In Memorium Marilyn Young

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photo by John Ketwig  "We were up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and she was relaxed and just having fun."

Three Stars

“Look up in the sky, up towards the northThere are three new stars brightly shining forthThey’re shining oh – so bright from heaven aboveGee, we’re gonna miss you, everybody sends their love”

Those words, from the song “Three Stars”, were composed by one Tommy Dee (Thomas Donaldson) in 1959 as a tribute to Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson who were killed in a plane crash earlier that year, an event remembered as “The day the music died” in Don McLean’s classic 1972 song “American Pie.”   I readily admit that I am overly influenced by the truths and insights so abundant in the popular music of the sixties and seventies.   I was overjoyed when Bob Dylan was recently awarded a Nobel Prize in literature for the lyrics of his life’s work. 

This morning’s second cup of coffee has grown cold as I sit stunned and contemplate the recent loss of three influential anti-war activists.   Tom Hayden left us on October 23rd, 2016; Charlie Liteky on January 20th of this year, and Marilyn Young on February 19th.   They emerged from varied backgrounds, and spoke from different soap boxes, but their voices were clear and optimistic.   They were vivid, effective soloists from the great chorus of American voices opposed to militarism and repression.   Above all, these three personalities valued the lives of every human being near and far.   They dared to believe that governments should exist to organize the world’s various societies, not to annihilate the poor or powerless or force compliance at the point of a gun.  

Tom Hayden was brilliant, imaginative, and committed.   Perhaps the most effective spokesman for the “student unrest” of the sixties, he helped found Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), was a “freedom rider”, and dared to suggest a “radically new democratic political movement” in a document known as the Port Huron Statement, the theoretical manifesto of the “New Left”.   At the height of the war in Vietnam he traveled to Hanoi and reported upon the damage American bombing had done to civilian neighborhoods, schools, and hospitals.   He helped to organize the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and stood trial as one of the “Chicago Seven.”    Along with (his second) wife Jane Fonda he inspired dissent and resistance to the Vietnam War until its end, and advocated for amnesty for draft evaders after the hostilities ended.   He became a powerful spokesman for the environment, animal rights, solar energy, and renters’ rights and was elected to the California State Assembly (1982 – 1992) and State Senate (1992 – 2000).   Tom Hayden was a tireless progressive activist and educator.   In 2015, in response to the Obama administration and the Pentagon’s “50th Anniversary Commemoration” of the Vietnam War, he organized a national reunion of peace activists and accomplished some reluctant acknowledgement  of the historical importance of the Vietnam anti-war movement.  His last of 19 books, HELL NO: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement was published by Yale University Press in January of this year.  The final sentence declares “Mistakes were made, serious mistakes, but our America is a better place because we stood up against all odds.”   The same can be said of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. 

I have previously submitted an article for this issue of The Veteran remembering the life of Charlie Liteky.   He was a Catholic Chaplain in Vietnam, accompanying an infantry patrol when they were ambushed.   Charlie crawled out under withering fire and dragged or carried twenty men to safety despite being wounded twice, an action that earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.   In the 1980s he left the priesthood and married Judy, a former nun, and became aware of America’s involvements in Central America.   He traveled to Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and to protest what he had seen there became the first American in history to give back the CMOH.   Charlie was one of four vets who fasted on the steps of the Capital in protest of the Reagan administration’s policies toward Central America, and that widely-publicized fast probably prevented a full US military invasion of Nicaragua.   Years later, Charlie was on the streets of Baghdad in 2003 when America’s “Shock and Awe” bombs were falling upon the citizens of Iraq.  Charlie Liteky’s autobiography will be published later this year. 

Marilyn Young was a Professor of History at New York University, with a determined anti-war and militarism voice that was heard world-wide.   The NY Times obituary described her as “a towering figure in the history of US foreign relations, a celebrated critical historian of the Vietnam War and US intervention overseas.   But her prominence as a scholar was matched by the strength of her political convictions, and by her unwavering use of her public platform to fight misogyny, US empire, and unending war.”   The author of numerous books, her 1973 American Expansionism was one of the first to recognize a recurrent theme of militarism supporting American imperialism since the Civil War.  A determined feminist, her Promissory Notes: Women and the Transition to Socialism examined feminine roles in revolutionary movements in second and third world countries around the globe.  Marilyn Young’s best-known book is The Vietnam Wars 1945 – 1990, a meticulously documented but very humanistic examination of “our war” and the Cold War policies and ideologies that fueled its fury.   On the liner notes, Howard Zinn called it “a marvelous achievement”, and noted that it had been “written with grace, wit, and passion.”    That is a wonderful description of Marilyn Young!  Marilyn could use words like a swordsman uses a rapier, but her intellectual brilliance was balanced by an infinite sense of humor.   She loved a good laugh, single malt Scotch, and good, caring people.   She was distraught over America’s ongoing follies in the Middle East, and dismayed at the election of Donald Trump.  I have a favorite photograph of her, relaxing on our back porch while a deer wandered past the door.     

The Vietnam era was a time of great passions, appalling truths but enthusiastic hopes, and lofty ideas.   Some were written, some came as songs, and many were shouted in the streets or on campuses.   Most of America’s history since that time has inspired continued outrage, and Tom Hayden, Charlie Liteky, and Marilyn Young used their talents to storm and shout in the face of our country’s deadly policies and cultural calamities.   They spent their lives inspiring us to believe that something far better was possible, against all odds.  Looking up at the sky tonight, I hope we can all recognize three new stars.   As the second verse of Tommy Dee’s song states:
“With your stars shining through the dark and lonely night
To light the path and show the way, the way that’s rightGee, we’re going to miss you, everybody sends their love.” 

John Ketwig
(This article was written for the upcoming Memorial Day edition of The Veteran.  John is the author of "...and a hard rain fell: A G.I.'s True Story of the Vietnam War" originally published by Macmillan in 1985, currently available in its 25th reprinting by SOURCEBOOKS)

The following originally appeared on the site of the Vietnam Studies Group:

I knew Marilyn was sick and heard from others that she was in decline, but I'd been in touch with her recently and was heartened by her reassuring words and seeming good spirits. Links to important articles and reports that she wished to share showed up in my in-box right to the end and I chose to imagine that somehow she would fight her way through. 
Marilyn was brilliant, loyal, principled, and sweet natured -- and also not afraid of anybody. I am sure I was not the only one to count on her to be in the front line when it was time to protest and resist. I am so sad that she is gone. 
David Hunt

I have never met Marilyn, though I've been corresponding with her for a year. 

When I started the Mekong Review in October 2015 I had less than four weeks to put together the magazine. The deadline was the Kampot Writers & Readers Festival, held in the south of Cambodia in early November, and I wanted the magazine to be launched there and then. The enterprise was hare-brained, but for some reason I was confident I could pull it off. I conceived the Mekong Review as a literary and political magazine - it's on mainland Southeast Asia so politics was unavoidable - so I needed something substantial to lead the premier edition. 

At the time, the first part of Niall Ferguson's biography on Henry Kissinger had been released, and I saw my chance. I wrote to every name in the Vietnam/American war/foreign policy firmament, and of course everyone said no. I didn't blame them; here I was, someone they had never heard of, asking them to read a large book on a substantial subject and write a considered review in a week and a bit. 

In a fit of frustration - the magazine's success, I was adamant, rested on this review - I wrote an angry young man's email to Marilyn, someone, as I said, I have never met, though of course I know her by reputation. I said, in short, I'm writing to you from Cambodia, a country which bore the brunt of the US's anti-communist crusade in the 1960s; a reign of terror that killed and maimed thousands of innocent people, destroyed the villages, towns and forests; and now a new book on the author of this policy has been released and I can't find a writer to review it. The email was presumptuous, full of embarrassing self-righteous indignation and I honestly didn't expect a reply. Guess what? Marilyn replied - and positively. She said, "I can imagine your frustration." Then went on to say that though she herself didn't want to review the book, she could on my behalf ask her colleague Mario del Pero to do it. Mario rose to the challenge and two weeks later the Mekong Review was launched and his stupendous review led the inaugural issue. Marilyn and I stayed in touch and she also played a hand in getting Patrick Deer to review Nguyen Thanh Viet's Pulitzer-Prize winning book, The Sympathizer. Patrick's review led Issue 3 of the Mekong Review. 
Though she was a complete stranger to me, I feel that I have lost someone I know. Through the acts of kindness to me, a stranger to her, she showed her true colours as a scholar and a human being. Again, as a stranger, I offer my condolences to her family, colleagues and friends.
Vale Marilyn. 
Minh Bui Jones
Editor, Mekong Review

On 21 February 2017 at 04:14, Dan Duffy <> wrote:
Oh no. I saw a personal report on the Facebook, found no obituary, and checked here. Something I wrote about her and sent last November: 

On Mon, Feb 20, 2017 at 12:13 PM, Lien-Hang Nguyen <> wrote:
It was with great sadness that I relate the news of Marilyn Young's passing. We've lost a major scholar of the Vietnam War and a giant of a human being. She was a generous colleague, tireless mentor, and unwavering friend to many of us. I can't imagine a world without Marilyn in it - especially these days - but I hope her legacy will live on. 
I'll send more news if I have any.
Dr. Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, 
Dorothy Borg Professor in the History of the United States and East Asia
Columbia University

Dan Duffy
Editor, Viet Nam Literature Project
Chair, President, Staff. Books & Authors: Viet Nam, Inc.
108 East Hammond Street
Durham, NC 27704
tel 919-530-0656



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