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Wed Oct 11, 2017, 12:38 PM

How the Vietnam War prepared Puerto Ricans to confront crisis


How the Vietnam War prepared Puerto Ricans to confront crisis




Members of Movimiento Pro-Independencia de Puerto Rico picket the White House in March of 1965. (Claridad / Biblioteca Digital UPR Río Piedras)

This week, as Puerto Ricans feel once again like a White House afterthought, it is hard not to conclude that Puerto Rico matters to Washington only when mainland political and business leaders need to conscript the island itself for some larger financial or military purpose. Consider the impact of Vietnam War policy on Puerto Rico. Thanks to a new Ken Burns documentary and Hurricane Maria, the headlines have us talking simultaneously about Vietnam and Puerto Rico for the first time in 50 years. Today, few Americans remember the impact of the Vietnam War on Puerto Rico. Yet the war struck the island with the force of a political hurricane, tearing at Puerto Rico’s social fabric, raising the same questions of colonialism that are again in the news in the wake of Maria, and fueling its independence movement.

Not unlike Puerto Rico’s recent fiscal crisis, the Vietnam War brought into sharp relief the island’s unequal status as a territory of the United States, particularly after President Lyndon Johnson escalated the war in 1965. Draft-age men in Puerto Rico were subject to the Selective Service Act and called for induction into the U.S. military — even though they had no representative in the Congress that passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and even though many did not speak English.



A political cartoon published by Claridad in August of 1968.

As a result, Puerto Rico’s independence movement quickly condemned the war and called for widespread draft resistance. In July 1965, Claridad, the newspaper of the Movimiento Pro-Independencia de Puerto Rico, or MPI, published its first antiwar and anti-draft column, stating: “Because Puerto Rico is an American colony, Puerto Ricans are obligated to serve in that country’s army, are used like cannon fodder in imperialist wars carried out against defenseless peoples, wars in which Puerto Rico has no interest.”

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For the MPI, the draft represented a “blood tax,” a “taxation without representation” that Americans aware of their own revolutionary heritage should have understood. Independentistas pointed to the composition of local draft boards (which were called “juntas” in Spanish) as proof. According to Selective Service Director Lewis Hershey, draft boards were “little groups of neighbors,” best suited to look out for America’s sons. But the MPI complained that the local boards were made up of “members of the richest families, statehood proponents … members of the Lions Club, Rotary, Exchange, Citizens for State 51 and other fiends” who “funneled” the poor into the military. These draft board members were Puerto Rican mandarins, agents of the colonizers.



An image published in the Fall of 1970 by the U.S. Committee for Justice to Latin American Political Prisoners.

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https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/puerto-rico-vietnam-war-hurricane-maria-independence/

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