Veterans for Peace

What Veterans Said On Veterans Day

Veterans for Peace

A post from Nov. 11, 2010.

Ed said we should wage peace and call it Armistice Day instead of Veterans’ Day.

“Frustrated because the population is so easily convinced that war is patriotic,” said Tom.

Jacqueline spoke about being in the Women’s Army Corps and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and said, “get in touch with our legislators.”

Sam said, “Contact our legislators and make it clear that we want out of Afghanistan.”

Alan was dismayed at our age and that “young people were absent.”

Conversation around the table at Hy-Vee’s free breakfast for all veterans centered on whether proof was required for the free meal for veterans at Applebees.

Tom said to his Facebook friends that are veterans, “Guys, thanks for serving. Have a great Veterans’ Day.”

Another Tom replied, “Thanks to us all the recognition we’re getting now is long over due. Thanks to all of us, regardless in the war zone or not we fought some type of war while serving and give praise to all men in uniform. God Bless and have a great day we all deserve it. S. looking sharp in that uniform Steve.”

A lot of us had our photos taken by the press and were interviewed.

Paul read the names of Afghanistan civilians who have been killed in the war.

Some didn’t speak, but just carried signs.

John asked for the e-mail address for Senators Grassley and Harkin to ask them to ratify the New START Treaty.

Bob talked about the potential Veterans’ National Recovery Center proposal for homeless veterans and asked for our help.

John said, “Peace is patriotic, and spread the word.”

James said, “Stop the wars.”

Faith said, “Have good success and I will help.”

Ralph said, “our list is our witness” and “we need gender balance on the board.”

“We need to get mad and have to be unhappy about the way the world is going,” said Dick.

Rose said we should “teach our children that peace is not a sissy thing.”

Bill said, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Martha said, “We didn’t pay attention in the Korean war. If we did, we would not have been at war again after.”

Ed said, “People didn’t love peace enough. Did not wage peace enough.”

Another Bill said “we should support active duty resisters.”

Karen said, “I agree with Bill.”

~ The author served in the U.S. Army from January 1976 until November 1979 with three years stationed in an infantry division near Mainz, Germany.

Veterans for Peace Writing


Still in Service

Patriotism does not belong to a political party. Veterans pay attention to where the country is going, engage in public discourse, and believe it is our responsibility to do so.

Patriotism, concerns itself with ethics, law, and devotion to the common good. As a young Army officer, I understood the meaning of patriotism in three words, “duty, honor, country.”

There is a new form of patriotism that is unacceptable: patriotism that proclaims “country first.” New patriotism concerns itself with moral responsibilities toward members of “our” group and by definition diminishes responsibilities toward non-members. New patriotism manifests itself in English only legislation, poor treatment of battlefield casualties, and blindness to the effects of war on foreign populations. New patriotism can accept extreme poverty, famine and the genocides in Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia and Myanmar. New patriotism asks, “what’s in it for me?” without regard for the impacts on the rest of society.

My uniform doesn’t fit, but I keep it in a trunk with my fatigues, compass and decorations. From time to time I get out my compass and am reassured that patriots will never lose their way in this complex and changing society. It is up to us to speak out and watch over the country, just as we did on diverse and distant borders long ago.

Our country needs us now as much as ever.

~ From a letter to the editor submitted to the Daily Iowan on Sept. 29, 2008.

Veterans for Peace

My Lai 50 Years Later

Coralville Public Library, June 15, 2018

After a shift at the farm I drove to the Coralville Public Library to see the exhibit about the My Lai massacre on March 16, 1968.

Created by Mac MacDevitt, and sponsored by the Chicago chapter of Veterans for Peace, the exhibit consisted of a couple dozen tall panels with text, photographs and analysis related what happened over several hours during the Vietnam War.

My Lai, and Nixon’s pardon of William Calley, led to my personal participation in the anti-war movement while I was in high school and college, and then to my enlistment in the U.S. Army in October 1975.

Like any reasonable person I found the military action which killed men, women and children to be morally reprehensible and believed as a society we could do better than the soldiers of Charlie Company. My response was to make changes in the military through my participation.

Calley was the only person convicted of murder during the operation, although it is clear other crimes were committed. Nixon’s pardon reinforced what was commonly believed among service members — that Calley was “just following orders.” While I was in officer training school at Fort Benning, Georgia we debated the efficacy of Charlie Company’s actions that day. My peers sided with Calley.

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness,” wrote Italian philosopher George Santayana.  “When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

As I stood in my dirt covered jeans, T-shirt and farm shoes looking at the pastel panels I remembered My Lai. Society hasn’t forgotten about My Lai, its context in the Vietnam War, and the cover up afterward. The next generations never learned about it.

One role for veterans is to help us remember what happens in war. My Lai was the military at its worst. We can and should be better than that.

Politics Veterans for Peace

It’s Not Memorial Day

It’s Not Memorial Day

We can end the witch hunt because it’s been found in the person of Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer.

I had hoped our first female speaker would be different from other politicians. Those hopes were dashed as she proved herself otherwise in pandering to the sizable Iowa veteran population.

In her May 19 legislative newsletter she wrote as if it were for FOX News,

With Memorial Day right around the corner, I encourage everyone to take a moment to reflect on the service and sacrifices that our veterans and active duty members of the military make each and every day.  Please also take some time to recognize those that protected us and kept us safe who are no longer with us.  It truly takes a special kind of person to put their country and others above themselves and for that we thank each and every member of our armed services, past and present.  Thank you for your service and I wish everyone a safe and happy Memorial Day.

Nuts to her. It’s not Memorial Day.

Had Upmeyer made her statement in support of Armed Forces Day, which was the next day, it wouldn’t have caught my attention. President Truman led the effort to establish a single holiday for citizens to come together and thank our military members for their patriotic service in support of our country. In that context, Upmeyer’s statement may have been appropriate. Instead she politicized military service.

I take offense to Upmeyer’s thoughtless muddle because it casts a polite if patriotic fog over the fact of increasing militarism under President Trump. Not only is our country considering ramping up our 15-year war in Afghanistan, fighting a proxy war in Yemen through Saudi Arabia, and working to isolate Iran, we have forgotten the fact that real people serve in the military and put their lives at risk for this failing foreign policy. Under the 45th president there will be more war dead.

The purpose of Memorial Day is to honor men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. It’s not to thank veterans for their service. It’s not to thank currently serving military staff. It’s not to reflect personally about highway safety or being happy. Those are political calculations. Memorial Day is to participate as part of a community in honoring our war dead.

One hopes that is something most Americans can agree upon.

Veterans for Peace

Civilians Should Control Our Military

Woman Writing Letter

Civilian control of the military is an American value our president doesn’t appear to share.

A report last Friday from the American-led military coalition in Iraq indicated scores of non-combatant civilians huddled in basements for protection had been killed in U.S. bombing raids with as many as 200 casualties.

During a 2015 interview on NBC, candidate Trump made his intentions regarding Islamic State and their assets clear.

“With ISIS, you kill them at the head. You take the oil,” he said. “That’s where they’re getting their money. If you bomb the hell out of it, you bomb the hell out of it. You’ve got to stop their wealth. They have tremendous wealth.”

It is one thing to destroy the economic assets of the Islamic State and quite another to kill civilians as coalition forces attempt to drive them from Mosul.

The official government position is that rules of engagement with enemy combatants have not changed with the new administration. At the same time, coalition partners indicate the rules have been relaxed. In the fog of military explanations the truth is obscured.

If the report is true, we know why. It’s because the president turned our wars over to his generals and shouldn’t have. The president’s disregard for civilian control of the military is evidenced by the fact the Congress had to pass a law to enable former Marine Corps General James Mattis to become Secretary of Defense.

Our president should be hands-on when it comes to our wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan. There is little evidence he is and innocent people are paying the price.

~ A letter to the editor of the Solon Economist

Veterans for Peace

On Being a Veteran

Tank Hill ca. 1978, Fort Jackson, S.C.
Tank Hill ca. 1978, Fort Jackson, S.C.

My 1975 enlistment in the U.S. Army had everything to do with how screwed up the military was coming out of Vietnam. I asked myself, if regular people didn’t step up and fix the mess, who will?

I almost didn’t get in.

Enlisting for OCS (Officer Candidate School), the people who interviewed me before signing me up said, “If he washes out of OCS, then he’ll serve six years enlisted.” They said that right in front of me.

Perhaps my shoulder-length hair didn’t indicate “officer material.” I suspected then, and now, the reason they gave me a chance was because I met the qualifications on paper and they had a quota to fill during a time when public sentiment toward soldiers was as low as we consider Washington lobbyists, corrupt politicians, rats and blue green algae today.

I got in and breezed through basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina on the infamous “Tank Hill.” I remember standing at attention in front of our barracks with some of my mates while General Omar Bradley, the “G.I.’s General,” was driven by in the back seat of a car.

Next was Fort Benning, Georgia for OCS where the company commander tried to ditch me, drug testing me almost daily for a while. Even if I was a user, how was I supposed to get illicit substances when locked up on base for the first eight weeks of training without visitors? Regretfully, I brought some No-Doz with me from Iowa, which was discovered and confiscated (I think) during one of the repeated inspections of my personal gear. I made it through OCS and was commissioned a second lieutenant, with Mother coming down to pin on my gold bars. It was a big deal at the time.

From Benning I took leave and drove home in my brand new pickup truck. A half dozen of us newly minted lieutenants went to the car dealership in nearby Columbus to leverage our buying power. It was a brand new yellow Chevy Luv. After a week or so at home, I drove to Charleston, South Carolina, stopping overnight at a high school friend’s home in Terre Haute, Ind. My vehicle was loaded in Charleston to Bremerhaven, Germany, and I flew to Frankfurt am Main, arriving at my unit in Mainz-Gonsenheim just before the Christmas holiday.

I was assigned to a mechanized infantry battalion as a platoon leader and swear every soldier assigned was either on drugs or selling them. One-by-one people were caught and sent home or to the stockade. On Friday nights I remember catching people using heroin and running them down to the Military Police station. The charges almost never stuck, and if they did, when the soldier was released, he was required to see a drug counselor. It turned out the counselor was also a drug dealer.

In Germany we did most of our practice maneuvers in the winter to minimize what was called maneuver damage to the German countryside. Soldiers used every excuse possible to avoid going out for the sub-zero degree training. It turned out a group of them was dealing drugs and pimping prostitutes across the street from the base. The ring leaders needed trusted lieutenants to stay back and tend the business.

I served three years as an officer, becoming a company executive officer and battalion adjutant, and then got out. I liked the military because one always knew where one stood in the social pecking order. We wore that on our sleeves. It was some of the hardest work I ever did. I felt fully engaged in trying to do something positive for our country.

The mess I encountered didn’t get straightened out until later. I could see the beginnings of it from the group of officers coming to Europe from TRADOC. The unstated mission that everyone knew was to transition the Army from it’s post-Vietnam condition into a force with operational tactics designed to fight for oil in the Middle East.

Things were getting tense in Iran toward the end of my tour of duty. Evacuations had already begun through nearby Wiesbaden. When I asked a group of officers for a volunteer to go to Iran, no one raised their hand. As we used to say, “the balloon was about to go up.” Less than a month after I returned to Iowa, 52 hostages were seized at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

I don’t understand veterans recognition in the 21st Century. Everyone thanks veterans for their service if they know he or she served. At the grocery store there was a sign in the window advertising a free breakfast for veterans on Nov. 11. Do they think we can’t afford to make our own?

I’m sure they mean well, but to me, it is one more thing on a list of grievances with the rampant militarism and imperialism that characterizes the United States today. I didn’t defend my country for a free meal on Veterans Day.

Whether my military service was a success or a failure, I don’t know. I’m glad I served. It’s what somebody who is a nobody, just clay going to clay, can do to serve a greater good.

We can better thank veterans by taking care of their trauma from serving… and by giving peace a chance.

Veterans for Peace

Physicians Release ‘Body Count’

Body Count CoverDoctors group releases startling analysis of the death and destruction inflicted upon Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan from the “War on Terror” in Body Count.

WASHINGTON, D.C.– On March 19—the 12th anniversary of the onset of our country’s ill-fated military intervention in Iraq—Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) released the latest edition of Body Count for North American distribution.

The report, authored by members and colleagues of the German affiliate of the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), is a comprehensive account of the vast and continuing human toll of the various “Wars on Terror” conducted in the name of the American people since the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

This publication highlights the difficulties in defining outcomes as it compares evaluations of war deaths in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Even so, the numbers are horrific.  The number of Iraqis killed during and since the 2003 U.S. invasion have been assessed at one million, which represents five percent of the total population of Iraq.  This does not include deaths among the three million refugees subjected to privations.

Dr. Hans-C. von Sponeck, UN assistant secretary general and UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq (1998-2000) calls the report, “a powerful aide-mémoire of their legal and moral responsibility to hold perpetrators accountable.”

“With the U.S. and Canadian governments now poised to escalate its military  involvement in Iraq and Syria to counter the real and exaggerated threat posed by ISIS, the lessons of Body Count can contribute to a necessary conversation  regarding the extreme downsides of continued U.S./NATO militarism,” said Robert M. Gould, M.D., Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Hopefully it can help the North American public better understand the links between the devastation caused abroad and the escalating military budgets that lead to  increasing detriment of our communities and social fabric at home.”

Body Count takes a clear and objective look at the various and often contradictory—reports of mortality in conflicts directed by the U.S. and allied forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The result is a fuller picture of the devastation and lethality to civilian non-combatants throughout these regions. Unfortunately, these deaths have been effectively hidden from our collective consciousness and consciences by political leaders seeking to pursue military solutions to complex global issues with little, if any, accountability.

Body Count underscores the scope of human destruction that helps fuel widespread anger at the Coalition Forces. It similarly provides the context to understand the rise of brutal forces such as ISIS thriving in the wake of our leaders’ failures. After an estimated cost of at least three trillion dollars over a decade of warfare, we need to fully account for our responsibility and learn the appropriate lessons to avoid a tragic exacerbation of the explosive situation we face today.

To download Body Count at the Physicians for Social Responsibility web site, go to:

Nuclear Abolition Veterans for Peace

Letter to Senator Joni Ernst – Iran Letter

USSenateSenator Ernst,

When you won election as U.S. Senator with 588,575 votes, I decided to step back from criticism of my government, just as I did when I entered the U.S. Army during the Ford Administration. That’s what soldiers do, or at least did during the difficult times of reorganizing our military after the Vietnam War. The lessons I learned then serve now in our partisan and toxic era of politics.

Your signature on the recent Tom Cotton letter to the Islamic Republic of Iran was unneeded, counterproductive, and some say treasonous. As a former member of the U.S. military, I expected more restraint from meddling in ongoing international negotiations from a field grade officer in the Iowa National Guard.

I’ve read the letter and it reflects a type of audacity with regard to the Iranian leaders that has no place in international affairs.

Your tampering with the negotiating process with Iran served no useful purpose to Iowans who seek a world with less war and less nuclear armed states. Luckily the current negotiations are based upon resilient foundations and inoculated against such blatant political posturing.

I urge you to represent my Iowa views and support the administration’s negotiations to bring Iran’s nuclear program into compliance with their obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

I also hope you will pursue with equal vigor, fulfillment of the U.S. obligations under the Non-proliferation Treaty.

Thank you for reading my letter.

Regards, Paul

Veterans for Peace

To the County Seat

Tonkin Gulf 50th Anniversary
Tonkin Gulf 50th Anniversary

IOWA CITY— My skills at ordering a beer failed to keep up with the times. We were meeting at a bar in the county seat, one recognizable from infrequent visits for meetups over 40 years. I arrived first and took a seat at the bar.

“What do you have on tap?” I asked. The trouble began.

Expecting the bartender to name two or three brands manufactured by large brewers, she handed me a menu with a long list of draught beers.

“Do you make any of them here?”

“No, we don’t.”

Distracted when I saw two modern-day hipsters drinking tall PBRs a few feet away, I said to myself, “it’s not that simple any more.” I should have ordered one of those.

The bartender stood waiting, then left while I pondered.

Memories came. Of the Chief Tavern on Seventh Street in Davenport where I went when things got a bit rowdy where I rented a room during the summer of 1975. I’d take a book, walk the half block, and nurse a beer at the bar, reading and waiting for things to quiet down at home.

“Do you have pilsener?” I asked when she returned. She did.

As U.S. Army officers in Germany, we secured cases of Pilsner Urquell through the U.S. embassy in Prague. It was hard to get the Czech beer in the late 1970s, although the brand is widely available today— even in our rural Iowa town.

Resolved that pilsener shall be my standard order to avoid having to memorize ever changing options. Keep things simple and cope with change.

A few minutes later she brought a tall glass with an inch and a half of foam. I paid six dollars and a buck for a tip, and nursed the beer until my friends arrived.

Our local chapter of Veterans for Peace was commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution that gave congressional authorization for the war in Vietnam. It is a resolution we now know was premised on a falsehood. It is not news that in war, truth is the first casualty.

The most powerful part of the event was the witness of five members of our chapter who are Vietnam veterans. I tried recording the speeches, but my device shut down when some of their voices were softer than its range of perception.

Tom Kelly
Tom Kelly

Former marine Tom Kelly spoke of black ops in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, something we knew at the time was going on. The reality of his experience spoke louder than his voice ever could.

“I did things I’m not proud of,” he said, wearing a ball cap commemorating his veteran status as a marine. It was sobering to hear his words as the sun set on a beautiful Iowa summer day.

None of the Vietnam War needed to have happened. The American deaths and injuries; the far greater number of Vietnamese deaths and casualties. It did happen, and as the memorial at the court house is inscribed, “all gave some; some gave all.” It is not only about us.

Our country’s propensity for war, and the deceptions and falsehoods about it, make determining what to do more challenging than ordering a beer could ever be. It seems critical that we move on from our personal problems to effect change. In a society possessed of personal choices, our government is on a course of militarism that could jeopardize all we hold dear.

To say I am glad to know the veterans in our group couldn’t be more true. To say we can continue with our nationalistic pandering to the gods of war is the lie. One we can’t afford to repeat as we sustain our lives in a turbulent world.

Veterans for Peace

Pizza, Lemonade and Crudités

vfp_logo_200IOWA CITY— I dropped off a check at the Waterfront HyVee last night to reimburse the airfare of Daniel Hale, a veteran who worked with the armed drone program in Afghanistan, to come to Iowa. When I arrived, a group of about 25 people had just partaken of pizza, lemonade, coffee and crudités.

It was the beginning of a gathering of Veterans for Peace and Catholic Workers to protest the U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle program. Saturday at 10 a.m., there is a demonstration at the Iowa Air National Guard base in Des Moines. Monday, Saint Patrick’s Day, dozens of Midwest Catholic Workers are expected to commit nonviolent civil disobedience during a second protest at the base. The events have been well choreographed, and it’s not the first rodeo for most of the folks expected to participate.

Hale spoke of his experience in Afghanistan as an intelligence soldier, focusing on a particular mission where one target was killed, along with four other people. He had no idea whether the four others were combatants, even as the military identified them as such. What he described was consistent with other narratives about how drones are used. The event was life changing for him, and should be for the rest of us.

We’ll see if the corporate media covers the story, and importantly, whether the demonstration makes a difference in U.S. policy toward drones.