Waging Peace, One Mind at a Time
by Gene Marx
Gene Marx is a Vietnam Veteran and former Naval Aviator. Currently, he is a member of the Veterans For Peace National Board of Directors and Communications Coordinator of the local VFP chapter in Bellingham (Chapter 111 www.vfp111.org). Additionally, Gene is a retired Federal Aviation Administration employee and father of two sons. One son is a nurse in Bellingham and the younger son is a train master for Burlington Northern and two-tour Iraq War Veteran. Gene became politically active following his younger son’s first deployment.
Editor’s Note: In Dec. 2010, Bellingham resident Gene Marx was arrested and held along with several activists in Wash, D.C. while protesting the wars as part of the “Stop These Wars” veteran-led civil resistance action organized by Veterans For Peace, the largest of its kind since the Great Depression Bonus Marchers of 1932. In in this piece, Marx begins by sharing an experience participating in non-violent protestin
On the eve of the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, two occupations and three wars ago, my wife Victoria and I stepped off Seventh Avenue and headed toward Madison Square Garden with more than 500,000 marchers protesting the war in Iraq. As our vast river of peaceful protesters, which included students, teachers, clergy, parents and grandparents gained momentum, snaking its way toward the Garden, the “belly of the beast,” I caught sight of a contingency of demonstrators flying flags bearing the now all too familiar logo of a military helmet flanked by a dove and olive branch.
After side-stepping through and around various peace partisans and labor groups, we came within earshot of the unmistakable rhythm of military cadence calls. Only on this day they were a far cry from the Jody calls of my military basic training, raucous obscenities our grandkids should never hear. Instead, as the surge of marchers passed a brigade of police surrounding Fox-TV and then the Garden, this call and response set the tone for an entirely different call to arms:
“We Don’t Want Another War Peace Is What We’re Marchin’ For Am I Right Or Wrong? (You’re Right!) Am I Right Or Wrong (You’re Right!)”
Still reeling from our youngest son’s recent second deployment to Iraq, and knowing we were now within blocks of the old men and women and oligarchs that sent him there under the false guise of national security, his parents joined in loudly and proudly as then President of Veterans For Peace, David Cline, hoarsely called cadence for our brand new family of dissidents:
“Lift Your Head And Hold It High Veterans Are Passing By Tell Them What We’re Marching For Freedom, Justice, No More War!”
The cadence calls rebounding from familiar facades, skyscraper to skyscraper, all the way down Broadway to Union Square said it all. An abridged version of the mission statement of Veterans For Peace, the emphasis on “For” Peace, with a capital F, encapsulated with drill order precision what these veterans stood for, and not against, on that sultry summer afternoon in Manhattan. A higher call to duty than their brothers and sisters in arms could have ever imagined? embodied in the VFP statement of purpose:
“We, having dutifully served our nation…do hereby affirm… to serve the cause of world peace. To this end we will work, with others
(a) To increase public awareness of the costs of war
(b) To restrain our government from intervening, overtly and covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations
(c) To end the arms race and to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons
(d) To seek justice for veterans and victims of war
(e) To abolish war as an instrument of national policy.
To achieve these goals, members of Veterans For Peace pledge to use non-violent means and to maintain an organization that is both democratic and open with the understanding that all members are trusted to act in the best interests of the group for the larger purpose of world peace.”
Founded in Portland, Maine in 1985, with headquarters now in St. Louis, Mo., Veterans For Peace has been a refuge for former military men and women who learned the hard way, that wars are very easy to start and almost impossible to stop, with the innocent, usually women and children, hurt most often and paying the biggest price for government failures to consider alternatives to violence.
VFP’s list of notable members is formidable, including the likes of political analyst and anti-war activist Daniel Ellsberg, American historian and political activist Howard Zinn, former CIA analyst and activist Ray McGovern, and retired Army Colonel and diplomat, now anti-war activist Ann Wright. In over 25 years of activism, VFP has grown to more than 7,000 members in more than 120 chapters nationwide. Bellingham’s Chapter 111, the CPL Jonathan Santos Memorial Chapter, named in honor of Whatcom County’s Iraq War KIA, was founded in 2003 at the height of the invasion of Iraq.
During the eight long years of the Bush Administration’s preemptive “War on the World,” Veterans For Peace joined forces with other major players in the peace movement, staying on the cutting edge of efforts to organize, educate and demonstrate nationally and locally to end the so-called global war on terror.
Bellingham’s reputation grew as well with Chapter 111 projects and lobbying campaigns resulting in Washington State’s first “Troops Home Now” and “Hands Off of Iran” resolutions, passed by the Bellingham City Council in 2006 and 2007. Additionally, on Memorial Day, the Arlington Northwest display of the more than 4,400 Iraq US military war dead has been commonly displayed, if not at Blaine’s Peace Arch Park then at Sunnyland’s Memorial Park.
Recruitment and enthusiasm was high. VFP, along with peace coalition allies, were making a difference. After all, weren’t the Democrats swept into Congress in 2006 on a promise to end the wars and occupations? VFP had worked tirelessly to throw wrenches into that machinery. In the words of Howard Zinn, “Anyone can throw a wrench into the machinery…not quite, of course — because only a few people have wrenches.” The Veterans’ wrenches: hard-earned credibility, from first-hand experience. Few knew the horrors of war as we did, and someone was finally listening. Or so we thought.
But that was then — one fiscal disaster stoked by a war economy and two new wars ago. With the anti-war movement in disarray, wounded by the lethargy fueled by dubious expectations and a new War President, Veterans For Peace was not willing to give this new Democratic change agent a chance in Afghanistan. With soaring civilian casualties, along with military suicides and PTSD victims, and drone attacks on suspected insurgents killing hundreds more than during the Bush administration, a new tactic was necessary to combat the Obama “machinery.”
In November 2010, the VFP action planning teams turned from the numbers game of demonstrations and lobbying efforts to non-violent civil disobedience — and resistance. The first such action took place in Wash., DC on Dec. 16, amid snow and sub-zero temperatures. More than 130 Veterans and their supporters, including Ellsberg, McGovern, war journalist Christopher Hedges and healthcare activist Dr. Margaret Flowers, as well as two activists from Bellingham, were led away in handcuffs to jail for refusing to leave the White House fence. Nationwide solidarity actions resulted in numerous detentions.
To build on December’s momentum, Veterans For Peace and the “Stop These Wars” coalition again continued to energize the peace movement this year on March 19 with nearly 150 arrests at the White House and Marine Corps Base Quantico, protesting not only our escalating wars and the Libyan intervention, but also the Bradley Manning’s incarceration and treatment. Thousands marched and demonstrated in solidarity, now with labor factions, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and, of course, Bellingham.
More Action Planned
The pump had been successfully primed, with more actions planned this summer and beyond. Bellingham’s VFP Chapter 111 has been recently seen on the streets, bannering in support of the Veterans For Peace campaign: “How’s The War Economy Working for You?,” and hosting speaking venues for anti-war heavyweights like Gold Star Mother and activist Cindy Sheehan and former Afghanistan parliament member Malalai Joya. More importantly, Chapter representatives are invited to Whatcom and Skagit county schools in an effort by like-minded teachers to inform their students on the realities and failures of war. One changed mind is a victory to savor.
And now, with each new capitulation to the military-industrial-congressional complex by Capitol Hill, against the seemingly insurmountable obstacles of corporate and media power brokers setting the agenda and filtering the message, members of Veterans For Peace are retooling, setting a new pace for the next quarter century. Many burnt out supporters continue to ask why, many now ready to understandably give up. Nothing seems to work. Perhaps journalist Chris Hedges said it best in a recent interview, after his first arrest at the White House in Dec. 2010:
“I don’t do it because it’s practical, or even because I necessarily think it’s going to work. I do it because it’s a moral imperative.” Hedges goes on to say that acts of civil disobedience are all we have left, that “resistance is important because it keeps alive another narrative.”
One Mind at a Time
But most of all we’re hopeful. And to be hopeful in bad times is still a good thing. We still hope to change minds, even if it’s the one high school senior that opts for trade school over an enlistment bonus after a VFP visit. Or the Army Specialist that refuses to return to his theater of operation after rest and recuperation leave because he read “War Is a Lie.” Or the middle school student who picks up “War Is a Racket,” written by two-time Medal of Honor recipient General Smedley Butler, to bring home to his brother. One mind at a time, one day at a time, there is another way to keep the peace narrative alive.
This month, the United States will once again honor our fallen on Memorial Day, a day of commemoration, draped in nationalistic pride, to reflect on servicemen and women who paid the ultimate price for the failed policies of leaders unwilling to give peace a chance. But before the last note of Taps fades to somber silence, each Veteran For Peace will wonder what could have been.
Thankfully, long-time VFP member and author of “A People’s History of the United States” Howard Zinn gave us all one more remembrance, maybe even a reason to be hopeful on the final Monday in May and beyond.
“If we remember those times and places, and there are so many where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act. Hope is the energy for change. The future is an infinite succession of presents and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of the worst of everything around us, is a marvelous victory.”
Join us as we change history. §