Try to imagine this scenario. A group of well-meaning Americans wants to talk to a group of South Africans about mutual concerns. They arrange a long-distance telephone and radio hookup and have a pleasant hour or so of exchanging views with one another. The problem is that while the Americans are truly sincere and concerned citizens, the South Africans were all chosen by the South African government to represent that government's views. The broadcast is not aired in South Africa, the apartheid policy is never mentioned during the conversation and all this takes place while Bishop Desmond Tutu and other genuine human rights activists are imprisoned or in exile.
Ridiculous? Couldn't happen? Well, not only did it happen, but it was featured on the front page of the View section accompanied by a large picture of the Americans and a long article that was very complimentary about the whole effort.
One slight correction though: The Americans were not talking to South Africans. They were talking to representatives of the official peace movement in the Soviet Union ("U.S., Soviets in 'Global Town Meeting' "by Beth Ann Krier, March 13).
Oh, there are peaceniks in Russia, and I could give you their names and addresses. I doubt that they would be able to talk to Americans on an international conference (phone). You see, their current addresses are various jails, prison camps and mental hospitals throughout the Soviet Union. The best-known peacenik of them all, Prof. Andrei Sakharov, whose efforts for peace were rewarded by a Nobel Peace Prize, is in exile, incommunicado in the city of Gorky, certainly beyond the reach of the naive, uninformed, but oh-so-well-meaning Americans.
The difference between the "official" peaceniks and others is that just about everyone in all (Soviet) factories, universities, offices, etc. is expected to join the peace movement by signing mass applications. The spokesmen are appointed by the government and are expected to help in organizing mass rallies against U.S. aggression, are selected to speak to Americans on radio and TV, and, if they are really good, are permitted to go to America as peace delegates.
The unofficial peaceniks are another matter entirely. They advocate communication between the two countries outside of government channels, protest Soviet aggression in Afghanistan, advocate disarmament by both superpowers and, of course, they go to jail. The same fate, by the way, awaits all those members of the so-called Helsinki Watch Committee, a group of people who decided to monitor Soviet violations of human rights and are now, without exception, in jails or mental hospitals.
I think that next time there is an international hookup it should be between the U.S. and South Africa. The Americans will not be so eager to be taken in and the newspapers will not be as uncritical. On the other hand, maybe the hookup should be between official human rights activists in South Africa and the U.S.S.R.--this way, they will be able to lie to each other without fooling anyone.
Frumkin is senior adviser for the Southern California Council for Soviet Jews.
Suffering of Vietnam Vets
While leafing through The Times (March 10), the article, "Vietnam War: Veterans Relive Their Horrors in the UCSB Classroom," caught my eye. My husband and I glanced at the photos, and I began to read aloud. As I continued, my voice became more and more choked up. Embarrassed, I looked up from the paper at my husband. Tears were streaming down his face.
We are people of the Vietnam generation. I personally have not forgotten the agonies and pain that ripped through our country. Perhaps the class at UCSB should be offered nationwide as catharsis for the pain so many of us still feel.
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I am a Vietnam veteran who served as a "grunt" with the 101st Airborne Division and was awarded, among others, the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. I mention this only for the right to comment on the article on the Vietnam seminar at UC Santa Barbara.
I feel genuine concern for my fellow veterans who were truly affected by their war experience, and I feel they should get all the help they need. Also, I have a vested interest in favor of upgrading the image of the Vietnam veteran, recognizing the contribution and reexamination of the Vietnam experience.
While seminars such as that at UCSB may advance these causes, it seemed to have an est-like silliness to it. It struck me that the veterans attending and speaking are looking for martyrdom, since heroism was denied them. Some seem to look on their veteran status as an unpaid avocation, and this seems more pathetic than altruistic.