The following comes from remarks made at a gathering sponsored by Blue Hill Peninsula Peace and Justice on Armistice Day.
We must continue, even redouble, our efforts to effect real change when there may be a window of opportunity for our voices to persuade President Barack Obama to become a leader faithful to a gentler inner self.
I am extremely proud to be a member of Veterans for Peace. Founded 27 years ago in Maine, VFP now has more than 5,000 members and more than 130 chapters. We are the only veterans’ organization that is opposed to all war, and we’re dedicated to increasing awareness of the costs of war.
Unfortunately, most Americans would be dismissive of VFP, maintaining we’re naive, that man is inherently violent and that, therefore, war is inevitable. However, there are many peaceful cultures demonstrating that war can be a matter of choice.
We in America resist that notion, I think, largely because of our violent history. It is simply too uncomfortable for Americans to accept that wars aren’t necessary or that war often has been closer to our leaders’ first option rather than their last. Our history only contributes to the disheartening resolute march down a beaten, blood-soaked path.
Making the case for the U.S. being among the bloodiest of nations before World War II meets with considerable resistance, though it’s pretty hard to dismiss the genocide of Native Americans, the slave trade, our Civil War, the Mexican War, the Spanish American War and World War I as mere aberrations. The picture since World War II is too fresh in our memory to deny. Between 6 and 7 million people died in our three big wars since the “good” one: Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.
Author and activist Brian Willson found there have been 390 overt U.S. military interventions between 1945 and 2008. Author William Blum writes that we’ve bombed 28 countries. When I taught, I was fond of citing peace guru Colman McCarthy’s quiz. He asked his students how many of these incursions led to the establishment of a democratic government respectful of human rights. The answer is zero.
In his writings, John Tirman, of the Center for International Studies at MIT, asks why Americans are so indifferent to the deaths of others. In part, Tirman explains, this callousness can be attributed to a conscious campaign by policymakers to assure the American public of the rightness of our wars and their benefits to those populations under siege, nevermind the horrific death toll.
The selling of war to the American public is, of course, responsible for the victimization of the mostly young people commemorated here. No doubt, many believed they were serving an admirable cause, to take freedom and democracy to dark regions of the planet.
These lives lost, along with the physically and emotionally damaged who have returned, represent the highest costs of our wars. Can we ignore the suicides — 26 attempted suicides by active military personnel in July alone? The toll is extensive in many other ways, we know.
There’s the monetary drain. And there is the associated loss of our international stature. It is well known, for instance, in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East that the incidence of abnormal births in Fallujah and Basra is off the charts, though not generally known here.
In a world so connected and informed, little is secret. Not these histories in Iraq and Vietnam. Not the torture at the hands of our military, CIA or private contractors. Not the renditions or drone assassinations or kill lists. Not the crippling sanctions we have imposed on Iran based on unsubstantiated claims of a nuclear weapons program. It’s all known.
Brian Willson believes that each of those killed at our hands leave behind an average of five loved ones who are traumatically conditioned to violence. How might those survivors feel about America?
My awareness of the consequences of our militarism has led me to detest it all. I have interviewed Inuit from Greenland who were displaced in Trail of Tears-like fashion to make way for Thule AB. I have interviewed people of Diego Garcia, a remote Indian Ocean island, who were evicted to make way for a gigantic base from which we have launched bombing missions over Iraq and Afghanistan.
I have interviewed Marshall Islanders whose islands became uninhabitable thanks to our atomic weapons testing there. And I have interviewed Agent Orange victims and family members in Vietnam.
They are us, and we are them, and we ought to know their anguish.
Dud Hendrick, of Deer Isle, is a Naval Academy graduate, a Vietnam War veteran and a member of the Tom Sturtevant Chapter of Maine Veterans for Peace.