Arthur Fasciani was born in 1951, in Brooklyn. He grew up in Garden City, on Long Island, and attended a Catholic School as well as the local public schools. After high school, he went to Ohio State University in 1969. He was a student at a campus twenty miles from Kent State, and was active in the college protest scene. Fasciani knew that he would be drafted, so to avoid combat he joined the navy. After learning that his ship would be sent to Vietnam, he and a buddy went AWOL and fled to Canada.
Mr. Fasciani’s tells the story of an idealistic young man, unafraid to stand up for his beliefs and ready to face the consequences. His commentary on the anti-war movement of the 1960s is a valuable addition to this project.
Q: Please state your name for the record.
Mr. Fasciani: Arthur Fasciani
Q: Where were you born?
Mr. Fasciani: I was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1951.
Q: Could you describe where you grew up, your childhood, and what your family did? Also, did your father serve in World War II?
Mr.Fasciani: I grew up in Brooklyn until I was about eight or nine. We then moved out to Long Island, to a town called Garden City. That’s where my dad had grown up. My mom was born and raised in Brooklyn. My father, his brother, and my grandfather had a business in Manhattan, where they all worked. My dad was a World War II veteran, and it was something he didn’t really talk much about until the end of his life when he started telling some stories. It was the kind of the thing, I think, that they didn’t really discuss too much about. I went to Catholic school until sixth grade, and then I went to Garden City Junior and Senior High School, where I graduated in 1969, which was kind of a momentous year in our history.
Q: Would you describe yourself as a typical baby boomer?
Mr. Fasciani: Pretty much, I guess baby boomer’s are a huge lot, and there’s a lot of play within what a typical baby boomer is, but that is what I am. I feel pretty lucky to have grown up in that generation. I think we have made a lot of impact on our society, everything from healthcare to politics to a lot of things I guess.
Q: How aware were you to world events in high school?
Mr. Fasciani: I was pretty aware, we had a very good civics program at my high school back then. There were a lot of social studies; a lot of things that had to do with government. I’m not familiar with curriculum now in high schools, but it seems that a lot of that stuff is put to the side. There was a lot of discussion. I think the fact that Vietnam was going on was a catalyst for people to discuss these kinds of things. Probably without that, we would have focused on The Beatles versus Elvis or something, and it would have been a different situation. Vietnam was starting to awaken people’s idea of, “what kind of country are we?” “Who are we as a people?” It’s so taken for granted now, the things that we see on the news, but back then just seeing a dead body or a soldier who had been killed was a phenomenon. As an example of what’s available now and what was available then, I remember an assembly we had in high school where we weren’t told what it was going to be about, but we all went into the auditorium, and they started showing this movie about some guy who was going to the doctor, getting examined, and it turned out he had lung cancer, and it was a thing about smoking and they were talking about this and that, then the doctor described what he [the patient] had and what they were going to have to do in surgery. The movie went on, he got prepped, they wheeled him into the operating room, and we all thought that it was going to stop any minute. But then they took the scalpel and cut open his chest, and the entire audience screamed. The teachers who were monitoring the aisles all turned around to watch everyone. My homeroom teacher, Nick Fusco, actually fainted. The idea is, though, now you turn on the Learning Channel and you see this stuff all the time. But then, to see this stuff on the screen, with the chest being sliced open, the reaction it got was phenomenal. So, that’s just to put it into context, the news that we see now versus the news back then in regards to Vietnam.
Q: Did you have a television?
Mr. Fasciani: We did. It was black and white. I remember when color televisions first came out, the listings for the TV shows in color would actually say “In Color.”
Q: When did you first know about the USSR and the Cold War? Did you have any opinion about communism?
Mr. Fasciani: Yeah, my parents were very conservative. They were very aware of Communism. They lived through the McCarthy thing, and they probably sided with Senator McCarthy at the time. I was one of those people that crouched under my desk, and ducked and covered, which was supposed to protect us from a nuclear blast. There was one time, when I was in 7th grade in junior high school, and they had us line up for a drill. We lined up against a row of lockers, and we faced the wall, but right behind us was an all glass wall out to the atrium. I remember thinking, “How is this going to protect me?” I also remember, when I was in Catholic school, they showed us these filmstrips. The priest would come in, and these things on what Communists do to children. They were cartoons, and this one cartoon was of an obviously very Asian soldier, chasing little kids with chopsticks, and putting them into their [the children’s] ears. It was a drawing of these horrible Asian monsters with children screaming, and the priest would say, “This is what they do to children in Communist countries.”
Q: How did this affect your views as a child? Were you in a community where everyone was saying, “Fight the Red”?
Mr. Fasciani: Yes. I think society, in general, was like that. I don’t know that it turned me against Communist or prejudice against Asians. If anything I was scared to go into any Chinese restaurant. For some reason, I don’t think I ever connected to the whole Communism thing. It was a time when there were a lot of fears and a lot of prejudices being instilled on a lot of people, and I see it now, similar to the way that the media is manipulated today and the way that we as citizens receive information. But the whole point, back to Vietnam, was that at that point there was this rift, and one of the proponents of this rift actually just died, David Halberstam. He was instrumental in starting the practice of reporting what he saw instead of touting the government line. It was a huge change. That kind of bravery and courage enabled us as citizens at the time to start to make decisions instead of assimilating information that was given to us.
Q: How much do you remember about John F. Kennedy’s administration, and then his assassination? Can you pinpoint the time and place where you were?
Mr. Fasciani: I was in ninth grade. We were in gym class, and they had us sit down. They told us the president had just been shot, and somebody next to me went “Good.” The gym teacher said “Don’t you ever say that.” Even though it was a very conservative, Republican city, that was clearly seen as wrong. Kennedy was not very well supported where I was, but that whole coverage was absolutely touching. It was a time when the world really stopped. I actually saw when Oswald was killed. We had school off, and I was watching the news while they were showing him being transferred, and all of a sudden this guy jumps out and shoots him. I thought I was watching a soap opera or something, but it was actually happening, when Ruby actually shot Oswald. It was very affecting to see Walter Chronkite crying and to see the somber tone of the news reports was pretty impressive, pretty different.
Q: How would you compare the media coverage during Vietnam with the media coverage during 9/11?
Mr. Fasciani: Vietnam wasn’t “Showbiz.”
Q: So, you felt September 11th was more about “Showbiz”?
Mr. Fasciani: No, when [September 11th] occurred it was really happening. The way the way they covered the Iraq war, with the big music, graphics was all showbiz. But back then, after the assassination, any sort of follow up was usually just a black and white graphic of the funeral. But even before that, I also remember during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the town had an air raid practice. You’d hear the siren go off and everybody was supposed to stay indoors and close their windows and keep the doors closed. I remember peeking out, and seeing no cars on the road – it was pretty weird.
Q: Were you ready to die when they had that little clock going?
Mr. Fasciani: You mean the doomsday clock. I don’t remember that until later, in association with the Cold War. I always thought of it as a possibility as opposed to a countdown, so there was always a feeling that we were under a nuclear threat, but even back then we never realized how close we actually got with the Missile Crisis.
Q: What were your initial plans after graduating high school?
Mr. Fasciani: I graduated high school and I wanted to be a veterinarian. I went to Ohio State University. That’s kind of where my beliefs started to change. It was during that year when a lot of stuff going on with Vietnam. A friend of mine had an older brother, who had been killed. That was big news in our town, we were a small town similar to Wayland’s size. When he was killed it sort of made it real. So, then I went to Ohio State and there were rumblings of activity, and in October a friend of mine said, “Let’s go to Washington,” and I agreed. It was a matter of a jaunt more then any sort of political meaning at that point. So we went down to Washington, and it was incredibly powerful and educational to hear the speeches and find out what was going on. One of the things that really made an impression on me, was when I was walking down the street with hundreds of thousands of other people, some guy comes up and gives me a piece of paper, and says “Read this and see what you think.” I looked at this paper and it was this little blurb. On the top was a picture of a body with no head, and it said, “This is what the Vietnamese are doing to our soldiers.” It was so shocking back then, it had this really horrible impact – not so much that I was concerned that we were supporting the wrong side, but that this activity, I felt, was being infiltrated. I can’t say for sure, but I am guessing that there was some sort of involvement from the CIA about disseminating that situation. Looking back and reading about [it], all that stuff was so pervasive back then, yet we didn’t know about it. That kind of affected me, I almost felt as though [the pamphlet] was pornography or something, I didn’t want anyone else to see it, I felt like it was such an important record of what was going on. Other then that it was a tremendous event, and I was really glad to be a part of it. I went back to Ohio State, and at that point there was a lot of activity going on, campus was closed and the National Guard was there. I lived in a dorm, and there was a lot of heat between the Anti-War supporters, and the people who just wanted an education. This was the same time as Kent State, which was just twenty miles away, and those troops could’ve been at Ohio State just as easily. Then when the people were killed there, I was just appalled at what I was seeing on the news with people saying “They should’ve killed more of them.” These are students, these are people’s kids who were shot and killed. So I got my own experience with tear gas, and with dogs, and what that was like. There was one night, though, in my dorm, I put money in the machine to get some ice cream. The ice cream didn’t come out so I started to wiggle the machine until I accidentally cut my finger on a piece of metal. So the police got me in a car to take me to the hospital. We were driving through the campus, and people were still protesting and they thought that I was being arrested. So, they stood in front of the car, and I had to roll down the window and tell them that it was okay!
Q: Were you involved in lots of the demonstrations?
Mr. Fasciani: Yes, even within the demonstration movement there were people that were really extreme, and I felt like they were going a little overboard, and there were people who were just there for the social scene. I probably fell somewhere in the middle. It was a really wonderful sense of community, people helping each other. When I was in Washington, I was able to stay with a friend who was very well off, so I was able to eat thanksgiving dinners every night, and then we’d go back and there were people who had been sleeping on the floors and passing around big bags of rolls. So everyone really helped each other.
Q: What did you think about President Nixon’s policy on Vietnam with the “Vietnamizaion” and “Peace with Honor”? How did you end up in Vietnam? Were you Drafted?
Mr. Fasciani: Well that’s the thing, I didn’t go to Vietnam. After spending a year at Ohio State, and discovering demonstrating, drugs, and rioting, my grades suffered and I dropped out. At the time it was a lottery system, and I think I was number eighteen, so I knew I was going to be drafted. I went to all the different services, and at that point it was really just Vietnam that I thought was a mistake – I had no problem with serving my country or joining the service. So the Navy recruiter said that they only send volunteers to Vietnam. So I joined, and then I had my time in the Navy. My job was a radioman, so I got all the information, every message came through me, and I had to rout it to the person that was responsible for responding. I got to know everybody on the ship, it was an ammunitions transport ship. So it was a big ship with a small crew. Usually it was pretty empty, I went to the Mediterranean twice, and on the way back from one of them, we got a radio message that said we had top-secret orders to proceed to a destination in the South Pacific. So I put two and two together. I was based in Rhode Island, and we stopped in Norfolk, which is the biggest Navy base on the east coast. When we pulled in there we started to get ready to go, and they started loading ammunition on the boat, and I said to myself “I just can’t do that, I couldn’t go over and support that.” So I told my captain, and I told him what the recruiter had said, that he was sorry but that they needed us. So we went back to Davisville, Rhode Island, I met with some other people with similar philosophies. One guy and I decided that we weren’t going to go. So the night before the ship left we said we had to do laundry and we took our stuff over, then we spent two weeks in Acadia National Park in Maine. It was in May or June, and the park was yet to be opened, but it was basically a party for two straight weeks. Then we went to Canada. There was literally a place in Montreal called the “Yellow Dog Café.” It was a place where war resisters could go where they would give you a new identity, but that wasn’t really what our plans were. My parents thought I was destroying my life, but I was never alarmed and I never felt like I was in danger because of not going [to Vietnam]. My dad got in touch with the Navy Legal aid society, and spoke to a guy who didn’t ask for a name and gave me his number. He was actually the campaign manager in the Navy for George McGovern, who was running against Nixon at the time. So I started to work with this guy, and one of the things I learned is that the difference between going AWOL and being a deserter is that when you return from going AWOL you go back to your base, but when you’re a deserter you don’t go back.. In order to be considered a deserter, you must be gone for 30 days, so I had it all worked out so that I would be gone for thirty days. I spoke to a lieutenant who was also a lawyer, he advised me, so I didn’t go to the Yellow Dog Café and get a new identity. I came back and I turned myself in, in Brooklyn, so that I could be close to my home. I guess that it was about July, and it was basically like having a job in Brooklyn. I was on the base because I needed a trial and a courts marshal. If I didn’t have duty, I was actually allowed to go home. So I was basically commuting into Brooklyn. Eventually, around September, I went on trial. I needed to get references from people about my sincerity about my beliefs. I basically told the judge exactly what I told you, that the recruiter said that they only people they sent to Vietnam were volunteers. I think at the time, like there is now, there was a lot of pressure on the recruiters to get people to sign up. That dwindled very quickly with the “Vietnamization” of the war, because just about the same time they started to pull people out of Vietnam and they didn’t need as many people. So, when I went to this court marshal and had this trial, I was sentenced too forfeit half my pay for two months and was restricted to the base for forty-five days. After about two weeks I went in to the discipline officer, and I said that since I was going to be getting out anyway, and since they were cutting back they didn’t need as many people. I then asked my officer if there was any way that I could get out early, he said that maybe if there was a death in the family or something. I then told him that my brother had tickets to a Moody Blues concert on Monday night, and he said okay. So he signed me out that day, and on Monday night I was watching the Moody Blues. I received a general discharge, but I couldn’t wear my uniform home and they wouldn’t pay for my transportation home. I could live with that though, I think it was $1.90 on the Long Island Rail Road to get home. I know I was pretty lucky though, because the guy that I went with turned himself in up in Boston, and he was in a brig for a month. Following that, he had to stay in for two years and finish his tour. It was hell the whole time, he said, because he had the whole record and stuff. So, it was really the luck of the draw, it was what they needed and where, and the people you were working with. It wasn’t so much a rigid type of ruling as to what happened to you if you did this. But I see news stories now, of people who have been to Iraq three times, and they say that they just can’t do it any more. They “miss” their sailing date or their orders, and they are being thrown in jail for this, it seems ridiculous to me.
Q: So once you finished your service, and were discharged, where did you go from there? Did you continue with the anti-war movement?
Mr. Fasciani: I did continue, I worked with the American Friends Service committee in 1972 or 1973. I did some volunteer stuff, and then I guess I just got on with my life after that.
Q: So, you were still in high school during the Tet Offensive, the My Lai Massacre. What were your reactions to those?
Mr. Fasciani: I heard about them, and the whole My Lai thing with [Lt.] Calley was huge news. But at that point it was really just news to me, and the whole idea that we would fake something like the Tet offensive was unthinkable, and that we would fake the response. So it wasn’t really until I got out of high school and started living on my own when I really started to be more politicized about things like that. At that point hearing it, it was certainly real, and it was certainly horrible. But the Tet offensive I don’t know that I knew all the details of it, I guess I just thought it was another thing going on over there.
Q: You mentioned that you went to a big protest in Washington, who was there? Did you
see any notable figures?
Mr. Fasciani: I remember Joan Baez, she was singing and speaking. I haven’t thought about it for a while. I remember the roast beef dinner.
Q: When Bobby Kennedy was shot, how did that affect you?
Mr. Fasciani: That was horrible, that was right around Martin Luther King’s assassination. But I remember recently, this wasn’t from back then, but I was watching Bobby Kennedy speak (after King’s death) in Indianapolis or somewhere, and he had no text prepared. He was supposed to be giving this speech, and they warned him not to go out because of violence. Then he went up, and what he said was legendary for its honestly, candor, and lack of any guile or manipulation. The one phrase that they keep pointing to, was when he said, “I know you want to reach out and get mad at somebody, but I too had a member of my family killed by a white man.” It really changed the whole relationship he had with people at that point. In fact, I think every major city in the United States had some extreme violence going on, except for the one he had spoken in. So when he was shot, it was too much. I couldn’t get what was going on, it was horrible to think that was going to be the way that anybody with any vision was going to be eliminated.
Q: How do you feel about the Civil Rights movement that Bobby Kennedy, and also Martin Luther King , were involved in?
Mr. Fasciani: Well the town I lived in was all white, there were no black families in the area. We had a guy come to school as an exchange student, sort of as a social experiment, and I can’t believe he survived. This Civil Rights Movement didn’t really become real until after I left my family early on. I read about it, and I saw what was happening. It was insane that people were being shot with firehouses, and dogs were being set on them.
Q: How did you feel when Nixon campaigned on a plan to end the war? How did you feel about the bombing of Cambodia?
Mr. Fasciani: I think that probably the biggest rift between my parents and I was when Nixon was campaigning and running for president. If we were ever watching any of his speeches together, I would just be making little comments and my parents didn’t appreciate it. But yes, it was difficult to see that happening. Again I’m not here to voice my own political beliefs, but when Bush was elected the second time, I remember thinking, “Why do they do this?” and that’s how I felt back then as well. It just seemed like the wrong person. But going to the Bush & Kerry election, I don’t feel like anybody had a choice back then, there was no leader, no one with any vision who was ready to take the country forward. Back then, Eugene McCarthy, and then Humphrey got the nomination. People were asking, “Who is this guy?” There was nothing I had ever heard or seen, to lead me to believe he had any vision to take us out of the situation we were in.
Q: So, “Peace with Honor” seemed like the best option?
Mr. Fasciani: No, I think that was a slogan. I don’t think that peace with honor was anything that they were able to attain, or even pretend too. I think it was one of the first presidential slogans. Whereas the people who I thought could really do something, were discussing things, and they were giving information instead of boiling it down to one slogan. There were other slogans also, like “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, NLF is gonna win.”
Q: Everyone nowadays is comparing Vietnam with Iraq, what are your personal feelings about comparing the situation in the Middle East with what you observed throughout your experience with Vietnam?
Mr. Fasciani: Well the similarity is mainly found in that we’re there for false reason. I think in Vietnam, we kind of found our self there, and something we stepped into, not realizing it was a pile of snakes until we were there for a while and couldn’t get out of it. So we had to continue marketing it. Whereas this one, the decision to go in there was made under very poor judgment, and we’re seeing that now. With Vietnam, it wasn’t so much getting into Vietnam that people were seeing as a mistake, or is seen as a mistake in retrospect, (the problem) was why we stayed so long. Whereas, here we just started out with the wrong idea and the wrong people in charge. The scary thing, for me, is that there is such a corporate foundation to both of them, and that doesn’t seem to be examined or identified much. When Eisenhower left, in his long farewell speech, had he given that speech now, he probably would be on somebody’s list as someone to watch out for. I think that we have gotten away from democracy, or being a government by the people. The fact that Roger Ailes and Fox News gives everybody information that is given to them by the newsmakers is kind of scary. It is one thing to be an investigative journalist, it is another thing to be just a mouthpiece. It concerns me that some of the same forces that enabled the Vietnam War, are still going on now. I don’t mean individual people, more like philosophies and concepts. One of them being that the government is “always right,” and even just before the Iraq war was kicked off, the government marketed it. I was opposed to what was going on, but then I saw Colin Powell in the UN, and he’s someone I trust as an honorable person. After what he said, well, I had to think that if he’s saying that then I’m going to back off. When the war started, I was as concerned for the troops as anybody, and had a sort of solidarity with them. I stopped going to rallies, and whatever, but we were taken again as the song goes.
Q: How do you feel about today’s anti-war movement?
Mr. Fasciani: I think it exists, I think its as strong as the one against Vietnam. I think the people who are doing it today are braver then we were during Vietnam, because back in the 60’s it was something new, something we could get away with, and it was almost like a sucker punch. Now, I think that the opposition to the opposition is organized, and they’ve learned their lessons from past movements. Now, they can paint the anti-war movement, look at Cindy Sheehan, she’s lambasted by the press for doing things. Once you put yourself out there now, you’re open to full attack from all fronts. I think it takes a lot more guts now to do it. But I think that there are a lot of well established and well organized parts of that movement. People are taking advantage of technology that exists to get information under the radar. People don’t have to rely on Fox News, or CBS and ABC for that matter. There are a lot of organizations that will take what they say on the news, and say well, this isn’t exactly accurate. I don’t know if you’re familiar with “F.A.I.R” which is Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting. It is a great organization and its not liberal or conservative or anything like that, which looks at important pieces of news and points out what is inaccurate or misleading. If you follow that stuff it is not even about liberal and conservative anymore. It is about corporate and individual rights. I think one of the greatest fallacies that the media likes to hear is when people talk about the liberal press or the conservative press. I mean the New York Times is a huge company, and they have an agenda to push just like everyone else. Bill Moyers did a whole show about how the media was complicit with allowing the Iraq war to happen. I mean even the Colin Powell speech. There were all these inconsistencies within the reports, and there was this one guy who had been over in Iraq, when the UN inspectors were allowed back in again. Then they showed Colin Powell saying how suspicious certain sites had become, and then they’d cut back to the reporter who was saying how he had been there only two months before Powell and there was nothing in these buildings but nobody seemed to care. So all the information was there, even Dan Rather and Tim Russet was on there talking. I think the Anti-War movement has a lot of resources at its disposal, as does the Pro-War movement.
Q: You mentioned the lessons we didn’t learn in Vietnam, is there anything we did learn? Any mistakes we avoided in the last thirty or so years?
Mr. Fasciani: I think we learned that we can be misled, that the government is not always honest. I think that’s a valuable lesson. But as far as individual ones…I don’t