Sunday, May 15, 2005

Aztlan Vietnam and Iraq

A special investigative report on the National Day of Action to Support GI Resisters by Simon Fitzgerald

Special thanks to Jorge Mariscal

As published in Left Turn

From May 10th to 12th peace advocates are holding rallies around the United States to "Put the Iraq War on Trial." This National Day of Action for GI Resisters, organized with ex-soldiers like Pablo Paredes, Camilo Mejia and Aidan Delgado, is set to coincide with the beginning of Paredes' court martial ( ) in San Diego for his refusal to serve in the Iraq War. The prominence of Latinos among war resisters is enough to remind Californians and other Americans of the prominent Vietnam era Chicano anti-war movement. Indeed, the similarities of today's activism with the Chicano Moratorium go much deeper.

The Relationship with Iraq

While Latinos now comprise a lower percentage of the military than in society at large, this group suffered a disproportionately large number of casualties and fatalities in the invasion of Iraq. One possible explanation is that these soldiers are more concentrated in the lower levels of the service than any other ethnicity. There are, of course, many reasons that these youth join the military: national pride, educational opportunities, or a fast track to citizenship in some non-citizens' cases. Unfortunately they are getting a close look at the reality of the Iraq conflict and an intimate understanding of the horrors of war.

The current wave of moral refusers of war such as Paredes, Delgado and Mejia have joined in with the active organizing of military families. Lead by Mejia's mother Maritza Castillo, a Florida group of soldiers’ relatives called "Latino Military Families" wrote a letter to military and civilian leaders in September 2003 to "fight for the return of our soldiers" in the Florida National Guard whose tour of duty was repeatedly extended. In San Diego itself, soldier support networks have sprouted up like the bilingual Proyecto Guerrero Azteca. The group, founded by Fernando Suarez del Solar after the death of his son Jesus in Iraq as a "voice against wars," works closely with Military Families Speak Out and the San Diego Military Counseling Project to offer moral and economic support to the families of soldiers and war fatalities. Another prominent goal is to find alternatives to military service for working class Latino youth.

Similarities with the Vietnam Era

This cast of characters is very much like the anti-war youth and ex-soldiers that became central to the fight against the war in Vietnam. The language of the May 10 events to "put the war on trial" echoes the sentiments of Chicano draft refusers such as Rosalio Munoz who announced in a Speech Refusing Induction (Chale con el Draft) "I accuse the government of the United States of America …, the draft, the entire social political and economic system of the U.S. of creating a funnel which shoots Mexican youth into Viet Nam to be killed and to kill innocent men, women and children." Furthermore, the growing movement against recruiters on high school campuses and current criticisms of “the poverty draft” mirror the Vietnam era rebellion against conscription.

Paredes and other former soldiers also follow on the heels of a previous generation of Latinos who survived war to produce anti-war poetry, essays, books and plays including Chicanos like Charley Trujillo, Ralph Molina and Luis Valdez and Nuyoricans like Pedro Pietri and Archie Menendez. In fact, the satirical set of theatrical "trials of the Iraq war" that are central to the May 10 events are very much based on the darkly humorous “Soldado Razo,” a staple of Chicano anti-war culture during the Vietnam era.

While Paredes credits ex military thinkers like Howard Zinn and Chalmers Johnson in the formation of his political character "men like Luis Valdez are inspiring how I (Pablo) choose to protest. We will soon be putting on a mock trial, … very Teatro Campesino, Luis Valdez style."

This mock trial shows the American people realizing that "Mr. Iraq WarOccupate" is guilty in the jury of Public Opinion with judge Howard Zein presiding. It is also not the only reincarnation of Teatro Campesino against the Iraq war. Vietnam veteran Ralph Molina has brought “Soldado Razo” up to date, featuring the music of anti-war Latino rockers Ozomatli and incorporating characters such as Paul Wolfowitz (Lobowitz), General Rumsfeld, and a recruiter. The new version is published on the University of California at San Diego website

Why are the movements simliar?

The similarities in protests are more likely due to the similar effects of the Iraq War and the Vietnam War. The unfortunate circumstances that drove much of the Chicano community to active resistance against the Vietnam War are replayed today in working class communities around the country. The issues being dealt with by soldier support groups such as San Diego Military Counseling Project are very similar phenomena to what Vietnam veterans and their communities had to overcome as Lea Ybarras records in "Vietnam Veteranos." These problems include unnoticed emotional trauma of returning GIs, the pain of military families "pending notification" after the Iraq body count rises, and the thousands of desertions since the beginning of the invasion.

It should not be surprising that much of the same themes, symbolism, archetypes, and actions that arose in the Vietnam era are currently coming out of Latino anti-war literature. This is not only because of the legacy of work passed on from the previous generation, but because much of the same pain, betrayal, loss, and violence that motivated communities into open resistance against the Vietnam war is being felt due to the invasion of Iraq and current militaristic policies.

The May 10th events will certainly not draw the crowd that National Chicano Moratorium did at the height of the Vietnam War in August of 1970. However, that rally ended with a police attack on the crowd and the assassination of active Los Angeles Times reporter Ruben Salazar as he sought refuge in a local business. It almost seems as if the government was opening an anti-Chicano offensive as part of the war effort. Hopefully, the National Day of Action to Support GI Resisters will signal the rapid growth of a unified movement of soldiers and military families working to end the occupation of Iraq by refusing immoral orders to carry it out.

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