By David Swanson
Dedicated and disciplined nonviolent activists, and in particular military veterans, are being openly invited to join members of Veterans For Peace in a peaceful vigil in New York City that will as likely as not result in their wrongful arrest and prosecution.
The time will be 6 p.m. on October 7, 2012, as the United States and NATO complete the eleventh year of the current occupation of Afghanistan and launch the 12fth. The crowd at the Republican National Convention cheered for complete immediate withdrawal, but the nominee’s plans don’t include it. The crowds at rallies for President Obama’s reelection cheer for both the continuation of the war and its supposed status as “ending,” even though the timetable for that “ending” is longer than most past wars, and a massive occupation is supposed to remain after the occupation “ends.” Veterans For Peace, an organization dedicated to the abolition of war, is hoping to inject a discordant note into this happy discourse — something that the ongoing reports of deaths just don’t seem to manage.
The place will be Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza, 55 Water Street, New York City. It was there that some of the same veterans gathering this October were arrested last May First. The memorial is normally open around the clock, but on that day the New York Police Department decided to close it at 10 p.m. in order to evict the Occupy Movement’s nonviolent general assembly. Eight members of the Veterans Peace Team and two members of Occupy Faith were arrested for refusing to leave. Since that day, a small metal sign has been posted at the park stating that it closes at 10 p.m. This October 7, the veterans have a permit for sound equipment lasting until 10 p.m., but they intend to remain overnight.
Vietnam vet Paul Appell says, “War veterans, loved ones of the fallen, and certainly those living in war zones do not have the option of closing down their memories at 10 p.m. There is a good reason why suicide is an attractive option for many. It is truly the only sure way of ending the memories. For a memorial to shut down at some convenient time for the city is an insult to all those who do not have the luxury of shutting down their war memories at a specific time. I know that many want us war vets to go out of sight and not bother them, except when we are needed for some parade. Some of us are not going away at 10 p.m. or any other time. If they do not like it, maybe they should have thought of that before they sent us to war.
Tarak Kauff, U.S. Army, 1959-1962, and one of the organizers of VFP’s Veterans Peace Team, says, “We will be there standing together and getting arrested again if necessary for our right to remember the fallen, to oppose and ‘abolish war as an instrument of national policy’ and to affirm our right to do so in a public place of remembrance that has great meaning for all veterans.”
The plan is not for a mass demonstration. In fact, many are explicitly not invited. Non-veterans are enthusiastically welcome, including associate members of Veterans For Peace and anyone else dedicated to ending violence in the world. But “diversity of tactics” is unapologetically rejected. Anyone inclined toward violence, provocation, or threats, including violence to inanimate objects, is kindly asked on this day, to respect the Memorial, the veterans, and the commitment to nonviolence. This event will involve hundreds of activists who intend to peacefully vigil all night, and who will not respond to police violence with any violence of their own.
Speakers at the vigil will oppose a single additional day of U.S. warmaking in Afghanistan. Speakers will include Leah Bolger, Margaret Flowers, Glen Ford, Mike Hastie, Chris Hedges, George Packard, Donna Schaper, Kevin Zeese, and Michael Zweig. Dr. Cornel West has also been invited. At 9:30 p.m. participants will lay flowers for the fallen.
The purpose of this action, which will succeed whether the police interfere or not, is well expressed by several vets planning to take part. Mike Ferner, Navy Corpsman, 1969-1973, and past president of Veterans For Peace, says, “I’m coming to NYC October 7 because I need to do more for myself and the world than just get angry at the misery and suffering. Being with my comrades again and standing up for peace uplifts my spirit.”
Rev. George E. Packard, Retired, Bishop for the Armed Forces of the Episcopal Church, asks, “How can we, as Americans and compassionate human beings, tolerate even one more day creating a toxic battle environment in that southwest Asian country? We increase the lethality of our weaponry–more drones, more firepower–so we can protect our troops and not face the bad news of casualties at home. But it is a useless scheme and one that sacrifices the lives primarily of Afghan women and children, the real collateral damage. Also, this destruction becomes latent in our culture as the postponed agony of PTSD in thousands of troops extends to their immediate families in the United States.Entire segments of our population are sentenced to living addicted or arrested lives because we weren’t wise enough to figure out a more humane and effective foreign policy.”
Ellen Barfield, Heavy Equipment Mechanic Sergeant, U.S. Army, 1977-1981, adds, “I will mourn the New York U.S. soldiers dead from Vietnam whose names are there on that wall, and the thousands of U.S. and other soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in these more recent wars, and the millions of civilians who were killed in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan. But I will also express our right to visit memorials and speak out against wars at any time of the day or night. Sadly, war trauma does not sleep, so setting arbitrary curfews at war memorials is cruel and unjust. We will object with our bodies to the repression of mourning and dissent.”
Erik Lobo, Navy veteran, remarks, “I will be at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial because the oath I took–both in the Navy and during 28 years in law enforcement–to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, does not have an expiration date.”
David Ross, Vietnam veteran, explains, “Once again I will be honored to stand with my sisters and brothers and our friends regardless of the inconvenience. I owe this and, looking back over 40 years of veteran organizing, the need to take a stand has never been greater.”
William P. Homans, a.k.a. Watermelon Slim, Vietnam veteran, says, “I will be returning to the New York Vietnam Memorial to play Taps. … I will also be there because the American right to dissent from ‘business as usual’ is at risk. I was in the anti-Vietnam War movement back in the early ’70s when I returned from Vietnam, and I never considered the absolute right to speak and dissent to be threatened. … But mostly I will be there to mourn.”
John Spitzberg of Ashville VFP, puts it this way: “I speak for those who have died and for those who are so infirm that they are unable to come to New York on October 7. We are the living and able who rally for you so that your voices are heard and are not in vain. We come to say ‘Enough of this travesty of mindless war, mindless mayhem and devastation.'”
Finally, Kauff, who is doing a lot to organize this event, says, “I have a fury inside me against war and those rich fat cats who perpetrate wars and militarism. Yes, I take it personally. These wars are not about defending freedom or democracy. They have nothing to do with that–just the opposite. The top-down leaders, the corporate warlords, the politicians, the Masters of War don’t give a damn about freedom and democracy, about the lives and money going from the poor and middle class to fight and pay for these wars. They and their kids don’t fight, die and come home wounded in body and soul. No, they make fortunes selling weapons while destroying the world. It pains and angers me deeply, and I want to stop it. On October 7, while grieving for, remembering and respecting the fallen, I will take a stand for my and others’ right to peacefully and nonviolently affirm this whenever and wherever we want to, especially at this hallowed place, where memories and reminders of the futility of war never cease, not at 10 p.m., not at any time.”