About a week before a summer training institute for leaders of the antiwar movement I called the sponsoring organization, The War Resisters League, to learn why I hadn’t heard anything from the group after completing an application several months earlier to attend the conference. During the Vietnam War, that group was among the premier organizations in the antiwar movement. Activists, many from the group who had been conscientious objectors during World War II, filled their publication, Win Magazine, with great articles. I learned a lot from the War Resisters, and was inspired to become a military resister based partly on the group’s high idealism and action-based philosophy of resistance.
The training institute was scheduled to take place at the Voluntown Peace Trust in Voluntown, Connecticut. The land where that group is located was the site of a famous episode in the peace movement depicted in J. Anthony Lukas’ book Don’t Shoot—We Are Your Children (1971). The commune that had been established at the site was surrounded in the late 1960s by the far-Right group, The Minutemen, in what was perhaps a precursor to the Right-Wing, militaristic juggernaut of the past twenty-five years.
When I reached The War Resisters League’s office by phone, I had a lengthy conversation with a staffer for the group. The staffer told me that the institute had been cancelled. I guessed not enough people had signed up for the training. This cancellation came exactly one year after The War Resisters League decided not to hold a conference at the same site dealing with the issue of counter-recruitment. While over seventy-five percent of those polled in the U.S. are opposed to the war in Iraq, it is disconcerting that a major antiwar group can’t get enough people to take part in activist training!
Despite my disappointment at the cancellation of the training, the staffer and I discussed the issue of the call to “Support Our Troops,” which has become a mainstay of the antiwar movement since the war began in March 2003. He had a nuanced view of the slogan, believing that war resisters followed a continuum of beliefs that often began with strong feelings in support of the military, and often gravitated toward resistance as a result of what soldiers had experienced in the armed forces and while at war. Indeed, I agreed, to an extent, having moved from being a cadet in a R.O.T.C. brigade in college to open resistance to the Vietnam War and the military.
My significant objection to the “Support Our Troops” slogan, which has sometimes taken on the specter of cant, is that blanket support of the military allows for the glossing over of the imperialistic objectives of the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, wholehearted support is owed to those who have suffered the consequences of those wars; for those who have entertained thoughts of resistance to the military machine; and to soldiers who have become resisters. That support, however, must be tempered with the realities of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and Haditha, so-called extraordinary rendition, the loss of many civil liberties at home, and the policies of torture and abuse that have been the hallmarks of the Bush-Cheney regime. The Nuremberg Principles were clear on the individual’s responsibility for war crimes. The Principles apply to both individual soldiers and heads of state.
Following my conversation, I located information about the Voluntown Peace Trust. I recalled the high hopes and idealism I had felt while visiting there when it was simply a commune in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the literature for that group I found a statement that reads: “Individuals pursuing a just society frequently face isolation and exhaustion.”
Meanwhile, at a demonstration in the small town in Massachusetts where I live, I held a sign that read: “How Much Torture Is Enough?” One passerby, shouted in a growling tone from his car stopped at a red light: “That’s sick!” an obvious reference to the placard I held. It’s revealing that many in the U.S. can condone torture, or ignore what their government has done in their names, but cannot tolerate being confronted with the reality of that aberrant and illegal behavior.
HOWARD LISNOFF is an educator and freelance writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.