FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

An Interview with Anti-War Faster Mike Ferner

by RON JACOBS

On Wednesday, February 15, 2006, a group of war resisters began a 34 day liquids only fast in Washington, DC. The fast is sponsored by the Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV)–a nonviolent action group made up of regular citizens who are fed up with the direction of the US government, especially as regards its foreign policy. The name VCNV has given the campaign that this fast is part of is the Winter of Our Discontent.

One of the fast participants is a man named Mike Ferner. I first heard of Mike when he traveled to Iraq in the winter of 2003 just before the US/UK invasion in March of that year.

Mike is a Vietnam vet who served as a Navy Corpsman and then received an honorable discharge from the service as a conscientious objector. He is also a union organizer, member of Veterans for Peace, and served on the Toledo, Ohio city council. His book on his trips to Iraq (he went there again in 2004) is titled Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq, and is due out in August, 2006. I have maintained a rather loose email contact with Mike over the past several months and, when I heard he was participating in this fast, decided to ask him a couple questions. The email “conversation” follows.

Ron: Hi Mike, I heard that you were participating in the 34 day fast to protest the war in Iraq and thought I would check in with you. What made you decide to participate? Furthermore, since the administration is unlikely to be affected, whose conscience do you hope to stir with this action?

Mike: I decided to participate because I needed to do something more to up the ante against the war. If you go to this page and watch the video featuring Jackson Browne singing “Lives in the Balance,” you’ll get as good an idea as I can give you why we need to do more for peace. There ARE lives in the balance and we in this country are all complicit in the suffering our government is causing.

I agree with you that our fast/vigil/sit-ins won’t affect the criminals waging the war. We certainly want to call people’s attention to the crimes they are committing, but we know we won’t change their behavior by our small presence in Washington over the next month. What will change their behavior (and hopefully impeach and imprison them) however, is if every person in the U.S. who opposes this war will stop and think for a moment about what they can do to up the ante. Those are the people whose hearts we need to reach.

We can all do more–every one of us–no matter what our job or station in life. And if every person mad as hell that this war continues will think about what more they can do for peace it will indeed make a difference…and more than just “make a difference” in some abstract way. It will throw a wrench into the gears of the war machine and grind it to a halt. This we can do, if every person of good conscience decides they have to do more than they thought they could do.

Ron:You have a book scheduled to be published in late summer 2006. What is it about and when did you write it?

Mike: We just settled on a title, Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq. It’s about my trips to Iraq and the people I met. People in the peace movement, Iraqis, G.I.’s, and journalists. My first trip was just prior to the U.S. invasion when I went with Voices in the Wilderness for a month. The second trip was in early 2004 for two months when I went specifically to report and write. I wasn’t thinking at the time of writing a book, actually, but the more I worked at the stories, the more I realized I had experienced something that needed to be told.

Ron: From your involvement in Voices for Creative Nonviolence, it seems apparent that you believe in the power of nonviolent direct action as practiced and preached by Martin Luther King, Jr. What experiences in your life led you to this commitment?

Mike: First off, I don’t consider myself a pacifist…yet, anyway. Even though I’m learning more about Gandhi and King and nonviolent principles and I’m getting closer to being a pacifist the older I get, I can still see why people will resort to violence if they’re oppressed long enough. What has lead me to a life of activism was, initially, being a hospital corpsman during the Viet Nam war and taking care of the young men who came back in pieces from that conflict. Few things will turn you against war quicker than that kind of work. Then, through life I realized that the Viet Nam war wasn’t the only injustice, simply the first one I had experienced directly. I got involved in the environmental movement and the labor movement over the years. So social change has been the constant theme in my life since I getting out of the Navy.

Ron:What do you think lies ahead for the people of Iraq?

Mike:While the U.S. continues to occupy it, nothing but violence and suffering. I believe that every political institution created in Iraq since the invasion will be seen as tainted by the invader, and as such, stands a good chance of being torn down once we are finally gone. That is not a pleasant picture to imagine, but it will happen whenever we leave. And until then, the violence and suffering will continue because our presence is fueling the resistance. Withdraw that fuel and the fire will subside. Who knows what will follow, but whatever it is, it will happen when (not if) we leave. Then, the peace movement’s mettle in the U.S. will be put to the test to see if we can force our government to make amends for what we’ve done to the extent that is possible.

Ron: How about the people of Iran?

Mike:Our government leaders will seal the case for their insanity diagnosis if they take military action against Iran. If they do so, however, it won’t be anything like the Iraq war. Iran has got military capabilities far in excess of Iraq’s. They have missile systems that will inflict terrible damage and casualties to U.S. ships and ground forces in the region. Beyond that, of course, violent reprisals will become the order of the day and we will have succeeded in making the world considerably more unbalanced and frightening.

Ron:The people of the US?

Mike:That’s a good question, isn’t it? Do we think that except for the relatively small number of military casualties coming back from Iraq we will be unaffected? I’m sure that’s what our “leaders” would like to promote, but that’s not the reality. Every G.I. that’s been killed, and every one of the tens of thousands who’ve been wounded–physically and mentally–has a family; has a city or town they’re from; had hopes and dreams and skills they would have shared fully with their communities and society. Instead, we will bear the financial and emotional costs of dealing with the families of those men and women and everyone their pain has touched, radiating out in ever-larger circles–for the rest of their lives. Say nothing of the opportunities lost, the health care these billions could have provided, the civil liberties we have lost, etc. etc. Just the direct costs, financial and emotional, from this war will be felt for generations. And as a people we will be much less safe when it is finally over. Look at what other countries thought of the U.S. right after September 11, 2001, and what they think of us now. We are making a dangerous world for our children and grandchildren.

Ron:Despite my better judgment, I occasionally get incredibly frustrated with the failure of the antiwar movement to end this damn war. In fact, sometimes I feel like going the route of the Weather Underground. I know I am not alone in this. Indeed, I would imagine that you feel this way sometimes. What do you do to convince yourself to continue the struggle?

Mike:It is most definitely frustrating, without a doubt. Is violence the answer? I can understand what drives oppressed people to it, but I still think it can never really be the answer.

Ron: Last fall before the big antiwar march on Washington you wrote an article calling on people to sit-in around the White House a la the Chinese occupation of Tianamen Square. Do you still think this is a good strategy?

Mike: Actually, my suggestion was that when we were hundreds of thousands strong we sit down then, not two days later in a staged sit-in at the White House, which is what happened. Bless every one of those 400+ people who got arrested there (I was arrested earlier that morning at the Pentagon with 40 others), but at some point we have to take seriously the idea of putting a very large wrench into the gears of this war machine–make the nation simply ungovernable in every way we can. We have to do more.

Ron: Back to the fast–will there be a way for people to keep in touch with this campaign and publish its progress on their email lists and in their local organizations?

Mike: Check out the Voices for Creative Nonviolence website for updates. MORE IMPORTANTLY, organize a fast, or a vigil, or better yet, a sit-in at your local congressional offices, and let us know what you’re doing so we can fan the flames of protest.

Ron: As a vet, do you have any special message for women and men who are currently in the service (or considering joining)?

Mike: If you’re thinking of joining, don’t. It ain’t worth it. And I don’t just mean you might get killed or wounded. The military is not what we should be using as a tool to protect the holdings of the empire, and that’s its basic role no matter what the enlistment commercials say. If you’re already in and have come to believe what we’re doing is wrong, call the G.I. Hotline 800-394-9544 and find out what you can do to get out.

Ron: Thanks for your time. I’ll keep in touch.

(Interviewer’s note: The title of this article is a paraphrase of a sentence that I lifted from Martin Luther King Jr.’s April 4,1967 specch against the US war in Vietnam.)

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Winning Hearts and Minds
Tommy Raskin
Syrian Quicksand
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Still Tries to Push Dangerous Drug Class
Jill Richardson
The Attorney General Thinks Aspirin Helps Severe Pain – He’s Wrong
Mike Miller
Herb March: a Legend Deserved
Ann Garrison
If the Democrats Were Decent
Renee Parsons
The Times, They are a-Changing
Howard Gregory
The Democrats Must Campaign to End Trickle-Down Economics
Sean Keller
Agriculture and Autonomy in the Middle East
Ron Jacobs
Re-Visiting Gonzo
Eileen Appelbaum
Rapid Job Growth, More Education Fail to Translate into Higher Wages for Health Care Workers
Ralph Nader
Shernoff, Bidart, and Echeverria—Wide-Ranging Lawyers for the People
Chris Zinda
The Meaning of Virginia Park
Robert Koehler
War and Poverty: A Compromise with Hell
Mike Bader – Mike Garrity
Senator Tester Must Stop Playing Politics With Public Lands
Kenneth Culton
No Time for Olympic Inspired Nationalism
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Final Days of the Regime
Irene Tung – Teófilo Reyes
Tips are for Servers Not CEOs
Randy Shields
Yahoomans in Paradise – This is L.A. to Me
Thomas Knapp
No Huawei! US Spy Chiefs Reverse Course on Phone Spying
Mel Gurtov
Was There Really a Breakthrough in US-North Korea Relations?
David Swanson
Witness Out of Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism
Dean Baker
The Washington Post’s Long-Running Attack on Unions
Andrew Stewart
Providence Public School Teachers Fight Back at City Hall
Stephen Cooper
Majestic Meditations with Jesse Royal: the Interview
David Yearsley
Olympic Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail