The Truth about War
By Margaret Flowers - Oct. 10, 2012
Sunday, October 7, 2012, marked the 11th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan. The 12th year in Afghanistan is beginning with growing human and financial costs for all of us without an end in sight. Though NATO troops are supposed to be withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2014, the US plans to leave troops there until 2024.
Last October, we marked the anniversary of the invasion by starting an occupation in Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC. We focused on the ties between the corporate control of our political process and militarism. We marched on the US Chamber of Commerce and K Street during the day and listened to veterans and the Afghan Peace Volunteers during a vigil that night.
To mark this year’s anniversary, I participated in a ceremony with Veterans for Peace at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in New York City. This is the site where the Veterans were arrested on May 1st for refusing to leave the memorial. After May 1, plaques were posted saying that the memorial closes at 10 pm.
The Veterans oppose the arbitrary closing of the memorial saying that war memories don’t end at 10 pm and with the growing number of military suicides now responsible for more deaths than combat, people should have greater access to these public spaces, not less. We must face up to the reality of war instead of trying to hide it.
Like all wars, the invasion of Afghanistan has come at a great human cost. Recently the 2000th US soldier was killed there. The number of US soldiers who have been physically wounded is approaching 20,000 and because of medical advances, the wounds that are being survived have lifelong consequences such as lost limbs, mutilated genitals and permanent brain injury. But the veterans know that nobody experiences war without being wounded, if not physically, then mentally or what they call the invisible scars.
War has costs that go far beyond the battlefield. How can we begin to measure the effects on families who are torn apart physically and suffer the stress of worrying about their loved ones who are overseas? How can we measure the cost of caring for a family member who has come home from war suffering from PTSD? What is the cost of a human life that has been squandered for the profits of the Military Industrial Complex?
And beyond that, what is the cost to all of us of living in an Empire economy? This is something we don’t often discuss as a people. But General Smedley Butler said it best when he said that war is a racket. Wars are fought to create profits for a few and all wars are justified by lies.
We can see the racket at work by looking at what is happening now as the US escalates conflicts by attacking nations with which we are not at war through drone strikes, arming groups in countries like Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria either directly or indirectly, surrounding China and Russia to drive the arms race. In fact, US weapon sales leaped dramatically this year from a previous high of $26 billion to $66 billion.
The American Empire Economy is killing people and the planet. The United States spends more on the military than any other nation, in fact five times more than the next highest nation which is China. And that only includes the ‘official’ spending. Much of our military spending is hidden. And the American military is one of the greatest polluters from the high use of petroleum-based fuels to contamination of air and water, to the destruction of forests and the killing of wildlife.
And rather than making us safer, we are accelerating hostility towards the United States, which only further fuels the Military Industrial Complex. This won’t end until, just like we need to do in health care, we take the profit out of it.
U.S. foreign policy and militarism together comprise a great threat to our public health. And like most public health problems, a preventative approach will work the best to stop it.
We can begin to resolve this public health threat by adopting a diplomatic foreign policy instead of one of aggression, as outlined in the Project on Defense Alternatives. We can end military casualties and injuries by bringing the troops home and investing in comprehensive care, including education and housing, for all veterans. Thousands of non-elderly veterans die each year due to lack of access to health care. Instead of war, we can invest our dollars in building a green economy and stronger physical and social infrastructures. In fact, we can create more and higher quality jobs by investing domestically rather than investing in the military.
These are commonsense solutions that are supported by the majority of Americans, but they are unlikely to be implemented for the same reason that so many of the solutions to our current crises are ignored: they put people before profits and those entities that profit off of our current crises control our current political process.
This is what I experienced first-hand during the health reform process of 2009-2010. The resulting health law, the ‘Affordable Care Act’ [sic], was written by and for the industries that profit off of our current system. It did not reflect the desires or the interests of the people.
And that is why I stand in solidarity with and am proud to be an associate member of Veterans for Peace. Together we can transform our nation and the world to one that is peaceful, just and sustainable. In fact, it will only happen if we work together nonviolently and strategically. We can shift the balance of power by exposing the truth and by building alternative systems to replace current ones.
Telling the truth is what Veterans for Peace has the courage to do over and over again. Members of Veterans for Peace frequently participate in protests in the US. They and their allies travel to countries that are devastated by US foreign policy from Gaza to Iraq and Afghanistan to Pakistan and Jeju Island in South Korea. In the past they put their bodies on the line for war profits and now they do so with the greater dedication and integrity for peace and justice.
The ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Sunday night was powerful and moving. Ariel Zevon of Doo-Occupy sang with veterans from Vermont. David Rovics and Jun Bustamante sang “Meanwhile in Afghanistan.” Young veteran Jenny Pacanowski read her poem “Parade” and Vietnam veteran Mike Hastie read two of his poems. Chris Hedges spoke about “The Maimed.”
After the speakers and music, Veteran Watermelon Slim played a soulful “Taps” on harmonica. Then we began reading the names of New Yorkers who were killed in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Each time that ten names were read, WWII veteran Jay Wenk struck a gong and flowers were placed in one of 11 vases. Our intention was to read all of the thousands of names.
We began reading names at 8:30 and still had many pages to go when 10 pm rolled around. There had been a few police gathered by one of the tall office buildings surrounding the memorial park during the ceremony, but at 10 pm many more police appeared including a lieutenant in his distinguishing white shirt.
We continued to read the names and strike the gong and place the flowers as the lieutenant warned us through his bullhorn that we would be arrested for trespassing. We continued reading and striking the gong and placing the flowers as the arrests began one by one. When Jay Wenk was arrested, we no longer had a gong but we continued reading names and placing flowers in the vases. When the women who were placing the flowers were arrested, we continued reading the names and we clutched the bouquets of flowers in our arms.
I was the last one of the 25 people arrested that night. The police took the flowers from me and when my arms were handcuffed behind my back, I could no longer see the papers I was holding and could no longer read the names. We were lined up and marched two by two to the waiting police vans which took us to the Seventh Precinct for processing.
I recall the words of Howard Zinn when Amy Goodman interviewed him in May, 2009. When she asked him what people should do, he said, “go where you are not supposed to go, say what you are not supposed to say and stay when they tell you to leave.”
It is up to us. We are on a path of environmental destruction and the extinction of many species, including humans. We can passively stay on that course, or we can stand united against it and create a different future. Every one of us can take a stand and contribute in our own way. Tell the truth. Talk to people in your community. Find ways to work together. Our issues are all connected. And let’s put people and the planet over profit.
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