War veterans gather to stop a new war
Angry military veterans attack "an administration of chickenhawks" who demand the blood of another generation of US soldiers and marines.
November 11, 2002
By Stewart Nusbaumer
An enthusiastic crowd of approximately 350 military veterans jammed the hall of the Martin Luther King Labor Center in New York City yesterday to oppose a war with Iraq. The largest meeting of antiwar veterans in many years, the "Protest Meeting & Speakout Against War with Iraq and In Defense of Constitutional Rights" attracted a diverse group of veterans and their spouses. All, however, agreed an invasion of Iraq is wrong; all appeared to express a determination that the Bush Administration must be stopped.
"This is crazy," said Ed a Navy veteran of World War II, "I really think the Bush people don't care about the guys in the military. They only care about the oil and the money."
Most of the military veterans had white hair or little hair, many with no hair -- they had fought their wars long ago. These are the wars that some non-veterans hardly remember or are barely aware of, yet wars that are intensely remembered by the men who fought them. Seldom have antiwar movements attracted young veterans, the exception being the Vietnam War because of its long duration and the obvious failure of the war. An active duty soldier did give a brief speech expressing his refusal to participate in a war with Iraq, but he sounded like the product of older handlers, handlers with an agenda more than stopping a war against Iraq.
On the wall hung banners, dusted off and taped up with the same determination the veterans mustered in their resistance to earlier wars: Veterans for Peace, Philadelphia Chapter; Vietnam -- Never Again! Stop The War In Central America. On the wall behind the podium, The Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and The Veterans for Peace, New York City Chapter. And of course the recognizable logo of helmet over rifle, The Vietnam Veterans Against The War.
For nearly three hours, eight speakers addressed a range of issues, opposition to a war with Iraq always the unifying theme. A retired Army major spoke about biological, chemical and radioactive contamination in the Gulf War, and promised similar exposure to our troops in a second war against Iraq. "One-third of Desert Storm forces now have disability compensation from the Veterans Administration." Although few were actually wounded in that war, many in the last decade have because seriously ill.
A representative of the Center for Constitutional Rights talked about how Americans' rights are under assault and how pervasive surveillance is diminishing our privacy. Several screams of "Ashcroft" echoed in the hall.
David Cline of Vietnam Veterans Against The War said: "When going into the military, we did not swear alliance to protect the flag and the reputation of the President. We swore to protect the Constitution."
A speaker opposed the racial profiling of Arabs; another honed-in on war for oil is not a just war. Every speaker pleaded that going to war in Iraq is not the answer, and every one received strong approval from the audience.
The strongest emotional trigger was a single word, chickenhawks! Referring to the men in the White House and the media who chose not to express their patriotism by fighting in Vietnam -- a war they strongly supported -- they chose instead educational and phony health deferments. Today these men are the hawks pressing to send another generation to another war while their children remain safe and secure, as they were safe and secure during the Vietnam War.
On several occasions, chickenhawks was shouted from the audience and a strong sense of contempt washed over the crowd of military veterans, followed by laughter laced with bitterness.
Conservative academics and politicians preach that class is not an issue in America, it's irrelevant in our modern society. When in the company of combat veterans, especially when the current Commander In Chief skirted his military duty and even went AWOL, you understand that war is still an intense class issue.
A few speakers displayed a certain bias against America -- "this is America, what do you expect" scuffed Ellen Barfield. But this was not the prevalent attitude. What distinguished this meeting from a typical non-veteran peace gathering was addressed eloquently by Marine combat veteran Jaime Vazquez when he answered his own question: what is patriotism? "I love my country. And the love of country is expressed as a willingness to stand up to and to resist your government. Patriotism is not blindly following the men of war, but resisting them."
It is the love of country -- which motivated most of these veterans to sacrifice for their country -- merged with the warrior spirit to resist, which inspires these men and women to resist the current plan for war. Having once fought in a war, now they fight against a war. And this seems natural to them.
"Once a patriot, always a patriot" I heard someone in a row behind me say. For this man, resisting his government bent on war is American patriotism.
The oldest speaker was Moe Fishman, a veteran who served in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade fighting the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. For over half a century, Moe has fought domestic battles against an opposition that inevitably waved the flag of patriotism to silence dissenters, even military veterans that dissented. "It's not my country right or wrong," he screamed with unshakable conviction, "but to make my country right when it is wrong."
Igor Bobobsky, a Vietnam veteran that served in the Marine Corps, told me that "if there is no draft, then there should be no war. What could be more patriotic than insisting everyone fight a war?"
Igor is very aware that if the draft was reinstated and exemptions from military service denied, then an entire class of Americans would quickly lose their enthusiasm to invade Iraq. The neoconservatives and chichenhawks whose children are currently protected from military service and battlefield danger would suddenly discover viable alternatives to sending the U.S. military into Iraq. That is, sending their children into Iraq.
A speaker during the Speakout noted that the warriors in the Pentagon are significantly less keen about fighting Iraq than the chickenhawks in the White House. Combat experience makes options other than war very attractive. Surely, there are millions of veterans who reject a war against Iraq.
Retired Generals are writing op-ed articles and even appearing on cable news channels to advise caution, some are demanding no war. Enlisted men are seldom heard, because they are never asked. Yesterday on the eve of Veterans Day, in New York City they spoke and they listened, some 350 strong. This, the organizers of the meeting believe, is the tip of an approaching ground swell of veterans' resisting a war against Iraq. The backbone of a movement than will soon spill into the streets of America. --
Stewart Nusbaumer is editor of Intervention Magazine. Stewart is a veteran of the Vietnam War.