“There have always been veterans for peace. War makes veterans warriors for peace.” With those words, David Cline, wounded and decorated in Vietnam, and national president of Veterans For Peace (VFP), opened the organization’s eighteenth annual convention, on August 8, in San Francisco.
Hundreds of veterans who’d served from World War II through the Persian Gulf War gathered here from every corner of the country for two full days of workshops, plenaries and informal conversations, focused largely on ways to express and amplify opposition to the current war with Iraq and to the new patterns of domestic repression that mark the past two years.
One featured speaker, Congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, mapped the vets’ progressive agenda onto the mainstream of electoral politics before the packed convention. The audience generally took heart that one candidate for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party would articulate views antagonistic to the broad strokes of the Administration’s foreign and domestic policies during the approaching run of primaries.
Breakout sessions, a k a workshops, occupied the first day of the convention. Best title goes to a gay and lesbian vet contingent: “We Used to Shower Together.” Point taken. At another featured workshop, a new VFP project–Bring Them Home Now (BTHN)–was launched with hopes to stir uncomfortable memories among Pentagon and White House operatives of the “hollow army” brought about by widespread resistance and disaffection within the military during the Vietnam era.
Bring Them Home Now is a coalition of military-family and veterans groups, including Nancy Lessin and Charlie Richardson of Military Families Speak Out, whose Marine Corps son, Joe, just returned from Iraq, and Stan Goff, an organizer from the Ft. Bragg area around Fayetteville, North Carolina, a retired Green Beret Master Sergeant, whose son, Jessie, just left for Iraq with the 82nd Airborne. The coalition, which also includes the Central Committee of Conscientious Objectors of GI Hotline, Citizen Soldier and Vietnam Veterans Against the War, intends to mobilize the anti-Iraq War sentiment that is growing rapidly among military families and GIs in order to help convince the American public to pull the plug on Bush’s wars.
Veterans For Peace, which has doubled its paying membership to 3,100 veterans–all activists–in a year, “is aligning itself with many like-minded organizations,” Korean War vet Woody Powell, the organization’s national administrator, told delegates in San Francisco. United For Peace and Justice, for one, was quick to endorse the BTHN campaign, and veterans and family members are expected to play highly visible roles in the mass demonstration planned for October 25 in Washington.
Like-minded legislators too. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, planning their fall assault on the Bush agenda, have already asked BTHN and VFP to locate military families and Iraq War veterans who are willing to provide testimony before an ad hoc Congressional panel, reminiscent of the Dellums Hearings on War Crimes in Vietnam in 1971. Prior to that, however, BTHN will troop military families and their message to bring the troops home directly to Senate and House members at the district level in twenty states before the end of the summer recess in early September.
A press conference to announce the Bring Them Home Now campaign took place in Washington on August 13, and, on the following day, in Fayetteville. The press events, short of capturing headline coverage, were still broadly reported throughout the print, Internet and electronic media. Response to a reporter’s question about BTHN during the Pentagon briefing on C-SPAN the evening of August 13 was cautious. “These people,” referring to the BTHN families and organizers, “are entitled to their views,” said the DOD spokesperson, quickly recasting the issue of troop and family member discontent as a technical problem, a question of resolving the “predictability of rotation.”
Will discontent in the ranks and among family members diminish, if combatants know before deploying to Iraq the duration of their tour of duty there? Or will the “unpredictable” nature and length of this war ultimately lead to a kind of malaise in the military that was so costly to troop morale and discipline during Vietnam? It depends on how much Iraq will ultimately become like Vietnam, and on the peace movement’s capacity to counter a truly unpredictable element: the fear factor around national security, so expertly manipulated thus far by the Bush team to bolster public support for the war.