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)
Don't despair, folks. All our young people are not indifferent to the fact that the United States is still engaged in reprehensible occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. We anti-war grandmothers had heartening proof of this yesterday, April 27, when 20 African-American and Latino Brooklyn high school seniors joined our Grandmothers Against the War vigil at Rockefeller Center.
These teens from the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, every single one college-bound, were led on a field trip to our protest by their outstanding teacher, Stephen Simons, and his co-teacher, Jacques Hoffman. The class is entitled Social Economics -- they had been studying the economics of warfare, and came to us for a little enlightenment and, we hope, inspiration. To say we were knocked out by the fact that such a class is in a high school curriculum is an understatement, and the teachers are to be highly commended.
In our six and a half years conducting the vigil, we had often bemoaned the fact that American youths, unlike those during the Vietnam War, seemed oblivious to a crisis we believe is of the utmost urgency to them. After intermingling with these wonderful young people, however, we feel a little more hopeful.
We are well aware that the draft is largely what drew our youth to the anti-Vietnam war movement in the 60's and 70's. They felt threatened, of course, as well they should have. Without a draft in the current combustible circumstances, however, somehow young people feel immune to the dangers confronting them, not only the potential for their someday having to fight in the military, but the effects the wars have on their lives in very immediate terms. They are largely unaware of the relationship between the huge costs of war and the lack of funds for education, health care, and, so important for their eventual lives after school, jobs.
But, not these kids. Mr. Simons and Mr. Hoffman have educated them well in the economics of war. The underlying emphasis of the class is to consider the old dilemma -- guns or butter. To help them draw conclusions in that regard, they've been made aware of the enormous part of the budget delegated for the wars, and they know the impact of military spending on their own Brooklyn community. They've learned that according to the National Priorities Project, $88,000 of Brooklyn taxpayer money goes to the war in Afghanistan every hour.
One of the grannies, Carol Husten, a member of the Granny Peace Brigade, and Peace Action New York State (PANYS), welcomed the students with a review of the statistics of war and our consequent depleted economy. She explained that the United States military budget is almost as large as that of all other countries combined. It was impressive how much the kids already knew of the facts she presented to them. She then gave them a True Majority Scroll pen with its pull-down flag that illustrates with vertical bars the U.S. global military expenditures on one side and domestic spending priorities on the other.
Chaplain Hugh Bruce, a Vietnam War veteran and member of Veterans for Peace who is a regular attendee at the grandmothers' vigil, spoke eloquently about the futility of the wars we are engaged in. He explained that our war in Vietnam in which 58,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese died, accomplished nothing positive and ultimately we retreated in defeat. He discussed the fact that many other countries have non-diverse populations with non-varied mores and cultures not necessarily compatible with our multi-assorted ones and that we can't impose our values on them. "We're not anti-American, we love our country," said Chaplain Bruce, "but if you had a friend who was doing something wrong, you'd try to set him or her straight. That's what we're doing here. We're trying to steer our government onto a path of peace."
The students and the grandmothers and their supporters then fanned out along Fifth Avenue holding banners and signs, some made by the kids, while Mr. Hoffman sang "Guantanamera" and "This Land Is Your Land," accompanying himself on guitar. It was a beautiful sight to behold -- the shining, hopeful faces of these intelligent young people interspersed with our old granny ones.
We women feel so encouraged by yesterday's event. The wars seem to go on and on, and we won't be here forever. We desperately want to be assured that others will take up our quest for peace after we're gone.
The marvelous Brooklyn students who joined us gave us an exhilarating little boost, a feeling that we needn't worry. Perhaps America will be in safe hands.
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