Joan Wile is the Founder of Grandmothers Against the War and the author of "Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace" (Citadel Press)
The day was downcast, but the wonderful high school seniors from Brooklyn Collaborative School standing in the rain on Fifth Avenue were not. You could say they were upcast. They were living proof that daring and principled teachers could raise their students' consciousness about the material and political costs of our current wars and integrate them into the anti-war movement.
It was the morning of May 18. About 8 or 9 kids, all Latino and African American, had joined the Grandmothers Against the War weekly vigil at Rockefeller Plaza. Their Social Economics teacher, Stephen Simons, thought it would make a good field trip to supplement their class discussions regarding the question: was the Iraq war a just one?
Seniors from the Brooklyn Collaborative Studies school at the Grandmothers Against the War vigil, May 18, 2011 (photo by Rex Bounds)
It would have done your hearts good to join with them, just as it did our hearts. Every single one of the youngsters is going on to college -- one with a full scholarship to Bard College and one with a full scholarship to Franklin and Marshall College. I suspect this impressive feat is due in part to the influence of their teacher.
Carol Husten, a former teacher and member of the Granny Peace Brigade, began the event by drawing the kids out about their thoughts relative to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It became quickly apparent that the students were very well versed in the causes and effects of the war. When Ms. Husten asked them, for instance, why they thought we invaded Iraq when there were actually no weapons of mass destruction, one young man promptly replied, "Oil." They were also very aware of the fallacies spouted by military recruiters to lure kids into their ranks.
Barbara Harris, Chair of the Granny Peace Brigade Counter Recruitment Committee, explained Opt-Out options so that recruiters wouldn't be able to harass them in their homes. She told them that though they would be assured of being trained for all sorts of non-fighting jobs, in actuality they would be trained for only one thing -- combat!
Vietnam veteran and member of the Veterans for Peace, Bill Steyert, described the horrors and the immorality of the Vietnam war and urged the young people to stay out of the military.
At that point, the kids read to us a statement they prepared for our event, as follows:
"In May of 2003, former President Bush stated the Iraq War was part of 'Mission Accomplished.' Last year, 2010, President Obama shared that troops would come home by August 2011. Please, Mr. President, keep your word. No May 18th, 2012 with our troops in Iraq, no American troops engaged in warfare in our name. For the future of this country, re-do the American military budget. Switch for education and peace."
One of the students, Miguel Gomez, the person going to Franklin and Marshall, had this to say when asked what his conclusion was as to whether the Iraq war was a just one:
"The Iraq war is one of the most controversial wars that impacted society.
Thousands of innocent civilians died in Iraq, thousands of our own men died
and to this day they are still recovering dead bodies. I believe the
Iraq war is an unjust war because of the amounts of
lives that were taken in vain due to an unclear cause, and because we
destroyed a country that never hurt us. The living conditions in Iraq are worse in comparison to
Saddam Hussein's control in the past. We are enemies to ourselves because we
are hurting another country, killing our own men, and hurting our economy.
Bring our Troops Home !!"
Senior Andrea Navarro, who will be attending the College of Staten Island in the fall, answered the same question this way:
"I believe the war in Iraq was an unjust one. We went in for mysterious reasons and it has taken away funds needed at home for education and health care."
We were extremely inspired by these marvelous youngsters. We have long bemoaned the fact that there are no youths in today's anti-war movement -- we believe that without them policy cannot be changed, as it was in the Vietnam era. But the Brooklyn kids gave us hope that they can reverse the inertia of their generation about the wars and lead the way for them to become committed peace activists.
We grannies will not be here forever, and we urgently need to believe others will follow us and continue our struggle for peace. The Brooklyn high school students helped assure us we needn't worry.
Postscript: We were delighted to learn after the vigil that one of the students told his classmates as they left that he had thought about joining the military, but after hearing Barbara Harris describe the truth about the recruiters' phony promises he had changed his mind.
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