You are hereVeterans
By Kathy Kelly
Last weekend, about 100 U.S. Veterans for Peace gathered in Red Wing, Minnesota, for a statewide annual meeting. In my experience, Veterans for Peace chapters hold “no-nonsense” events. Whether coming together for local, statewide, regional or national work, the Veterans project a strong sense of purpose. They want to dismantle war economies and work to end all wars. The Minnesotans, many of them old friends, convened in the spacious loft of a rural barn. After organizers extended friendly welcomes, participants settled in to tackle this year’s theme: “The War on Our Climate.”
They invited Dr. James Hansen, an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, to speak via Skype about minimizing the impacts of climate change. Sometimes called the “father of global warming”, Dr. Hansen has sounded alarms for several decades with accurate predictions about the effects of fossil fuel emissions. He now campaigns for an economically efficient phase out of fossil fuel emissions by imposing carbon fees on emission sources with dividends equitably returned to the public.
Dr. Hansen envisions the creation of serious market incentives for entrepreneurs to develop energy and products that are low-carbon and no-carbon. “Those who achieve the greatest reductions in carbon use would reap the greatest profit. Projections show that such an approach could reduce U.S. carbon emissions by more than half within 20 years — and create 3 million new jobs in the process.”
By Veterans For Peace UK
On Friday 10 July 2015, three members of Veterans For Peace UK met in Trafalgar Square, London and walked down Whitehall towards the residence of the Prime Minister.
Once at Downing Street the veterans lined up, faced the police barricades and made the following statements.
“We are members of Veterans For Peace UK, an ex-services organisation of men and women who have served this country in every conflict since the second world war. We exist in the hope of convincing you that war is not the solution to the problems of the 21st century. We have come here today to hand back things, given to us as soldiers, that we no longer require or want.” Said Ben Griffin.
“This is my Oath of Allegiance, it is something I had to recite in order to get the job as a soldier. At 15 years old I had little understanding of its true meaning. Now I fully understand the words, they have no meaning at all.” Said John Boulton who then discarded his Oath of Allegiance.
“This is my Oath of Allegiance, this was a contract between the Monarchy, the British Government and a fifteen year old child. I am no longer loyal to the Government or the Monarchy.” Said Kieran Devlin who then discarded his Oath of Allegiance.
“This is my Oath of Allegiance, I made this oath when I was 19 years old. It required me to obey orders without question. I am no longer bound by this contract.” Said Ben Griffin who then discarded his Oath of Allegiance.
“This is my Army hat, it defined me as a soldier and a cog in the military machine. I reject militarism” Said John Boulton who then discarded his beret.
“This is my Army hat, this was given to me as a sixteen year old boy. I reject militarism, I reject war. And it means nothing to me.” Said Kieran Devlin who then discarded his beret.
“I used to wear this hat as a soldier, it used to have great significance to me. I no longer want to keep hold of this symbol of militarism”. Said Ben Griffin who then discarded his beret.
“These are the medals given to me for the sick dichotomy of keeping the peace and waging war. They are trinkets, pseudo payments. But really all they represent is the self interest of those in there, who hold power.” Said John Boulton who then discarded his medals.
“These are my medals, these were given to me were given to me as a reward for invading other peoples countries and murdering their civilians. I’m now handing them back” Said Kieran Devlin who then discarded his medals.
“I was given these medals for service on operations with the British Army. This particular medal here, was given to me for my part in the occupation of Iraq. Whilst I was over there, I attacked civilians in their homes and took away their men, off to be tortured in prison. I no longer want these despicable things.” Said Ben Griffin who then discarded his medals.
The three veterans then walked away from Downing Street leaving the oaths, berets and medals lying scattered on the floor.
John Boulton served in the Armoured Corps. He deployed on operations to Cyprus and Afghanistan. He is now a member of Veterans For Peace UK.
Kieran Devlin served in the Royal Engineers. He deployed on operations to the Gulf War and N Ireland. He is now a member of Veterans For Peace UK.
Ben Griffin served in the Parachute Regiment and the SAS. He deployed on operations to N Ireland, Macedonia, Afghanistan and Iraq. He is now a member of Veterans For Peace UK.
By John Grant
We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.
- George Orwell
By John Grant
Anthropologists have found that in traditional societies, memory becomes attached to places.
National Guard Members Encouraged to “Listen to Community”
Two national veterans organizations, Veterans For Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War, are calling for the immediate withdrawal of the Maryland National Guard from the streets of Baltimore.
“We are horrified to see military weapons, vehicles and equipment deployed in U.S. cities against U.S. citizens who are reacting to a long history of state-sanctioned violence and appalling economic and social conditions,” said Michael McPhearson, Executive Director of Veterans For Peace.
“We are highly concerned, as we approach the 45th anniversary of Kent State this May 4th and Jackson State this May 15th, that we will see another example of nervous and fearful National Guard troops shooting and possibly killing people in the streets of this nation,” continued Michael McPhearson, reading from a statement for Veterans For Peace.
A statement issued by Iraq Veterans Against the War directly addresses their fellow soldiers in the National Guard: “As veterans who have deployed to and served in support of occupations abroad, we see some of the same tactics and military equipment being used by police against the people of Baltimore, just as it was used against the people of Ferguson and Oakland. The increased militarization of our foreign policy and our domestic policing, coupled with racist violence perpetuated by our government, has to stop. The people of Baltimore who are demanding systemic change should be responded to with dialogue not an escalation of force.
“We encourage National Guard members across the country, many of whom we have served with, to begin a conversation on how they will respond when it becomes their turn to be mobilized against their own communities,” continues the statement from Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Both veterans organizations also addressed the underlying cause of the violence in Baltimore, and pointed the way toward a peaceful resolution.
From the Statement by Veterans For Peace: “We call on our nation to hold police accountable for lawless violence against communities, and we call on the rich and powerful to end global wars, to end their indifference and pursuit of profit over humanity and to use the trillions devoted to Pentagon war spending to invest in human needs here at home. The quickest path to end violence is to provide a path to a bright future. Education, jobs and opportunity will lead to stable families and prosperity.”
From the Statement by Iraq Veterans Against the War: “As 1,000 soldiers currently deploy to put down an uprising of exploited people who have been terrorized by a consistently racist police department, we stand in solidarity with the people of Baltimore and encourage service members and veterans to listen to their fellow community members and to stand on the right side of history.”
40 years after Vietnam: Celebrating the End of One War, and Witnessing the Start of a New One Here at Home
By Dave Lindorff
It was 40 years ago today that the last troops from America’s criminal war against the people of Vietnam scurried ignominiously onto a helicopter on the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and fled the country where US forces had killed some 3-4 million people in the name of “fighting Communism.”
Keeping the Pentagon honest: 40 Years After the Liberation of Vietnam, Washington is Saying it was a US Victory and a Good War
By Dave Lindorff
In this podcast of the latest "This Can't Be Happening!" weekly broadcast on PRN.fm, ThisCantBeHappening.net collective member John Grant, a Vietnam War veteran and long-time peace activist, talks with show host Dave Lindorff about a Veterans for Peace campaign to counter the Pentagon's latest PR initiative to rewrite and distort the history of the Vietnam War. Grant says the VFP's Vietnam War Full Disclosure Project is calling out the Pentagon to correct the historical falsehoods in its multi-million-dollar 50th Year Commemoration of the Vietnam War propaganda program.
Veterans groups are offering support to Drone Operators and Support Personnel who decide they no longer want to participate in drone assassinations.
Veterans For Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War have joined with peace activists from around the U.S. who are camped outside of Creech AFB this week, just north of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Civil disobedience actions are being planned at Creech AFB for early Friday morning, March 6.
“It is not normal or healthy for human beings to kill other human beings,” said Gerry Condon, Vice President of Veterans For Peace. “Many veterans continue to suffer from PTSD and 'moral injury' for the rest of their lives. The suicide rate for active duty GI's and veterans is extremely high.
“We are here to offer a helping hand to our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who cannot in good conscience continue to participate in killing human beings, many of them innocent civilians, half way around the globe,” continued Gerry Condon.
The message to Creech airmen says, in part:
“We encourage you to think carefully about your place in the scheme of things. Can you, in good conscience, continue to participate in killing other human beings, no matter how remotely? If, after serious soul-searching, you come to believe you are against all wars, you can apply for a discharge from the Air Force as a Conscientious Objector. If you need advice, there are conscientious objector organizations that can help you.
Military personnel have the right and the responsibility to refuse to participate in war crimes, according to international law, U.S. law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And then there are the higher moral laws.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE. If you decide to refuse illegal orders or to resist illegal wars, we are here to support you.”
In 2005, Creech Air Force Base secretly became the first U.S. base in the country to carry out remotely controlled assassinations using the MQ-1 Predator drones. In 2006, the more advanced Reaper drones were added to its arsenal. Last year, in 2014, it was leaked that the CIA's drone assassination program, officially a separate operation from the Air Force's, has been piloted all along by Creech's super-secret Squadron 17.
According to recent independent research, the identity of only one out of 28 victims of drone strikes is known beforehand. Though officials deny it, the majority of those killed by drones are civilians.
Entire Message from Veterans to Drone Operators and Support Personnel
Message from Veterans to Drone Operators
and Support Personnel at Creech Air Force Base
To our Brothers and Sisters, Sons and Daughters at Creech Air Force Base,
This week, veterans of the U.S. wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan are arriving in Nevada to join protests outside Creech Air Force Base against Drone Warfare. We are not protesting against you, the airmen (and women) who are drone operators and support personnel.
We are reaching out to you because we understand the position you that you are in. We were once in that position ourselves, some of us quite recently. We know what it feels like to be caught up in strange and brutal wars not of our own making, and not clearly in the interests of our nation. We want to share some of our hard won truths, and to offer you our support.
We know that drone operators and support personnel have a tough job. We understand that you are not playing video games, but rather engaging in life and death situations on a daily basis. You are not targeted and don't have to worry about being killed and wounded. But you are human beings with feelings who suffer nonetheless. You have a conscience too.
It is not normal or healthy for human beings to kill other human beings. Many veterans continue to suffer from PTSD and “moral injury” for the rest of their lives. The suicide rate for active duty GI's and veterans is extremely high.
No matter how you spin it, your job involves killing other human beings, thousands of miles away, who are not threatening you. No doubt you want to know who these people are. According to recent independent research, the identity of only one out of 28 victims of drone strikes is known beforehand. Though officials deny it, the majority of those killed by drones are civilians.
As veterans who have served in many wars and on many military bases, we have been educating ourselves about what goes on at Creech AFB. In 2005, Creech Air Force Base secretly became the first U.S. base in the country to carry out remotely controlled assassinations using the MQ-1 Predator drones. In 2006, the more advanced Reaper drones were added to its arsenal. Last year, in 2014, it was leaked that the CIA's drone assassination program, officially a separate operation from the Air Force's, has been piloted all along by Creech's super-secret Squadron 17.
The U.S. wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have been disasters for the people of those countries. These wars have also been a disaster for the soldiers, marines, airmen (and women) who were forced to fight them, as well as their families.
The ISIS terrorist threat of today would not exist if the U.S. had not invaded and occupied Iraq. Likewise, the U.S. drone war in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia is creating more terrorism, not eliminating it. And, as many veterans have painfully discovered, these wars have been based on lies, and have more to do with rich men's dreams of empire than they do with the defense of our country and the well being of the common people.
So what can you do about it? You are in the military now. There are serious consequences for those who dare to question the mission. That is true. But there are also serious consequences for those who do not. We have to be able to live with ourselves.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
We encourage you to think carefully about your place in the scheme of things. Can you, in good conscience, continue to participate in killing other human beings, no matter how remotely?
If, after serious soul-searching, you come to believe you are against all wars, you can apply for a discharge from the Air Force as a Conscientious Objector.
If you need advice, there are conscientious objector organizations that can help you.
Military personnel have the right and the responsibility to refuse to participate in war crimes, according to international law, U.S. law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And then there are the higher moral laws.
If you decide to refuse illegal orders or to resist illegal wars, we are here to support you.
Please also consider joining us to make common cause with fellow veterans who are working for peace at home and peace abroad. We welcome active duty members.
You can find out more at the websites listed below.
Veterans For Peace
Iraq Veterans Against War
To Know Your Rights, Call the GI Rights Hotline
Courage To Resist
Evan Knappenberger, veteran turned peace activist, put together the following data and map.
Needless to say, most of the dead in recent U.S. wars are on the non-U.S. side -- about 97% in fact. These are one-sided slaughters. But that doesn't mean there aren't deaths on the side of the aggressor. And beyond the deaths, far more injuries, and far more suffering PTSD and moral injury.
Needless to say, as well, both Republican and Democratic party leaders in Washington have supported these wars and continue to do so.
Still, it may be interesting to see which states -- with party labels on them -- are sending the most U.S. troops to their untimely and unjustifiable deaths. From Maryland up to Massachusetts states are dispropotionately spared war deaths. The same is true for West Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida -- plus Illinois and Minnesota. Four more states: California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado are also disproportionately spared. A lot of the biggest urban areas are in those states: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego, San Jose, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta, Miami, Tampa, Denver, Baltimore, Fresno, Sacramento, Long Beach, Raleigh, Colorado Springs, Minneapolis.
All the other states are disproportionately impacted by deaths in action in U.S. wars. See the data. These states are hardest hit:
These states are hit most lightly:
I suspect these numbers roughly correspond to participation in the military.
The lesson should not of course be that we should get more people killed from the states that are participating less. The lesson should be that the states participating the least should be congratulated and the others criticized.
Nor should the lesson be that flying robots should do the killing. Mass murder is as immoral and self-defeating regardless of the immediate danger to the murderers.
The lesson should be that counter-recruitment efforts are needed in rural areas.
The lesson should be that imperial death-dealing is a bipartisan criminal enterprise that must be rejected by the U.S. nation as a whole.
By John Grant
Nan Levinson's new book is called War Is Not a Game: The New Antiwar Soldiers and the Movement They Built, but it left me wishing there were a "Where Are They Now" chapter, because it ends around 2008. The book is focused on Iraq Veterans Against the War, but includes Veterans For Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Cindy Sheehan, and others. It's a story that has been told many times during the past several years, but this version seems particularly well done; perhaps the distance helps.
Of course I've met many of the characters in person and been at many of the events, in addition to reading many of the accounts. Nonetheless, I learned new things I'd never known and saw them summarized in new ways. And yet I continue to be convinced that everyone, including Levinson, has some basic elements wrong.
She writes that the veterans "brought to the antiwar movement a moral authority no other group could equal," and that IVAW and the rest of the peace movement failed to stop any wars, something she says peace movements seldom succeed at. She also seems to overestimate what IVAW brought to the movement and to exaggerate its demise.
Let's start with the question of moral authority. I recently wrote an article comparing the movement against U.S. wars to the movement in the U.S. against Israel's war on Palestine. The latter, I realized, faces stiff opposition and charges of anti-Semitism but not charges of treason. Its setting in the United States and its distance from Israeli society perhaps combine to produce a movement that I've never heard swear its allegiance to "support" of Israeli troops. I've heard cheers for refuseniks, but not for Israeli veterans. A general's son who speaks against the occupation benefits from his pedigree, but never does he preface his remarks with a commitment to "supporting" the Israeli troops.
A movement against U.S. wars in the U.S. is of course very different in this regard, often proclaiming slogans like "Support the Troops, Bring Them Home." So any troop, and any former troop, including those opposing a war, is given a certain authority from the fact that we are all supposed to "support" them. And any veteran who has been in a war has the actual experiential authority to tell others what he or she saw there. That authority is an invaluable contribution to the peace movement. So is the youth that IVAW has brought into a movement that is disproportionately old. So is the passion that comes with youth or veteranness or some combination of factors. But moral authority?
Levinson tells the story of a former sniper who I know now to be an admirable and dedicated peace activist, and who some have cited as a "real hero" in contrast to the sadist depicted in the film American Sniper, but in telling his story of outspoken opposition to the war, which included blogging against it while on active duty, Levinson quotes him saying "I never once slacked in my duty. Even when it resulted in killing innocent civilians, I still went out of the gate every single day and did my job to the best of my ability." This leaves morality in a bit of a jumble, to say the least. And it can leave activism in the same state. Is demanding better armor for troops in war as good a strategy as demanding that they be brought home, even if it results in higher military funding? There is no reason to suppose that someone who has always opposed war has more moral authority than someone who has turned against it. But during the process of turning against it, the morality of the values in competition seems questionable and at least worthy of some explanation that Levinson does not offer.
IVAW's core demands have in fact been absolutely right on: bring the troops home, give them the benefits they were promised, and see that Iraq is rebuilt and returned to its people. Those, however, are also the goals of the wider peace movement.
What about success or failure in ending wars? There too is a topic at least worthy of debate. By the time Levinson finishes her narrative, but unmentioned by her, Presidents Bush and Maliki had signed a treaty requiring that the U.S. war on Iraq end in three years. When those three years ran out, and President Obama was unable to get Iraqi agreement to criminal immunity for U.S. troops remaining longer, the war did indeed briefly end. Iraq remained a hell on earth, of course, and at the first opportunity Obama sent troops back in. But he did so on a smaller scale, against greater skepticism, and with less expectation of being able to drag the war on or escalate it. Heightening the public resistance is the fact that in 2013, a year before Obama managed to restart the war, and two years after he'd been forced to end it, his proposal to send missiles into Syria -- a full-scale war according to the plans unearthed by Seymour Hersh -- had died stillborn. Public opposition, built up over a decade of activism, was key to rejecting a new war, as Congress members were heard expressing their fear of being "the guy who voted for another Iraq." If having voted for Iraq were a badge of honor, the Syria debate would have looked radically different. Having voted for Iraq became a badge of shame, not simply due to immutable facts, but due to intense activism and education -- which has been slacking off as retroactive support for that god-awful war has been inching back upward.
The fact is that IVAW and every other group and person named in this book has done and is doing a great deal of good. But IVAW didn't give birth to or transform the peace movement, or scale it back so dramatically just at the time that IVAW was, in Levinson's view, reaching its zenith. Blind partisanship and monarchism did those things. It was a movement against George W. Bush's wars that shriveled away as a movement against Barack Obama's wars. There was nothing IVAW could have done about either development. But it added wonderfully to the movement that was, and is adding remarkably to the movement that is today.
It's not unusual for me to direct veterans to IVAW or VFP, as most seem never to have heard of such groups. Their work is as badly needed now as ever. But of course it needs to be directed against every war, and even more so against the machinery of war. Levinson remarks on the period during which a quarter of a million dollars a minute was being dumped into the war on Iraq. But ordinary base military spending in the United States is $1.9 million / minute, and it generates wars just as Eisenhower said it would. The drone "pilots" who are coming out and speaking against what they have been part of need to be part of the peace movement. Active duty troops need to know there are groups that support their resistance in whatever nonviolent form it can take.
"The number of things activists who are basically in sympathy with each other can find to fight about is impressive," Levinson writes with even greater wisdom than I'd thought at first, as I've just finished finding points to disagree with in a valuable book. But I mean my arguments as constructive criticism and praise, and as examples of the thinking this book can stimulate. Also in the book are signs of enormous potential. Imagine if we had a communications system to consistently match that moment in which the television networks decided to cover Cindy at Bush's ranch:
"'You never knew who would show up,' said [Ann] Wright, tearing up as she talked about the encampment five years later. 'In the middle of the night, we'd see headlights coming up this long, deserted road. Here would be a car full of grandmothers coming from San Diego. You'd ask why they were there and they'd say, "We heard on the radio or on TV that Cindy's here. And we just had to be here."'" That encampment and everything else would not have been the same without Iraq and Afghan and other veterans. They bring wisdom, dedication, courage, and humor to the movement we need now more than ever. I look forward to seeing them this Spring in the heart of the empire.
By Rory Fanning, TomDispatch.com
Dear Aspiring Ranger,
You’ve probably just graduated from high school and you’ve undoubtedly already signed an Option 40 contract guaranteeing you a shot at the Ranger indoctrination program (R.I.P.). If you make it through R.I.P. you’ll surely be sent off to fight in the Global War on Terror. You’ll be part of what I often heard called “the tip of the spear.”
The war you’re heading into has been going on for a remarkably long time. Imagine this: you were five years old when I was first deployed to Afghanistan in 2002. Now I’m graying a bit, losing a little up top, and I have a family. Believe me, it goes faster than you expect.
Once you get to a certain age, you can’t help thinking about the decisions you made (or that, in a sense, were made for you) when you were younger. I do that and someday you will, too. Reflecting on my own years in the 75th Ranger regiment, at a moment when the war you’ll find yourself immersed in was just beginning, I’ve tried to jot down a few of the things they don’t tell you at the recruiting office or in the pro-military Hollywood movies that may have influenced your decision to join. Maybe my experience will give you a perspective you haven’t considered.
I imagine you’re entering the military for the same reason just about everyone volunteers: it felt like your only option. Maybe it was money, or a judge, or a need for a rite of passage, or the end of athletic stardom. Maybe you still believe that the U.S. is fighting for freedom and democracy around the world and in existential danger from “the terrorists.” Maybe it seems like the only reasonable thing to do: defend our country against terrorism.
The media has been a powerful propaganda tool when it comes to promoting that image, despite the fact that, as a civilian, you were more likely to be killed by a toddler than a terrorist. I trust you don’t want regrets when you’re older and that you commendably want to do something meaningful with your life. I’m sure you hope to be the best at something. That’s why you signed up to be a Ranger.
Make no mistake: whatever the news may say about the changing cast of characters the U.S. is fighting and the changing motivations behind the changing names of our military “operations” around the world, you and I will have fought in the same war. It’s hard to believe that you will be taking us into the 14th year of the Global War on Terror (whatever they may be calling it now). I wonder which one of the 668 U.S. military bases worldwide you’ll be sent to.
In its basics, our global war is less complicated to understand than you might think, despite the difficult-to-keep-track-of enemies you will be sent after -- whether al-Qaeda (“central,” al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in the Magreb, etc.), or the Taliban, or al-Shabab in Somalia, or ISIS (aka ISIL, or the Islamic State), or Iran, or the al-Nusra Front, or Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Admittedly, it’s a little hard to keep a reasonable scorecard. Are the Shia or the Sunnis our allies? Is it Islam we’re at war with? Are we against ISIS or the Assad regime or both of them?
Just who these groups are matters, but there’s an underlying point that it’s been too easy to overlook in recent years: ever since this country’s first Afghan War in the 1980s (that spurred the formation of the original al-Qaeda), our foreign and military policies have played a crucial role in creating those you will be sent to fight. Once you are in one of the three battalions of the 75th Ranger Regiment, the chain-of-command will do its best to reduce global politics and the long-term good of the planet to the smallest of matters and replace them with the largest of tasks: boot polishing, perfectly made beds, tight shot groupings at the firing range, and your bonds with the Rangers to your right and left.
In such circumstances, it’s difficult -- I know that well -- but not impossible to keep in mind that your actions in the military involve far more than whatever’s in front of you or in your gun sights at any given moment. Our military operations around the world -- and soon that will mean you -- have produced all kinds of blowback. Thought about a certain way, I was being sent out in 2002 to respond to the blowback created by the first Afghan War and you’re about to be sent out to deal with the blowback created by my version of the second one.
I’m writing this letter in the hope that offering you a little of my own story might help frame the bigger picture for you.
Let me start with my first day “on the job.” I remember dropping my canvas duffle bag at the foot of my bunk in Charlie Company, and almost immediately being called into my platoon sergeant's office. I sprinted down a well-buffed hallway, shadowed by the platoon’s “mascot”: a Grim-Reaper-style figure with the battalion’s red and black scroll beneath it. It hovered like something you’d see in a haunted house on the cinder block wall adjoining the sergeant’s office. It seemed to be watching me as I snapped to attention in his doorway, beads of sweat on my forehead. “At ease... Why are you here, Fanning? Why do you think you should be a Ranger?” All this he said with an air of suspicion.
Shaken, after being screamed out of a bus with all my gear, across an expansive lawn in front of the company’s barracks, and up three flights of stairs to my new home, I responded hesitantly, “Umm, I want to help prevent another 9/11, First Sergeant.” It must have sounded almost like a question.
“There is only one answer to what I just asked you, son. That is: you want to feel the warm red blood of your enemy run down your knife blade.”
Taking in his military awards, the multiple tall stacks of manila folders on his desk, and the photos of what turned out to be his platoon in Afghanistan, I said in a loud voice that rang remarkably hollowly, at least to me, “Roger, First Sergeant!”
He dropped his head and started filling out a form. “We’re done here,” he said without even bothering to look up again.
The platoon sergeant’s answer had a distinct hint of lust in it but, surrounded by all those folders, he also looked to me like a bureaucrat. Surely such a question deserved something more than the few impersonal and sociopathic seconds I spent in that doorway.
Nonetheless, I spun around and ran back to my bunk to unpack, not just my gear but also his disturbing answer to his own question and my sheepish, “Roger, First Sergeant!” reply. Until that moment, I hadn’t thought of killing in such an intimate way. I had indeed signed on with the idea of preventing another 9/11. Killing was still an abstract idea to me, something I didn’t look forward to. He undoubtedly knew this. So what was he doing?
As you head into your new life, let me try to unpack his answer and my experience as a Ranger for you.
Let’s start that unpacking process with racism: That was the first and one of the last times I heard the word “enemy” in battalion. The usual word in my unit was “Hajji.” Now, Hajji is a word of honor among Muslims, referring to someone who has successfully completed a pilgrimage to the Holy Site of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. In the U.S. military, however, it was a slur that implied something so much bigger.
The soldiers in my unit just assumed that the mission of the small band of people who took down the Twin Towers and put a hole in the Pentagon could be applied to any religious person among the more than 1.6 billion Muslims on this planet. The platoon sergeant would soon help usher me into group-blame mode with that “enemy.” I was to be taught instrumental aggression. The pain caused by 9/11 was to be tied to the everyday group dynamics of our unit. This is how they would get me to fight effectively. I was about to be cut off from my previous life and psychological manipulation of a radical sort would be involved. This is something you should prepare yourself for.
When you start hearing the same type of language from your chain-of-command in its attempt to dehumanize the people you are off to fight, remember that 93% of all Muslims condemned the attacks on 9/11. And those who sympathized claimed they feared a U.S. occupation and cited political not religious reasons for their support.
But, to be blunt, as George W. Bush said early on (and then never repeated), the war on terror was indeed imagined in the highest of places as a “crusade.” When I was in the Rangers, that was a given. The formula was simple enough: al-Qaeda and the Taliban represented all of Islam, which was our enemy. Now, in that group-blame game, ISIS, with its mini-terror state in Iraq and Syria, has taken over the role. Be clear again that nearly all Muslims reject its tactics. Even Sunnis in the region where ISIS is operating are increasingly rejecting the group. And it is those Sunnis who may indeed take down ISIS when the time is right.
If you want to be true to yourself, don’t be swept up in the racism of the moment. Your job should be to end war, not perpetuate it. Never forget that.
The second stop in that unpacking process should be poverty: After a few months, I was finally shipped off to Afghanistan. We landed in the middle of the night. As the doors on our C-5 opened, the smell of dust, clay, and old fruit rolled into the belly of that transport plane. I was expecting the bullets to start whizzing by me as I left it, but we were at Bagram Air Base, a largely secure place in 2002.
Jump ahead two weeks and a three-hour helicopter ride and we were at our forward operating base. The morning after we arrived I noticed an Afghan woman pounding at the hard yellow dirt with a shovel, trying to dig up a gaunt little shrub just outside the stone walls of the base. Through the eye-slit of her burqa I could just catch a hint of her aged face. My unit took off from that base, marching along a road, hoping (I suspect) to stir up a little trouble. We were presenting ourselves as bait, but there were no bites.
When we returned a few hours later, that woman was still digging and gathering firewood, undoubtedly to cook her family’s dinner that night. We had our grenade launchers, our M242 machine guns that fired 200 rounds a minute, our night-vision goggles, and plenty of food -- all vacuum-sealed and all of it tasting the same. We were so much better equipped to deal with the mountains of Afghanistan than that woman -- or so it seemed to us then. But it was, of course, her country, not ours, and its poverty, like that of so many places you may find yourself in, will, I assure you, be unlike anything you have ever seen. You will be part of the most technologically advanced military on Earth and you will be greeted by the poorest of the poor. Your weaponry in such an impoverished society will feel obscene on many levels. Personally, I felt like a bully much of my time in Afghanistan.
Now, it’s the moment to unpack “the enemy”: Most of my time in Afghanistan was quiet and calm. Yes, rockets occasionally landed in our bases, but most of the Taliban had surrendered by the time I entered the country. I didn’t know it then, but as Anand Gopal has reported in his groundbreaking book, No Good Men Among the Living, our war on terror warriors weren’t satisfied with reports of the unconditional surrender of the Taliban. So units like mine were sent out looking for “the enemy.” Our job was to draw the Taliban -- or anyone really -- back into the fight.
Believe me, it was ugly. We were often enough targeting innocent people based on bad intelligence and in some cases even seizing Afghans who had actually pledged allegiance to the U.S. mission. For many former Taliban members, it became an obvious choice: fight or starve, take up arms again or be randomly seized and possibly killed anyway. Eventually the Taliban did regroup and today they are resurgent. I know now that if our country’s leadership had truly had peace on its mind, it could have all been over in Afghanistan in early 2002.
If you are shipped off to Iraq for our latest war there, remember that the Sunni population you will be targeting is reacting to a U.S.-backed Shia regime in Baghdad that’s done them dirty for years. ISIS exists to a significant degree because the largely secular members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party were labeled the enemy as they tried to surrender after the U.S. invasion of 2003. Many of them had the urge to be reincorporated into a functioning society, but no such luck; and then, of course, the key official the Bush administration sent to Baghdad simply disbanded Saddam Hussein’s army and tossed its 400,000 troops out onto the streets at a time of mass unemployment.
It was a remarkable formula for creating resistance in another country where surrender wasn’t good enough. The Americans of that moment wanted to control Iraq (and its oil reserves). To this end, in 2006, they backed the Shia autocrat Nouri al-Maliki for prime minister in a situation where Shia militias were increasingly intent on ethnically cleansing the Sunni population of the Iraqi capital.
Given the reign of terror that followed, it’s hardly surprising to find former Baathist army officers in key positions in ISIS and the Sunnis choosing that grim outfit as the lesser of the two evils in its world. Again, the enemy you are being shipped off to fight is, at least in part, a product of your chain-of-command’s meddling in a sovereign country. And remember that, whatever its grim acts, this enemy presents no existential threat to American security, at least so says Vice President Joe Biden. Let that sink in for a while and then ask yourself whether you really can take your marching orders seriously.
Next, in that unpacking process, consider noncombatants: When unidentified Afghans would shoot at our tents with old Russian rocket launchers, we would guesstimate where the rockets had come from and then call in air strikes. You’re talking 500-pound bombs. And so civilians would die. Believe me, that’s really what’s at the heart of our ongoing war. Any American like you heading into a war zone in any of these years was likely to witness what we call “collateral damage.” That’s dead civilians.
The number of non-combatants killed since 9/11 across the Greater Middle East in our ongoing war has been breathtaking and horrifying. Be prepared, when you fight, to take out more civilians than actual gun-toting or bomb-wielding “militants.” At the least, an estimated 174,000 civilians died violent deaths as a result of U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan between 2001 and April 2014. In Iraq, over 70% of those who died are estimated to have been civilians. So get ready to contend with needless deaths and think about all those who have lost friends and family members in these wars, and themselves are now scarred for life. A lot of people who once would never have thought about fighting any type of war or attacking Americans now entertain the idea. In other words, you will be perpetuating war, handing it off to the future.
Finally, there’s freedom and democracy to unpack, if we’re really going to empty that duffel bag: Here’s an interesting fact that you might consider, if spreading freedom and democracy around the world was on your mind. Though records are incomplete on the subject, the police have killed something like 5,000 people in this country since 9/11 -- more, in other words, than the number of American soldiers killed by “insurgents” in the same period. In those same years, outfits like the Rangers and the rest of the U.S. military have killed countless numbers of people worldwide, targeting the poorest people on the planet. And are there fewer terrorists around? Does all this really make a lot of sense to you?
When I signed up for the military, I was hoping to make a better world. Instead I helped make it more dangerous. I had recently graduated from college. I was also hoping that, in volunteering, I would get some of my student loans paid for. Like you, I was looking for practical help, but also for meaning. I wanted to do right by my family and my country. Looking back, it’s clear enough to me that my lack of knowledge about the actual mission we were undertaking betrayed me -- and you and us.
I’m writing to you especially because I just want you to know that it’s not too late to change your mind. I did. I became a war resister after my second deployment in Afghanistan for all the reasons I mention above. I finally unpacked, so to speak. Leaving the military was one of the most difficult but rewarding experiences of my life. My own goal is to take what I learned in the military and bring it to high school and college students as a kind of counter-recruiter. There’s so much work to be done, given the 10,000 military recruiters in the U.S. working with an almost $700 million advertising budget. After all, kids do need to hear both sides.
I hope this letter is a jumping off point for you. And if, by any chance, you haven’t signed that Option 40 contract yet, you don’t have to. You can be an effective counter-recruiter without being an ex-military guy. Young people across this country desperately need your energy, your desire to be the best, your pursuit of meaning. Don’t waste it in Iraq or Afghanistan or Yemen or Somalia or anywhere else the Global War on Terror is likely to send you.
As we used to say in the Rangers…
Lead the Way,
Rory Fanning, a TomDispatch regular, walked across the United States for the Pat Tillman Foundation in 2008-2009, following two deployments to Afghanistan with the 2nd Army Ranger Battalion. Fanning became a conscientious objector after his second tour. He is the author of Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America (Haymarket, 2014).
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2015 Rory Fanning
Oh no! The American jihadis are coming!: Stoking Fear as the US Prepares for the Nest War in the Middle East
By Dave Lindorff
You read it in USA Today: The latest “threat to America” is “thousands of jihadis” with Western passports,” returning from battle in Syria and Iraq to wreak havoc and destruction in the “US homeland.”
It’s a nightmare profoundly hoped for by the US Department of Homeland Security, that massive security-state bureaucracy looking for a raison d’être.
By Gerry Condon, Vice President, Veterans For Peace
As a Vietnam era veteran, I paid close attention to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's Veterans Day speech, delivered at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Secretary Hagel, a Vietnam combat veteran, declared that we must learn the lessons of past wars, and not commit U.S. troops to unpopular, unwinnable conflicts. He purportedly referred to the Vietnam War, but he could just as easily have been describing the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. government and military apparently have misled themselves as they were misleading the American people, claiming that these occupations were necessary, had clear objectives and were winnable. As in Vietnam, they lied about their progress in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was light at the end of the tunnel, we were told, if only we allowed one more “surge.”
The U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have come at a huge price. Billions upon billions of dollars, much needed for improvements in the quality of life of the American people, were wasted on corrupt leaders and defense contractors. As many as a million Iraqis and Afghans, mostly civilians, lost their lives. Millions more became homeless refugees and orphans.
Six thousand U.S. troops lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, and an even larger number have taken their own lives since returning from war. Hundreds of thousands of veterans will continue to suffer from physical, psychological and moral wounds, and many are joining Vietnam veterans who are still living on the streets of our cities.
The primary achievements of these U.S. occupations have been the strengthening of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the creation of the fundamentalist army ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and the fomenting of bloody, sectarian civil wars that will persist for years to come.
So have we learned the lessons of history as Secretary Hagel cautioned on Veterans Day? Apparently not. President Obama announced this week that he has authorized sending an additional 1500 troops to Iraq (“at Secretary Hagel's request”). General Martin Dempsey, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress this week that “we are certainly considering” the deployment of U.S. combat troops to Iraq.
In the meantime, the U.S. is conducting a heavy bombing campaign against ISIL targets not only in Iraq, but in Syria, where over 850 people have been killed by U.S. bombs, including many civilians.
Our civilian and military leaders are clearly ignoring the central lesson of the U.S. defeat in Vietnam: U.S. bombs and troops cannot defeat insurgencies in other countries; only the people of those countries are in a position to determine their own futures. Furthermore, the U.S. has no right, legally or morally, to invade other nations.
If our government refuses to learn these lessons, then the people must make our voices heard loud and clear. We cannot allow our government to continue gambling with our precious blood and treasure, doubling down on failed policies.
Veterans For Peaceis sending a message to the White House and the Congress. We are tired of senseless wars. We want an immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. We oppose further U.S. involvement in the sectarian war in Syria.
Like millions of veterans of too many U.S. wars, we believe it is high time for our government to learn the lessons of history. Rather than repeatedly resorting to military intervention on behalf of so-called “U.S. interests” (typically the interests of the richest 1%, purchased with the blood of the poorest 1%), we believe that showing respect for the independence of other nations is the way to a better future for all peoples, at home and abroad.
By John Grant
When you tuck your children in at night
Don’t tell ‘em it’s for freedom that we fight
- Emily Yates
November 11th in the United States is marked and marred by a holiday that relatively recently had its name changed to "Veterans Day" and its purpose converted and perverted into celebrating war. This year a "Concert for Valor" will be held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
In the box at right is a blurb from the concert website. "Thank you for your service" and "Support the troops" are phrases used to get people to support wars without thinking about whether they should be supporting wars. Notice that you're supposed to thank veterans first and ask them which war they were in and what they did in it afterwards. What if you oppose war? Or what if you oppose some wars and some tactics?
Here's the disgusted response to the Concert for Valor from a veteran who's sick of being thanked for his so-called service:
"There is no question that we should honor people who fight for justice and liberty. Many veterans enlisted in the military thinking that they were indeed serving a noble cause, and it’s no lie to say that they fought with valor for their brothers and sisters to their left and right. Unfortunately, good intentions at this stage are no substitute for good politics. The war on terror is going into its 14th year. If you really want to talk about “awareness raising,” it’s years past the time when anyone here should be able to pretend that our 18-year-olds are going off to kill and die for good reason. How about a couple of concerts to make that point?"
I'm going to repeat here something I said in War Is A Lie:
Random House defines a hero as follows (and defines heroine the same way, substituting “woman” for “man”):
“1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
“2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal: He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child. . . .
“4. Classical Mythology.
“a. a being of godlike prowess and beneficence who often came to be honored as a divinity.”
Courage or ability. Brave deeds and noble qualities. There is something more here than merely courage and bravery, merely facing up to fear and danger. But what? A hero is regarded as a model or ideal. Clearly someone who bravely jumped out a 20-story window would not meet that definition, even if their bravery was as brave as brave could be. Clearly heroism must require bravery of a sort that people regard as a model for themselves and others. It must include prowess and beneficence. That is, the bravery can’t just be bravery; it must also be good and kind. Jumping out a window does not qualify. The question, then, is whether killing and dying in wars should qualify as good and kind. Nobody doubts that it’s courageous and brave. But is it as good a model as that of the man arrested this week for the crime of giving food to the hungry?
If you look up “bravery” in the dictionary, by the way, you’ll find “courage” and “valor.” Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary defines “valor” as
“a soldierly compound of vanity, duty, and the gambler’s hope.
‘Why have you halted?’ roared the commander of a division at Chickamauga, who had ordered a charge: ‘move forward, sir, at once.’
‘General,’ said the commander of the delinquent brigade, ‘I am persuaded that any further display of valor by my troops will bring them into collision with the enemy.’”
But would such valor be good and kind or destructive and foolhardy? Bierce had himself been a Union soldier at Chickamauga and had come away disgusted. Many years later, when it had become possible to publish stories about the Civil War that didn’t glow with the holy glory of militarism, Bierce published a story called “Chickamauga” in 1889 in the San Francisco Examiner that makes participating in such a battle appear the most grotesquely evil and horrifying deed one could ever do. Many soldiers have since told similar tales.
It’s curious that war, something consistently recounted as ugly and horrible, should qualify its participants for glory. Of course, the glory doesn’t last. Mentally disturbed veterans are kicked aside in our society. In fact, in dozens of cases documented between 2007 and 2010, soldiers who had been deemed physically and psychologically fit and welcomed into the military, performed “honorably,” and had no recorded history of psychological problems. Then, upon being wounded, the same formerly healthy soldiers were diagnosed with a pre-existing personality disorder, discharged, and denied treatment for their wounds. One soldier was locked in a closet until he agreed to sign a statement that he had a pre-existing disorder — a procedure the Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee called “torture.”
Active duty troops, the real ones, are not treated by the military or society with particular reverence or respect. But the mythical, generic “troop” is a secular saint purely because of his or her willingness to rush off and die in the very same sort of mindless murderous orgy that ants regularly engage in. Yes, ants. Those teeny little pests with brains the size of . . . well, the size of something smaller than an ant: they wage war. And they’re better at it than we are.
Ants wage long and complex wars with extensive organization and unmatched determination, or what we might call “valor.” They are absolutely loyal to the cause in a way that no patriotic humans can match: “It’d be like having an American flag tattooed to you at birth,” ecologist and photojournalist Mark Moffett told Wired magazine. Ants will kill other ants without flinching. Ants will make the “ultimate sacrifice” with no hesitation. Ants will proceed with their mission rather than stop to help a wounded warrior.
The ants who go to the front, where they kill and die first, are the smallest and weakest ones. They are sacrificed as part of a winning strategy. “In some ant armies, there can be millions of expendable troops sweeping forward in a dense swarm that’s up to 100 feet wide.” In one of Moffett’s photos, which shows “the marauder ant in Malaysia, several of the weak ants are being sliced in half by a larger enemy termite with black, scissor-like jaws.” What would Pericles say at their funeral?
“According to Moffett, we might actually learn a thing or two from how ants wage war. For one, ant armies operate with precise organization despite a lack of central command.” And no wars would be complete without some lying: “Like humans, ants can try to outwit foes with cheats and lies.” In another photo, “two ants face off in an effort to prove their superiority — which, in this ant species, is designated by physical height. But the wily ant on the right is standing on a pebble to gain a solid inch over his nemesis.” Would honest Abe approve?
In fact, ants are such dedicated warriors that they can even fight civil wars that make that little skirmish between the North and South look like touch football. A parasitic wasp, Ichneumon eumerus, can dose an ant nest with a chemical secretion that causes the ants to fight a civil war, half the nest against the other half. Imagine if we had such a drug for humans, a sort of a prescription-strength Fox News. If we dosed the nation, would all the resulting warriors be heroes or just half of them? Are the ants heroes? And if they are not, is it because of what they are doing or purely because of what they are thinking about what they are doing? And what if the drug makes them think they are risking their lives for the benefit of future life on earth or to keep the anthill safe for democracy?
Here ends the War Is A Lie excerpt. Are ants too hard to relate to? What about children. What if a teacher persuaded a bunch of 8 years olds, rather than 18 year olds to fight and kill and risk dying for a supposedly great and noble cause? Wouldn't the teacher be a criminal guilty of mass-murder? And what about everyone else complicit in a process of preparing the children for war -- including perhaps uniformed and be-medalled officers coming into Kindergartens, as in fact happens in reality? Isn't the difference with 18 year olds that we have a tendency to hold them responsible, at least in part, as well as whoever instigates the killing spree? Whether we should or not need not be decided, for us to decide to treat veterans with humanity while utterly rejecting any celebration of what they've done.
Here's CODEPINK planning a protest of the Concert for Valor. I urge you to join in.
I also encourage you to keep in mind and spread understanding of the history of November 11th. Again, I'm going to repeat, and modify, something I've said in a previous November:
Ninety-six years ago on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, fighting ceased in the "war to end all wars." The war brought a new scale of death, the flu, prohibition, the Espionage Act, the foundations of World War II, the crushing of progressive political movements, the institution of flag worship, the beginning of pledges of allegiance in schools and the national anthem at sporting events. It brought everything but peace.
Thirty million soldiers had been killed or wounded and another seven million had been taken captive during World War I. Never before had people witnessed such industrialized slaughter, with tens of thousands falling in a day to machine guns and poison gas. After the war, more and more truth began to overtake the lies, but whether people still believed or now resented the pro-war propaganda, virtually every person in the United States wanted to see no more of war ever again. Posters of Jesus shooting at Germans were left behind as the churches along with everyone else now said that war was wrong. Al Jolson wrote in 1920 to President Harding:
"The weary world is waiting for
So take away the gun
From every mother's son
And put an end to war."
Congress passed an Armistice Day resolution calling for "exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding … inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples." Later, Congress added that November 11th was to be "a day dedicated to the cause of world peace."
While the ending of warfare was celebrated every November 11th, veterans were treated no better than they are today. When 17,000 veterans plus their families and friends marched on Washington in 1932 to demand their bonuses, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower, and other heroes of the next big war to come attacked the veterans, including by engaging in that greatest of evils with which Saddam Hussein would be endlessly charged: "using chemical weapons on their own people." The weapons they used, just like Hussein's, originated in the U.S. of A.
It was only after another war, an even worse war, a war that has in many ways never ended to this day, that Congress, following still another now forgotten war -- this one on Korea -- changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day on June 1, 1954. And it was six-and-a-half years later that Eisenhower warned us that the military industrial complex would completely corrupt our society.
Veterans Day is no longer, for most people, a day to cheer the elimination of war or even to aspire to its abolition. Veterans Day is not even a day on which to mourn or to question why suicide is the top killer of U.S. troops or why so many veterans have no houses at all in a nation in which one high-tech robber baron monopolist is hoarding $66 billion, and 400 of his closest friends have more money than half the country. It's not even a day to honestly, if sadistically, celebrate the fact that virtually all the victims of U.S. wars are non-Americans, that our so-called wars have become one-sided slaughters. Instead, it is a day on which to believe that war is beautiful and good. Towns and cities and corporations and sports leagues call it "military appreciation day" or "troop appreciation week" or "genocide glorification month." OK, I made up that last one. Just checking if you're paying attention.
Veterans For Peace has created a new tradition in recent years of returning to the celebration of Armistice Day. They even offer a tool kit so you can do the same.
In the UK, Veterans For Peace are marking what is still called Remembrance Day, and Remembrance Sunday on November 9th, with white poppies and peace banners in opposition to the British government's pro-war slant on remembering World War I.
In North Carolina, a veteran has come up with his own way of making every day Remembrance Day. But it's the celebrators of war that seem to be guiding the cultural trends. Here's the frequency of use of the word "valor" according to Google:
Bruce Springsteen will be performing at the Concert for Valor. He once wrote this lyric: "Two faces have I." Here's one that I'm willing to bet won't be on display: "Blind faith in your leaders or in anything will get you killed," Springsteen warns in the video below before declaring war good for absolutely nothing.
You'll need lots of information, Springsteen advises potential draftees or recruits. If you don't find lots of information at the Concert for Valor, you might try this teach in that evening at the Washington Peace Center.
From Veterans For Peace
Ringing 11 Bells For Peace
Each year, Veterans for Peace chapters across the nation meet in major cities to celebrate and remember the original Armistice Day as was done at the end of World War I, when the world came together in realization that war is so horrible we must end it now. Fighting ceased in the "war to end all wars" on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Congress responded to a universal hope among Americans for no more wars by passing a resolution calling for “exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding … inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.” Later, Congress added that November 11th was to be “a day dedicated to the cause of world peace.” Armistice Day is a reminder of the day that leaders came together to end the “war to end all wars.” However, we must also acknowledge that many soldiers had already determined that the fighting must end, during the Christmas Truce in 1914. As you likely already know, VFP is celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the Christmas Truce this year, along with many allies across the world. Expect an e-mail from Casey on November 12th, as we enter the last few weeks leading up to December 24th. During that time, we want to tell the story of the Christmas Truce and explain the importance of the spontaneous decision of rival soldiers’ to lay down their weapons. This Armistice Day, in addition to hosting a local event, we are asking that members try to tie in the Christmas Truce message. You can learn more about the Christmas Truce Campaign here. Please consider hosting your own local Armistice Day event this year! Many chapters choose to ring bells, but other ceremonies include: Chalk Art, Candle Vigil, Marches, Street Theatre, Poetry Readings, or Reading of Names of the Fallen. Register your event here. If you would like some brochures, tabling materials, and button to give out at your event, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some ways that you can get involved with Armistice Day efforts:
- Reach out to clergy, invite them to participate in your event. Invite community members, local allies, and friends to join in the event. You can use the Armistice Invitation Letter, drafted by members in VFP Chapter 27.
- Download the press release, provided by VFP National, and distribute to local media.
- Share the “peace bell” image on social media.
- You can use these sample tweets for Twitter:
- @VFPNational rings bells 11 times on #ArmisticeDay instead of shooting guns into the air #VeteransDay #Peace
- #ArmisticeDay is a day of #peace. Celebrate by ringing 11 bells #VeteransDay @VFPNational
- WWI was "a war to end war." Celebrating its end was celebrating the end of all wars #ArmisticeDay #Peace #VeteransDay @VFPNational
- Celebrate #ArmisticeDay by ringing 11 bells at 11am today #VeteransDay @VFPNAtional
- Bells rung on the 11th month, the 11th day, at 11am in 1918, celebrate end of WWI "the war to end all wars" @VFPNational #ArmisticeDay
- Learn More About Armistice Day, and share the facts:
All participants are asked to read and share the Armistice Day Statement
“The Armistice of 1918 ended the terrible slaughter of World War I. The U.S. alone had experienced the death of over 116,000 soldiers, plus many more who were physically and mentally disabled. For one moment, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the world agreed World War I must be considered the WAR TO END ALL WARS. There was exuberant joy everywhere, and many churches rang their bells, some 11 times at 11 a.m. November 11, when the Armistice was signed. For many years this practice endured, and then slowly, it faded away. Now we do it again. We ring the bells 11 times, with a moment of silence, to remember the many soldiers and civilians killed and injured by warfare, and to make our own commitment to work for peace, in our family, our church, our community, our nation, our world.
GOD BLESS THE ENTIRE WORLD.”
Download and print the Armistice's Day Message below
- Armistice Day Handout (292 KB pdf)
Thank You for Your Valor, Thank You for Your Service, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You… Still on the Thank-You Tour-of-Duty Circuit, 13 Years Later
Last week, in a quiet indie bookstore on the north side of Chicago, I saw the latest issue of Rolling Stone resting on a chrome-colored plastic table a few feet from a barista brewing a vanilla latte. A cold October rain fell outside. A friend of mine grabbed the issue and began flipping through it. Knowing that I was a veteran, he said, "Hey, did you see this?" pointing to a news story that seemed more like an ad. It read in part:
"This Veterans Day, Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Rihanna, Dave Grohl, and Metallica will be among numerous artists who will head to the National Mall in Washington D.C. on November 11th for 'The Concert For Valor,' an all-star event that will pay tribute to armed services."
"Concert For Valor? That sounds like something the North Korean government would organize," I said as I typed Concertforvalor.com into my MacBook Pro looking for more information.
The sucking sound from the espresso maker was drowning out a 10-year-old Shins song. As I read, my heart sank, my shoulders slumped.
Special guests at the Concert for Valor were to include: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and Steven Spielberg. The mission of the concert, according to a press release, was to “raise awareness” of veterans issues and “provide a national stage for ensuring that veterans and their families know that their fellow Americans’ gratitude is genuine.”
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen were to serve in an advisory capacity, and Starbucks, HBO, and JPMorgan Chase were to pay for it all. "We are honored to play a small role to help raise awareness and support for our service men and women,” said HBO chairman Richard Plepler.
Though I couldn’t quite say why, that Concert for Valor ad felt tired and sad, despite the images of Rihanna singing full-throated into a gold microphone and James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica wailing away on their guitars. I had gotten my own share of “thanks” from civilians when I was still a U.S. Army Ranger. Who hadn’t? It had been the endless theme of the post-9/11 era, how thankful other Americans were that we would do... well, what exactly, for them? And here it was again. I couldn’t help wondering: Would veterans somewhere actually feel the gratitude that Starbucks and HBO hoped to convey?
I went home and cooked dinner for my wife and little girl in a semi-depressed state, thinking about that word “valor” which was to be at the heart of the event and wondering about the Hall of Fame line-up of twenty-first century liberalism that was promoting it or planning to turn out to hail it: Rolling Stone, the magazine of Hunter S. Thompson and all things rock and roll; Bruce Springsteen, the billion-dollar working-class hero; Eminem, the white rapper who has sold more records than Elvis; Metallica, the crew who sued Napster and the metal band of choice for so many longhaired, disenfranchised youth of the 1980s and 1990s. They were all going to say “thank you” -- again.
Raising (Whose?) Awareness
Later that night, I sat down and Googled “vets honored.” Dozens and dozens of stories promptly queued up on my screen. (Try it yourself.) One of the first items I clicked on was the 50th anniversary celebration in Bangor, Maine, of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the alleged Pearl Harbor of the Vietnam War. Governor Paul LePage had spoken ringingly of the veterans of that war: “These men were just asked to go to a foreign land and protect our freedoms. And they weren’t treated with respect when they returned home. Now it’s time to acknowledge it.”
Vietnam, he insisted, was all about protecting freedom -- such a simple and innocent explanation for such a long and horrific war. Lest you forget, the governor and those gathered in Bangor that day were celebrating a still-murky “incident” that touched off a massive American escalation of the war. It was claimed that North Vietnamese patrol boats had twice attacked an American destroyer, though President Lyndon Johnson later suggested that the incident might even have involved shooting at "flying fish" or "whales." As for protecting freedom in Vietnam, tell the dead Vietnamese in America’s “free fire zones” about that.
No one, however, cared about such details. The point was that eternal “thank you.” If only, I thought, some inquisitive and valorous local reporter had asked the governor, “Treated with disrespect by whom?” And pointed out the mythology behind the idea that American civilians had mistreated GIs returning from Vietnam. (Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the Veterans Administration, which denied returning soldiers proper healthcare, or the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, organizations that weren’t eager to claim the country’s defeated veterans of a disastrous war as their own.)
When it came to thanks and “awareness raising,” no American war with a still living veteran seemed too distant to be ignored. Google told me, for example, that Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania, had recently celebrated its 12th annual “Multi-Cultural Day” by thanking its “forgotten Korean War Veterans.” According to a local newspaper report, included in the festivities were martial arts demonstrations and traditional Korean folk dancing.
The Korean War was the precursor to Vietnam, with similar results. As with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the precipitating event of the war that North Korea ignited on June 25, 1950, remains open to question. Evidence suggests that, with U.S. approval, South Korea initiated a bombardment of North Korean villages in the days leading up to the invasion. As in Vietnam, there, too, the U.S. supported a corrupt autocrat and used napalm on a mass scale. Millions died, including staggering numbers of civilians, and North Korea was left in rubble by war’s end. Folk dancing was surely in short supply. As for protecting our freedoms in Korea, enough said.
These two ceremonies seemed to catch a particular mood (reflected in so many similar, if more up-to-date versions of the same). They might have benefited from a little “awareness raising” when it came to what the American military has actually been doing these last years, not to say decades, beyond our borders. They certainly summed up much of the frustration I was feeling with the Concert for Valor. Plenty of thank yous, for sure, but no history when it came to what the thanks were being offered for in, say, Iraq or Afghanistan, no statistics on taxpayer dollars spent or where they went, or on innocent lives lost and why.
Will the “Concert for Valor” mention the trillions of dollars rung up terrorizing Muslim countries for oil, the ratcheting up of the police and surveillance state in this country since 9/11, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost thanks to the wars of George W. Bush and Barack Obama? Is anyone going to dedicate a song to Chelsea Manning, or John Kiriakou, or Edward Snowden -- two of them languishing in prison and one in exile -- for their service to the American people? Will the Concert for Valor raise anyone’s awareness when it comes to the fact that, to this day, veterans lack proper medical attention, particularly for mental health issues, or that there is a veteran suicide every 80 minutes in this country? Let’s hope they find time in between drum solos, but myself, I’m not counting on it.
While Googling around, I noticed an allied story about President Obama christening a poetic sounding “American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial” on October 5th. There, he wisely noted that “the U.S. should never rush into war.” As he spoke, however, the Air Force, the Navy, and Special Forces personnel (who wear boots that do touch the ground, even in Iraq), as well as the headquarters of “the Big Red One,” the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, were already involved in the latest war he had personally ordered in Iraq and Syria, while, of course, bypassing Congress.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! Damn, I voted for Obama because he said he’d end our overseas wars. At least it’s not Bush sending the planes, drones, missiles, and troops back there, because if it were, I’d be mad.
Then there were the numerous stories about “Honor Flights” sponsored by Southwest Airlines that offered all World War II veterans and the terminally ill veterans of more recent wars a free trip to Washington to “reflect at their memorials” before they died. Honor flights turn out to be a particularly popular way to honor veterans. Local papers in Richfield, Utah, Des Moines, Iowa, Elgin, Illinois, Austin, Texas, Miami, Florida, and so on place by place across significant swaths of the country have run stories about dying hometown “heroes” who have participated in these flights, a kind of nothing-but-the-best-in-corporate-sponsorship for the last of the “Greatest Generation.”
“Welcome home” ceremonies, with flags, marching bands, heartfelt embraces, much weeping, and the usual babies and small children missed during tours of duty in our war zones are also easy to find. In the first couple of screens Google offered in response to the phrase “welcome home ceremony,” I found the usual thank-you celebrations for veterans returning from Afghanistan in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, and Saint Albans, Vermont, among other places. "We don't do enough for our veterans, for what they do for us, we hear the news, but to be up there in a field, and be shot at, and sometimes coming home disabled, we don't realize how lucky we are sometimes to have the people who have served their country," one of the Saint Albans attendees was typically quoted as saying.
“Do enough...?” In America, isn’t thank you plenty?
Oddly, it’s harder to find thank-you ceremonies for living vets involved in America’s numerous smaller interventions in places like the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Kosovo, Somalia, Libya, and various CIA-organized coups and proxy wars around the world, but I won’t be surprised if they, too, exist. I was wondering, though: What about all those foreign soldiers we’ve trained to fight our wars for us in places like South Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan? Shouldn’t they be thanked as well? And how about members of the Afghan Mujahedeen that we armed and funded in the 1980s while they gave the Soviet Union its own “Vietnam” (and who are now fighting for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or other extreme Islamist outfits)? Or what about the Indonesian troops we armed under the presidency of Gerald Ford, who committed possibly genocidal acts in East Timor in 1975? Or has our capacity for thanks been used up in the service of American vets?
Since 9/11, those thank yous have been aimed at veterans with the regularity of the machine gun fire that may still haunt their dreams. Veterans have also been offered special consideration when it comes to applications for mostly menial jobs so that they can “utilize the skills” they learned in the military. While they continue to march in those welcome home parades and have concerts organized in their honor, the thank yous are in no short supply. The only question that never seems to come up is: What exactly are they being thanked for?
Heroes Who Afford Us Freedom
Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz has said of the upcoming Concert for Valor:
“The post-9/11 years have brought us the longest period of sustained warfare in our nation’s history. The less than one percent of Americans who volunteered to serve during this time have afforded the rest of us remarkable freedoms -- but that freedom comes with a responsibility to understand their sacrifice, to honor them, and to appreciate the skills and experience they offer when they return home.”
It was crafty of Schultz to redirect that famed 1% label from the ultra rich, represented by CEOs like him, onto our “heroes.” At the concert, I hope Schultz has a chance to get more specific about those “remarkable freedoms.” Will he mention that the U.S. has the highest per capita prison population on the planet? Does he include among those remarkable freedoms the guarantee that dogs, Tasers, tear gas, and riot police will be sent after you if you stay out past dark protesting the killing of an unarmed Black teenager by a representative of this country’s increasingly militarized police? Will the freedom to be too big to fail and so to have the right to melt down the economy and walk away without going to prison -- as Jamie Dimon, the CEO of Chase, did -- be mentioned? Do these remarkable freedoms include having every American phone call and email recorded and stored away by the NSA?
And what about that term “hero”? Many veterans reject it, and not just out of Gary Cooperesque modesty either. Most veterans who have seen combat, watched babies get torn apart, or their comrades die in their arms, or the most powerful army on Earth spend trillions of dollars fighting some of the poorest people in the world for 13 years feel anything but heroic. But that certainly doesn’t stop the use of the term. So why do we use it? As journalist Cara Hoffman points out at Salon:
“‘[H]ero’ refers to a character, a protagonist, something in fiction, not to a person, and using this word can hurt the very people it’s meant to laud. While meant to create a sense of honor, it can also buy silence, prevent discourse, and benefit those in power more than those navigating the new terrain of home after combat. If you are a hero, part of your character is stoic sacrifice, silence. This makes it difficult for others to see you as flawed, human, vulnerable, or exploited.”
We use the term hero in part because it makes us feel good and in part because it shuts soldiers up (which, believe me, makes the rest of us feel better). Labeled as a hero, it’s also hard to think twice about putting your weapons down. Thank yous to heroes discourage dissent, which is one reason military bureaucrats feed off the term.
There are American soldiers stationed around the globe who think about filing conscientious objector status (as I once did), and I sometimes hear from some of them. They often grasp the way in which the militarized acts of imperial America are helping to create the very enemies they are then being told to kill. They understand that the trillions of dollars being wasted on war will never be spent on education, health care, or the development of clean energy here at home. They know that they are fighting for American control over the flow of fossil fuels on this planet, the burning of which is warming our world and threatening human existence.
Then you have Bruce Springsteen and Metallica telling them “thank you” for wearing that uniform, that they are heroes, that whatever it is they’re doing in distant lands while we go about our lives here isn’t an issue. There is even the possibility that, one day, you, the veteran, might be ushered onto that stage during a concert or onto the field during a ballgame for a very public thank you. The conflicted soldier thinks twice.
I’m back at that indie bookstore sitting at the same chrome-colored table trying to hash all this out, including my own experiences in the Army Rangers, and end on a positive note. The latest issue of Rolling Stone appears to have sold out. Out the window, the sun is peeking through a thick web of clouds. They sell wine here, too. The sooner I finish this, the sooner I can start drinking.
There is no question that we should honor people who fight for justice and liberty. Many veterans enlisted in the military thinking that they were indeed serving a noble cause, and it’s no lie to say that they fought with valor for their brothers and sisters to their left and right. Unfortunately, good intentions at this stage are no substitute for good politics. The war on terror is going into its 14th year. If you really want to talk about “awareness raising,” it’s years past the time when anyone here should be able to pretend that our 18-year-olds are going off to kill and die for good reason. How about a couple of concerts to make that point?
Until then, I’m going to drink wine and try to enjoy the music over the sound of the espresso machine.
Rory Fanning walked across the United States for the Pat Tillman Foundation in 2008-2009, following two deployments to Afghanistan with the 2nd Army Ranger Battalion. Fanning became a conscientious objector after his second tour. He is the author of the new book Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America (Haymarket, 2014).
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's just published Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2014 Rory Fanning
By John Grant
I saw the masked men
Throwing truth into a well.
When I began to weep for it
I found it everywhere.
By Robert C. Koehler
“During basic training, we are weaponized: our souls turned into weapons.”
Jacob George’s suicide last month — a few days after President Obama announced that the US was launching its war against ISIS — opens a deep, terrible hole in the national identity. George: singer, banjo player, poet, peace warrior, vet. He served three tours in Afghanistan. He brought the war home. He tried to repair the damage.
Finally, finally, he reached for “the surefire therapy for ending the pain,” as a fellow vet told Truthdig. He was 32.
Maybe another war was just too much for him to endure. Military glory — protection of the innocent -- is a broken ideal, a cynical lie. “Times for war veterans are tough because we know exactly what is going to happen with the actions that Obama talked about in his recent speech,” his friend Paul Appell told Truthdig. “Jacob and other war veterans know the pain and suffering that will be done to our fellow man no matter what terms are used to describe war, whether it is done from afar with drones and bombs or up close eye to eye.”
And wars don’t end. They go on and on and on, inside the psyches of the ones who fought and killed. War’s toxins hover in the air and the water. Landmines and unexploded bombs, planted in the earth, wait patiently to explode.
In a chapbook that George published called “Soldier’s Heart,” which contains the lyrics to a number of his songs accompanied by essays discussing the context in which they were written, he explains his song “Playground of War.” It was written when he returned to Afghanistan with a peace delegation — George was one of the first Afghan vets to do such a thing — and at one point visited, God help us, a landmine museum.
The guide, “hard-faced,” overflowing with emotion, explains, George writes, that “it would take over a hundred years of working seven days a week to clear every single landmine out of Afghanistan. He says their fathers and grandfathers used to work their fields with plows, but now they work their fields with metal detectors and wooden rods. Instead of harvesting potatoes, they harvest explosives. He tells me all kinds of things that change my life in a matter of minutes.”
This is war. War never ends. George came home with the war raging inside him and rode his bicycle across the country to promote peace. Inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh, he understood that veterans “can help lead the healing of the nation” In 2012, he marched in Chicago in protest of NATO and returned his medals. Marching with fellow vets, he led this cadence call: “Mama, Mama, can’t you see/What Uncle Sam has done to me?”
He called his peace work a “righteous rite of passage.” He said it was “how we transform PTSD into something beautiful.”
He also chipped the last letter off the acronym: post-traumatic stress is not a disorder, he realized, but a completely natural, sane reaction to causing harm to others. He called it a moral injury.
A fellow vet, Brock McIntosh, interviewed on “Democracy Now” shortly after George’s suicide, said: “. . . he saw a lot of killing in Afghanistan, and he also talked about seeing fear in the eyes of Afghans. And the idea that he could put fear in someone kind of haunted him. And he had lots of nightmares when he returned, and felt kind of isolated and didn’t really tell his story. But over the last few years, he’s had the opportunity to tell his story and to build long-lasting relationships, not only with other veterans who are like-minded, but also with Afghans.”
In “Soldier’s Heart,” George talked about the dehumanization process that begins in basic training. Young people’s souls are “turned into weapons.” This is an image I can’t move beyond. It’s an insight into the nature of war that cannot be allowed to remain trapped inside every used up vet — that our deepest hunger to do good, to contribute to the good of the world, is commandeered by selfish and cynical interests and planted back into the soil of our being like a landmine.
“Through my personal healing from PTSD, I’ve discovered it’s not possible to dehumanize others without dehumanizing the self,” he wrote in “Soldier’s Heart.”
George, unable to find a place in the society he thought he was leaving home to protect, spoke primarily to all the other returning vets trapped in the same existential hell. What he came to realize was that only by surrendering the rest of his life to the elimination of war could be himself find any peace. In doing so, he made a spiritual transition, from soldier to warrior.
“You see,” he wrote, “a soldier follows orders, a soldier is loyal, and a soldier is technically and tactically proficient. A warrior isn’t so good at following orders. The warrior follows the heart. A warrior has empathic understanding with the enemy, so much so that the very thought of causing pain or harm to the enemy causes pain to the warrior.”
And now one more warrior lets go just as another war begins.
“We have been at war for 12 years. We have spent trillions of dollars,” Bernie Sanders said recently on CNN. “What I do not want, and I fear very much, is the United States getting sucked into a quagmire and being involved in perpetual warfare year after year after year. That is my fear.”
I’m sure that was Jacob George’s fear as well. I’m sure he felt it in his soul.
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at email@example.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.
© 2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.
From Popular Resistance
By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese, www.PopularResistance.org
Above: Veterans and allies pose at the end of the 2014 antiwar memorial service at Vietnam Veterans Memorial in New York City. They are holding photos of David George whose pictures are also on the wall behind them. Photo by Ellen Davidson.
Veterans For Peace Three Year Campaign Removes Curfew as Vets and Allies Protest the Wars, Honor The Dead
Each October 7 for the last three years, the date of the US invasion of Afghanistan, members of Veterans For Peace and their allies have gathered at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Lower Manhattan for a soulful ceremony. Their purpose: to mark another year of a war in Afghanistan and call for peace, to honor all whose lives are destroyed by war and to expand the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble.
This year, they were finally able to do so without facing a small army of police threatening arrest if the ceremony went past the arbitrary 10 pm curfew placed on the memorial.
And this year, veterans and allies had more reasons to gather: to protest new wars being waged by President Obama without approval of Congress or the United Nations and to remember the much-loved Jacob David George, a veteran of three tours in Afghanistan, who died of ‘moral injury’ three weeks before.
Jacob was only 19 when he went overseas to Afghanistan for his first tour. He grew up in the mountains of Arkansas and was a talented poet and musician. After his tours, he struggled to survive in the United States, surrounded by war culture. He set off to bicycle around the country to speak about the realities of war and the need for peace, a trip that he called “A Ride til the End.” He sang “Soldiers Heart”:
“I’m just a farmer from Arkansas, there’s a lot of things I don’t understand, like why we send farmers to kill farmers in Afghanistan. I did what I’s told for my love of this land. I come home a shattered man with blood on my hands.
“Now I can’t have a relationship, I can’t hold down a job. Some may say I’m broken, I call it Soldier’s Heart. Every time I go outside, I gotta look her in the eyes knowing that she broke my heart, and turned around and lied.
“Red, white and blue, I trusted you and you never even told me why.”
“Soldier’s Heart” is a Civil War phrase used to describe what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Jacob wrote that Soldiers Heart “more accurately describes my wounds and what I experienced.” “Moral injury,” which Jacob wrote was a major component of PTSD, leads to 22 veteran suicides a day.
Jacob was with members of Veterans for Peace and thousands of others in Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC for the tenth anniversary of the Afghanistan War in October, 2011. He had spent part of the summer in Afghanistan with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. Jacob performed that night in Freedom Plaza and the Afghan Youth joined the event from Afghanistan by Skype. After that, he continued to travel in his search for healing and to participate in the Occupy Movement. In the summer of 2012, he marched 99 miles with the Guitarmy from Philadelphia to New York City.
Ending the Nightmares of War
Although most war memorials throughout the United States are open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in New York ‘closes’ at 10 pm, that is, if you are expressing First Amendment rights.
There is no good reason to close the memorial since is located on a plaza surrounded by office buildings. It isn’t really possible to close this memorial anyway. It is used as a walkway for pedestrians and dog walkers at all hours of the day and night. The veterans believe there should be no curfew as the nightmares of war don’t know curfews and they often surface late at night. War memorials should be a place of peace and refuge for those who need it without threats of intimidation or arrest by police.
The curfew has only been enforced when people are exercising their right to peaceably assemble. Tarak Kauff, a board member of Veterans For Peace, first noted the curfew at a 2012 May Day assembly by Occupy Wall Street. Tarak describes the assembly as “what you would want to see in a democracy, people gathering to discuss solutions to community problems.” Troops of NY police confronted the assembly. Members of the Veterans Peace Team stood between the police and people; and were arrested. This constitutionally permitted, democratic gathering was stopped for no good reason.
Kauff brought the idea of a campaign to open the Memorial to Vets For Peace who embraced it, holding their first memorial service on October 7, 2012. Hundreds gathered at the memorial for a powerful ceremony. Father George Packard, Chris Hedges and veterans from World War II through the wars of today spoke, read poems and sang. Participants read names of New Yorkers who were killed in war and of civilians in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan who were also killed. After every 20 names, a gong was struck and flowers were placed in 11 vases, one for every year in Afghanistan.
As the ceremony continued, the police presence began to grow. When 10 PM arrived, the reading of the names was interrupted by a police captain with a bullhorn warning that if the crowd did not disperse, arrests would be made. Undaunted, veterans and allies persisted in reading names and honoring the dead as some in the crowd moved to the margins of the park. One by one, 25 people who continued the memorial were arrested. Those arrested included a decorated World War II Veteran and a Vietnam War Medic for whom the nightmares of holding the wounded in his arms have never ceased. The police were placed in an uncomfortable position – arresting veterans reading the names of the dead to enforce a capricious curfew.
A friend of Jacob George, Brock McIntosh, also an Afghanistan veteran described the feelings of Jacob and many vets:
“Jacob did all he could as a warrior to speak and to warn about the dangers of war. Jacob spoke to me often of moral injury, and he once told me about meeting a Vietnam veteran who felt that every war was his war, who blamed himself for not stopping each war that happened, one after the next. Jacob felt that burden.”
Veterans and allies returned in 2013 to protest the deep war culture embraced by the United States. To make that point, among the war dead remembered were Indigenous peoples slaughtered in the “Indian Wars.” That year several of the veterans refused to be removed easily. Firm in their belief that they had a right to be there, that the memorial was created to honor the dead and that nothing should interfere with that, five veterans linked themselves together with thick plastic handcuffs and lay down in front of the memorial when the police arrived to arrest them. Altogether, nineteen were arrested.
Jacob was there that year. One vet who stood with him recounted that Jacob was very distressed to see his comrades being arrested for protesting the wars and honoring the dead.
The veterans and allies who were arrested had two goals. They wanted to use the judicial process to end the curfew at the Memorial and to introduce the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to expand the definition of Freedom of Speech to meet the international standard rather than the narrow and shrinking US standard.
Instead, charges were dropped for many of the arrestees and 14 who spent a week in trial were denied justice. The judge refused to entertain the expanded definition of free speech and found them guilty but then dismissed the charges “in the interest of justice,” undermining their ability to appeal.
Fourteen of the second year arrestees had their charges dismissed and the five who linked themselves together had their charges downgraded against their will to avoid a jury trial. The judge also found them guilty but gave them conditional release.
Each time the vets appeared in court, police offers shook their hands, thanked them and told them they supported what they were doing. The memorial services were having an added effect of dividing the police.
Victory is bittersweet
This year, the veterans won the right to stay at the memorial without interference from the police. In a letter to the mayor, the veterans outlined their intent to hold the vigil again and their desire that the memorial remain open at all hours. They thanked the mayor for his statement, after the Flood Wall Street protest two weeks before, that First Amendment Rights were more important than traffic and invited him to join them on October 7. The mayor’s office responded by saying that the curfew would be lifted for the night.
The mood at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial this year was bittersweet. There was palpable relief that we were free to express ourselves without police intimidation and that we could choose when to leave under our own terms. But there was also greater sadness than years before because a week after the President began bombing Iraq again and then Syria, Jacob George took his life. Some suspect the trauma of watching another US war begin, knowing that more soldiers and innocent civilians would die or be forever traumatized and seeing the Masters of War succeed in manipulating the public to support war was too much to bear.
“With our choice to join the US military, we soldiers gained great insights into the effects of war. During basic training, we are weaponized: our souls are turned into weapons. This intentional adjustment of the moral compass seems to be the onset of Moral Injury. Basic training demands the dehumanization of the enemy.
“Through my personal healing from PTSD, I’ve discovered it’s not possible to dehumanize others without dehumanizing the self.”
We gathered that night to speak, read poems and sing together once again. We remembered Jacob and all who are devastated by war. Large photos of Jacob were placed on the memorial wall. ‘Taps’ was played.
One vet read a statement about the damage war does and the toll it takes on families, remembering his nephew, a vet who also committed suicide:
“Not only was he profoundly affected by war, but so was his entire family. The pain will be felt by those who loved him for generations. That is what war does. It causes deep wounds that cut across generations. His father, a Vietnam Veteran, is having a very difficult time and has withdrawn, buried in grief. He already suffered from PTSD, and this has made things much worse. His mother, my sister, is racked with guilt and blames herself for not being able to help [her son].”
A poem by Vets For Peace poet laureate, Doug Rawlings, called “We Need Not Go There Again: A tribute to Jacob George, was read:
Over 100 years of
shooting into a mirror
thinking they were
squashing the other –
first the Hun, then the Nip, then the gook,
and now the sand niggers —
the old war mongers remain insatiable
in their self-delusion
Freudian analysts can’t get them off
they never sense
that something is awry
How could they?
It is not the blood
of their daughters and sons
pours back into their hands
slippery with the stench
of their calculated ignorance
They will continue to
worship at the alter
of Pontius Pilate
to wash their hands
in the trough
of our passivity
until we gather in the streets
until we bring down
the walls of the Pentagon
singing the choruses
of Jacob George
We formed a circle and one by one, we walked the circle and hugged each other. Members of the Guitarmy led us through songs written by Jacob. We also sang Down By the Riverside and Lean On Me. We read names of the dead, raised our fists and shouted “Presente” in unison after each name. Afterwards, we talked quietly in small groups. And when we were ready, we left the memorial.
It took three years to win the right to vigil at the war memorial. The next task is to change the policy so that it remains open at all times and is there for those who need it. Members of Veterans for Peace are committed to seeing that task through. We hope this campaign encourages others to find ways to expand our rights.
Though it is important to choose particular days to gather for remembrance and protesting these illegal and unjust wars, the work for peace is a daily task. Those who are not fooled by the propaganda or by persuaded by partisanship can best honor those who have died and those still living who have served by speaking out regularly for an end to war.
In his song called Support the Troops, Jacob wrote:
“I’m tellin’ you, don’t thank me for what I’ve done. Give me a hug and let me know we ain’t gonna let this happen again because we support the troops and we’re gonna bring war to an end.”
Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese are organizers of Popular Resistance. They participated in the campaign to end the curfew at the NYC Vietnam Veterans Memorial. They can be followed @KBZeese and @MFlowers8.
This article was originally published on MintPress News.
Guitarmy Travels Staten Island to Zuccotti
Jacob George singing with the Guitarmy on July 12, 2012, Jacob is in the front playing Banjo
Vets Win Free Speech Victory
Tarak Kauff interviewed by Luke Rudkowski of We Are Change