Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) always organizes under the above slogan, during Memorial Day or Veterans Day events in cities like Chicago, or through participation in national and international demonstrations such as this past February 15 and the veteran-organized “Operation Dire Distress” in Washington, D.C. of March 22-24.
Since 1967, when we organized against “our” war while it was still being fought, we demand “Support the Troops – Bring Them Home!” So, contrary to the media mythology out there, these are not new sentiments, not even “fringe” sentiments, inside the peace movement in this country. The peace movement in the United States recognizes that GIs and reservists, our brothers and sisters, are our natural allies, as Dave Dellinger advocated in 1966:
In a sensible world it would be obvious that there is a natural alliance of sympathy and common interest between the men whose lives and limbs are threatened in a dishonest and unnecessary war and those who are trying to bring that war to an end.
The veterans’ movement, now including Veterans for Peace, Gulf War Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans Against the Iraq War, has fought for peace, social justice and veterans’ benefits consistently since the late 1960s. With every war, new veterans are recruited to this movement, as they come to recognize that the ideals that took them into military service have been betrayed by the political and economic elites who make policy.Most of us were these idealistic young men or women who enlisted into the service and were not drafted. We were “educated” to believe that our country was always in the right, and each successive generation of veterans has had to learn the hard way that this is seldom, if ever, true.
This, then is the historical and experiential basis for acontemporary veterans’ movement in opposition to theBush Doctrine of continuous imperial wars.We know howeasy it is to get sucked in by the military machine, especiallywhen there do not seem to be many other opportunitiesout there for young people who really want to serve theircountry and its people. We also know how ready and willingthe politicians are to hide or ignore the complete costsof military conflict, from Agent Orange and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through to the Gulf War Syndromefrom the last adventure in Iraq. As the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld “axis of evil” sent young men and women to fight and die in an illegal war against Iraq, they were trumpeting the notion that “real” support for the troops meant to just shut up.At the very same time, the Republican-dominated House Budget Committee was “supporting” the troops by their attempt to cut veterans’ benefits by some $25 billion over the next ten years. How many people were able to see the hypocrisy in this move? Did the mainstream media even mention it at the time?Not until the veterans’ movement, both traditional and progressive wings, began to make noise did this become an embarrassment for Bush and his cronies in Congress. In a recent article in The New York Times concerning the passage of a $79 billion budget for the Iraq war, it is noted, “To get a deal with the Senate, the House also agreed to spend $100 million on health care for Iraq war veterans that the administration did not request.” (NYT, 4/13/2003) So far, nothing more is being said about the attempt to cut billions from health care programs for thousands of veterans from World War II through Gulf War I. Could it be that they are just waiting for the smoke to clear, for the flags and the yellow ribbons to be put away. before they try again?
And, make no mistake; there will be serious health issues coming out of this war, given the cavalier attitude of the Bush administration toward the use of weapons that contained depleted uranium. They even refuse to clean up the battlefield, arguing that depleted uranium poses no health risks to the GIs or to the local residents. (BBC,4/14/2003)
Major Doug Rokke, a veteran of both Vietnam and Gulf War I, has long fought against the effort to cover-up the health costs of war. As a veteran and a victim of the effects of depleted uranium, he has been a consistent voice, going back to the aborted efforts to clean up the war theater in the early 1990s. In an interview with Al-Jazeera on this issue, Doug responded to a question concerning the lies coming out of the Pentagon: “The reason that they lie is to avoid any liability for the deliberate use of uranium munitions not only in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, throughout the Balkans and throughout all the sites in the United States. Again the purpose of the war is to kill and to destroy. Uranium munitions are absolutely destructive.” (Al-Jazeera, 4/14/2003)
We should also be prepared for veterans of this latest war to come home with serious mental and behavioral issues derived from post-traumatic stress disorder. They shall join veterans from previous wars in this category, and we have already witnessed increased stress levels among earlier generations of veterans. On April 11, the Chicago Tribune published a report, which stated “Across the country, visits to Veterans Affairs counseling centers have spiked over the past several weeks, as gulf war vets experience flashbacks, nightmares, waves of depression and panic attacks, officials report.” Pay close attention to the reports coming out of the war theater about troops feeling “anguish” or “remorse” concerning their involvement in Bush’s war. What will these young people come home to? Will the planned welcome home parades with rivers of red, white and blue make them feel better? How ready will they be to talk about their experiences and the real feelings they have about participation in this popular, but illegal, war? Who will be there to listen to them? As with the previous Gulf War, the veterans’ peace and justice movement will be here to provide counsel and support and a place to get active for these men and women.
The larger peace and social justice movement should also be preparing for this. While the government and many in the larger society will forget all about their “support” for the troops, once the war is “won” and “Johnny [and Jane] come marching home,” we in the peace and social justice movement must embrace these victims of Bush’s policy. The men and women in uniform are just as assuredly victims as are those innocent men, women and children killed in Iraq, and if we are to build a broad movement for serious and fundamental social change, we must recognize all victims of this corrupt system.
Joseph T. Miller is a resident of Urbana, a National Co-Coordinator of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and an employee at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.