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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 email@example.com.
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).
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
By John Grant
To do nothing is to send a message to the wrongdoer, and the general public, that the victim has no self-worth and will not marshal the internal resources necessary to reclaim his or her honor. Shattered dignity is not beyond repair, but no elevating and equalizing of dignity can occur without the personal satisfaction of revenge.
-Thane Rosenbaum, Payback: The Case For Revenge
The U.S. is racing down a slippery slope towards war in Iraq and Syria. Since Aug. 8, the U.S. has conducted more than 124 airstrikes in Iraq. Approximately 1,000 U.S. troops are now on the ground in Iraq, with at least 350 more currently on their way.
President Obama initially said the bombing was part of a humanitarian mission to assist the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq being threatened by ISIS, the fundamentalist Islamic army that now controls wide swaths of Iraq and Syria. But Obama has now announced an open-ended bombing campaign, and he has ordered Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry into the region to build military and political coalitions to sustain a long term war against ISIS.
According to the New York Times, President Obama has also authorized U.S. surveillance flights over Syria, reportedly in search of ISIS targets for later bombing missions. The Syrian government has offered to coordinate with U.S. military action against ISIS, the strongest rebel force fighting to overthrow the Assad government in Syria. But the U.S., which has aided ISIS' growth by facilitating the arming and training of rebels in Syria, has not asked permission for its flights into Syrian airspace.
Veterans For Peace members have witnessed the brutality and the futility of war, including the war in Iraq. We were sent to a war based on lies and we became part of the killing of a nation, along with as many as one million of its people. We watched as U.S. policy makers consciously stirred up ethnic and religious divisions, creating the conditions for civil war today.
Veterans know from first hand experience that you cannot bomb your way to peace. More bombing will ultimately mean more division, bloodshed, recruitment for extremist organizations, and a continual cycle of violent intervention.
Last year the American people overwhelmingly sent a message to President Obama and the Congress: No U.S. Bombing in Syria. Last month, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H. Con. Res. 105 stating that there is no legal authority for U.S. military involvement in Iraq without express Congressional approval. By unilaterally pursuing miltiary action in Iraq and Syria, President Obama is acting in contempt of the American people, as well as of U.S. and international law.
We support the troops who refuse to fight and who blow the whistle on war crimes. Under international law, military personnel have the right and the responsibility to refuse to be part of illegal wars and war crimes. U.S. troops are not the cops of the world. There is no legitimate mission for any U.S. service members in Iraq or Syria. We encourage GI's to find out their rights at the GI Rights Hotline.
Veterans For Peace absolutely opposes U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, no matter what the rationalization. We call on all our members to speak out against any U.S. attacks on Iraq and Syria.
We wish to see a U.S. foreign policy based on true humanitariasm and real diplomacy based on mutual respect, guided by internatianal law, and dedicated to human rights and equality for all.
We call attention to the excellent constructive proposals in a recent letter from 53 National Religious Groups, Academics, and Ministers Urging Alternatives to U.S. Military Action in Iraq.
We applaud the initiatives of several key peace groups and we encourage our members to participate.
Sign Code Pink's letter telling President Obama not to bomb Syria or Iraq.
Sign Peace Action's petition restricting U.S. arms sales around the world.
VETERANS FOR PEACE WORKS FOR PEACE AT HOME AND PEACE ABROAD!
By John Grant
Back in June 2011, James Foley gave an hour-long interview to an auditorium of students from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he had graduated three years earlier with a Master’s degree in journalism. It was 15 days after he had been released from 45 rough days of captivity in Libya. He was a handsome young hero returning to his alma-mater.
By John Grant
On Monday, I decided to spend my evenings flipping back-and-forth between Fox News and MSNBC as the two cable channels dealt with the dueling stories of the United States tiptoeing into a third war in Iraq and the sudden appearance of what appeared to be a police state in a little town outside St Louis. From Monday to Friday, the Ferguson, Missouri story has gone from that of a bizarre and dangerous war zone to one of a relief-filled carnival in the streets.
By John Grant
All we are saying is give peace a chance
Theme: Abolish War on the Planet and the Poor
Hosted by VFP Chapter 099 Western North Carolina on July 23rd -27th 2014
The University of North Carolina at Asheville
all videos by Dan Shea
Dan Shea tells a personal story of how Agent Orange affected his life and took his son Casey and introduces an Agent Orange Facebook Page for other survivors to tell their stories and keep informed https://www.facebook.com/
Paul Cox giving update overview of our work, legislation & AO hotspots remediation clean up work being done. Paul is a Vietnam veteran and a founder of VFP chapter 69 in San Francisco. He has been working on Agent Orange since 2005 with the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign (VAORRC), a VFP National Campaign. He has been back to Vietnam thrice in recent years to investigate the lingering, disturbing effects of AO on the Vietnamese people and the environment. Susan Schnall: AO Workshop (2) VFP Convention July 2014 Susan Schnall served as a Navy nurse during the Vietnam conflict, caring for returning soldiers and marines at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital. She was tried and convicted by a general court martial for anti-war activities in 1969. She been working with the VAORRC for the past several years and has vistied Viet Nam several times. Two years ago she brought a delegation of science/public health professionals to meet with families affected by the U.S. use of Agent Orange/Dioxin during the conflict and to survey the diozin contaminated land and remediation efforts. Susan is vice president of the NYC chapter of VFP. Chuck Searcy: AO Workshop (3) Community Base Rehabilitation Chuck Searcy enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1966 & served in the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion in Saigon 1967-1968. He has been living and working in Vietnam since January 1995, currently as International Advisor for Project RENEW, a mine action program in Quang Tri Province to clean up cluster bombs, landmines and other unexploded ordnance remaining along the DMZ. Q & A Discussion: AO Workshop (4)
Paul Cox giving update overview of our work, legislation & AO hotspots remediation clean up work being done. Paul is a Vietnam veteran and a founder of VFP chapter 69 in San Francisco. He has been working on Agent Orange since 2005 with the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign (VAORRC), a VFP National Campaign. He has been back to Vietnam thrice in recent years to investigate the lingering, disturbing effects of AO on the Vietnamese people and the environment.
Susan Schnall: AO Workshop (2) VFP Convention July 2014
Susan Schnall served as a Navy nurse during the Vietnam conflict, caring for returning soldiers and marines at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital. She was tried and convicted by a general court martial for anti-war activities in 1969. She been working with the VAORRC for the past several years and has vistied Viet Nam several times. Two years ago she brought a delegation of science/public health professionals to meet with families affected by the U.S. use of Agent Orange/Dioxin during the conflict and to survey the diozin contaminated land and remediation efforts. Susan is vice president of the NYC chapter of VFP.
Chuck Searcy: AO Workshop (3) Community Base Rehabilitation
Chuck Searcy enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1966 & served in the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion in Saigon 1967-1968. He has been living and working in Vietnam since January 1995, currently as International Advisor for Project RENEW, a mine action program in Quang Tri Province to clean up cluster bombs, landmines and other unexploded ordnance remaining along the DMZ.
Q & A Discussion: AO Workshop (4)
By John Grant
At a birthday dinner with friends last night, the Israeli assault on Gaza came up. One friend said having to helplessly watch the violence infuriated him and made him ill. Another said it made him want to cry.
Stop the Slaughter of Palestinian Civilians in Gaza!
Members of Veterans For Peace will deliver a letter to Israel's Embassy, 3514 International Dr. NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, at 1:30 pm Monday afternoon, July 21. The letter calls on the government of Israel to immediately halt the bombing of Palestinian civilians and to withdraw all its troops and military assets from Gaza. Colonel Ann Wright, who has visited Palestine and Israel several times, will head up the delegation.
The letter reads as follows:
To: Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer
From: Veterans For Peace National Board of Directors
Dear Ambassador Dermer,
As veterans who have witnessed the horror of war, we are deeply outraged by the state of Israel's slaughter of many innocent civilians in Gaza. The military assault against children, women and men, by air, by sea and now by land, is a clear violation of international laws of war and of human rights. More than 300 Palestinians have been murdered, almost all of them civilians, nearly a quarter of them children. Thousands are wounded, including nearly 1,000 children.
Veterans For Peace joins millions of people all around the globe who are shocked by this vicious, one-sided slaughter. We understand the huge injustice of the Israeli occupation. Palestinians have been ethnically cleansed from their homes and forced to live in the Occupied West Bank, or in the open-air prison that is Gaza.
Mr. Ambassador, please tell the government of Israel to stop the massacre now! There should be an immediate end to all bombing and an immediate withdrawal of all Israeli military from Gaza.
Mr. Ambassador, please remind Prime Minister Netanyahu that you can bomb the world into pieces, but you cannot bomb it into peace.
Veterans For Peace calls for an end to the 8-year blockade of Gaza, so that normal trade and travel can occur.
Mr. Ambassador, please remind the government of Israel of the billions of dollars in aid that is provided to Israel by the United States. Veterans For Peace will push for an end to all military aid to Israel until such time as the Israeli occupation gives way to real peace negotiations based on the human rights of all the people concerned.
Veterans For Peace recommits itself to participating in the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and Israeli products.
We encourage all parties to search for a nonviolent path to peace. We urge both Hamas and the government of Israel to refrain from targeting civilians. We especially call on the state of Israel to stop its massive violence now. It is time to recognize the human rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to return to the homes from which they were forced to flee in 1948.
Mr. Ambassador, the peoples of Palestine, Israel and the world deserve to live in peace and harmony. The ultimate goal of Veterans For Peace is to abolish war. In the meantime, we stand ready to assist those Israelis and Palestinians who seek peace and reconciliation.
[signed] Patrick McCann, President
for National Board of Directors
VETERANS FOR PEACE
By John Grant
When lo! An angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, . . .
Press Advisory from Veterans For Peace
216 S. Meramec Avenue St. Louis, MO 63105 (314) 725-6005
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
IRAQ VETERANS WARN OBAMA AGAINST MILITARY ACTION
WHEN: Thursday June 19, 2014 (tomorrow) at 1 pm EDT
Ross Caputi is a Marine Corps veteran of the 2nd siege of Fallujah. Today he is on the Board of Directors of ISLAH (www.reparations.org) and he is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Matt Southworth is an Army veteran of the Iraq War. He currently works in Washington, DC for Friends Committee on National Legislation and he is a member of Veterans For Peace.
Tim Kahlor is the father of medically retired Sgt. Ryan Kahlor. His son served over 24 months in 2 tours in Iraq. He is a member of Military Families Speak Out.
Ray McGovern served as an Army infantryman/Intelligence officer in the early Sixties and was then a CIA analyst for 27 years. He a co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
SPONSORS: Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) , Veterans For Peace (VFP), Military Families Speak Out (MFSO)
Attention Media: On camera interviews will be available with various Iraq veterans and family members.
* Veterans For Peace is a 29-year-old U.S. based nonprofit educational organization with chapters in over 100 US cities and several international chapters. VFP members include veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as non-veteran allies. The mission of Veterans For Peace is to abolish war as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy.
Veterans For Peace, 216 S. Meramec, St. Louis, MO 63105, 314-725-6005
On ThisCantBeHappening! radio: Dave Lindorff and Vietnam Vet and Long-Time Peace Activist John Grant Discuss the Bowe Bergdahl
By Dave Lindorff
Bowe Bergdahl, the POW held for five years by the Taliban in Afghanistan who was recently traded for the release of five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay, has been convicted in the halls of Congress and in most of the media as a deserter -- even a traitor or a Taliban convert -- all without any trial or even any evidence. John Grant, a veteran of the Vietmam War, where desertions were common, says it's an old story: As America's losing wars wind down, those who advocated the in the first place and pushed for their continuation try to create a "stabbed in the back" narrative to explain the humiliating defeat of US military forces.
By John Grant
I met Janet Burroway when I was a Vietnam veteran on the GI Bill at Florida State University and I signed up for a creative writing workshop she was just hired to teach. She was a worldly, published novelist seven years older than me. She had just left an oppressive husband, a Belgian, who was an important theater director in London where she’d been to parties with the likes of Samuel Beckett. I graduate in 1973, and in a turn of events that still amazes me, I asked her out and ended up living with her for a couple years. She had two beautiful boys, Tim, 9, and Toby, 6, who I grew to love.
In a campaign reminiscent of Vietnam War days, military veterans and family members will travel to ten west coast cities promoting GI outreach centers in Texas, Washington state, and Germany. The GI Coffeehouse Tour will begin in San Diego on Thursday, February 13 and end in Seattle on Saturday, March 1.
Local communities will welcome the GI Coffeehouse Tour with special eventsfeaturing poets, artists and musicians.Participants at tour stops will learn about GI coffeehouse history, find out what current-day coffeehouses do to support the troops, and join in conversations about the current state of the military and what that means for service members and their families
The GI Coffeehouse Tour will feature the work of Under The Hood Cafeand Outreach Centernear Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, Coffee Strong near Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Lakewood, Washington, and The Clearing Barrel GI Bar and Coffeehouse in Kaiserslautern, Germany, the center for U.S. military installations in Europe.
The tour will raise much needed funds for the three GI outreach centers, which provide counseling on military discharges, veterans benefits and conscientious objection to war, as well as safe spaces for soldiers to share their experiences and begin healing the psychological wounds of war.
Iraq veteran and artist Malachi Muncy will represent Under The HoodCafe & Outreach Center, along with Ryan Holleran, recently discharged from the Army at Ft. Hood. Coffee Strong will be represented by its coordinator, Alex Bacon, a Coast Guard veteran.
The Clearing Barrel GI Bar and Coffeehouse will be represented by German peace activist Meike Capps-Schubert, who is flying to California from Germany. Since 2003, Capps-Schubert has worked for the Military Counseling Network - the overseas branch of the GI Right Hotline.
“This unique tour reminds us of the key role GI's have played in ending wars,”said Iraq veteran Malachi Muncy. “It is critically important to address the complex needs of today's veterans, active duty GI's, and family members, who have suffered much from multiple deployments to the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Tour stops include San Diego (Feb. 13), Fountain Valley (Feb. 14), Los Angeles (Feb. 15), Oxnard (Feb. 16), San Jose (Feb.19), San Francisco (Feb. 21-22).; Talent, Oregon (Feb. 25), Portland (Feb. 28); Olympia, Washington (March 1) and Seattle (March 1).
Sponsors of the GI Coffeehouse Tour include Veterans For Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, War Resisters League, Military Law Task Force, Center for Conscience and War, Courage To Resist, March Forward, Center for Conscience in Action, Catalyst Project, and GI Rights Network.
For a complete tour schedule, speaker bios and photos, along with information on the three GI coffeehouses, go to the website of the GI Coffeehouse Tour.
To arrange for interviews, please contact Alex Bacon, 206-604-2285, email@example.com
or Gerry Condon, 206-499-1220, firstname.lastname@example.org
They teach you to yearn to kill, says this U.S. soldier. We would have killed lots of innocent people if we could have gotten away with it, he says. Jump to 36:23.
Are you a soldier or veteran who is supposed to have a ‘mental health’ issue such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia or PTSD? If you are, then I have some suggestions for you to consider.
By John Grant
US military history from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan is too often a combination of destructive stumbling around followed by an effort to sustain and project forward the notion of US power and exceptionalism. To forge another narrative is very difficult.
By John Grant
It’s that time of the year again. Ho. Ho. Ho. There’s the urge to celebrate the Winter Solstice (AKA Christmas) with family and friends. It’s also time for end-of-the-year assessments concerning the absurdities of life in a fading empire in denial.
I'm a huge fan of peace studies as an academic discipline that should be spread into every corner of what we call, with sometimes unclear justification, our education system. But often peace studies, like other disciplines, manages to study only those far from home, and to study them with a certain bias.
I recently read a book promoting the sophisticated skills of trained negotiators and suggesting that if such people, conversant in the ways of emotional understanding, would take over the Palestine "peace process" from the aging politicians, then ... well, basically, then Palestinians would agree to surrender their land and rights without so much fuss. Great truths about negotiation skills only go so far if the goal of the negotiation is injustice based on misunderstanding of the facts on the ground.
I recently read another book discussing nonviolent resistance to injustice and brutality. It focused on a handful of stories of how peace was brought to various poor tribes and nations, usually through careful, respectful, and personal approaches, that appeased some tyrant's ego while moving him toward empathy. These books are valuable, and it is good that they are proliferating. But they always leave me wondering whether the biggest war-maker on earth is left out because war isn't war when Westerners do it, or is it, rather, because the military industrial complex requires a different approach. How many decades has it been since a U.S. president sat down and listened to opponents of militarism? Does the impossibility of such a thing remove it from our professors' consideration?
Here in Virginia's Fifth District, a bunch of us met with our then-Congressman Tom Perriello a few years back and sought respectfully and persuasively to bring him to oppose and stop funding the war on Afghanistan. Perriello was and is, in some quarters, considered some sort of "progressive" hero. I've never understood why. He did not listen. Why? We had majority opinion with us. Was it because we lacked the skills? Was it because of his sincere belief in so-called humanitarian wars? Or was it something else? The New York Times on Friday reported on the corruption of the organization where Perriello was hired immediately upon his electoral defeat. The Center for American Progress takes funding from weapons companies and supports greater public funding of weapons companies. The Democratic National Committee gave Perriello's reelection campaign a bunch of money just after one of his votes for a bill containing war money and a bank bailout (he seemed to oppose the latter). White House officials and cabinet secretaries did public events with Perriello in his district just after his vote.
I know another member of Congress who wants to end wars and cut military spending, but when I ask this member's staff to stop talking about social safety net cuts as if they only hurt veterans rather than all people I can't even make my concern -- that of glorifying veterans as more valuable -- understood. It's like talking to a brick military base.
My friend David Hartsough was one, among others, who spoke with President John Kennedy when he was President, urged him toward peace and believed he listened. That didn't work out well for President Kennedy, or for peace. When Gorbachev was ready to move the Soviet Union toward peace, President Ronald Reagan wasn't. Was that because of sincere, well-meaning, if misguided notions of security? Or was it senility, stupidity, and stubbornness? Or was it something else? Was it a system that wouldn't allow it? Was something more than personal persuasion on the substance of the matter needed? Was a new way of funding elections and communicating campaign slogans required first? Would peace studies have to revise its approach if it noticed the existence of the Pentagon?
Of course, I think the answer is some of each. I think reducing military spending a little will allow us to be heard a little more clearly, which will allow us to reduce military spending a little further, and so on. And part of the reason why I think it's both and not purely "structural" is the opposition to war that brews up within the U.S. military -- as it did on missile strikes for Syria this past summer. Sometimes members of the military oppose, protest, or even resist wars.
Another type of book that has proliferated madly is the account of military veterans' activism in the peace movement during the Bush presidency -- with always a bit on what survived of that movement into the reign of the Nobel Peace Laureate Constitutional Law Professor President. I've just read a good one of these books called Fighting For Peace: Veterans and Military Families in the Anti-Iraq War Movement by Lisa Leitz. This book, as well as any of them, provides insights into the difficulties faced by military and veteran peace activists, and military family member peace activists, as well as the contributions they've made. I've become an associate (non-veteran) member of Veterans For Peace and worked for that group and with other groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out because of the tremendous job they've done. The non-military peace movement needs to work ever harder at welcoming and encouraging and supporting military and veteran peace activism. And vice versa.
Different risks are involved. Different emotions are involved. Would you march against a war if it might ruin your own or a loved one's career? To stretch the definition of war-maker a little, would you take a job with Lockheed-Martin if you oppose war? What if you oppose war but your child is in the military -- would you be proud of his or her success and advancement into an elite murder team? Should you not be proud of your child?
The contributions of military and former military peace activists have been tremendous: the throwing back of medals, the memorials and cemeteries erected in protest and grief, the reenactment of war scenes on the streets, the testimony confessing to crimes no one wants to prosecute. New people have been reached and opinions changed. And yet, I want to say there is a downside.
Most peace activists have never been in the military. Most books about peace activists are about the military ones. This distorts and diminishes our understanding of what we're doing. Most victims in our wars -- and I mean statistically almost all of them -- are on the other side, but most writing done about victims is about the U.S. military ones (assuming aggressors are victims). The giant cemeteries representing the dead in Iraq are orders of magnitude too small to be accurate. This severely distorts our understanding of one-sided slaughters, allowing the continuation of the myth of war as a contest between two armies.
Eliminating war would logically involve eliminating the war-making machine, but veteran and military opponents of war, more often than others, want the military preserved and used for good ends. Is that because it makes sense or because of personal identification? Nationalism is driving wars, but military peace activists tend, more than others, to favor "good patriotism" or "true patriotism." Must a peace movement that ought to celebrate international law and cooperation follow that lead?
Leitz quotes Maureen Dowd claiming that veterans have "moral authority" to oppose war, unlike -- apparently -- those who have opposed war for a longer period of time or more consistently. Imagine applying that logic to some other offense, such as child abuse. We don't suggest that reformed child abusers have the greatest moral authority to oppose child abuse. What about shoplifting? Do reformed shoplifters have the greatest authority to oppose shoplifting? I think that in any such situation, the former participants have a particular type of perspective. But I think there's another valuable perspective in those who have opposed a crime. Some veterans, of course, were in the military before I was born and have worked for the abolition of war longer than I've breathed. I don't think their past diminishes them in any way. I also don't think it does what Dowd thinks it does.
Dowd's idea may be that some wars are good and some bad, so we should trust those who've taken part in wars to make the distinction. I'd disagree with the conclusion even if I agreed with the premise. I don't think it's a premise the peace movement should accept. Peace is as incompatible with some wars as it is with all wars.
Accounts like Fighting for Peace bring out the segregation of military from civilian culture in the United States, a product of standing armies and standing foreign bases. I once spoke on a panel with a Democratic veteran candidate for Congress who thankfully lost but who advocated for everyone joining the military so that everyone would be familiar with what the military was. I have another proposal: everyone join civilian life, close the bases, dismantle the weapons, disassemble the ships, put solar panels on the runways, and give the Pentagon a new role to play. I think it would make a fine roller skating rink.
In the meantime, we should try to understand and work with each other to reduce the military, and that requires doing so without promoting it or joining it.
Veteran’s Day is over. The sparkling parades are a vague memory, and the soaring oratory has passed. The citizenry can now return to its complacency, tossing the bright, red, plastic poppies into the trash, and picking up new ones next year.
[The illustrations in this piece come from Joe Sacco’s The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme with the kind permission of its publisher, W.W. Norton, and the slightly adapted text, which also appears in that book, comes originally from Adam Hochschild’s To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 and is used with the kind permission of its publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.]
In a country that uses every possible occasion to celebrate its “warriors,” many have forgotten that today’s holiday originally marked a peace agreement. Veterans Day in the United States originally was called Armistice Day and commemorated the ceasefire which, at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, ended the First World War.
Up to that point, it had been the most destructive war in history, with a total civilian and military death toll of roughly 20 million. Millions more had been wounded, many of them missing arms, legs, eyes, genitals; and because of an Allied naval blockade of the Central Powers, millions more were near starvation: the average German civilian lost 20% of his or her body weight during the war.
A stunned world had never experienced anything like this. In some countries for years afterward, on November 11th, traffic, assembly lines, even underground mining machinery came to a halt at 11 a.m. for two minutes of silence, a silence often broken, witnesses from the 1920s reported, by the sound of women sobbing.
Like most wars, the war of 1914-1918 was begun with the expectation of quick victory, created more problems than it solved, and was punctuated by moments of tragic folly. As the years have passed, one point that has come to symbolize the illusions, the destructiveness, the hubris, the needless deaths of the entire war -- and of other wars since then -- has been the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
The preparations for that battle went on for months: generals and their staffs drew up plans in their châteaux headquarters; horses, tractors, and sweating soldiers maneuvered thousands of big 13-ton guns into position; reconnaissance planes swooped above the German lines; endless trains of horse-drawn supply wagons carried artillery shells and machine gun ammunition up to the front; hundreds of thousands of soldiers from across the British Empire, from the Orkney Islands to the Punjab, filled frontline trenches, reserve trenches, and support bases in the rear. All was in preparation for the grand attack that seemed certain to change the course of the war. And then finally on the first day of July 1916, preceded by the most massive bombardment British artillery had ever fired, the battle began.
You can see the results of the battle’s first day in dozens of military cemeteries spread out across this corner of France, but perhaps the most striking is one of the smallest, on a hillside, screened by a grove of trees. Each gravestone has a name, rank, and serial number; 162 have crosses and one a Star of David. When known, a man’s age is engraved on the stone as well: 19, 22, 23, 26, 21, 20, 34. Ten of the graves simply say, “A Soldier of the Great War, Known unto God.”
Almost all the dead are from Britain’s Devonshire Regiment, the date on their gravestones July 1, 1916. Most were casualties of a single German machine gun several hundred yards from this spot, and were buried here in a section of the frontline trench they had climbed out of that morning. Captain Duncan Martin, 30, a company commander and an artist in civilian life, had made a clay model of the battlefield across which the British planned to attack. He predicted the exact place at which he and his men would come under fire from the machine gun as they emerged onto an exposed hillside. He, too, is here, one of some 21,000 British soldiers killed or fatally wounded on the day of greatest bloodshed in the history of their country’s military, before or since.
Dreams of Swift Victory
In almost every war, it seems, the next planned offensive is seen as the big breakthrough, the smashing, decisive blow that will pave the way to swift victory. Midway through the First World War, troops from both sides had been bogged down for the better part of two years in lines of trenches that ran across northern France and a corner of Belgium. Barbed wire and the machine gun had made impossible the war of dramatic advances and glorious cavalry charges that the generals on both sides had dreamed of.
To end this frustrating stalemate, the British army planned an enormous assault for a point near where the River Somme meandered its slow and weed-filled way through French wheat and sugar-beet fields. A torrent of supplies began pouring into the area to equip the half million British Empire troops involved, of whom 120,000 would attack on the first day alone. This was to be the “Big Push,” a concentration of manpower and artillery so massive and in such a small space that the German defenses would burst open as if hit by floodwaters.
After the overwhelmed Germans had been bayoneted in their trenches, it would be a matter of what General Douglas Haig, the British commander in chief, called “fighting the Enemy in the open,” and so battalions were trained intensively in maneuvering across trenchless meadows. Finally, of course, streaming through the gap in the lines would come the cavalry, three divisions’ worth. After all, hadn’t glorious charges by men on horseback been a decisive element in warfare for millennia?
Troops unrolled 70,000 miles of telephone cable. Thousands more unloaded and piled ammunition in huge dumps; stripped to the waist and sweltering in the summer heat, they dug endlessly to construct special roads to speed supplies to the front. Fifty-five miles of new standard-gauge railway line were built. With as many British soldiers crammed into the launching area as the population of a good-sized city, new wells had to be drilled and dozens of miles of water pipe laid. No detail was forgotten.
British troops, the plan went, would move forward across no-man’s-land in successive waves. Everything was precise: each wave would advance in a continuous line 100 yards in front of the next, at a steady pace of 100 yards a minute. How were they to be safe from German machine gun fire? Simple: the pre-attack artillery bombardment would destroy not just the Germans’ barbed wire but the bunkers that sheltered their machine guns. How could this not be when there was one artillery piece for every 17 yards of front line, all of which would rain a total of a million and a half shells down on the German trenches? And if that weren’t enough, once British troops climbed out of their trenches, a final “creeping barrage” of bursting shells would precede them, a moving curtain of fire riddling with shrapnel any surviving Germans who emerged from underground shelters to try to fight.
The plan for the first day’s attack on July 1, 1916, was 31 pages long and its map included the British names with which the German trenches had already been rechristened. Preparations this thorough were hard to conceal, and there were occasional unnerving signs that the German troops knew almost as much about them as the British. When one unit moved into position, it found a sign held up from the German trenches: WELCOME TO THE 29TH DIVISION.
Several weeks before the attack, 168 officers who were graduates of Eton met for an Old Etonian dinner at the Hotel Godbert in Amiens, a French city behind the lines. In Latin, they toasted their alma mater -- “Floreat Etona!” -- and raised their voices in the school song, “Carmen Etonense.” Enlisted men entertained themselves in other ways. A haunting piece of documentary film footage from these months, taken from a Red Cross barge moving down a canal behind the lines, shows hundreds of Allied soldiers stripped completely bare, wading, bathing, or sunning themselves on the canal bank, smiling and waving at the camera. Without helmets and uniforms, it is impossible to tell their nationality; their naked bodies mark them only as human beings.
Riding a black horse and with his usual escort of lancers, General Haig inspected his divisions as they rehearsed their attacks on practice fields where white tapes on the ground stood for the German trenches. On June 20th, the commander in chief wrote to his wife, “The situation is becoming more favourable to us.” On June 22nd he added, “I feel that every step in my plan has been taken with the Divine help.” On June 30th, as the great artillery barrage had been thundering for five days, Haig wrote in his diary, “The men are in splendid spirits.... The wire has never been so well cut, nor the Artillery preparation so thorough.” For good measure, the British released clouds of deadly chlorine gas toward the German lines.
As it grew close to zero hour, 7:30 a.m. on July 1st, men detonated 10 enormous mines planted by British miners tunneling deep beneath the German trenches. Near the village of La Boisselle, the crater from one remains, a stark, gaping indentation in the surrounding farmland; even partly filled in by a century of erosion, it is still 55 feet deep and 220 feet across.
When the artillery barrage reached its crescendo, 224,221 shells in the last sixty-five minutes, the rumble could be heard as far away as Hampstead Heath in London. More shells were fired by the British this week than they had used in the entire first 12 months of the war; some gunners bled from the ears after seven days of nonstop firing. At a forest near Gommecourt, entire trees were uprooted and tossed in the air by the shelling and the forest itself set on fire.
Soldiers of the First Somerset Light Infantry sat on the parapet of their trench, cheering at the tremendous explosions. Officers issued a strong ration of rum to the men about to head into no-man’s-land. Captain W.P. Nevill of the Eighth East Surrey Battalion gave each of his four platoons a soccer ball and promised a prize to whichever one first managed to kick a ball into the German trench. One platoon painted its ball with the legend:
THE GREAT EUROPEAN CUP
EAST SURREYS V. BAVARIANS
Throughout the British Isles, millions of people knew a great attack was to begin. “The hospital received orders to clear out all convalescents and prepare for a great rush of wounded,” remembered the writer Vera Brittain, working as a nurse’s aide in London. “We knew that already a tremendous bombardment had begun, for we could feel the vibration of the guns... Hour after hour, as the convalescents departed, we added to the long rows of waiting beds, so sinister in their white, expectant emptiness.”
“God, God, Where’s the Rest of the Boys?”
Haig waited anxiously in his forward headquarters at the Château de Beauquesne, 10 miles behind the battlefield. Then, after a full week of continual fire, the British guns abruptly fell silent.
When whistles blew at 7:30 a.m., the successive waves of troops began their planned 100-yards-a-minute advance. Each man moved slowly under more than 60 pounds of supplies -- 200 bullets, grenades, shovel, two days’ food and water, and more. But when those soldiers actually clambered up the trench ladders and over the parapet, they quickly discovered something appalling. The multiple belts of barbed wire in front of the German trenches and the well-fortified machine gun emplacements were still largely intact.
Officers looking through binocular-periscopes had already suspected as much. Plans for any attack, however, have tremendous momentum; rare is the commander willing to recognize that something is awry. To call off an offensive requires bravery, for the general who does so risks being thought a coward. Haig was not such a man. Whistles blew, men cheered, Captain Nevill’s company of East Surreys kicked off its four soccer balls. The soldiers hoped to stay alive -- and sometimes for something more: troops of the First Newfoundland Regiment knew that a prominent young society woman back home had promised to marry the first man in the regiment to win the Empire’s highest medal, the Victoria Cross.
The week-long bombardment, it turned out, had been impressive mainly for its noise. More than one out of four British shells were duds that buried themselves in the earth, exploding, if at all, only when struck by some unlucky French farmer’s plow years or decades later. Two-thirds of the shells fired were shrapnel, virtually useless in destroying machine gun emplacements made of steel and reinforced concrete or stone. Nor could shrapnel shells, which scattered light steel balls, destroy the dense belts of German barbed wire, many yards thick, unless they burst at just the right height. But their fuses were wildly unreliable, and usually they exploded only after they had already plummeted into the earth, destroying little and embedding so much metal in the ground that soldiers trying to navigate through darkness or smoke sometimes found their compasses had ceased to work.
The remaining British shells were high-explosive ones, which could indeed destroy a German machine gun bunker, but only if they hit it with pinpoint accuracy. When guns were firing from several miles away, this was almost impossible. German machine gun teams had waited out the bombardment in dugouts as deep as 40 feet below the surface and supplied with electricity, water, and ventilation. In one of the few places where British troops did reach the German front line on July 1, they found the electric light in a dugout still on.
Unaccountably, an underground mine had exploded beneath the German lines 10 minutes before zero hour, a clear signal that the attack was about to begin. Then, like a final warning, the remaining mines went off at 7:28 a.m., followed by a two-minute wait to allow the debris -- blown thousands of feet into the air -- to fall back to earth before British troops climbed out of their trenches to advance. Those two minutes gave German machine gunners time to run up the ladders and stairways from their dugouts and man their fortified posts, of which there were roughly a thousand in the sector of the line under attack. During the two minutes, the British could hear bugles summoning German riflemen and machine gunners to their positions.
“They came on at a steady easy pace as if expecting to find nothing alive in our front trenches,” recalled a German soldier of the British advance. “...When the leading British line was within 100 yards, the rattle of [German] machine guns and rifle fire broke out from along the whole line... Red rockets sped up into the blue sky as a signal to the artillery, and immediately afterwards a mass of shells from the German batteries in [the] rear tore through the air and burst among the advancing lines.”
The Germans, like the British, had plenty of artillery pieces; these were under camouflage netting and had simply not been used during the preceding weeks, so as not to reveal their positions to British aircraft. Now they fired their deadly shrapnel, whose effects the Germans could see: “All along the line men could be seen throwing their arms into the air and collapsing never to move again. Badly wounded rolled about in their agony... with... cries for help and the last screams of death.”
Plans for the orderly march forward in line abreast were quickly abandoned as men separated into small groups and sought the shelter of hillocks and shell holes. But there was no question of the hard-hit British troops turning back, for each battalion had soldiers designated as “battle police,” herding any stragglers forward. “When we got to the German wire I was absolutely amazed to see it intact, after what we had been told,” remembered one British private. “The colonel and I took cover behind a small bank but after a bit the colonel raised himself on his hands and knees to see better. Immediately he was hit on the forehead by a single bullet.”
Because the artillery bombardment had destroyed so little of the barbed wire, British soldiers had to bunch up to get through the few gaps they could find -- making themselves an even more conspicuous target. Many soldiers died when their clothing, especially the loose kilts of the Scotsmen, caught on the wire. “Only three out of our company got past there,” recalled a private of the Fourth Tyneside Scottish Battalion. “There was my lieutenant, a sergeant and myself.... The officer said, ‘God, God, where’s the rest of the boys?’”
The vaunted “creeping barrage” crept forward according to the timetable -- and then continued to creep off uselessly into the far distance long after British troops who were supposed to be following behind its protective cover had been pinned down by the tangles of uncut German wire. The cavalry waited behind the British lines, but in vain. Some of those who had survived in no-man’s-land tried, after dark, to crawl back to their own trenches, but even then the continual traversing of German machine gun fire sent up showers of sparks as bullets hit the British barbed wire.
Of the 120,000 British troops who went into battle on July 1, 1916, more than 57,000 were dead or wounded before the day was over -- nearly two casualties for every yard of the front; 19,000 were killed, most of them within the first disastrous hour, and some 2,000 more would die in aid stations or hospitals later. There were an estimated 8,000 German casualties. Because they led their troops out of the trenches, the toll was heaviest among the officers who took part in the attack, three-quarters of whom were killed or wounded. These included many who had attended the Old Etonian dinner a few weeks before: more than 30 Eton men lost their lives on July 1st. Captain Nevill of the East Surreys, who had distributed the soccer balls, was fatally shot through the head in the first few minutes.
The First Newfoundland Regiment, awaiting its Victoria Cross winner and the young woman who had promised herself as his reward, was virtually wiped out. There were 752 men who climbed out of their trenches to advance toward the skeletal ruins of an apple orchard covered by German machine gun fire; by the day’s end 684 were dead, wounded, or missing, including every single officer. The German troops the Newfoundlanders attacked did not suffer a single casualty.
Attacking soldiers had been ordered not to tend injured comrades, but to leave them for stretcher bearers who would follow. The dead and wounded, however, included hundreds of stretcher bearers themselves, and there were nowhere near enough men to carry the critically injured to first aid posts in time. Stretchers ran out; some wounded were carried off two to a stretcher or on sheets of corrugated iron whose edges ravaged the bearers’ fingers. Many wounded who lived through the first day never made it off the battlefield. For weeks afterward their fellow soldiers came upon them in shell holes, where they had crawled for shelter, taken out their pocket Bibles, and wrapped themselves in their waterproof groundsheets to die, in pain and alone.
In other ways as well, the terrible day took its toll after the fact. One battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel E.T.F. Sandys, having seen more than 500 of his men killed or wounded during that day, wrote to a fellow officer two months later, “I have never had a moment’s peace since July 1st.” Then, in a London hotel room, he shot himself.
A Quiet Trench
Engraved on a stone plaque in the small cemetery holding the Devonshire Regiment’s casualties from this day are the words survivors carved on a wooden sign when they first buried their dead:
The Devonshires held this trench
The Devonshires hold it still
In the cemetery’s visitors’ book, on a few pages the ink of the names and remarks has been smeared by raindrops -- or was it tears? “Paid our respects to 3 of our townsfolk.” “Sleep on, boys.” “Lest we forget.” “Thanks, lads.” “Gt. Uncle thanks, rest in peace.”
Only one visitor strikes a different note: “Never again.”
Joe Sacco, one of America’s foremost political cartoonists, is author of the new book The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme, from which the illustrations in this piece are taken. His books include Palestine, winner of the American Book Award, Footnotes in Gaza, winner of the Ridenhour Book Prize, and Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, co-authored with Chris Hedges. His Safe Area Goražde was named best comic book of the year by Time magazine. His drawings are reproduced by permission of W. W. Norton & Co.
Adam Hochschild is the author of To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914–1918, from which this text, used in Sacco’s book, is drawn. It won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. His previous books include Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son, and Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, a finalist for the National Book Award. This text is reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Illustrations reprinted from The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme by Joe Sacco. Copyright © 2013 by Joe Sacco. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Copyright 2013 Joe Sacco and Adam Hochschild
By Buzz Davis
Sergeant Evans was a good man with a horrible secret who fought through the Pacific islands during WWII. One island after another, beach landing, attack, fight across and clear island of Japanese troops, and repeat at next island.
I never asked him about what it was like to fight in the islands in the infantry even though I was trained as an infantry officer. I had a feeling he had been through a lot. The Vietnam War was "hot" and there were news reports of lots of people dying there.
It was 1968, he was "old" (48 or so) and I was young (25). I was his lieutenant, he was my sergeant. For 9 months, we worked extremely well together leading the communications program of a 500 person brigade at Fort Bragg, NC.
When walking to a meeting at day break, we were discussing the training we were going to have the men do that day.