I started protesting the Vietnam War while a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison which I attended from 1962 to 1967. I don’t remember why I thought the war was wrong. I just did. I took part in many marches and demonstrations including a sit-in at the University administration building that shut it down for a few days and nights.
My draft board removed my student deferment and I was ordered to report for my physical examination. I thought I was going to be drafted to fight in a war I did not believe in. I had my physical at an army base in Milwaukee. I did not go to any of the organizations counseling students about their options to resist the draft. And I do not remember talking to my family about it. My professors wrote to my draft board advocating that I get my student deferment back. I do not know what they wrote. I imagine that it was full of exaggerations and lies about the importance of my mathematical research to the nation. I did get my student deferment back. Looking back, I do not think that was the moral thing to do. I knew who was mostly being drafted (working class, African American and Mexican American men.) I have cried since then about my lack of integrity. I moved to Santa Barbara in 1967 and continued protesting the war.
When I saw this poster I was deeply affected. So much so that when I started writing this post, it came immediately to mind. It was produced by Another Mother for Peace which was founded in 1967 “to educate women to take an active role in eliminating war as a means of solving disputes between nations, people and ideologies”.
Mostly, during the war, I was feeling discouraged and powerless despite all the protests, silent vigils, and marches that I participated in. I did not see any opportunity to show any of my emotions and did not understand the role that releasing emotions played in healing from hurtful experiences. I had been brought up being told, “Big boys don’t cry”, and “Don’t be a sissy”, so I knew that if I showed any fear to my boy pals I would be targeted for being a “chicken”. One boy in our group already had the nickname “chickie” and was periodically attacked — emotionally and physically.
In 1968 when I was working for Eugene McCarthy’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, I went to a benefit concert for the campaign and heard the folk singer Phil Ochs . I had never heard of him, but wanted to support McCarthy. The auditorium was almost empty. Tears came to my eyes as I listened. I knew that I needed to cry, but the old messages stopped me. Phil Ochs was a great writer of anti-war and social justice songs. Some of my favorite anti-war songs of Phil Ochs are: I Ain’t Marching Anymore, Draft Dodger Rag, White Boots Marching In A Yellow Land, and Is there anybody here?
A friend encouraged me to go to a sensitivity group weekend retreat and I cried there for the first time as an adult. Fortunately, the culture in the U.S. was changing. Rosey Grier, a famous professional football player sang It’s all right to cry for the children’s album and TV program Free to Be… You and Me.
In 1970 I found my way to a peer-counseling process (Re-evaluation Counseling) where people exchange time helping each other heal emotionally by listening to each other with attention. And that changed my understanding of the function and benefits of emotional release.* I now know that crying, trembling, tantruming, laughing, yawning and talking, with an attentive listener or group help people think better. And without thinking better about war people will be manipulated into supporting war.
Hermann Göring, the second most powerful person in Nazi Germany, said in 1946: “Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. … the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders….” [Said during an interview with psychologist Gustave Gilbert during the Nuremberg trials.]
I eventually realized that healing the hurts caused by war is essential for people to be able to think clearly enough to end it. So when I began leading Healing from War workshops in 2002 I asked participants to “tell their stories” about how war has affected them and their family. They did this in pairs and in small groups. Several people at each workshop had the opportunity to tell their story to the whole workshop.
One reason for the numbness and silence around war is that when a war ends, the people who endured it try to continue with their lives as best they can. If they talk about their experiences in war, they will often start to cry or tremble or show their feelings is some other ways. But because there is little attention for that, they mostly stop talking about it.
These behavior patterns are passed on from generation to generation.
Telling our stories increases our attention for others to tell us theirs. People will not tell us about war if they sense from our words, facial expression, or body language that we are tense or uncomfortable. We are usually unaware of how we show our lack of attention for listening about war.
Reflection: Pair up with a friend and each take a turn (roughly equal amount of time) to talk without interruption about what happened in your family when young people cried, trembled, or had a tantrum? How does that affect you now?
* Although I have been deeply influenced by Re-evaluation Counseling the views here are my own.
Julian Weissglass, September 2017