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‘Waging Peace’ exhibition explores the GI Peace Movement and reconciliation with Vietnam • Wisconsin Examiner

Almost 50 years after it ended, the U.S. war in Vietnam  continues to cast deep shadows on America and Vietnam alike. Both the role that some active-duty U.S. troops played in helping to bring it to an end and recent efforts to build bridges of reconciliation have received far too little attention.

These often-hidden elements will be explored in three timely exhibitions running simultaneously April 1-17 at UW-Madison, UW Oshkosh, and Marquette University in Milwaukee. The programs, “Waging Peace: Promoting Healing and Reconciliation,” will offer forums with Vietnam veterans and other leaders, documentaries, music, and a variety of presentations.

UW Oshkosh Vice Chancellor Edwin Martini, a historian who has deeply studied the Vietnam war during visits to that nation, sees immense significance in bringing “Waging Peace” to his campus. “We’re in a moment in which the American war in Vietnam and the peace movement that helped bring it to an end, are at best a distant memory for most, yet their lessons remain sadly relevant to so many events around the world,” Martini says. “This exhibit helps remind us both of the horrors of war and the power that individuals have to stop it.”

The war’s death toll of some three million Vietnamese and 58,209 Americans   has left deep wounds on both societies. Disillusionment with both the aims and brutal methods of the U.S. war forced mostly working-class enlisted men and women to challenge authority for the first time in their lives. Their rarely acknowledged resistance — including steps like refusing patrol duty — severely constrained the overall ability of the US to continue the war.

“The American invasion of Vietnam was one of the most shameful episodes in our history,“ explains Joel Rogers, director of the Havens Wright Center for Social Justice UW-Madison.  “We should learn from it and do better. There is no better way to begin to do that than to learn the history of those who bravely fought for peace right in the middle of this slaughter.” 

Among the presenters at the Marquette exhibition will be remarkable personalities. One is Vietnam veteran Chuck Searcy, 79, subject of a March 16 New York Times profile. Searcy is devoting his life to removing the vast quantity of unexploded U.S. weapons left after the U.S. withdrew  in 1975. He helped to launch this step for reconciliation with Vietnam through Project RENEW, which has thus far defused 815,000 lethal unexploded bombs and landmines remaining in the soil decades after U.S. bombing. Project RENEW leader Xuan Hien will join the discussion.

Le Ly Hayslip, a prominent peace advocate born in Vietnam, will be named a Peacemaker in Residence at Marquette. She will share the experiences recounted in her memoir, “When Heaven and Earth Changed Places.” The memoir was the basis for an Oliver Stone movie. She has also been named as a visiting scholar at the Havens Wright Center at UW Madison. 

“Le Ly Hayslip has much to teach us about how to work for a more peaceful world,” says Chris Jeske, Associate director of Marquette’s Peacemaking Center. “From speaking out as a witness to the destructiveness of war, to sharing her courageous journey of healing, reconciliation, and humanitarian action, her story shows the remarkable endurance of the human spirit.” 

The ”Soldiers in Revolt” panel, a key part of “Waging Peace,” will bring together three veterans who helped to propel GIs’ anti-war activism into the forefront of the national debate at the height of the Vietnam War.

  • U.S. Army combat photographer Ron Haeberle will relate the story of his world-stirring photos of the My Lai Massacre, where 504 innocent Vietnamese lives were wiped out by U.S. troops. Haeberle’s photos published in 1969 had an enormous impact on how Americans felt about the war. 
  • David Cortright, a Vietnam-era Army veteran, is professor emeritus at Notre Dame and a national expert on protest and resistance across the U.S. military.   He is co-editor of the companion book for the exhibit, “Waging Peace in Vietnam: U.S. Soldiers and Veterans Who Opposed the War.” This companion book was translated into Vietnamese and published in Saigon.
  • Susan Schnall was court-martialed because of her high-profile activism in California’s San Francisco Bay Area.  She rented a single-engine plane and dropped 20,000 anti-war leaflets over nearby military bases. Schnall also infuriated the military brass when she led over 500 sailors and soldiers down San Francisco’s Market Street in 1968 while wearing her lieutenant’s uniform.

Four documentaries will be presented for on-line live viewing. They include David Zeiger’s “Sir! No Sir!,” Connie Field’s “The Whistleblower of My Lai,”  Glen Silber’s “The War at Home,” and Samantha Farinella’s “Hunting In Wartime.”

“Waging Peace” will introduce many to Vietnamese music as performed by the world-famous Kronos Quartet soloist Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ on the đàn tranh, a traditional 17-string Vietnamese instrument. 

“Waging Peace” will also sponsor essay contests at each campus, with $500 prizes provided by Veterans for Peace. 

The three Wisconsin exhibitions will bring to 27 the number of universities at which Waging Peace and its companion book  have been presented in the US and Vietnam.

Reviewing the anthology that inspired the exhibition five years ago, I wrote, “‘Waging Peace’ offers a full and extraordinarily powerful picture of the way that soldiers and veterans provided a much-overlooked but immense contribution to forcing an end to the United States invasion of Vietnam. The troops created a remarkable movement that stopped the drive for a vast expansion of the war that had caused so much suffering for the Vietnamese people and the servicemen and women as well.”

It is never too late to learn from that history. And it is never too soon to start. The exhibition’s Wisconsin tour opens the door to the lessons it can offer. 

A full schedule of “Waging Peace” events is available at Waging Peace in Vietnam. Pre-registration for the various events is appreciated.

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originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2024%2F04%2F01%2Fwaging-peace-exhibition-explores-the-gi-peace-movement-and-reconciliation-with-vietnam%2F by Roger Bybee

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