Mike Ferner is a former Navy hospital corpsman and a former President of Veterans For Peace
In a statement today directed to the U.S. House of Representatives, President Obama and its membership, Veterans For Peace urged its chapters to demonstrate opposition to the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan by doing two things:
1) Take the actions listed below within the next several days, before President Obama decides to escalate the war in Afghanistan, and
2) Plan acts of even greater resistance during the two days following any such decision.
· Continue writing and calling our representatives and demanding peace.
· If we've done that: take to the streets
· If we've done that: sit down in the streets
· If we've done that: sit down in Congressional offices
· If we've done that: sit down, clog up, incapacitate, call in sick, withdraw consent and generally bring the nation's business to a halt, wherever and whenever we can, with any peaceful means available.
To President Obama and the House of Representatives: As veterans of our nation's wars, we insist you hear our call.
British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin spoke an unassailable truth when he said, "War would end if the dead could return." If you believe that is true, Mr. President and Members of the House, you must heed our counsel well: we are the closest anyone can come to that truth the dead would speak. Stop the killing!
Because we personally understand what war truly means, we have written, called and demonstrated repeatedly for an end to the killing in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have protested at and have been arrested in House Office Buildings, the House Gallery, the White House and Congressional offices across the nation. We have pleaded, then demanded, that you stop the suffering in these countries. Although promised prior to the election, no combat brigades have returned from Iraq. And now we can smell the mire of escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Nevertheless, we cannot cease to appeal to that spark of humanity in your hearts. We know wealthy, powerful interests such as weapons contractors, lobbyists and right-wing broadcasters daily make a deafening noise, trying to drown out the voice that insists, "Stop the killing." We also know that no matter how quiet the voice of humanity might become, it can never be silenced.
So we lift up to you voices much more eloquent than our own, voices of soldiers who survived the worst fighting human beings have ever experienced, World War One. For nearly 100 years, the wisdom and compassion of their poetry has endured. Their words now stand as one of the world's most powerful witnesses to the madness of war.
You must hear them.
…And you yourself would mutter when
You took the things that once were men,
And sped them through that zone of hate
To where the dripping surgeons wait;
And wonder too if in God's sight
War ever, ever can be right.
– From "Foreword" by British ambulance driver, Robert Service
…If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
– From "Dulce et Decorum Est" (It is Sweet and Right to Die for Your Country) by British Army Lt. Wilfred Owen, killed a week before the 1918 Armistice.
More than that we cannot say to you, so we will address our former brothers and sisters in arms who are now our brothers and sisters in peace.
To members of Veterans For Peace:
At one time in our lives we bore the hardships and dangers of military service. We were not strangers to privation, or fear, or acts of courage. Although the America of our childhood history books has been shaken and some would say, shattered by what we learned in the military and since, we can still hear the call to service when it is clear and true.
Nothing could be more clear or true today than the need for us to do everything we humanly can to stop the killing. Not just stop the escalation – stop the killing. Bring all the troops home. Take care of them when they get here. Pay to rebuild what we have destroyed.
It is important for us to rededicate ourselves to the It is important for us to rededicate ourselves to the resolution we adopted at our 2008 convention: Afghanistan is not "the right war." We must leave as soon as possible.
This is important to repeat because this administration and some in Congress would have us believe that we cannot withdraw immediately from Afghanistan, we must provide some stability and protection from the likes of the Taliban.
So we state without doubt: our occupation of Afghanistan is driving the violent opposition to it. More U.S. troops and more occupation will mean more anger and yet more violent reaction from those whose lands we occupy. We must rededicate ourselves to ending this cycle of violence.
The Taliban recruit from the ranks of the unemployed and the poor. One important way to reduce unemployment, poverty and Taliban recruits is to fund programs that provide work and income. To say that the government of Afghanistan is corrupt and that economic development funds are wasted is to conveniently ignore the real reason we are in Afghanistan.
Throughout Afghanistan, grassroots networks are making a difference at the local and tribal level. This is where we should put our money.
But we are not in Afghanistan to give them democracy, even if that were possible. Neither is our purpose to build up that country's smaller, more democratic institutions that serve the population. We occupy Afghanistan because America the Empire demands control of its resources and to have a strategic locations from which to project military power. As the Secretary-General of NATO said recently, "We need a stable government in Afghanistan, a government that we can deal with."
And no one – NO one, but us is going to stop the killing; neither the President nor the Congress. We can beseech them, ask them, demand from them that they stop the killing and bring all the troops home. But until we exert the power of massive resistance to the Empire that only we can exert, it will keep rolling over Afghanis, Iraqis, Pakistanis and whoever else that is in its way.
We must continue writing and calling our representatives and demanding peace. If we've done that we must take to the streets. If we've done that we must sit down in the streets. If we've done that we must sit down in Congressional offices and if we've done that we must sit down, clog up, incapacitate, withdraw our consent and generally bring business as usual to a halt wherever we can, with any peaceful means available.
If we do not take every step we can we know what will happen. Combat brigades will stay in Iraq, drone attacks, Special Forces and the CIA will continue to kill and maim in Pakistan, and 40, 60, 80,000 more troops will be sent to Afghanistan where the suffering and death will increase dramatically – for years to come.
Even when we do all of the above we must anticipate that it may not be enough to stay the hand of death. The American Empire is a mighty machine. We will need to make common cause with all those living in the heart of Empire who are also its victims. We know who they are. We see them every day – on the streets, where we work, where we shop, where we pray, where we play.
They and we are the common folk, not possessed of significant wealth. But we are skilled and numerous and creative and tenacious. And we have nothing but time. The Empire may be mighty but it is also as of glass – the next blow against it may well be the one that sends a crack through its entire length, the next blow causing it to shatter. We cannot know when that will happen or whose blow may be the deciding one. Our job is simple: to never quit. To use a military analogy, as long as an army, no matter how tattered, remains in the field, the revolution continues.
That's all we have to do. But we must do it. Starting now.
Ferner is a former Navy hospital corpsman and President of Veterans For Peace
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