The Veterans Education Project of Amherst, Massachusetts

By Wilson, Robert M. | Historical Journal of Massachusetts, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

The Veterans Education Project of Amherst, Massachusetts


Wilson, Robert M., Historical Journal of Massachusetts


Editor's Introduction: The Veterans Education Project (VEP), founded in 1982 by Vietnam veterans, is an independent, non-profit organization based in Amherst, Massachusetts. It is a unique, local organization whose history deserves to be written in full. Several of the veterans profiled in Tom Weiner's Called to Serve were active members.

The early 1980s, when VEP was created, was a time of mounting international tensions. President Carter had reinstated selective service registration in 1980. That same year, Ronald Reagan campaigned for the White House advocating dramatically increased military spending and espousing a bellicose foreign policy that embraced the concept of limited nuclear war}

In a major campaign speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Reagan coined the term "Vietnam syndrome. " He alleged that the Soviet Union was outspending the U.S. in the global arms race and warned that America's global power was decreasing. He accused the Carter administration of being "totally oblivious" to the Soviet threat. Reagan characterized the "Vietnam syndrome" as a deep reluctance on the part of the American public to support U.S. military interventions abroad due to widespread public doubt over the morality of America's intentions and actions during the Vietnam conflict. Reagan, however, argued that America hadfought for "a noble cause":

For too long, we have lived with the "Vietnam Syndrome." Much of that syndrome has been created by the North Vietnamese aggressors. . . . Over and over they told us for nearly ten years that we were the aggressors bent on imperialistic conquests. They had a plan. It was to win in the field of propaganda here in America what they could not win on the field of battle in Vietnam. ... It is time we recognized that ours was, in truth, a noble cause.

Reagan concluded with the equally famous line, "Let us tell those who fought in that war that we will never again ask young men to fight and possibly die in a war our government is afraid to let them win."1

Some Vietnam veterans were deeply disturbed by this characterization, having themselves questioned both the necessity and the morality of the war they had been asked to fight. At the same time, shortly afier his election, President Reagan began campaigning for Congressional support to send U.S. troops to Central America to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and also to provide support for the government of El Salvador, which was fighting a brutal civil war against its own population. When Congress refused, and later denied all U.S. funding to assist the "Contras" (the "counter-revolutionaries" who were seeking to overthrow the Sandinista government), the stage was set for the IranContra Affair.

During the early years of the Reagan administration, Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), a national organization formed in 1967, saw an upsurge in activism. As the VVAW's website explains, "The parallels with Vietnam were particularly striking in Central America where the U.S. supported repressive regimes against popular insurgencies. "3 Some veterans had sons who were approaching draft age, and they feared for their childrens futures.4

This was the national context in which the Amherst Veterans Education Project was born? This short "sidebar"article, intended to complement this issue's Editor's Choice selection by Tom Weiner on the Vietnam-era draft, offers a personal reflection by Robert M. Wilson, who served as a staff member for twenty years (1992-2012). The Veterans Education Project is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization, funded solely by donations from individuals, businesses and foundation grants. It is not affiliated with the Veteran's Administration or any other government agency, nor does it receive federal or state funding for its operating expenses.

MISSION STATEMENT6

In 2012, I retired as executive director of the Veterans Education Project. I am not a veteran. …

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