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When Johnny Comes Marching Home
Reprinted from the May 1973, Volume 3, Number 3 issue of Winter Soldier.
In his speeches, President Nixon has time and again said how much respect and admiration he has for the Vietnam veteran. Time and again he has told America how much he intends to help the Vietnam veteran. Employment bills, more benefits, vocational training, and better educational benefits have all passed between his lips in an orgy of rhetoric, all intended to show how grateful America is for the "great sacrifices" of the veteran. With all this praise one would think that the whole country is just looking for a veteran to help. However, what are the real conditions of the Vietnam veterans, all veterans, of this country? Where do they really stand? The following is a small glimpse of the answers to these questions; a glimpse of the truth.
One would think, listening to the government's propaganda, that a vet could just walk off the street and right into a great, fulfilling job. No such luck! First, most men enter the service right after high school, which leaves little room for on-the-job experience. Besides, most poor and minority vets would never have been able to go to college in the first place because of the chains of poverty around their necks. 60% of the enlisted men in the military have never gone beyond a high school diploma, and these are the men who end up in the combat arms. While in the military, the training that the men receive has little relation to work in the civilian world (would you hire a doorgunner as a TV repairman?). Employers do not consider military job experience when looking at an employment questionnaire because the military does not use machines nor techniques like those in civilian work (except for law enforcement). What they want is civilian job experience, and several years of it. So where do you find the vet? As janitors, or pumping gas, or pushing a wheelbarrow.
Then there is the problem of finding a job. The general unemployment rate of American workers is roughly 5.5%. The rate for Vietnam veterans is about 10%. For minority vets, the figure is an incredible 14%. These figures are taken from the Department of Labor, so they are conservative. The show the blatant disregard of employers for the supposed "great sacrifice." What the figures also show is the economic reality of workers in America. Unemployment is essential to big business because it forces working people to compete with each other and against vets for the few good jobs and the many bad ones, thus allowing businessmen to hire at unbelievably low wages. By forcing a split amongst working people, big business can keep the pressure off their backs, pressure to improve the wage, the conditions of the work place and increase workers benefits.
What about the fantastic GI Bill? Again we find a sham. Try going to college full-time, eat a couple of meals a day, pay rent, pay tuition, and buy school books all on a flat $225 a month. Impossible for most people. The GI Bill after WWII was paradise compared to today's. Then they got $75 per month spending money, books paid for and tuition paid for. The GI Bill for vets today is an ugly joke.
The oppression of minority vets is incredible. Words are a poor medium for describing the everyday hassles of these people who also laid their ass on the line. Drug addiction is rampant amongst them. Unemployment is triple for them. They are shuffled right back into the ghetto and barrio of filth that has dragged them down since birth. 80% of all combat deaths were minority peoples, yet they are the last to benefit from their service.
What does all this mean? The answer can be found in our own back yards. It's the same reason the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. It's the same reason that the economy is so screwed up. It's the same reason America got into Vietnam. The oppression of the Vietnam veteran is only a magnified picture of the same oppression that all poor working Americans are facing. The huge corporations, owned by a small minority of incredibly rich ogres, do not care about people, only profits. These ogres own or control the top 200 corporations, which control 50% of this country's wealth; but they want more. As big business grabs for more wealth as they move into other countries to grab new resources as they are doing in Indochina, the American people will lose more.
VVAW will not demand more for the veteran without demanding more for all Americans. The same good health care that veterans should get should also be given to all Americans. The same right to full employment that veterans want VVAW believes should be accorded all Americans. As VVAW demands a complete education for vets, we also demand it for all Americans. We must fight together with all our brothers and sisters to not only better the lives of veterans, but also to better the lives of the people we live and work with.
VVAW marching on Labor Day in Milwaukee, September 3, 1973.