While attending graduate school at Ohio State University in the fall of 1968, Doug Rawlings was drafted into the U.S. Army and proceeded to serve in Vietnam from July 1969 to August 1970. After completing his military tour-of-duty, he taught high school for six years, then headed two Bass Shoe Factory outlets for six years, and subsequently oversaw a number of programs at the University of Maine-Farmington during a 27-year period.
In July 1985 Rawlings was a founding member of Veterans For Peace (VFP), along with Reverend Willard Bicket, Jerry Genesio, Judy Genesio, and Ken Perkins. He eventually served as secretary of VFP’s Maine chapter and also spent five years as its president. Years later, Rawlings recounted how his work with VFP had grown out of his military experience in Southeast Asia, where he witnessed “the horrible things we were doing to [the Vietnamese] people, supposedly in the name of democracy.” That experience, said Rawlings, “radicalized me” and “certainly changed my worldview,” causing him to resolve that “I cannot be part of this kind of system anymore.” As a result, Rawlings canceled his plan to become a lawyer and work in the corporate world for Eastman Kodak.
During his tenure with VFP, Rawlings made many appearances at anti-war demonstrations across the United States. He vehemently opposed the Reagan Administration’s effort to assist the Contras of Nicaragua in their battle against that country’s Marxist-Leninist Sandinista government, and two decades later he was equally critical of America’s military involvement in the Middle East. During a March 20, 2004 “March for Truth” rally in Maine, for instance, Rawlings condemned “the human cost of this government’s immoral, unjust and misguided war in Iraq.” “We cannot wait,” he added, “for 58,000 American soldiers and two million Iraqi citizens to die before we bring this war to a grinding halt…. We must tell these service men and women that they do not have time to embrace their pain in private. They have to step forward and work with our young to counteract the war mongering propaganda of this government and its lackeys. They need to enter our towns’ schools and tell our students of the hell and suffering that is war.”
Though Rawlings resigned from VFP’s national board of directors in February 2014, he remains an antiwar activist and a member of the organization’s Maine chapter. He also serves as acting editor of VFP’s national newsletter, and co-editor of one of the group’s quarterly publications, Peace in Our Times. The author of many poems as well, Rawlings is regarded as VFP’s “national poet laureate.” Shortly after attending a November 2015 Veterans Day celebration in Washington, he wrote a poem titled “Walking The Wall,” which read as follows:
Got to tell you that you’re making me nervous
Every time you thank me for me service
I know you’re trying to be nice and kind
But you are really, truly fucking with my mind
Trust me, it’s not that I really care what you think
You who have had too much of their kool-aid to drink
Trust me, you don’t know shit about what service really means
You just need to know that nothing really is as it seems
So take a walk with me down the Wall some late evening
Where we can all listen to the ghostly young soldiers keening
But don’t waste your time thanking them for their service
They just might tell you the truth—all your wars are worthless
In an April 2014 interview, Rawlings derided U.S. efforts to curtail Chinese supremacy in Asia as “incredibly arrogant” manifestations of his country’s “imperial” ambitions and its quest to “impose our will on the rest of the world.”
In the April 9, 2015 edition of the far-left magazine Indypendent, Rawlings wrote an article titled “Don’t Thank Me for My Service.” Using scare quotes when referring to the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong as America’s former “enemy” (during the Sixties and Seventies), he lamented that: “[T]he Vietnamese people suffered greatly at our hands. Millions lost their lives, hundreds of thousands still suffer from the ravages of Agent Orange and unexploded ordnance just waiting to be touched and set off.” Adding that he was not at all proud of his “so-called ‘service’ to the flailing dinosaur of an empire that calls itself the U.S. of A.,” Rawlings said: “It deeply saddens me to see that our nation’s self-perpetuating war machine is cranked up and once again running in high gear…. Unscrupulous politicians use returning veterans as the emotional equivalent of human shields to deflect the public’s frustration with disastrous wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.”
In a November 2016 interview with SeekingRedress.com, Rawlings articulated the following message to his fellow veterans: “No matter if you joined the military out of some genuine patriotic fervor or if you were led into it because you lacked the moral fiber to resist induction, you have to admit that you were duped. You were susceptible to what the poet, Robert Bly, refers to as ‘…Americans’ fantastic capacity for aggression and self-delusion…’ And, unfortunately, not only do you pay the price for such self-delusion, but those who came before your weaponry and your instinct to survive at all costs, pay in spades.”
Further Reading: “Doug Rawlings” (CarbonInnovations.net); “Dave Rawlings’ Speech” (delivered at the March For Truth rally, 3-20-2004); “Don’t Thank Me for My Service” (by Doug Rawlings, 4-9-2015); “A Conversation With Doug Rawlings” (SeekingRedress.com, 11-11-2016).