Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement

By Dan Clendenin

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Tom Hayden, Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement (New Haven: Yale, 2017), 159pp.

If truth is the first casualty of war, as the US Senator Hiram Warren Johnson is purported to have said in 1918, then the second casualty, says Tom Hayden, is memory. When the Pentagon planned to commemorate the Vietnam War without any mention of the peace movement, Hayden decided it was time to rescue the movement from “social amnesia and official oblivion.” And so this rambling reminiscence on “the battleground of memory” that was published three months after he died October 23, 2016.

Hayden admits that the peace movement of 1965 to 1975 was “deeply fragmented and rarely unified,” and that “mistakes were made, serious mistakes.” There were petty rivalries, and significant disagreements along race, class, gender, and politics. Violence betrayed its ideals (eg, firebombing ROTC offices). The leaders lacked political wisdom and experience. You can identify bigger marches in our own time.

Nonetheless, Hayden argues that the peace movement was a huge success, despite the government’s efforts to exterminate it, that helped end the war (and the military draft), and underscored the nature and importance of participatory democracy, freedom of the press, and shaping public opinion. In the most interesting part of his book, the last chapter, Hayden recounts returning to Vietnam in 2007 for the first time in thirty-two years, and trying to make sense of the many paradoxes there since the war ended (like a capitalist jauggernaut under a Communist government).

Hayden appeals to Chuck Hagel, the former Republican Senator and Vietnam War veteran, who has said that Americans today have an obligation “to be honest in our telling of history. There is nothing to be gained by glossing over the darker portions of a war, the Vietnam War that bitterly divided America. We must learn from our past mistakes, because that is how we avoid repeating mistakes.”

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