Remarks commemorating the Second Anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq given at rallies in Columbus March 19 and Cleveland March 20, 2005
As we gather here this afternoon, our colleagues in Toledo are debuting “Arlington at Toledo,” a cemetery with over 1700 white, wooden tombstones to commemorate each U.S. soldier killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Over the past weeks, my wife and I painted a few hundred of these in our kitchen. Last Saturday we started putting labels on them with the name, age, rank and home state of each G.I. killed. As we sat on our living room floor, surrounded by stacks of tombstones representing so many young men and women, we listened to an old Dire Straits album. The track titled “Brothers in Arms” came on with these telling lines: “Every man has to die/But it’s written in the starlight/And in every line on your palm/We’re fools to make war/On our brothers in arms.”
Sue looked at the tombstone with a 19 year-old soldier’s name on it she was holding and dissolved into sobs crying, “He was someone’s baby”
We are here today to recommit ourselves to ending this slaughter of someone else’s babies, whether American or Iraqi. We are here to demand an end to George Bush’s criminal war.
We must end Bush’s war to prevent more deaths and traumatic amputations of arms and legs, more quadriplegics who will be bedridden the rest of their lives. We must end Bush’s war because every day it continues, it produces more injuries we will never see until they explode years later at home. I’m talking about thousands MORE soldiers who will return from Iraq with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the injury that leaves minds riddled with flashbacks, anxiety, unpredictable outbursts of anger, depression, addictions and suicide.
If you’ve not read “Achilles in Vietnam” by Jonathan Shay, get it. Read it. You will learn helpful ways to listen to returning combat veterans. If your Uncle Bob still needs a compelling reason why war is not the answer, you’ll learn it here. If you want proof that Bush’s war is not only devastating Iraq but our own country, it’s in “Achilles in Vietnam.”
Here’s just one example reduced to numbers: over a decade after the last combat troops left Vietnam, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study found that over 40% of combat vets that’s 300,000 men reported engaging in 3 or more acts of violence in the previous year. Imagine how that continues to reverberate through our society, and how Bush has now guaranteed it will continue beyond this generation.
Shay stresses that PTSD “incapacitates its victims from participating in the domestic, economic, and political life of the nation. The painful paradox is that fighting for one’s country can render one unfit to be its citizen.” His book led me to inescapable conclusions: sending people to war profoundly changes every one of them, not usually for the better; and if we truly want to support our troops, we should never turn them into troops in the first place.
And lest we think there is some huge gulf between us and the behavior we’ve seen from GIs in Iraq, we should keep in mind what Shay calls the “comforting fantasy” that our own character would hold up under equally extreme pressure. “Those injured by combat trauma make us painfully aware that in all likelihood one’s own character would not have stood firm.” That’s why it’s often difficult to be a good listener to combat veterans or to deny the truth of their stories: they threaten our sense of self respect.
Hearing what we sent these soldiers to do may cause us discomfort or disbelief, but allowing them to tell their story to a trusted friend who will retell it honestly can be the best thing we can offer.
One former soldier who has told his story many times is Stan Goff, a retired Special Forces Master Sgt. He spent two decades, starting in Vietnam, learning the most highly developed killing skills the U.S. government had to offer. Stan is now a Veteran for Peace. He says:
“We know that some vets cling to denial, some are broken in body and spirit, some rage, and some turn their anger in on themselves and crawl into a needle or a bottle or the chamber of a pistol. But there’s a way out of that wilderness, and it’s the path of the witness. Witnessing will heal youWho better to out the thieves and mass murderers posing as statesmen than those of us closest to their criminal hearts in their time of need. Because we were there, we know what these people have sent our children to do; what they have sent our children to become.”
Sgt. Goff tells our soldiers in Iraq: “If you want a target for your rage, there they are: The Suits the same ones who are the enemies of peace, and the enemies of your families, especially if they are Black families, or immigrant or poor familiesThey’ll skin and grin while they are getting what they want from you, and throw you away like a used condom when they are done. Ask the vets who are having their benefits slashed now. Bush and his cronies are parasitesThey get the money. You get the prosthetics, the nightmares, and the mysterious illnesses”
Having taken care of hundreds of young soldiers used up and thrown away during Vietnam, and witnessing yet another generation led to slaughter on a lie, it gives me particular satisfaction to publicly announce that on Monday, the Veterans for Peace national office, representing 118 chapters across the country, will notify the entire Congress of the United States of our demand that George W. Bush and Richard Cheney be impeached!!
VFP is calling for Bush and Cheney’s impeachment because and this is important to understand when Senate adopts an international treaty, it becomes part of the supreme law of the land, the same as an act of Congress. It’s clearly stated in par. 2, Article VI, of the U.S. Constitution. This means Bush and Cheney have specifically and continually violated Article VI of the constitution and the U.S. War Crimes Act passed by Congress in 1996.
We are calling for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney because they continue to commit what are clearly defined by the Nuremberg Principles legally binding on the U.S. as “crimes against peacecrimes against humanityand war crimes.”
because Bush and Cheney initiated two years ago and continue to this day what the UN Charter legally binding on the U.S. defines as a war of aggression
because the Bush administration, in clear and specific violation of the Geneva Conventions also legally binding on the U.S. has tortured and killed prisoners, purposely targeted and killed civilians, prevented the delivery of medical reliefallALL of which are also violations of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. War Crimes Actto say nothing of international law and basic humanity
Veterans for Peace is calling for impeachment because it is our responsibility as citizens to do so. The words of a village sheik I spoke with in Iraq last year haunt me every day. Even as he assured me that he recognized the difference between the government and the people of the United States, he asked, “but you say you live in a democracy. How can this be happening to us?”
It is our responsibility to impeach this criminal leadership. As citizens, every one of us is complicit with its crimes. By virtue of that complicity, we are compelled not only by the law but by human morality and by history to do whatever we can to stop this war of aggression; stop these crimes against humanity. The Nuremberg Tribunals following WWII did not favorably judge the first nation the world determined had waged a war of aggression, nor its “good citizens” who obeyed their government.
But, my friends, we must do more than sign an impeachment petition or get a new bumper sticker. The effort to evict this criminal gang from Washington will help end the war, but we must do more than attend demonstrations, pass out leaflets, or write letters. I’m suggesting we look to the heroic history of Ohioans who in their day fought the legalized evil of slavery.
Just south of here, residents of Urbana confronted federal marshals who had come to capture and return a runaway slave under the Fugitive Slave Act. At the point of a gun the people of Urbana drove the marshals out of town and preserved that former slave’s freedom. They knew that morality called upon them to do more than just obey the law.
Historian Howard Zinn gives us sound advice on this question:
“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of their leaders and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”
So what must conscientious Americans do today? Should we follow the letter of the Fugitive Slave Act and return our fellow human beings to slavery? Should we write our congressman and then stand by like good Americans and watch our government continue to wage its war of aggression? Should we continue to legitimize a government of war criminals by paying our taxes?
The times call upon us to do more than we’ve already done; more than we think we can do. We can no longer afford to limit our protests to what Good Americans are allowed in these terrible days. And we must stop funding this administration’s crimes against humanity. We must delegitimate, disobey and disrupt this war and this system.
When the next soldier decides he or she cannot go to Iraq, we must already know which local church will provide sanctuary and not stop there. We need to surround that church with thousands of disciplined, nonviolent citizens for as long as it takes, daring federal marshals to return that soldier to slavery. Can we do less than those citizens of Ukraine who stayed in the streets for weeks to get a legitimate government? Can we do less than people in Iraq who are losing their lives and limbs under this criminal occupation?
Americans and Iraqis, young and old, soldier and civilian are slaughtered daily for Empire. What can we do that is commensurate with what the times demand? Some of our more heroic friends refuse to pay a penny in taxes; some refuse to pay the war machine’s portion. Others purposely limit their incomes so they owe nothing to the IRS.
But here’s something that every one of us can do right now that is not particularly heroic; that carries little or no risk. Withhold a token amount from what the IRS says you owe. You will eventually get a series of letters trying to collect your 25 or 100 dollars. They will expend much time, effort, and stationery to no avail. Millions of us doing this will send the message that we will delegitimate, disobey and disrupt this war and this system.
Today I beseech every soldier, sailor, marine, reservist and guardsman who can hear my voice or gets this message: brothers and sisters in arms, in the name of humanity, think about what you are being ordered to do. It is not only your right it is your duty to disobey unlawful orders. This war is grotesquely and monstrously unlawful. It is precisely what was condemned at Nuremberg. Look deep within yourselves. Do the right thing and say NO to this war. Hold on to your humanity. Refuse to participate. Apply for c.o. status. Turn from this criminal operation into the arms of a loving, disciplined and powerful movement that will be there for you as long as you need it.
It is already beginning to happen. Camilo Mejia, Jeremy Hinzman and Kevin Benderman have quit publicly. Nearly 6,000 soldiers have deserted quietly in the last two years. If even today you are on your way to Iraq, scheduled to pass through Shannon airport like 160,000 U.S. troops did last year, know that members of the Irish Parliament along with a former commandant of the Irish Army are urging you to not get back on that plane, to seek asylum in Ireland.
If we are well organized; if we are there for young soldiers who leave the military; if we refuse to be silenced and frightened by an immoral law; if we refuse to be “Good Americans;” if we do what history demands in this critical hour we can grind this war machine to a halt. We can put an end to the suffering and the war crimes. We can absolve our complicity. Will we do this together?
MIKE FERNER is a former Navy Hospital Corpsman and a member of Veterans for Peace. He spent three months in Iraq, before and after the U.S. invasion, and is writing a book about his experiences. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org