Bring the War Home!
Review by Bob Spear
Bring the War Home, although a novel, chronicles the very real history of the anti-war movement among returning Vietnam vets. The protagonist is an inexperienced, liberal lawyer who accepts a position as house lawyer to an anti-war group just off the Marine base in San Diego in the early 1970s. Although the story is about this fictional character, Eric, and his young wife, Emma, it closely parallels the authorÕs actual experiences. We are immediately immersed in a cauldron of anti-war political factions jockeying for power and control while forwarding their agendas. All this takes place within the context of the hard-core Marine military environment and legal system. This was a very well told story about the turbulent times when our country was torn asunder at its seams by the generation and the power politics gaps. Differences in value systems could get you killed, if not incarcerated. All the factions are representedÐthe left the extreme right, the military/industrial complex, and the Òbeautiful peopleÓ who played at leftist politics for a hobby and doled out money, demanding obedience and respect in return. Characters and dialogue are excellent, as is the setting. There is a great deal of history to be learned here that wonÕt be found in textbooks. We rated this book a high four hearts.
Click the link below for the rest of the article.
Bring the War Home!
Barry Willdorf, BRING THE WAR HOME!, reviewed by Peter Linebauqh
IMPACT: The Rank & File Newsletter
Volume X, No. 1
Six buildings were seized by Columbia University students in May ’68. Our idea was to end imperialism, racism, and capitalism. Fayerweather Hall (where I was) abutted in sheer brick and granite over Amsterdam Avenue which seemed to slide easily down into Harlem. Kind folks of the neighborhood put groceries into baskets which were hauled up into the floors above for supper amidst our tumultuous meetings. This was the legend anyway and I see no reason to suppose it never happened. The impulse that turned an act of kindly neighborhood into political legend was the hope of “the worker-student alliance” which seemed to be the way things were going elsewhere in the world (France, Yugoslavia, China). We were the grad students, given to books and b.s., who admired the undergraduate SDSers who took the first building, Low Library. They were the action faction.
All over, workers were demanding an education, and students were demanding knowledge of the “real world. ” In response new universities opened up, and a lot of students went into factories, so the workers and students passed each other on the up and down escalators of the ” land of opportunity.” People were re-making themselves but not just as they pleased. Off the escalator, there were two places where workers and students might meet, prison and the military. A war was going on: students were deferred, workers had to go. Barry Willdorf and his comrade and wife- to-be were in Low Library. He has written “a novel about resistance to the Vietnam War and Racism in the U. S. Marines. ” It’s called Brinq the War Home! It’s published by A Gauche Press, 2912 Diamond st. #373, San Francisco CA 94131. The Vietnam war came home alright, as Donnie Woods, young black and proud touched stateside with an attitude, and as Jumpin’ Jack, a bulked-up blond, flew back from the Suck to his own personal firefight. Barry Willdorf and his wife (Eric and Emma, to give their fictional names in the autobiographical novel) went west from New York to 120,000 sprawling acres of Camp Pendleton in southern Californi.a to help the marines stop the war. Eric said, “The way I figured it, they were sending boys to Vietnam to preserve the capitalist’s right to ship their fathers’ jobs overseas.”
The novel is filled with vivid characters –Deputy Dawg the best wheelman in East St. Louis, or the fat Captain in the brig with his nose in the sports page, the randy Unitarian minister, the svelt New Age slimeball in Malibu, the Chicago South Sider who follows the Black Nationalists with Ron Karenga, the burnt-out Old Leftists, the prosecutor who treats the law as a “skill ” for career enhancement. The battles of the era are drawn with authenticity and clarity — the grunts against the brass, the blacks versus the whites, the hippies versus the straights, the east coast against the west coast, and the battle of the sexes. Over them all was the war in Vietnam — the U.S. Gov’ment against the V.C., or the National Liberation Front of Vietnam.
In the beginning and the ending of the book you’ll get the story of Donnie Woods and Jumpin’ Jack, two marines, two stories of resistance. They tell how the war came home. Barry Willdorf, like a good historian or a successful defense lawyer, lets the people speak for themselves. Jumpin’ Jack helped kick suspects out of helicopters, but not until, in the misery of tunnel fighting when he bespattered himself with the blood and guts of one of his adversaries whom he was slowly torturing, did it hit him that they were of one flesh. As he said, “ain’t all that for God and Country like you thought, and just possibly that you might deserve a hit.” What was he to do? Drop acid? Become a conscientious objector? Go crazy? Refuse duty? He went to Canada to tell the truth with some women from the Viet Cong. But he was not a deserter, so he returned to face the music: his speech at trial is a marine’s hymn of the real war’s cruelty and one soldier’s courageous transformation.
In the middle of the book, two themes appear that didn’t at first seem to pertain to the famed worker-student alliance, or to whether the war was right or wrong, nevertheless race and sex insinuated into everything. The characters posture, pose, experiment, and b.s. each other. They do so against a backdrop of automatic rifle fire on their group house, sneaky police surveillance, quarrels about money, and mounting deaths in the jungle. These men and women work their way out of, and into, racial and sexist conflict with a lot of missteps. They’ll cuss up and down the street, the pillow talk gets more than peppery, the murmurs from the kitchen excite paranoia, and the barking becomes deafening from the “lean, green, mean machine. ” There are casualties of body mind and spirit. It’s true that the opportunity to build a multiracial movement slipped away. As Donnie Woods says, “The way the man gets over is by turning the poor and minorities against each other so he can get them to do his dirty work.” The book ends with this line, “A whole generation would be picking up the pieces for a long time to come. ” Meanwhile, the only legends you’ll find in it are either on an acid trip or on the Zuni rez, and as for the worker-student alliance, there’s no doctrine, though now and then you’ll see that Harlem basket hauling up dinner across great divides. This book tells the truth about those times for those wanting to make truth for our times.
An Interview with Barry Willdorf
The Veteran — Newspaper of VVAW
Jeanne Friedman, a VVAW member and former GI organizer, interviewed Barry
Willdorf on January 5, 2002 in Oakland, California. Excerpts of this interview follow:
JF: Barry, you are now a practicing attorney in SF. In 1970, with your wife Bonnie, as a new young attorney, you went to Oceanside, California, home of Camp Pendleton, to serve as an attorney on a GI Project, known as MDM (Movement for a Democratic Military). You and Bonnie had been active in the student antiwar movement at Columbia University and shortly after you graduated from law school you were hired to represent GIs for a wide range of civil liberties issues related to antiwar activities and the racism of the military, as well as direct attempts by soldiers to get out rather than be shipped to Vietnam. Tell us about the military system you confronted.
BSW: These were the middle years of the Vietnam War. The student movement made it OK to protest the war. Now, the opposition was spreading into the military rather quickly. GIs were beginning to openly speak out against the war, to produce underground newspapers and to participate in demonstrations. Because, unlike prior wars, GIs rotated out of the conflict in12-13 months, they were coming home in large numbers and telling their stories to an increasingly upset population. They had credibility because they couldnÕt be written off as shirkers, draft-dodgers or privileged students. The brass had no experience handling this kind of protest, so they came down pretty crudely with retaliatory measures and looked for whatever they could to write up dissident GIs and try to give them bad administrative discharges, (UDs — undesirable discharge, they were called) or to court-martial them. This was an attempt to silence them or discredit them. That is why it was so important for them to have access to non-military-officer lawyers. And, by the way, Jeanne, I want to make a pitch for the guys, many of them Vietnam combat vets who have been living with those bad discharges for the past thirty years. They didn’t get amnesty as did the draft resisters and it is time to put that right. It is just plain discrimination and it affects their ability to get good jobs and sometimes professional licenses. It is an injustice that ought to be corrected.
JF: Camp Pendleton was the primary West Coast base for the Marine Corps, and, as was happening at other bases in cities where GIs congregated when off-base, there were coffeehouses as well as direct GI organizing projects. How many GI organizing projects were there between the late 60s and the end of the war in 1975?
BSW: I estimate that there were about 15-20 in the US at any given time and maybe 5-6 abroad. There were fewer than a dozen staff lawyers who were doing what I was doing full-time. Unfortunately, a lot of people didnÕt recognize the need or the potential that the GIs had for ending the war by getting the message to the farms and towns and factories where students would never go.
JF: In this book, you created Eric and Emma as a husband and wife team who together confront all kinds of issues raised by this attempt to make change in what we called “Othe belly of the beast.” Barry – set the stage for us — what changes were going to happen to Eric and Emma?
BSW: Eric and Emma are former student radicals. They have the idealism of the peace movement and the commitment to volunteer their time to the cause of ending the war but they really have no idea who the GIs really are. There was a lot of stereotyping going on at this time, both ways. Now they are going to meet real people — Marines who have recently fought, who know people who died and who have killed, guys who have been seriously affected by their experience. They will meet black Marines who are not afraid to put their lives on the line to oppose racism in the military. And they will meet
Marines who are still dedicated to the war and the Corps. Idealism crashes head-on with reality and that nearly destroys Eric and EmmaÕs relationship and it changes their sympathies to include vets.
JF: I’d like you to share with people what it felt like to come to Oceanside, to what some might have viewed as a romantic assignment Ð confronting the enemy. What did Eric and Emma actually find?
BSW: The MDM headquarters they arrive at had just been shot up by right-wing vigilantes called the Minutemen. In the book, two people werewounded. Actually, the fact was that the house that Bonnie and I went to in Oceanside was machine-gunned a few weeks before we got there and one Marine was wounded. The place was sandbagged. We had to have a 24-hour armed security watch because the police were very hostile and would not come if we called for help. They would only show up if they thought there was a possibility they could arrest us.
JF: I resonated with your description of the kitchen – not so different from many other movement collectives, especially ones that were consciously or unconsciously breaking with “bourgeois” norms of cleanliness. Tell us what that kitchen looked like.
BSW: Here’s an excerpt from my book about that:
“The room was pungent with the acrid smells of festering edibles. On the
left was a sink, burdened by a mound of filthy dishes encrusted with the
detritus of meals long past. Against the far wall an antique Frigidaire hummed loudly as it waded in a puddle of meltwater, the result of habitual neglect of defrosting. Opposite, an ancient four-burner gas stove bedecked with many layered remnants of burned and spilled culinary efforts harbored a blue metal coffee pot with a cascade of brown vertical drippings permanently baked into its lacquer. In the very middle of the room a splintery spool table, six feet in diameter, dominated, like an altar to sloth, on the sticky, discolored black and white checkerboard of linoleum.”
JF: Given the dramatic changes that Eric and Emma were personally going to go through, tell us what GI movement organizers across the country found so compelling about working with veterans and active-duty GIs? There are many people here today who shared that experience with you and with me. I found especially moving your telling of what we might call the MarineStory – the very heart of what Eric and Emma were doing in difficult situation in right-wing Oceanside.
BSW: Jeanne, many of the civilian organizers were vets. They were able to coax real feelings out of the GIs. It was a first step in getting many of them to deal with trauma that could make them time-bombs if they kept it bottled up. Here is one of my favorite passages in the book. Many of the vets whom I have talked to are really moved by it and have come up to me and told me that I put into words things that they wanted to say but couldn’t bring themselves to say out loud. I’m going to let this passage speak for
itself. This is why I was there. This is what motivated me to defend these guys who were serving their country, and why I stayed at it until the war was over.
“You ain’t been there yet. You don’t know, man. I didn’t know shit about the racism part ’til I got into the Suck, man. But then I began to notice how they were always putting the blacks into the shit details. But that kind of shit don’t sink in right away, ’cause a lot of the brothers got an attitude, ya know. And it takes time to get the picture. So I figure it’s like retaliation, OK. But then, I can’t help noticing how we treated the ARVN. You know, they ain’t got all the muscle we got, but they been fighting a long time, and they ain’t gettin’ no respect. Sometimes they take ten times the casualties we do, but the first guys to get medivac’d out are us. And
there’ hostility. We’re always callin’ Charlie gooks and such, but if Charlie’s a gook, then so are they. Even the brothers are calling them gooks, like they can’t see past racism against blacks to the racism against the yellow man. An’ what the fuck did I know, man, I grew up in a place where the only colored people I ever heard of were the black folks we saw on TV, like Rochester and Amos and Andy, and the only fuckin’ yellows we ever seen were the ones that ran the laundry or maybe some Chinese restaurant in Albany.
“Yeah, we’re riskin’ our lives and all, but we ain’t the heroes that some folks want us to be. We got the planes and we got the artillery and we got the armor. But we also got R&R and are out of there in a year. Them ARVN and, yeah, the VC too, some of them been fightin’ five, ten years. Lost all of their family. Got nothin to go home to but a burnt-up patch of jungle. If we’re heroes, what the hell are they?
“And then, when we take a hamlet, who the fuck knows? Maybe the locals are
VC and maybe they ain’t. Who’s goin’ ta take a chance, get his ass blown off? We gotta destroy it. So ya end up callin’ in air strikes on some shit-hole, piss-poor village full of rag-covered, scarecrow peasants. But hey, after a while you start to see all this shit different. How it’s all crazy and mixed up, and it changes you inside. None of it makes any sense, ‘cept surviving. An’ that’s a fuckin’ good reason to blow some smoke or drop a tab or shoot a bit of smack ’cause the whole thing’s fuckin’ insane. Cause ya don’t want to think about what you’re doin’ and just want to survive. That’s what it’s like, man.
“But for me, after a while, surviving didn’t seem all that fuckin’ important
anymore, after I added up the stuff I’d been doin’ to reach that objective. Maybe some guys can forget, or think they can forget. I ain’t about to speak for them, but I can’t believe that a whole lotta them are ever gonna forget, and in the end, down the road, they’re gonna feel sold out one way or another. I just hit that place maybe sooner than some. We stick up for each other under fire, and that’s the best of it. We’re all brothers on that score. I’ll remember that too, the good stuff. But how we got there in the first place and the shit we did while we was there, well, good luck to the guys who can forget that. Good fuckin’ luck.”
JF: Everyone who was involved in antiwar organizing in any way during the Vietnam war will remember overt and covert surveillance and the planting of informants and provocateurs. As a lawyer, Eric was close to that situation on one prominent occasion in the book – Barry will you tell us what Eric learned and how he dealt with it?
BSW: There is a scene in the book where Eric discovers that one of his clients is an informant. He also learns that this Marine is informing on another one of his Marine clients. He learns about this in a confidential communication that, ethically, he is bound not to disclose. But if he plays by that ethical rule, he will be permitting harm to another of his clients. Eric has no time the sit back and debate the fine points of the conflict. He
must make a split second decision that may save one of the GIs at the expense of the other. It is one of many twists in the legal plot that I, as a lawyer, find interesting. At another point, Eric has to argue the exact opposite side of an issue for one client than he did for another. I got the inspiration for that from an old tale about Abe Lincoln, who was a railroad attorney before he got elected to office. One day, in the morning he argued an issue for the railroad and in the afternoon, he argued the same issue, but on the other side for an injured worker. When the judge, who had ruled for him in the morning asked why he shouldnÕt rule against him in the afternoon, Lincoln declared, ÒBecause this afternoon, the worker has a better lawyer.Ó Or so the story goes.
JF: In your book, Eric and Emma are coming to grips with a host of contradictions including issues of race and gender. Understandably, Eric has a different slant than Emma, who is drawn to the women members of the collective in a way that Eric cannot be. I think it’s not too much to say that Eric’s manhood is threatened by all these strong women (who are, of course armed!). Will you share with us a passage in the book that sums up Eric’s strengths and weaknesses?
BSW: Well, it’s interesting that you mention this issue. Every time I read passages from my book on gender conflict, I get opposite responses from the men and the women. Men love it when Eric tells off Emma and women cheer when Emma gives it to Eric. I just get a kick out of all the shit that this passage stirs up.
“Did you notice how Joanie backed off on her attacks when it came to criticizing Clayton and Cookie?” I remarked dryly on our return to the motel. “She’s ready, willing, and able to bust a white guy’s butt even though he’s a vet and just got shot. But when it comes to criticizing a black for breaking rules or for blatant sexism, she can’t even whisper a criticism.”
Emma stared over at me. “Go easy, Eric,” she said shaking her head. “Dealing
with a multiracial organization requires diplomacy. Something you’re not too
“Yeah,” I conceded readily, “I guess that’s true. I just go at things the same way for everybody, even if it pisses people off. But Joanie comes off like a guilty liberal dealing with the blacks. They can see right through her double standard, and believe me, they don’t respect it.”
“And I guess you think they respect you?” she challenged with a shake of her
“Naw, Emma, I don’t believe that. I don’t believe Cookie respects me. But that’s the result of her own racism. She can feel however she likes about me, but what I say isn’t going to change because of her attitude. And her attitude isn’t going to change based on what I say. As far as I’m concerned, if she doesn’t like my opinions or what I say, she can go fuck herself, because I don’t respect racists of any color.”
“You know, Eric,” she observed, “you seem to have alienated two out of the three women in this collective in only one day. Have you ever considered that you might have a problem getting along with strong women?”
“Well, I get along with you,” I said, driving through a red light and forcing her to white-knuckle it.”
JF: Thank you, Barry. One last question, what motivated you to write this book?
BSW: I worked on this project for more than six year, mostly on nights and weekends because I have a day job. Basically there were two reasons. First, no one has written a novel about the GI movement. I wanted to do a novel specifically so that I didn’t have to get bogged down in petty sectarian squabbles about details: who said what to whom and who made or didn’t make some crucial commitment. I wanted the story to be free of the small stuff and to force people to focus on the big picture — that there were thousands upon thousands of GIs who came home from service and made a difference in changing the hearts and minds of the American people. A lot of leftists take credit for ending the war these days, but for my money it was the GIs that did it. That’s a hell of a story, really. After they came back from the war they served their country one more time by saving their younger brothers and cousins and neighbors from what they experienced. I wanted to salute them and pay them a tribute, while writing a basically accurate account of what it was like to participate in this effort. Second, I wanted to document the crazy times we were living in then. We have a lot of nostalgia junk out
there about hippies in headbands and bellbottoms, wasted on weed. Saying “dig it” and stuff like that. Spitting on soldiers returning home. But that’s all Hollywood wants us to get. All form and no content. I want people to know that there were progressive, antiwar people who supported the troops and wanted them not to go and to come home safely. I want people to know that some of us did what we could to help them when they needed help. Not just back-slapping, buy-you-a-beer, kind of support but we were there to do
our best to get them the benefits and discharges that that they were entitled to. There are some folks out there today who have the GI bill, homes, education, health care, because I and some other committed people stood up and supported them. I consider our service to them to have been an honor and a privilege and I wanted to get that message across.
Click the link below for the rest of the article.
Fiction in Brief
Reviews by Marc Leepson
The VVA Veteran
Barry S. Willdorf’s Bring the War Home! (A Gauche Press, 277 pp. $14.95, paper) is an autobiographical tale set in the early 1970s that deals with the GIs who took part in the antiwar movement while still wearing the uniform. The main character is a lawyer who represents antiestablishment Marines at Camp Pendleton. In real life, Willdorf, a lawyer, represented active-duty antiwar Marines at Camp Pendleton.
Life During Vietnam War Is Relived in Lawyer’s Book
By Alexei Oreskovic
February 11, 2002
“We would puff clouds of pungent dope, consign the smoke to the breeze, and the magical zephyrs would stone out the world to a blissfulness that would be peace.”
It sounds more like the manifesto of some fringe cult than the prose of a reputable attorney. But so begins a new book by San Francisco trial lawyer Barry Willdorf based upon many of his experiences in the ’60s and ’70s.
Bring the War Home is not a collection of hash-addled adventures and hijinks set to a Donovan soundtrack, though. It’s the serious story of a group of people who defended anti-war Marines. The narrator, Eric, is an activist-cum-attorney representing soldiers who have been court-martialed for opposing the Vietnam war.
While the story is written as a novel rather than a memoir, it has a lot in common with the author’s own past…
The cases involved African-American soldiers who were victims of racial discrimination, or who were having problems because of their opposition to the war.
“We had a war conflict and a race conflict in the military,” says Willdorf. “And an awakening of a lot of people who had gone to Vietnam that it wasn’t what they expected.”
…About seven years ago, Willdorf started writing Bring the War Home. It was important to get the message out that there were progressive leftists who didn’t fall into the stereotype of spitting on soldiers and demeaning them, he says.
While much of it is based on his own experiences, he notes that he was not afraid to stretch the truth in order to keep things interesting. “I wanted to write a political novel,” he says. “I didn’t want to just do this lawyer book of my greatest cases.”
In addition to actually writing the 268-page novel, Willdorf had to get it published. The story didn’t fit neatly into any of the genres that publishers are accustomed to marketing, says Willdorf, so he and his wife started A Gauche Press.
The company cranked out a first run of 500 copies to coincide with Veteran’s Day in November, which it’s selling directly through its Web site and on Amazon.com. News of the book has spread through e-mail lists devoted to veterans, anti-war activists and academics. Willdorf says a college professor even bought multiple copies of the book for a class.
“It takes a lot of money to publish a book and it takes a lot of work. But I always wanted to do some publishing,” says Willdorf. Besides, he adds, “it’s adding a little spice.”
Click the link below for the rest of the article.
A ’60s Story of War Resistance
Reviewed by Sara Peyton, The Press Democrat
Santa Rosa, CA, December 2001
Just in time for America’s new war comes a San Francisco attorney’s exuberant first novel about the nation’s most divisive and unpopular conflict: the war in Vietnam.
In Bring the War Home! (A Gauche Press; $14.95), Barry Willdorf tells the story of newlywed radicals — Eric and Emma — and their move in 1970 from New York City to Southern California to organize and defend antiwar Marines at Camp Pendleton in Southern California.
The Marine Organizing Project included a “number of vets who had been to Vietnam and whose experiences from there had changed their minds about our country and about what they believe in,” writes Willdorf. “They knew that by this time there were vast number of troops who didn’t believe in the mission. GIs so traumatized by the Vietnam experience that they had become suicidal, homicidal, catatonic, angry and a general drag.”
For Eric and Emma there’s a $5,000 contract, a collective to join — with most living in a virtual bunker of a house that has been shot up by right wing vigilantes — commodity food to eat, the chance to start married life against the constant talk of politics, feminism, and racism along with the ’60s triad of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
Willdorf captures the enthusiasm and idealism of the era, despite the constancy of war. More important he tells the near forgotten story of the growing disillusionment of many soldiers…
Bring the War Home! may be the perfect gift for the baby boomer, former war resister or anyone with an interest in the Vietnam War era.