“The Ninety-third Congress (1973-75),” observes Greg Grandin, “was perhaps the most anti-imperial legislature in United States history.” In this era, lawmakers passed the 1973 War Powers Act and began closely scrutinizing the intelligence community, laying the groundwork for the Church Committee’s work in 1975-76. By 1976, Congress had curtailed aid to reactionaries in Angola, Turkey, South Korea, Chile, and Indonesia. Elected officials even abolished abusive national security institutions, like the Un-American Activities Committee and the Office of Public Safety.
Susan Schnall is part of the generation that voted the Ninety-third Congress into office. As a Navy nurse in Northern California at the height of the Vietnam War, Schnall organized service members opposed to America’s most ruinous Cold War crusade. In 1968, she attended a peace march in uniform and dropped thousands of antiwar leaflets onto military bases across the Bay Area from a single engine plane. In 1969, the Navy court-martialed Schnall for her activism. Undeterred, she continued organizing in the decades after.
Today, Schnall is working to make Congress anti-imperialist again. As a core member of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign (VAORRC), she’s had some success. Representative Barbara Lee introduced the Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act in the House last year. The bill aims to recompense victims of defoliation missions, which saw millions of gallons of Agent Orange sprayed over southern Vietnam between 1961 and 1971. Schnall played a pivotal role in drafting the legislation, which currently has 25 cosponsors. In a recent phone conversation, she shared her thoughts on our legacy in Vietnam, an unpleasant encounter with John McCain, and the prospects for enacting a humane and reparative American foreign policy in the coming years.