This past weekend I spoke as part of the Poor People’s Campaign event: The Necessity of Moral Resistance in the Face of Militarism. Reverend William Barber was, of course, the main speaker, and if you are uncertain as to how war and militarism play a role in the demands of the Poor People’s Campaign or in the way war and militarism have always played an oppressive and devastating role in our society, then please listen to Reverend Barber’s sermon as he clearly and definitively explains those two things. My talk, on the effect of war on veterans, is here below, while Reverend Barber’s sermon and the comments from Phyllis Bennis are in the Youtube clip below. Wage Peace.
I have a benefit tonight that I am speaking at in support of Palestine. In the toast I am to give, I will reference other struggles against oppression and occupation, particularly those resistance struggles that I was grateful to be given the opportunity to stand with in solidarity this past year: in Okinawa, at Standing Rock and in Palestine.
For someone like me, who had professionally studied war and insurgencies for years, and then executed such knowledge on behalf of the US government in support of the occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, being on the other side of the rifle was heartbreaking and difficult, as seeing the military and police enforcing the racist occupations, political oppression and environmental destruction was a mirror held up to me, reflecting my own past, my own mistakes, my own collaboration with greed, hate and subjugation. Being allowed the opportunity to stand with these resistance movements was rewarding and it was healing, as it was a form of recovery for my moral injury and guilt from the wars. I can never undo or repair what I took part in in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I can, going forward in my life, live a life working with others for peace and justice, both at home and abroad.
The commonness and similarities that exist between these resistance movements are many: a firm belief in and understanding of non-violence; the use of music and song; and the graciousness and openness to outsiders, like myself and other white veterans of the American military whose relationship to the occupation forces and powers cannot be ignored or dismissed, but are understood as the actions of the colonial and imperial powers and not the actions, will or soul of the individual soldier, or Marine in my case.
There is also something that runs very deep, is very true, and that exists within all these resistance movements. Something prime and underlining, a force that is infinite and enduring is the intangible reality that exists in all of the men, women and children who are struggling for their society’s freedom, for the preservation of their land, water and air, and for the chance for their children and grandchildren to live lives not held in obeyance to the guns and violence of a foreign, abusive and repressive power. I have no other choice for my description of what I witnessed and stood among than to use the word divine to explain what it is that moves, sustains and carries forward these movements and people. Words like justice, peace, freedom, and safety have their well deserved places as descriptions of what these movements strive for, but it is the word divine that I come back to when I think of what it is which motivates, maintains and upholds these movements and what it is that links them together across continents, religions and races, and, ultimately, time.
I saw this again in Charlottesville a few weeks ago, where myself and other white allies escorted black students from Howard University through the city streets. There was something divine, again a better word I stumble trying to find, behind the purposes of those students from Howard, a very existent and timeless connection to something beyond the human experience that animates our desires for truth, justice, equality and peace. This force, this beyond-human force, ties together these movements now, and ties them to the movements of the past, to their ancestors who suffered and were persecuted in their struggles of liberation, fights for peace, and marches for equality, whether there be a direct lineage of descent to those ancestors or an ancestry consisting of purpose and principle removed by epochs of historical and geographic separation.
I’m an intellectual, logical and rational atheist a good 6 1/2 days a week, but what I experienced in Okinawa, Standing Rock, Palestine and Charlottesville these past twelve months moved me with a force much greater than any and all of the spirited nationalist formulations or conceptions of brotherhood I ever encountered or beheld in my time as a Marine or while working for the US government. This force, this divine presence, cannot be discounted, diminished or dismissed, but is as factual and proven to me in its effect and purpose as any rifle I ever held, any money I was ever paid, or any exceptionalist American myth I ever consumed.
It is why anyone who has taken part in these movements can receive healing from their own sins in war, as I have; it is why even those who have been silenced by jailing or with bullets and bombs have never truly been defeated – lost to us with great sorrow and grief, yes, of course – but not defeated; and it is why these movements will ultimately be successful, because the divine that is the foundation of these movements and these people cannot be extinguished, cannot be undone, bought or quieted, as this spirit will always carry forward this generation and subsequent ones.
To see and understand some of the divine involvement that is present in the people of Palestine and the Palestinian Popular Resistance movement, please watch Chris Smiley’s latest video of the Veterans For Peace delegation I participated in to Palestine earlier this year.
Last week, as part of Ralph Nader’s four-day conference in Washington, DC, Breaking Through Power, my friend Raed Jarrar, a Palestinian-Iraqi-American, and I gave a talk on the horrors of war. My perspectives of combat, occupation, colonial administration and war time politics, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Washington, were set besides Raed’s experiences of living in Baghdad following the Gulf War, through the years of sanctions, into the American invasion, yes, the glory of Shock and Awe, and for the first year of occupation. Raed left Baghdad in 2004, but returned to Iraq to help rebuild, before becoming a full-time peace and anti-war activist.
The video is below. I want to thank Ralph Nader and the Center for Study of Responsive Law for allowing Raed and I to share how we both came to the same understanding of our lives, our world, our leaders, our people, our wars and the need for peace, from the different ends of a rifle.
Also, my apologies to the brave and fantastic Alli McCracken for giving the equally brave and fantastic Medea Benjamin credit for trying to, rightfully, arrest Henry Kissinger last year. Thank you Alli and Code Pink.
The remainder of the day’s talks and conversations can be found on Youtube.