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Guiding a new generation of antiwar vets

September 28, 2007 | Page 13

DAVE CLINE, a Vietnam War veteran and former president of Veterans for Peace, passed away September 14. He was known to activists around the country as a leading voice in the struggle against the U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here, we publish remembrances by CHRIS DUGAN, who served in the Marines from 1995 to 1999 and then became an outspoken antiwar activist; and Socialist Worker journalist ERIC RUDER.

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Chris Dugan

THE FIRST time I met Dave Cline was on a veterans' radio program on Pacifica's WBAI in New York City. I was just starting to get involved with antiwar activism, and Dave was the first antiwar Vietnam vet I had ever met.

He was the exact opposite of how the media portrayed Vietnam vets--he wasn't insane, and he didn't perpetuate the myth that antiwar activists spit on him when he returned from Vietnam.

What you can do

Veterans for Peace have collected tributes and photos of Dave on its Web site. There is also an online memorial on the site for comments and condolences from those who knew Dave. You can also donate to a memorial and burial expenses fund to help Dave's life partner, Gladys Simer.

Dave is featured in the inspiring documentary Sir! No Sir! about the GI rebellion during U.S. war on Vietnam. The film is available on DVD, along with many supplemental materials. For an excellent history of this GI rebellion, read David Cortright's Soldiers in Revolt.


I was taken aback by his candid and sobering account of how he was forced to kill a Vietnamese soldier in order to protect his own life. This incident forced him to question what the life of the man he killed was like--did he have a girlfriend, a family?

Dave compared the occupation of Vietnam to the British occupation of the American colonies. He made it very clear that he saw himself as a redcoat.

At the time, I was involved in counter-recruitment activities, a cause Dave wholeheartedly supported. He was extremely angry at the fact that another generation of youth was being sent overseas and exposed to the same sort of horrors he had experienced. Dave viewed recruiters as predators and felt it was necessary to expose and confront their practices.

Dave had the ability to combine his moral outrage with a historical analysis of the existing system--and what it would take to change it. Dave saw Vietnam not as an unfortunate outcome of a bad foreign policy, but as the inherent product of a system based on global military competition.

As a direct result, he quickly became one of the most outspoken opponents of the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Dave never shrank from placing responsibility for the death of 4 million Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians and 58,000 American soldiers where it belonged--with the U.S. government.

His unmistakably deep, raspy voice bellowed, "No retreat, no surrender!" as he helped guide and inspire a new generation of veterans and active-duty soldiers to fight against war and occupation, fight for veterans' benefits, and defend the right of those who are occupied to resist.

The last time I saw Dave was at a fundraiser for Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). There, he clearly laid out how the U.S. government, regardless of the political party in charge, has and will continue to invade and occupy countries--until a system based on profit is eradicated and replaced with a system organized collectively around the needs of its participants.

Dave had a vision of how things ought to be and saw struggle as the way to achieve it. That's how he lived his life. "Remember the dead, and fight for the living," reads his card that I hold here in my hand.

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Eric Ruder

"THERE'S NOTHING inherently progressive about a veterans' movement," Dave told the crowd packed into the small room of a Fayetteville, N.C., hotel. We had gathered for the first national convention of Iraq Veterans Against the War. The date was March 20, 2005.

A day earlier, Dave, bullhorn in hand, had led chants as a crowd of 3,500 marched from the center of Fayetteville--home to the immense Fort Bragg military base--to the park where 34 years earlier Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland had addressed a crowd of thousands of antiwar GIs.

His chants were set to a marching cadence:

If they tell you to go,
There is something you should know.
They wave the flag when you attack,
When you come home, they turn their back!

Bush and Cheney talk that talk,
But we know they're chicken hawks.
If they think they're so damn right,
Let Bush and Cheney go and fight!

When Dave Cline finally succumbed to years of ill health on September 14, the antiwar movement in general, and the GI movement in particular, lost a friend and a comrade, but most of all, a leader with a sense of history.

That day in Fayetteville, Dave spoke with authority--as a living link to the last GI upsurge that ended an imperialist adventure made in the USA. But in no way did Dave lecture or condescend to the 20 or so veterans of the current conflict assembled in Fayetteville.

Dave noted that veterans of the American Civil War that ended in 1865 made up an important component of the Ku Klux Klan, and then contrasted that with the 1932 march in Washington, D.C., of the Bonus Expeditionary Force, which was made up of U.S. veterans of the First World War demanding pay promised by Congress. The Bonus March movement was ruthlessly suppressed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur and then-Majors Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton.

By implication, Dave made clear his hopes that the IVAW would grow into an organization that would advocate for an end to the war and full funding of veterans' services, but also that it would be more than that. He hoped the IVAW, like his generation of GI anti-warriors, would embrace the principle of self-determination and reject the aims of U.S. imperialism.

As he put it in an interview in the International Socialist Review in fall 2003:

The idea that Americans, with 200 years of history, have to straighten out these people...was a justification for the old colonialism, for old imperialism, for the 'white man's burden.' The Western powers have to bring enlightenment to these 'dark' places and peoples of the world.

I think we should not forget the past. The past had to be cast aside, because what the West really wanted was to dominate the underdeveloped world. Now we see the ideology and the practice of colonialism coming back into vogue.

But Dave had no intention of imposing this aspiration on a new generation of antiwar veterans. He always insisted that these young men and women would have to learn the lessons for themselves, as did those who came before them.

For years, Dave served as the national president of Veterans for Peace and a national coordinator of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). A new generation of activists has been exposed to Dave through his appearance in the brilliant documentary Sir! No Sir! which chronicles the inspiring struggles of the GI revolt during the Vietnam War.

Dave was drafted into the military at 20, deployed to Vietnam in 1967 and wounded three times before being sent back to the U.S. His experiences in the field--where he came to understand that his role in combat was to suppress the very democracy and freedom the U.S. claimed to be fighting for--made him a "revolutionary," to use Dave's own description of himself.

He threw himself into organizing the Oleo Strut, the GI coffeehouse that sprung up outside Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, and became a hub of antiwar GI organizing. In 1970, he joined the VVAW, which over the next year mushroomed from several hundred to several thousand members.

As the antiwar movement wound down along with the U.S. war effort, Dave became a union militant, participating in a postal workers' strike that cost him his job. Then he took a job at New York Port Authority and was active in Transport Workers Union Local 600.

When I saw Dave at the January 27 march in Washington earlier this year, I asked him how he was doing. He didn't hesitate to tell me his health was already failing him. But there he was, marching with everyone else--Dave always fought to keep his health from limiting his participation in all aspects of the antiwar movement.

I saw him again at the United for Peace and Justice convention in July. We exchanged our customary hug--and the bones jutting out of his back left me worried. But Dave was gutting it out, taking part in a breakout session that afternoon about the rebuilding of a GI movement today.

As Dave told me on more than one occasion, the soldier may leave the battlefield, but the battlefield never leaves the soldier. And though Dave has left our movement behind, the spirit of resistance he embodied will live on in that movement.

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