Content warning: the following article refers to an exhibit that some may find upsetting as it involves topics of war, sexual violence, and scenes that depict violence.
“You can’t discount the role of the GI movement that made the continued prosecution of the war– both the ground war and the air war– untenable for the Pentagon.” Ron Carver, curator for Waging Peace in Vietnam: US Soldiers and Veterans Who Opposed the War.
Waging Peace in Vietnam is a traveling exhibit detailing some of the efforts on American soldiers who were starting to see that the US involvement in Vietnam was unjust. It will be on display at the University of Alaska Juneau campus and online until Dec. 8.
For many who were around in the early 1970s, memories of the Vietnam War are unique. Some may remember classmates going to the war and never returning. Some lost family members. I was a small child not even in school when it ended. At the end of the nightly news, a list of casualties came up on the screen, names of soldiers killed in Vietnam. I remember my dad holding me and crying.
Those killed were a little older than my sisters, around my aunt’s age. There were also protests that I saw on TV and sometimes, when I was with my parents, we passed throngs of people with beards and long hair and bell bottoms and crocheted tops on Seattle streets, chanting: “Hell no! We won’t go!”
Most people thought the protesters were hippies, and anyone who protested was called names like “traitor”. As the truth came out about the war in Vietnam, Americans have found out that it was unjustified, that many soldiers either chose to do unspeakable acts or were forced to by superiors. There were a lot of civilian protesters, but what brought down the war were the GI protesters.
Many of the soldiers who fought in Vietnam came back with physical and mental wounds. While 58,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam, 300,000 vets have died from illnesses associated with exposure to Agent Orange, addiction, and suicide. In addition, almost 7 million Laotians, Cambodians and Vietnamese died in the war.
UAS Provost Maren Haavig spoke in the opening of the exhibit, where she said that “the trauma from that war lingers, and we won’t be able to move on until we critically and honestly examine how the war started, how it unfolded, and how it ended.”
Waging Peace in Vietnam is one step in that direction. She noted that during the Vietnam War, there were at least four underground antiwar GI newspapers at military bases in Alaska, and a Native American newspaper for soldiers at Ft Lewis, Washington.
Curator Ron Carver said that UAS is the fifteenth university where he has taken the exhibit.
The exhibit contains histories, posters, fliers, material from various archives and underground newspapers, some of which can also be seen online.The men and women in uniform who objected risked their careers, sometimes their lives, in acts of protest and getting the word out that the war was unjust. Their actions shaped the outcome of the war. The US military was worried that the military was failing because of the internal GI anti-war movement. In 1967, four soldiers deserted a ship and fled to Sweden, and an anti-war movement was taking hold in GI coffee houses, mostly in the southeastern United States. There were pray-ins and teach-ins, and draft card burnings across the country.
Susan Schnall, a former military nurse, spoke at the opening and told of how she was hearing stories from the men who were returning. She described blood and puss filled wounds, pain and horrific stories that were all similar.
She started out just putting flyers up around bases, but they were cleaned up before many people saw them. So with a friend who was a pilot, they started flying over bases and dropping pamphlets and flyers with stories about the war and what was really happening.
Schnell spoke of the significance of opening day for the exhibit, Nov. 11, that WWI ended on 11/11 at the eleventh hour in 1918. Many other countries remember it by calling it Armistice Day, “a day to mourn all war victims”-- soldiers and civilians alike, and to commit to abolishing war. She contrasted that with how the United States calls it Veterans Day and the day is “celebrated with parades, tanks, a cheers”
Waging Peace in Vietnam is an art exhibit that is showing at the University of Alaska Southeast Juneau campus from Nov. 11 to Dec. 15.
Most readers of The Northern Light won’t be able to fly down to Juneau to see this in person, but there is plenty to do online for remote interaction, including a writing context that has been extended– information provided through an email– until Nov. 30.
They are encouraging students to go to https://uas.alaska.edu/juneau/writing-center/waging-peace-in-vietnam.html to share their reflections on the exhibit.