brutality of the Vietnam War were rooted in the policies of our government as executed by our military commanders.
In 1971, being a Vietnam vet was not a reason for pride, another fact conveniently overlooked by today's chroniclers and critics. Our return home was anonymous and unceremonious. But we felt a responsibility to those fighting in Vietnam and those destined for the killing machine. Silence and complacency would have been wrong. We were compelled by conscience to speak out.
Hundreds of thousands of citizens marched on Washington to speak out against the Vietnam War. Instead of acknowledging them, the president watched football. And we too were ignored. But thanks to the efforts of VVAW and John Kerry, the Winter Soldier Investigation was brought to Congress. And today the neoconservatives, following the tradition of the Tories, brand Kerry as a radical for his participation in Winter Soldier. Consider that in a senatorial race in Georgia, Saxby Chambliss (a chickenhawk) labeled Max Cleland (Vietnam multiple amputee) as unpatriotic for his criticism of the Iraq War — and won the election. The assault on Kerry will be as cynical and caustic and more disdainful of the truth.
Truth discredits the Bush Administration. The Bush campaign wants us to remember the events of 9-11. I remember the look of fear and confusion on Bush's face when his aide entered the classroom in Florida and whispered the news in his ear. I remember the leaderless vacuum in Washington until all danger had passed. Bush now proclaims himself a "war president" issuing the challenge to "bring it on." Valor is easy when protected by the full might of the U.S. military. Where was this patriotic valor and love of country thirty years ago? Where was this valor on 9-11-01? Bush's valor is as much a lie as is his concern for our welfare and liberties. Ignore his rhetoric but observe his agenda.
America has had the unique ability to meet any challenge with selfless patriots, like those fighting and dying in Iraq today. Being one of those patriots tempered under fire, Kerry will weather the assault of the neoconservatives and quasi-patriots. We then will have a president who is worthy of the office, unlike the manipulative sycophant currently occupying the White House, a divisive liar, an opportunist and a sunshine patriot — never a Winter Soldier.
Donald Dzagulones is a member of VVAW from Michigan.