There have always been veterans for peace. War makes veterans warriors
for peace." With those words, David Cline, wounded and decorated in
Vietnam, and national president of Veterans For Peace
(VFP), opened the organization's eighteenth
annual convention, on August 8, in San Francisco.
Hundreds of veterans who'd served from World War II through the Persian
Gulf War gathered here from every corner of the country
for two full days of workshops, plenaries and informal conversations,
focused largely on ways to express and amplify opposition to the
current war with Iraq and to the new patterns of domestic repression
that mark the past two years.
One featured speaker, Congressman and presidential candidate Dennis
Kucinich, mapped the vets' progressive agenda onto the mainstream of
electoral politics before the packed convention. The audience generally
took heart that one candidate for the presidential nomination of the
Democratic Party would articulate views antagonistic to the broad
strokes of the Administration's foreign and domestic policies during
the approaching run of primaries.
Breakout sessions, a k a workshops, occupied the first day of the
convention. Best title goes to a gay and lesbian vet contingent: "We
Used to Shower Together." Point taken. At another featured workshop, a
new VFP project--Bring Them Home Now (BTHN)--was launched with hopes to stir uncomfortable memories among
Pentagon and White House operatives of the "hollow army" brought about
by widespread resistance and disaffection within the military during
the Vietnam era.
Bring Them Home Now is a coalition of military-family and veterans
groups, including Nancy Lessin and Charlie Richardson of Military
Families Speak Out, whose Marine Corps son, Joe, just
returned from Iraq, and Stan Goff, an organizer from the Ft. Bragg area
around Fayetteville, North Carolina, a retired Green Beret Master
Sergeant, whose son, Jessie, just left for Iraq with the 82nd Airborne.
The coalition, which also includes the Central Committee of Conscientious Objectors of GI Hotline, Citizen Soldier and Vietnam Veterans Against the War, intends to mobilize the anti-Iraq War sentiment that is growing rapidly among military families and GIs in order to help convince the American public to pull the plug on Bush's
Veterans For Peace, which has doubled its paying membership to 3,100
veterans--all activists--in a year, "is aligning itself with many
like-minded organizations," Korean War vet Woody Powell, the
organization's national administrator, told delegates in San Francisco.
United For Peace and Justice, for one, was quick to endorse the BTHN
campaign, and veterans and family members are expected to play highly
visible roles in the mass demonstration planned for October 25 in
Like-minded legislators too. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus,
planning their fall assault on the Bush agenda, have already asked BTHN
and VFP to locate military families and Iraq War veterans who are
willing to provide testimony before an ad hoc Congressional panel,
reminiscent of the Dellums Hearings on War Crimes in Vietnam in 1971.
Prior to that, however, BTHN will troop military families and their
message to bring the troops home directly to Senate and House members
at the district level in twenty states before the end of the summer
recess in early September.
A press conference to announce the Bring Them Home Now campaign took
place in Washington on August 13, and, on the following day, in
Fayetteville. The press events, short of capturing headline coverage,
were still broadly reported throughout the print, Internet and
electronic media. Response to a reporter's question about BTHN during
the Pentagon briefing on C-SPAN the evening of August 13 was cautious.
"These people," referring to the BTHN families and organizers, "are
entitled to their views," said the DOD spokesperson, quickly recasting
the issue of troop and family member discontent as a technical problem,
a question of resolving the "predictability of rotation."
Will discontent in the ranks and among family members diminish, if
combatants know before deploying to Iraq the duration of their tour of
duty there? Or will the "unpredictable" nature and length of this war
ultimately lead to a kind of malaise in the military that was so costly
to troop morale and discipline during Vietnam? It depends on how much
Iraq will ultimately become like Vietnam, and on the peace movement's
capacity to counter a truly unpredictable element: the fear factor
around national security, so expertly manipulated thus far by the Bush
team to bolster public support for the war.
Michael Uhl served with the 11th Infantry in Vietnam, co-founded Citizen Soldier and is a charter member of Veterans For Peace.
Copyright © 2003 The Nation