WITNESS explores how the killing of four Kent State Students, maiming of nine more, by Ohio National Guardsmen, President Nixon’s invading neutral Cambodia, widespread anti-Vietnam protesting, and Seymour Hersh’s explosive reporting on the My Lai Massacre, shattered an enormous number of American’s support for prosecuting the Vietnam War. Clara Bingham’s unique enlightening interviews of 100 activists, vets, and officials, who pushed our country towards what Mario Savio called a revolution against “The Machine” referring to Henry David Thoreau’s essay “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” “There’s a time when the operation of the Machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus-and you’ve got to make it stop!”
(Kent State Students where 4 were killed and 9 maimed by National Guardsmen bullets)
David Harris, one of many activists explains everything “grew out of the Mississippi taproot …when white college students went south to help voter registration and witnessed the heroism of the black people of Mississippi.” Other interviews included drug use, Woodstock, The Black Panthers, SDS, feminism, and Nixon’s lies stabbed most every thoughtful person’s conscience by the time Daniel Ellsberg published the Pentagon Papers. These policies caused the largest student strike ever with 2.5 million refusing classes and 700 colleges shutdown including Kent State. While an historian might question whether this massive civil disobedience constituted a revolution, this powerful book shows a major shift in thinking occurred when so many resisted the draft. It would have been unthinkable to the serviceman or public in World War II, however, resisting the draft was the favored choice of an enormous number of their children.
(Weathermen about to smash windows demonstrating their rage at the "Machine")
This disconnect is present today with the Trump supporters living in an alternative universe from that of Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. For example everyone in the Madison Police Department near Kent State when they heard of the shootings assumed the students were at fault from statements Spiro Agnew and the Ohio Governor made that vilified the protesters and urged the Guard to deal with them as scum. But the evidence was clear that the Guardsmen had violated their obligations to never fire on peaceful protesters as was common around the United States even if someone threw a rock or shouted obscenities. Allison Krause was killed by a bullet fired 343 feet away and while she took 45 minutes to bleed to death the medics were reserved for the Guardsmen and ignored her! Although no weatherman were present, elsewhere they had developed a strategy that included symbolic destruction of property like a Capitol bathroom with no one present. But it escalated into more serious bombings, hiding on the lam, and violence at demonstrations. Bingham says, “The sixties crested in 1968, with the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Dr. King, the Tet Offensive and Nixon’s victory.”
(Nixon under the influence of alcohol speaking with demonstrators who descended on the Lincoln Memorial in protest against the Vietnam War and Nixon's policies)
Nothing is more chilling nor remarkable than Seymour Hersh’s ferreting out the truth on the My Lai massacre by tracking down eye witnesses to a horrendous war crime. Vietnam Vets like Nick Turse submitted proof of at least 300 similar massacres. Many occurred in “free fire zones” where they killed “anything that moved.” The Village of Ben Suc by Jonathan Schell involved another massacre that made Jane Fonda say, “I was one person before I read it, and another person after I finished…that was the beginning of my outrage.” Hersh visited Calley’s attorney in Salt Lake City who called it a mistake as he was told defending Calley accused of killing 109 “Oriental human beings.” Over a few beers Calley called My Lai a “setup, just a firefight.” Ernie Medina, a Captain, refused to agree with Calley “how I had nothing to do with it!” Barry Romo explained the body count was “close to 500” with American casualties only “One self-inflicted.” Hersh learned of a photographer, Paul Medlo who told him of three pits with “hundreds of people”, and that Calley brutally killed a small child. Medlo admits he and Calley “Shot and shot” at the unarmed people. Medlo, one of “McNamara’s Folly”, who would have never qualified in the past because of tests he could not pass, the next morning had his foot blown off by a mine! He felt God punished him and would punish Calley. His mother said, “I sent them a good boy and they returned him a murderer.” Hersh found photographer Ron Haeberle who saved photos of the massacre reported by Ron Ridenhour who broke the story a year before. His graphic photos have been circulated worldwide.
(My Lai Massacre where more than 500 unarmed civilians were killed under orders by Lt. William Calley)
At Calley’s court martial he was sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labor at Fort Leavenworth. The next day Nixon ordered him transferred to house arrest at officer’s barracks pending appeal! His habeas corpus petition was granted by Judge J. Robert Elliot because of pre-trial publicity prejudice, refusal of the House of Representatives to release testimony taken in executive session, and inadequate notice of charges. Bingham’s focus is 1969-70 the “crescendo of the sixties, when years of civil disobedience and mass resistance erupted into anarchic violence.” Government sabotage as well as surveillance, theatrics in courtroom trials, massive police misconduct, and President Nixon’s late-night Lincoln Memorial meeting with protesters under the influence of alcohol when he tried to make them understand he wanted to end the Vietnam War. However, when he created the plumbers his days were numbered and brought his rapid much deserved downfall with Watergate.
(Jane Fonda and John Kerry speak at an Anti-Vietnam rally for Vietnam Veterans Against War)
BIO: Dan graduated Annapolis, navigated a jet, then a ship to Vietnam. He resigned, joined VVAW, and became a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW, the ACLU and in private civil rights practice. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his change from a pawn in the military to crusader for justice. http://www.danielclavery.com (author website)
(My song for Obama is sung to the tune of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues)
Obama’s Train is Coming
It’s rolling around the bend
I ain’t seen the sunshine
Since I don’t know when
I’ve been stuck with Bush and Cheney
For eight long dark years
Obama’s on his way
To bring us hope instead of fears
When I was just a baby
My Momma told me son
Always be a good boy
Don’t ever play with guns
But I joined the US Navy
They sent me off to Vietnam
My Lai, Kent State, and Nixon
Made me doubt my Uncle Sam
Along came Sarah Palin
And scrappy John McCain
One is old and grumpy
The other has half a brain
Obama offers each of us
A much better plan
Universal health care
For every child, woman, and man
Let’s end Guantanamo
And the war in Iraq
No more torture or rendition
Give us America back
Say good bye to neo-cons
Their time has finally gone
Welcome in some caring people
Who sing a different song
The world’s most thoughtful leaders
From near and very far
Welcome Barack Obama’s
Rapid rising star
He asks for us to live
The best that we can be
He’ll change the USA
From sea to shining sea
Alternative energy and
A more efficient fuel
Higher teacher pay
And energize each school
If you want college education
You can have that too
If you serve our nation
And the red, white and blue
On January 20th
Of the year 2009
Obama’s reign will begin
A glorious new time
Nations around the world
Will respect America again
And children of every race
Will now say yes we can
This is a song I wrote while working on Obama's campaign in Cleveland in 2008. I hoped his speeches on these subjects would become history but the republicans were completely against anything he proposed, called him a Muslim born in Kenya, and prevented his plans to make America better from the beginning. They obstructed almost all his plans. Still he pulled us out of a recession, passed Bank reform and a health plan that covered more than 20 million uninsured persons. I do criticize his failure to close Guantanamo, over-use of inaccurate drones, and failure to take on Wall Street more strenuously for their fraudulent transactions and gambling with taxpayers money. History will reward him with a much more favorable rating than we have heard from the news media and his many misinformed detractors. I thought looking at Obama's history now that Trump is running for president on an entirely different and destructive path would enlighten voters as to how completely unqualified Trump is for the highest office in America and should be roundly defeated!
Beginning at the Traveling Wall in Austin, Texas, a smaller replica of the National Vietnam Memorial, Richard Pena expresses a somber emotion for those who died in Vietnam seeing a woman's tears. He knew her pain would never cease. Pena was on the last plane out of Vietnam after spending a tour as a medic in Saigon. His photo was taken by a Viet Cong soldier when that final plane left. He recognized himself carrying his law school brief case upon returning with a delegation at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City in 2003. Pena's journal entries while serving from 1972 to 1973 as an Operating Room Specialist are aided by John Hagan, author of nine books and many articles as professor of Sociology and Law, Northwestern University, who comments on the context of Pena's story in history with references.
Author Richard Pena pointing to himself entering the last plane out of Saigon
Pena's parents were proud of their Hispanic heritage and taught him by example. His father won a Silver Star for his service at Iwo Jima. Pena won best all-around high school athlete in San Antonio, Texas. He attended University of Texas at Austin when students burned their draft cards and protested the Vietnam conflict. The My Lai massacre struck raw nerves his senior year. Soon at Kent State National Guardsmen killed four students and wounded more wrenching America. His low lottery number made it certain he would be drafted. He tried to fail his physical but they were taking anyone who breathed then and entered the Army, June 14, 1971 as one of the last drafted.
Pena arrived at the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon during the North Vietnamese siege of An Loc when they shot down four aircraft and killed nearly all the residents a few months before Nixon's presidential election during an opportunity for peace talks to resolve the conflict. His objections to pressing for peace were politically motivated as Humphrey would have gained substantial support as a peace candidate despite his role with LBJ. Nixon's voice on tape in the oval office showed he proposed nuclear weapons to succeed but Kissinger replied he thought it would be too much. Nixon said, "I don't give a damn" about civilians killed by U.S. bombing USA Today reported February 28, 2002. While peace was possible Nixon refused to press for it and made the South Vietnamese think if he were president they would get a better deal prolonging the war needlessly and causing more than 20,000 more American deaths.
Pena called Vietnamization a catastrophe demonstrated graphically as he arrived. Young ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) troops threw down their weapons and fled with villagers as the North Vietnamese launched an unprecedented invasion. They expected 200 or so casualties but 2000 marched toward a 100 bed hospital 60 miles away. However many were mortared by Communists on Highway 13 and others accidentally killed by our B-52s. The Air Force accidentally missed the Communists and hit a South Vietnamese village! Pena joined a group of fifteen who worked the Operating Room confronted by death who built a strong companionship.
Soon a C-130 aircraft crashed from mechanical failure causing them to expect many casualties. Burn patients were the worst, difficult to look at, tough to treat, and many died. The first soldier's face appeared plastered red, hair and eyebrows burned away, red burns ran the length of his young body. He had a wife and young child.They smeared Sulfamylon cream over him feeling helpless. His coworker said he would soon die. A sergeant arrived with a broken ankle and numerous lacerations. These professionals knew the risks but it is for the young whom Pena felt the most sorry. The lifers have some control but not the draftees. The sergeant wanted to know how many survived but Pena couldn't tell him only three made it. Pena wondered how many were on the plane and learned there were forty five. The government released only the number fourteen. Such lies insulted Pena and the others. It added brainwashing to misinformation.
An allied Cambodian arrived by air in desperate condition and needed a transfusion from someone with B positive blood. Pena readily provided it as the only one with that type. The doctors said he couldn't survive the operation, yet he wouldn't live without one! They amputated his left leg and blood splattered all over the floor. A nineteen year-old soldier was shot in the head and died from his wound. An American asked him for a cigarette but he didn't have one, so he shot him in the back of the head at point blank range with a .38 pistol. A clean-cut man named Holley had a wife he never cheated on but once. He was found the next morning in a lover's embrace as the girl had put ground-up glass in his food, the sixth American that girl killed. Soon we understand how Pena felt an impermanence sweep over him and all his previous concerns seemed small and unimportant.
Much later Pena became President of the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas. His practice started as a solo attorney for the common person, without an office using an old beat up car. He felt his experience in Vietnam gave him the courage, willpower and confidence to stand up against injustice and fight for his clients. "It was the road less traveled, but it was my road."
Published 2014 by Story Merchant Books, 9601 Wilshire Blvd. # 1202, Beverly Hills, Ca 90210
Bio: VVAW member Daniel C. Lavery graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, and a ship, turned peace activist and became a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his experiences:
A good friend changed my mind from a naval career that my Dad had planned for my brother and me. My friend was in his third year in Law School. He challenged me to consider there were better ways to use my intelligence, and motivation to have a meaningful life. He first challenged my commitment to the Vietnam War with a few graduate student friends at U.C. Berkeley in 1965 when my ship was in dry-dock at Oakland shipyard. I was the ship's navigator with an officer rank of Lieutenant J.G. after graduating from the Naval Academy at Annapolis.
(Dan navigated the USS OAK HILL(LSD-7) to Vietnam and the Far East with 300 marines in 1966-7)
They angered me at first but when I realized they were better informed on history I chose to read a few books they recommended that awakened my conscience and need to find the truth different from the defense department propaganda I had been taught. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearings intrigued me as they were based on testimony and facts I had not heard nor read. I watched my friend argue a case against ten wine growers’ attorneys he brought for Cesar Chavez’s fledgling union and was convinced I could not ever do anything so challenging. He convinced me I could do anything I set my mind on with determination inspired by the concept of justice for the poor and powerless.
(Dan, Joan, and baby son, Aleksey, on the Gallo March for Cesar Chavez 1975)
He also challenged me to connect to my greatest potential by seeking a law degree. My father, on the other hand, discouraged me from the practice of law and said I could never pass the bar exam. However I saw an opportunity for financial independence as a lawyer and at the same time having had the opportunity to argue civil rights cases for the poor and powerless was an opportunity to serve a righteous cause. Soon I had completed my law degree at Hastings College of Law in San Francisco.
(HASTINGS COLLEGE OF LAW, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA)
As a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow, I received a grant for $24,000 for two years to help poor clients. Others said I was doing great work and had transformed from the friend they knew before as an athlete, not an advocate with knowledge of the law. But honestly I did not feel or think I was great. I felt I had found my potential and could be financially sound to raise a family with my wife for the future with a part of a profession that inspired me.
I tried a law firm but soon found the firm life unrewarding as I was on the bottom of a hierarchy with little chance to do more than assist the partners who took the good cases, filed the meaningful pleadings, and were rewarded with salaries that made mine seem insignificant. I had already won a jury trial in a criminal case against farm workers, litigated seventeen class actions, and successfully sued a prosecutor, sheriff, and 28 deputies for the UFW and the ACLU.
However,the partner assigned to me usually asked me to get a continuance, an extension on discovery, research, or write letters. In other words they treated me like a law clerk. Eventually in frustration at thirty six years old with a family, I opened my own practice as a civil rights attorney, consumer advocate, and defamation expert. Everyone told me you cannot make it alone in that field you must work your way up in a firm to be a success. Before long I won an appeal from a dismissal followed by a two week jury trial that netted $278,000, the largest slander verdict west of the Mississippi and had established myself as a trial attorney against a major firm as a solo practitioner. That was something I was told was impossible.
If you have a passion to do something a few people don’t believe possible, you should not be discouraged. You can do anything you set your mind to accomplish with the determination, a reasonable goal, and the necessary training. You can always improve yourself and your future with tenacity, resilience, and the right motivation. Seek out positive people if others discourage your dream. Even if no one sees you as you want to become, you should follow your heart. And, you can do it alone without a firm of competitors if you have the desire to challenge injustice, believe in yourself, are tenacious, and love your work.
Dan in middle at 40th Annapolis Reunion with roommates, Denny (Harvard MBA business man), Dan (civil rights lawyer), and Rich (heart surgeon)
Daniel C. Lavery
All the Difference by Daniel C. Lavery is available at:
After the first UFW labor convention was held in Fresno from September 21-23, 1973, Joan and I decided to visit Yosemite for a natural uplift. We rented a tent in Curry Village at the floor of Yosemite Valley not far from swift flowing, Yosemite River. My body and mind felt so relaxed in this pristine environment, I laid back and allowed the sun to warm me and the wind to blow in my face. Attracted by the magnetic force of nature’s beauty everywhere, we walked out through the waving meadows, towering pines, and resting deer to steepled rock formations and fallen red woods.
We were mesmerized by the reflections of nature in the Yosemite River! Most of the water flowing in Yosemite comes from snow-melt in the high country, so runoff decreases during the dry summer. Peak runoff typically occurs in May or June, with some waterfalls often only a trickle or completely dry by August. Other waterfalls, including Vernal, Nevada, and Bridalveil run all year; however, their flow can be very low by late summer.
Near Yosemite Lodge, I watched the smoothed rocks glistening through the surface of the river from eons of time, billions of molecules of water striking surfaces, ever shaping the meandering river so that it appears different each visit.
Our trek took us to a bridge and the ever-energetic Vernal Falls tumbling from a precipice a few miles away yet in walking distance up a steep pathway of seemingly carved rock. As we ascended the pathway known as the Mist Trail, we traveled under overhangs and around huge granite formations balancing carefully close to the mountain’s edge. Our eyes drifted to the chasm below ever spiraling down to a pool of greenish blue clear water.
There the sparkling waterfall dropped its winding column of water twisting in the wind over a four hundred foot fall, then shattered the silence with its skittering splashing sounds. Nature had created a rainbow that quivered with the falling water separating into one, two, or three waterfalls in a constantly changing pattern.
Slowly as we trudged carefully on an incline flexing our hamstrings and calf muscles with a full stretch each lunge, we eventually reached an escarpment where we rested. I looked down above the wavy stream of descending translucent chilled liquid from the melting snow-pack above. As we looked upstream, we observed a natural channel through which the blue green fluid passed over a bronze smooth volcanic surface. There it had cut patterns over the many years of erosive activity as if nature had taken a knife to sculpt it for the pleasure of those who admire it. We had reached a hard fought location where the view of Vernal Falls appeared completely different from the vantage point of the pedestrian bridge. Most travelers only saw it from that quick stop and did not tackle the steep and challenging rugged trail we enjoyed.
In another half mile we reached the vista all Yosemite visitors covet, which one can see even from Yosemite’s Valley at the right perspective. We had an unobstructed view of Half Dome and a 360-degree panoramic spectacle of the surrounding peaks, crags, mountains, and huge granite boulders of every size and dimension under white puffy clouds dotted with patches of blue sky.
Red Tailed Hawks, Falcons, Buzzards flew in circles riding thermals and gliding great distances when they rhythmically moved their outstretched wings. We saw Steller’s Jay, American Robin, Acorn Woodpecker, Ravens, and Mountain Chickadees in the pine forests and near rivers and streams American Dipper Dart, White and Gray Herons, and a curious squirrel.
Yosemite Valley’s astounding and marvelous rock formations soaked our spirit. Hungry for sights foreign to the flat San Joaquin Valley, magnificent splendor contrasted with our Bakersfield shanty. We gradually worked our way down a mule path, which dropped rapidly. Soon the trail’s angle encouraged us to trot, then lope like deer. We tried to find a cadence and rhythm to ease our way down. Ever nearer the edge, we followed the trail until we reached the Valley floor.
We returned to our tents in tranquility to dream of the astounding images we had seen. At sunrise, we left this wonderland on the curving road back to work, industry, and commitment. We felt refreshed from our energetic experience of nature’s most wonderful gifts that feed the soul, always available to the observant when in need of inspiration.
Daniel C. Lavery,