Tom Hayden was a major player in the antiwar movement of the 1960s as well as a familiar liberal and progressive activist, commentator, and researcher since. His last book is entitled, Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement. Here’s his basic point: “What we should honor and strive for today is an inclusive demonstration of the power of the peace movement.” Hayden wanted the mainstream to acknowledge all that the peace movement had done. (He highlights the leading role in resistance to U.S. power by the Vietnamese themselves, U.S. communities of color, and veterans.) Even at this late date, Hayden yearned for recognition and validation from the powerful as to the history the movement “made.”
But since the war’s end, much work has been done to insure mainstream “thinkable thought”—yes, the U.S. made mistakes in Vietnam, yes it was a tragedy (typically appropriated as our tragedy), and yes, the vets should have been warmly welcomed home, and we won’t make that mistake again. Hayden saw that President Obama paid tribute to some of the 60s movements, that is, civil rights and feminism, but he noted that “the role of Julian Bond, Dr. King, and the Vietnam Veterans against the War, goes unmentioned.” It can’t be mentioned because it’s like saying the U.S. regularly commits “war crimes” or ”aggression,” which is something our enemies do, but not ourselves.
Before his death last year, Hayden was looking forward to the good deeds of Barack Obama after his presidency: “His 2016 steps and statements have raised expectations for Obama’s coming years as a former-present global peacemaker [sic]. As Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have shown, a former president can accomplish wonders, and there is plenty to do: assisting Agent Orange victims, both Vietnamese and U.S. veterans and their affected children; cleaning up cluster bombs, land mines, and other deadly ordnances; aiding mine victims and providing reconstruction assistance; mitigating lethal environmental damage, and so on.” All of those activities specific to U.S. responsibility are indeed being carried out by conscientious veterans and younger generations of U.S. citizens. Yet it’s safe to assume Barack Obama has other priorities than being with and listening to Vietnamese people who survived the U.S. generated catastrophe.