"Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) Protests Jailing of Southern Members." July 16, 1972. Photo by Mel Schieltz. Rocky Mountain News Photo Collection, Box 461
"Peace is Dignity": How Denver Activist Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales Viewed the Vietnam War
- On September 17, 2017, Rocky Mountain PBS (RMPBS) will be premiering The Vietnam War, a 10-part series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. RMPBS has created Voices of Vietnam from Colorado, featuring a wide range of stories from across Colorado, which can be seen on-air and online. Additionally, Coloradans can share their own stories and images through their website at www.rmpbs.org/vietnam.
On August 6, 1966, Chicano activist Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales addressed a group (believed to be the Denver Stop The War Committee) with a speech declaring, "peace is dignity."
The speech transcript containing Gonzales' powerful words, now nearly 51 years-old, is part the Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales Papers housed in the Denver Public Library's Western History and Genealogy (WHG) department.
Gonzales began his speech by explaining that his emotions had been stirred by what he saw as:
"...the complete disregard of our present society for the rights, dignity and lives of not only people of other nations but of our own unfortunate young men who die for an abstract cause in a war that cannot be honestly justified by any of our present leaders."
Gonzales continued, speculating that economics, rather than politics, was the "abstract cause" of the war:
"The great and powerful corporations who control our industries, who control the purse strings of the nation, calmly play a chess game trading the lives of innocent American boys, confused and bewildered Vietnameese [sic] men, women, and children for GREEN dollars that do not show the RED stain of blood, the anguish and torment of grieving parents, the guilt for the rape of a weaker nation."
Gonzales believed that economics, along with race, ethnicity and class also determined who served on the front lines in the war:
"Check the casualties, check the injured, check out the entire number of drafted young men and then compare the financial status of their parents and check the ethnic background, check to see which minorities are dying for a cause they cannot see or understand. ...The poor, the minorities, who face a life of discrimination, bigotry and futility here at home are the pawns to be sacrificed for the greed and profit of Wall Street."
Later in his speech, Gonzales would propose a change to draft laws, suggesting:
"Send the sons of the rich and middle class first and you will witness a screeching halt."
Vietnam Veterans Against the War at the steps of the west entrance of the Colorado Statehouse hold a memorial service all killed in the Southeast Asian war. December 31, 1971. Photo by Dick Davis. Rocky Mountain News Photo Collection, Box 461
And Gonzales did want the war to stop, seeing the war's escalation as leading to "complete disintegration." He remarked,
"Peace is dignity. The true gentleman of the sports world is the man who has the courage and the charity not to finish off a lesser opponent when he has him on the ropes."
Gonzales, who became involved in a justice and equality movement for Mexican Americans in the Southwest during the 1960's and 1970's, viewed the Vietnam War as an extension of his civil rights activism,
"I have involved myself in the civil rights struggle for equal rights here at home, but those rights are meaningless if they are ever attained without intellectual and meaningful responsibility to speak out and take part in the struggle for survival for entire nations, our own included."
Interested in learning more about how the Vietnam War impacted Colorado? Visit the Western History and Genealogy Department and these sources:
- Western History Subject Index - citations for articles relating to the Vietnam War
- The Rocky Mountain News Photo Collection (a portion of this collection is digital; boxes 407, 431 and 461 pertain to the Vietnam War)
- Frank Romano Oral History (OH450)
- Colorado Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients (C Photo Collection 126)
- Janet Kathleen Pease Diaries (WH2238) (May 29, 1967 to August 21, 1971 journal includes thoughts on the Vietnam War)
Thank you, Ross!
Thank you for this article Katie. I grew up in Denver and remember difficult and painful times.
Thank you for reading, Carole.
where would i send photos?
You can upload images, video, audio or writings to http://www.rmpbs.org/vietnam/. Head to the "Voices of Vietnam" section of the page and click the "Enter" button. To donate photographs to DPL's Western History and Genealogy Department, please follow the instructions on the following webpage: https://history.denverlibrary.org/donating-materials
Thanks for reading and commenting, Nick!
Thank you for posting excerpts of Corky's speech. He was one the great Chicano Movement leaders and aligned with Malcolm X and MLK's later life views on the war.
Unfortunately much has still remained the same... in some cases worst. We are in great need of this brand of leaders today. Make Racists Afraid Again!
Thank you for reading and commenting, Hugo!
when did vvaw members get arrested in denver memorial day parade 1969?
Are you perhaps thinking of the Veterans Day parade of 1971? See the link below from our Western History Subject Index (an index to the local newspapers):
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