I left my public activism nearly two decades down the road, but that I stood up, out front, and did what I could to stop the attack on Iraq, is frankly the proudest moments of my life. In the aftermath of the attack on our World Trade Center, the push into Afghanistan, and the neo-con drums beating to go into Iraq, I just felt like I could not sit on the sidelines eating ice cream. First, I am a veteran of the Viet Nam era; secondly, I was a commissioned officer; and third, let me be very clear I did not have to go to Viet Nam, whereas I knew a number of men…..young men, who did, even paying the “ultimate price.” I even had the “luxury” while in ROTC in college, of spending a day at Camp Pendleton in southern California, observing young men, many still in their teens, being hardened in the Marine way for their time in Nam. I am sure many I sat beside either did not return, or returned physically and emotionally crippled. Our cities streets still have thousands and thousands of vets dealing with their “brief” time in Viet Nam, who will sleep on concrete tonight.
At that time, while the drums were beating about Saddam, I decided to join in the small protests against the war. A band of us gathered in downtown Dallas, with banners and signs, and a couple had prepared speeches, which the local media that had been notified by press release ate up. We were also accosted verbally by a drove of hostile, pickup driving….what I like to call “bumper sticker” patriots…who themselves were not volunteering to go fight, but thought they had the right to verbally abuse those that were in the minority, exercising the right of protesting. A photo of us got in the Dallas Morning News, and I was seen holding my big sign, “Veterans Against War.” Not long after that I was approached to have breakfast with several men in my age range, to start a chapter of the national organization, Veterans For Peace. Myself and another military man, still in the reserves actually, agreed to be co-leaders of a new chapter of VFP. VFP was founded mostly by Nam and Korean vets, and preceded the orgs that began after vets began to return home from the Middle East wars.
So, we VFP’ers, a handful locally, joined in with other peace and anti-war groups and led a number of protests over the next few years. Every time we got together, we would address how the number of deaths and injuries just kept increasing, with no end in sight. And even today, we see brave young soldiers who might have just been babies when 9-11 happened, giving their lives or limbs. Of course, I look at the whole debacle of the attack on Iraq, and the fire it started throughout the Middle East that rages even today and will undoubtedly for decades to come, and think, what can we in America do to change our history of wars?
For one thing, I do believe that we need to teach history truthfully, and fully, complete with war photos, in our high school curriculums. These students are the ones that will be called on to go to the next conflict, the next war (the war started by wealthy white men who do not go to war, and would not let their children go to war). These students need to fully understand the price they may pay, and understand the reasons that our country engaged in previous conflicts. Of course, a truthful explication of why the USA did this or that will normally reveal underlying motives that have little to do with our security, but rather with the continuation of our power around the world, benefiting the few.
Without teaching such history, what happens is that each new generation literally has no real “feel” for what the prior generation went through, and why. Truth must be spoken to power, or each generation we will see this lapse of intergenerational awareness, robbing the latest generation of its right to challenge and ask “why?”.