“Hell, no, we won’t go!” Recently deceased politician and one-time radical leader Hayden (Listen Yankee! Why Cuba Matters, 2015, etc.) sounds a cri di antiguerre for the movement that helped halt America’s misadventure in Vietnam.
“Truth, it is said, is war’s first casualty. Memory is its second.” So writes the author, perfectly encapsulating his argument. By Hayden’s account, the Vietnam experience is slowly being remade, courtesy of conservative forces, into a just and blameless exercise in American goodwill. In that program of revision, the anti-war movement is being written out of history altogether. In this slender volume, the author charts how that movement originated, informed by popular struggles for independence around the world and for civil rights at home. He notes that, when it came to the early days of the movement, nothing was prepackaged, so that he and other radical leaders had to build their own set of arguments against “the dominant paradigm over our lives: that the Cold War was necessary to stop monolithic international Communism from knocking over the ‘dominoes’ of the Free World, one by one.” Hayden then considers the anti-war movement in action, voicing passing regret at the handful of protestors who chose to fly the Viet Cong flag. Against that tiny number of misguided people, he writes, stands a much-overshadowing popular movement, the first of its kind since McCarthyism, to halt an unjust war, one that needs to be studied and revived today. Another regret in this lucid and perfectly sized essay in reflection: that to some extent everyone might just as well have stayed home, since, he notes on a trip to Vietnam, the streets of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are lined with the same shops as in Kansas City: “Why kill, maim, and uproot millions of Vietnamese if the outcome was a consumer wonderland approved by the country’s still-undefeated Communist Party?”
Movement-builders of today will want to take note of Hayden’s thoughtful look back.