An interview with Mike Hastie, a member of Veterans for Peace who federal officers assaulted with pepper spray at close range Saturday night, unprovoked
Michael Hastie was a Vietnam War medic with the U.S. Armyin the early 1970s. Now, at 75, he's on the front lines documenting the Black Lives Matter and now anti-federal troops demonstrations in Portland.
This week hes making national news as the Vietnam veteran in Portland who federal officerssprayed directly in the face at close range with OC chemicals.
Hastie likens himself as a peace photographer, a role he has held for more than 40 years. Hes taken his two Nikon cameras to places such as Palestine, Japan, Nicaragua, Lebanon and Vietnam.
He sees the demonstrations as a flashpoint for revolutionary change in Portland.
Hes also a member of Veterans for Peace. This is an excerpt from an email sent to the groups supporters shortly after the incident, describing the mood Saturday evening about three hours before he was assaulted:
The energy and Justifiable Cause was absolutely electrifying. Once I got into the middle of it, I turned to someone I didn't know and said, God I love this city. The solidarity hairs rose on my back and arms. There were two African-American men leading cheers and chants that hypnotically motivated what would eventually be three thousand Portlanders. At one point, all those people took their cell phones out and turned their flashlights on. What a beautiful scene of togetherness.
He emphasizes that throughout his decades protesting, sometimes change happens one conversation at a time.
When Hastieapproached federal agents just before midnight on Saturdayin front of the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, he was attempting to tell them about his experience as a medic in Vietnam.
I was giving a lecture to the police, he told Street Roots. My job as a Vietnam vet is to tell people why I am protesting to let people know theUnited States government committed atrocities every day inVietnam.
Thats when a militarized federal law enforcement officer wearing a gas mask approaching from his left, abruptly sprayed him with pepper spray the nozzle mere inches from his eyes as the chemicals were sprayed directly onto his face.
Since then, he's been fielding interviews, including with CNN and other national news outlets. The viral video of his assault has been viewed more than 5.6 million times.
The attack came on the heels of another instance of brutality against a veteran in Portland at the hands of federal troops. Navy veteran Christopher David suffered a broken hand after police pepper sprayed him and assaulted him with batons last week.
People are interested in this because they wonder why are two military vets getting pepper sprayed for standing up for our free speech rights what we as former military swore an oath to protect, Hastie said.
Hastie said his eyes recovered around 90% of their normal functioning by Monday afternoon. Hes been contacted by a couple of attorneys to see if I want to pursue suing. He said he is not opposed to litigation.
Neither I or the navy veteran were a threatto anyone. And they just wailed on Christopher David. Two fractures in his hands, he said.
In his childhood, Hasties family moved around a lot, living on both the East and West coasts of the U.S., and in Germany and Japan. His father was a career military man. Hastie enlisted at age 24, and ended up in a medic program at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora, Colo.
I spent a year there, undergoing advanced medical training, he told Street Roots.
He turned 25 in Vietnam.
It was toward the end of the war. We got war casualties from time to time. But everything was falling apart, chaos, he said. We saw homicides, suicides, heroin overdoses, addiction.
Hastie may have gone into the Army gung-ho due to the influence from his career military father who had fought in World War Two but he returned to the U.S. a wreck.
I knew I was the enemy, he said. We had no right to bomb Vietnam. It would be as if the U.S. military went into Mississippi and bombed it. Every day we committed atrocities there.
He mentioned, several times, the horror around My Lai, the infamous murder of more than 500 unarmed men, women and children by a group of U.S. Army soldiers in Charlie Company led by Lt. William Calley.
Hastie has sincebeen all over the United States and to numerous foreign countriesto demonstrate against war and U.S. aggression overseas.
He infers a call of duty beyond military allusions: To photograph events and to bear witness and thereby teach people how the U.S. is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.
In 1967 Martin Luther King gave his Beyond Vietnam oration at New Yorks Riverside Church, and it moved Hastie.
King denounced the U.S. as the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, and saw the war was a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit. Later that spring, he asserted that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together. We could not get rid of one without getting rid of the others (and) the whole structure of American life must be changed.
These words deeply influenced him and the fact that, said Hastie, my own government was spending all this money on war, but not on the poor people, the homeless.
Hastie quoted King again: A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
With protests following the police killing of George Floyd and the wave of social justice demonstrations aligning with Black Lives Matter, Hastie has stationed himself on new front lines.
Hastie was discharged from the military at Fort Hood, and after which he decided to become a nurse. He went to Eugene to go to Lane Community College. Then, he ended up in Portland, finishing his nursing program at Good Samaritan. Hes been in Portland ever since.
For 20 years he worked in emergency rooms as a nurse.
By 1980, Hastie was facing both divorce and the impacts of post traumatic stress disorder.
He was hospitalized for several days with suicidal ideation. That bout was followed by several others once following a visit to Vietnam wherehe spoke withsurvivors of the My Lai massacre.
We were talking to people who had survived it and to family members who did not, right at the very spot at the very ditch where so many murdered Vietnamese were piled up, he said.
He also struggled with alcoholism, but stopped drinking in 1976. A decision that he said saved my life.
He said he realized the myth of American exceptionalism believes the countrys good guy reputation began to tarnish in Vietnam.
The biggest positive thing that came out of the Vietnam War was that I saw myself as a global citizen, Hastie said.
When the blinders come off, he said there can be a disquieting and disorienting reverberation.
Your core belief systems are dismantled. It was like an emotional white out for me, he said. I was a stranger in a strange land when I came home.
Hastie developed a new belief system based on the war experience, his awakening and the Black soldiers in Vietnam who showed him what solidarity means.
He cites Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, as another influence that helped him frame feelings he had about atrocities hooked to his own memory of the Vietnam War. Much of the trauma comes from enlightenment, Hastie said from knowing about the continuing atrocities this country has perpetrated.
Frankl once said: An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior. He was referring to the psychological makeup and behavior patterns of prisoners in concentration camps during World War II.
Hastie concluded his email to Veterans for Peace supporters early in morning Sunday, July 26:
Everyone at these demonstrations are committed to standing up for monumental change, at any price. While this government preaches Democracy, that is the very thing the U.S. Government steals from other countries when the U.S. Military invades them. Domestically, the militarized police in America are doing the same thing. Being in Viet Nam woke this white boy up, and so much of that awareness came from Black soldiers who educated me on racism. The Viet Nam War was a racist war, and those who resisted U.S. Power were called, Gooks. Power To The People!
Hastie emphasized that during the Portland protests of late, his role as a freelance photographer is often superseded by his role as sandwich maker.
I show up three times a week to various spots in Portland with my homemade sandwiches, he said.
Too many people know whats going on but dont put their feet on the streets, Hastie said of the ongoing demonstrations in Portland. I dont know if the empire can be stopped with a peace sign, but we are doing what we can. Unfortunately, and Ive said this often, but this country needs to go through more suffering before real change will happen.
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