The Day They Said the Vietnam War Was To End


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February 1, 1973, Vol. XVIII, No. 5

The day they said the killing was to end
by Phil Tracy

It rained the day they said the killing was to end. A ceaseless unremitting rain that was falling well before dawn broke over Battery Park. A block away, on the corner of Pearl and Whitehall Streets, the rain pelted the facefront of the U.S. Army building that served as the induction center for the men of this city who fought and died in the war. The building is closed now. The Army shut it down last April and gave it to the city. The windows of its lower floors are sheathed in corrugated tin. Each pellet of rain gave a muted report as it splattered against the blank eyes of the building. Listen to the echo of the rain. How do you rail against a closed and shuttered building?

A carnage house that helped to butcher a thousand healthy men with triplicated forms and oaths of honor. The building seems to protest its innocence like everyone else who helped wage the war. “Why blame me? I’m only a building. I didn’t make the war.” The men who did, the men who merely shuffled the induction papers in the intake baskets and stamped the death certificates in the outgoing box, have all fled now. We shall never catch them. Nor shall we catch the men who ordered it, or the ones who planned it, or the ones who told the lies to justify it. They will melt away just like the rain melts away when it strikes the front of this innocent building. There will be no guilt, no responsibility. Only the sound of thousands of raindrops beating against an empty dead building on the day they said the killing was to stop.


It is mid-afternoon. The rain falls steadily on the square squat one-story room. For eight years plus, the Armed Forces Recruitment Center in Times Square has served as a focal point for one continuous protest against the slaughter. Every Saturday a small band of people have come together to witness for all of us who have hated this war. Today they do not appear. To not appear is a negative act, no sign of affirmation. There is nothing to celebrate here this afternoon. The war is ending? No, the war will not end today, merely our involvement in it. Right has triumphed? No, right has sought a desperate accommodation with Herod — a man who murders innocent children just to keep his power. America will once again become the just and democratic republic we were taught from childhood to believe it was? No, whatever innocence and virtue our country once had has been burned away by a million flecks of napalm clinging to the skin of tortured children. It is not a day to celebrate, merely to cry with the rain.


Of the 100-odd peace groups that inhabit this city not one has seen fit to mark this day. Where are the millions who begged for deliverance from this thing which has crippled us as a nation? Where are those to mark the sadness of 46,000 lives lost needlessly? Why is no final curse hurled at those who squandered our love and our trust and our faith in ourselves as a people? Why does this day of all days remain so silent? The traitors of peace are permitted to pray on our tv screens, twisting that which we have begged for into a gnarled and ugly thing. Why are there no gentle music and words of thanks for that which has soothed the running sore?


Instead there is prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral: a mighty temple to the cravenness of man. While bombs fell and innocent children died, the church kept her faith with Caesar. Now in the final moment, after Herod had given his blessing, the Church finally moves to sanctify peace.

At 7 p.m., they begin the service. Cardinal Cooke, who in war had blessed the troops and whose predecessor had blessed the warplanes, offers up a prayer that he might be made an instrument of Christ’s peace. The true instruments, those priests and nuns who have sacrificed their days behind bars so that peace might be achieved, are nowhere to be seen. Herod might have objected. The Cathedral reeks with hypocrisy.


And that is how it ended, the day they said the killing was to stop. Those who had suffered and begged for peace were silent, while those who had trucked with murderers tried to sanctify the moment in holy lies. It was the worst of days, with nothing but a cleansing rain to redeem it.

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