· May 1: President Richard Nixon announces a joint U.S. and Army of the Republic of Vietnam invasion of Cambodia combining ground forces and airpower. The invasion surprises the nation and sparks intense opposition.
· May 1: Fifteen thousand students and activists protest in a May Day rally at Yale to support Black Panthers Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins, who are on trial in New Haven. President Nixon dispatches National Guard troops as jury selection begins.
· May 4: Thirteen students are shot and four killed by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University. Across the country, seven hundred university campuses shut down and more than two and a half million students strike.
· May 8: The Hard Hat Riot takes place in lower Manhattan – 200 construction workers attack 1,000 people protesting the Kent State shootings and the Cambodia invasion. More than seventy people are injured.
· May 10: In response to the Kent State shootings, the Weather Underground bombs the National Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C.
· May 12: Six black men are shot dead by police in Augusta, Georgia, during a protest over the killing of a mentally handicapped black teenage prisoner.
· May 14: Police shoot and kill two black students and injure twelve during a demonstration at Jackson State College in Mississippi.
· May 21: The Weather Underground issues its first communiqué, announcing a “Declaration of a State of War” against the U.S. government and expressing allegiance with the counterculture.
– pgs. xviii, xix, WITNESS TO THE REVOLUTION, by Clara Bingham, Random House, 2016
The country was coming unhinged. By the end of 1970, American deaths in Vietnam had reached 53, 840, and 52 percent of Americans reported knowing someone who had been injured or killed in Vietnam. In 1969 and 1970 alone, 13,600 American soldiers came home to Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base in flag-draped coffins, their mournful ceremonies televised nationally. This was more than twice the number of casualties that would occur decades later in ten years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. In total, the grueling ground war and relentless U.S. bombing attacks would take the lives of three million Vietnamese.
– pg. xxx, ibid.
We have a habit in this country of belittling our own. That is a bad habit, and it is one of the reasons why those who are responsible for sending our youth and other citizens to participate in any competition with nations of the region and of the world, should be held to account when our representatives are not transparently selected, properly prepared, and adequately financed. It’s terrible when the choices to be our representatives are biased choices. But this is not about that in this column.
I mentioned this very bad habit we Belizeans have, because there are situations in which, if you are someone who is immature or unschooled, I suppose you may be justified in finding humor in Belizean shortcomings. We are a young nation, and as a people we don’t always take things seriously. On Thursday afternoon, April 21, a very, very serious proposition was presented to us by Jimmy Morales, the President of Guatemala, and if you found anything funny about his rhetoric, then you would have been a candidate for the mental hospital.
I went to school in the United States from 1965 to 1968. When I arrived in America, I was 18, and when I returned to Belize, I was 21. Those years from 1965 to 1968 constituted years when the Vietnam War was being rapidly escalated, and many young Americans my age were being drafted, trained, and sent to fight in Southeast Asia. There were Belizeans who were drafted or chose to enlist in the U.S. military and went off to fight in Vietnam.
I suppose I was different from many young Belizean men in America during that time, because my personal feeling was that if I was forced in any way to join the U.S. military, I would have preferred to return to Belize. Personally, I felt that I had a life of some value in Belize, but it seemed to me that there were Belizeans my age who wanted to remain in America no matter what the cost. To each, his own. It was what it was.
Everyone now knows that Vietnam was hell, but perhaps the Belizean community in America in the 1960s was not as enlightened about Vietnam as the draft-age American students on college campuses in the United States. A huge, militant, anti-war, anti-draft movement began amongst these American college students, most of them white, and eventually there were sectors of that movement which became violent and revolutionary.
The violence in Vietnam actually increased the violence inside of America itself. The psychology involved is interesting. Human beings are unique creatures insofar as our brain makeup is concerned. If we are in a group, and for some reason everyone is killed or wounded, and only we survive, then we experience feelings of guilt. The Vietnam War affected the psyche of those of us who did not go to ‘Nam, in different ways. Of course, it is the veterans of that war, those who survived physically, who experienced the most severe mental traumas.
When the army in Belize was first established in 1978, for many years Belizeans were trained by the British military. Our Belizean soldiers were gifted in the field, and in mock combat they became so confident as to feel they would perform as well as, or even better than, the British in the real deal. Personally, I did not agree with our Belizean soldiers, because I knew there was a long and violent tradition within the culture of the armed forces of Great Britain. We Belizeans only knew mock combat, and nothing can substitute for the real thing. At the same time, there were Belize Defence Force (BDF) officers I knew, such as Charles Good and Anthony Adderly, whom I held in the highest of esteem as soldiers.
Just before I began writing this column on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 16, I spoke by telephone with someone I knew as having contact with a couple members of the present Cabinet. I happened to mention to him the idea on which I would build my column, and he felt it was a thinking the Government of Belize should pursue. No public suggestion made by people like myself is ever paid attention to by elected politicians, and that has been the case for decades and decades. So, I actually thought of dropping the subject of the column. But, I have not.
The reality was that on the night of Hurricane Earl, during the height of that surprisingly powerful storm, a frightening storm surge threatened to drown many families in areas of Vista Del Mar and Ladyville. I was told by a Ladyville resident, Michael “Wataplat” Flowers, that he personally witnessed the heroism of BDF soldiers who rescued terrified civilians. Sometime last week I had heard the BDF commander, Brigadier-General David Jones, mention the contributions of the BDF in those areas on the television evening news, but after listening to ‘Plat and talking to a couple families who live in Vista Del Mar, I believe that General Jones was understated in his comments.
Theoretically, Kremandala should be able to investigate a story like this, but the logistics would be tricky, for different reasons. The Government of Belize has the resources and personnel to research the detailed story of what happened on the night of Hurricane Earl in Vista Del Mar and Ladyville, and, if needs be, our soldiers should be publicly honored.
The importance of this has to do with the fact that, when push really comes to shove, we civilians always have to turn to our soldiers. That is what would have happened if Jimmy Morales had persisted in his insanity. I support the BDF, and I will condemn any Belizean who wants to play Chris Rock where our soldiers are concerned.
Four months ago, it was the BDF who would have had to present our first line of defence. That crisis has faded into the back rooms of the media narrative, for whatever the reason(s). But now all my sources are telling me that there was magnificent heroism on the BDF’s part during Hurricane Earl. I salute our soldiers, and hope they will be recognized.
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie – murdered at Caracol on the night of September 25, 2016.