Do the Right Thing
Bear Left is honored today to publish an article written by Jim Ryan of the Veterans Call to Conscience. He is one of over 700 American veterans, from World War II veterans to current reservists and active duty troops, who have signed a statement of conscience that calls upon troops to "follow your conscience and do the right thing." The statement reads in part: "If the people of the world are ever to be free, there must come a time when being a citizen of the world takes precedence over being the soldier of a nation." Twenty percent of the signers are Gulf War veterans. Many prominent Americans, including Howard Zinn and Daniel Ellsberg, have also endorsed the statement. Many signers are on active duty; several are now locked up for filing for Conscientious Objector status. Signers include Gulf War veterans from England and Scotland and members of the Israeli Defense Forces. The statement has made its way onto many American bases and to troops in Germany and in Belgium. We at Bear Left honor these men and women for both their courage and commitment to humanity.
I am a strong believer in managing what I do by objective. Those of us who are against the war in Iraq and the wars the Bush administration plans to undertake in the wake of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" should both "Do the Right Thing" and "Keep Our Eyes on the Prize." The prize is peace. Peace will only come when it has broad-based support. The proponents of war will try to continue to drown out our voice. We need to be heard. We can not allow ourselves to be marginalized as un-American. All Americans need to know that we are their bothers and sisters, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers. We work alongside them. The "Veterans Call to Conscience" sends a strong message that Americans can not ignore. Men and women that know what war is oppose it. Our men and women in uniform have hearts and courage.
I received over the past week a stream of emails from a business contact who added my name to a long list of recipients of his pro-war links. Nothing stops pro-war ignorance in its tracks more effectively than a veteran with the courage to speak up in opposition to war. I want to pass along an articulate response that all of the email recipients received from a veteran who took exception to an email spanking actors and entertainers for speaking up against the war.
As one who has actually served in this country's military during another divisive war; as one who has observed, first hand, what it is like to be an occupier in someone else's country; as one who KNOWS that our government lies to its citizens (in peacetime and most especially during a war); as one who has performed all of the duties required of me by this, our, country--I don't object to anyone having the freedoms of speech, assembly, or religion that are guaranteed for every citizen by our Constitution--even when I find myself vehemently in disagreement with another's speech, assembly or religion. Why should you?
During the Vietnam War, there was considerable shouting of "America Love It or Leave It", by the so-called "Silent Majority", when they didn't like the message voiced by those opposed to that War. History has proven that the dissenters had it right and the hawks/sheep had it wrong. We will have to await history's judgment on Gulf War II.
More Americans need to hear voices like this. Actors and entertainers are attacked for their political statements against the war because their voices are both broadly disseminated and heard. Their voices have power. You and I do not have that power. The veteran who responded to the email does not have that power. Actors and entertainers have that power and we should be thankful when they use it to promote peace. Right-wingers attack Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn because they fear that America will listen well to those individuals.
The Right is also afraid of politicians who openly support peace. Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean have been in the forefront of Democratic presidential candidates to challenge the Bush administration's war policy, but have received little attention from the Right. It is easy to recognize the Democratic presidential candidate that the Right most fears, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. Despite Kerry's dance around support and opposition to the war, the Right has targeted Kerry like no other presidential candidate. Kerry may have found both his heart and courage last week. Kerry assailed congressional Republicans after they ganged up on him for saying the United States, like Iraq, needs a regime change. Kerry responded: "The Republicans have tried to make a practice of attacking anybody who speaks out strongly by questioning their patriotism. I refuse to have my patriotism or right to speak out questioned. I fought for and earned the right to express my views in this country." John, where have you been hiding?
Let's not make the mistake of attacking Kerry for what he has not done. His is a voice that will be heard. He is an agent of real change. Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, is calling for regime change in the United States and that scares the Bush administration and the Right. "If they want to pick a fight, they've picked a fight with the wrong guy," was Kerry's retort. He clearly relishes the opportunity to get into the fray with Republicans with chickenhawk for middle names. Kerry attacked the Republican leadership for creating the "phony issue of patriotism." Kerry effectively referred to former Georgia Democratic Sen. Max Cleland. "I watched what they did to Max Cleland last year," Kerry said. "Shame on them for doing it then and shame on them for trying to do it now." Cleland lost both legs and an arm in the Vietnam War. Kerry also said Republicans have no right to criticize him when they are cutting funds to veterans' hospitals.
The strongest voice for peace may come from those of us who wear, or previously wore, the uniform of the American military.