RE Veterans and Peace Groups

Craven, Jim jcraven at clark.edu
Mon Mar 24 19:39:10 MST 2003



> It is for that reason that I will never join any veteran's
organizations,
> even those for peace, because they still celebrate--in a
way--veteran's
> status and I find no "honor" in having served U.S. imperialism no
matter how
> "honorably", on a formal level, I might have "served."

>From one perspective, I sympathize with this stand, since the rhetoric of
even anti-war veterans tends to emphasize the ascribed status of former
soldiers as proven patriots, implicitly denigrating the patriotism and
status of those who have not seen combat. But there is also a great value to
veterans' ability to speak as witnesses to war's brutality and its human
cost. Whether Jim is part of a veterans' organization or not, like other
veterans he has at no small cost gained the ability to speak from personal
experience about what the US military and its wars are really about.

Stuart


Thanks Stuart, those are fair comments. But I must add to some of this. This
is a totally new thread having nothing to do with any of the comments of
Henry and others.

First of all, Stuart has it exactly right. The focus on status as veterans,
implying "their patriotism or courage cannot be questioned", sometimes more
than implying that, is often meant, and used, to denigrate the status,
courage, and "patriotism" of those who did not "serve" in the military or in
combat. From that point there is still an emphasis on militarism and
martialism albeit "counter-culture" or "alternative paradigm" varieties.

When I came home, and this is the most I have discussed about this period of
my history, after a period with SDS in 1966, late in 1967, VVAW and other
anti-war veteran's groups were formed and began to develop. I worked with
many of them. But I was always still alienated in many ways. For one thing,
there was the usual wearing of old field jackets, repleat with unit patches
and medals, bush gear, whatever, and there was still some celebration of the
"good ol days". Sometimes it was an undercurrent, sometimes it was out in
the open. There was still a lot of the "fond memories" (primo dope, women, R
and R,) among some of the groups and it still felt like a sort of ersatz
leftie VFW or American Legion. And there was still the pecking order for
those with CIBs, purple hearts, what specific unit patch was worn on the
right shoulder etc etc. What bothered me a lot also was the focus on US and
how we got fucked and betrayed by the military. Sometimes there was
out-and-out whining and some would look mean when one asked how many
Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians were suffering from Agent Orange; how many
were amputees; how many are still losing limbs from the mines we left etc.

Another thing was developing theory and facts to give context to the
specific horror stories. When the Pentagon Papers came out, I literally
devoured the NYT edition in one night. Later I got the four-volume Gravel
edition and even later I read all 44 volumes of everything Elsberg had
released. But many vets I knew didn't want to do the book work. So what we
often got was like a travel-log, with horror stories, and sometimes the old
syndrome known as "The older I get the better I used to be."

But those who stayed out took some very real risks, some of which were as
fatal as being in-country. It was a time when ol J. Edgar [aka "Mary"]
Hoover, was putting the screws to everyone through COINTELPRO, dope was
being planted, demonstrators went to Canada not knowing if they could ever
return, there was more than one Kent State, and like now, they risked the
rath and vitriol of a climate of national jingoism and wholesale abrogation
of civil and human rights. Some went to jail and were targeted by guards and
compliant enforcer inmates for special treatment.

WE have a few idiots--more than a few actually--at my school who put out
stuff about how soldiers "defend" the "freedoms" "we" enjoy in America even
those for the protesters etc. No. Any freedom of the press comes from those
who dare to fight for it, push the envelope, not back down or compromise,
not be bought off, not give up sources at any price. The same applies to
labor organizers and labor rights. The same applies to feminists and their
allies and women's rights. The same applies to gay/lesbian activists and
gay/lesbian rights; etc. Soldiers defend some of the de jure illusions and
power structures of a system that are used to strip away de facto rights
routinely. Soldiers in the military help to prepare the foundations of
fascism and imperialism and anyone who says they defend "freedoms" in
America and elsewhere is saying that is what America is all
about--"freedom". Freedom to profit and exploit yes, freedom from
exploitation, no.

Jim C


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