A ripple of cynical laughter went through the 50 attendees of a recent Northern California Regional meeting of Veterans For Peace (VFP) in Ukiah when they were extolled to sign up for “The Brad Plan” – a facetious reference to young Private Bradley Manning, now entering his third year in prison for blowing the whistle on U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ukiah VFP chapter 116 has hosted all three annual regional conferences, but this is the first one to be attended by the top officers of National Veterans For Peace, based in St. Louis, MO. Speaking at the March 1st to 3rd gathering of 13 chapters was National President Michael Reid, former Air Force, who was involved in the first bombing of Libya in the 1980s; and National Executive Director Patrick McCann, who, at age 60, is one of the youngest veterans of the Viet Nam War. Also in attendance was Gerry Condon, VFP national board member and VN war deserter, and Mike Thurman of IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War) and Courage to Resist, the principle organization in support of Bradley Manning.
National VFP has designated the Free Bradley Manning Campaign as its top priority, to not only defend an enlisted service member’s release of war logs to WikiLeaks, but to bolster what most Americans have come to realize - that America’s wars in the Middle East, which began with Clinton-era sanctions and continued with Bush’s invasions and occupations, were predicated on lies. In addition to the Manning Campaign, many domestic projects and actions of the 13 chapters were discussed, as well as presentations on major projects overseas, in Viet Nam and Iraq. The Humboldt County chapters 22 and 56 continue to support an Iraq Water Project, despite “shock and awe,” then occupation, and now “civil war” in that badly destabilized and divided country. The Garberville Ch. 56 carries on with a project they started in 1988 by sending American war vets to build medical clinics with the Veterans Viet Nam Restoration Project (VVRP) in the land of their former enemy. The Golden Rule boat project, also led by the Humboldt chapters, announced the nearly-complete restoration of a 1950s sail boat that once defied nuclear testing in the Pacific. The boat will sail into San Francisco Bay during the America’s Cup races this year, then navigate the world with the VFP’s anti-war message.
Of the 13 chapters represented in Ukiah this last weekend, one was the first overseas chapter of VFP, the Hoa Binh (Peace) Ch. 160 in Viet Nam, whose members are all American Viet Nam war veterans who live in-country full and part-time to donate their lives and money to volunteering on humanitarian projects. To augment their war-reparations work, the chapter members mount annual 2-week Spring tours to Viet Nam, requiring that each vet or non-vet activist bring $1,000 to donate to worthy projects of their choice. Particular emphasis is put on two of the more egregious legacies of the war: Agent Orange (with 3 to 4 million victims today) and UXOs (unexploded ordinance) which continues to kill and maim in Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia. Two members of San Francisco’s Ch. 69, who are also members of 160, help to coordinate these delegations. Without exception, the Viet Nam veterans who go on these tours have not returned since combat 40 or more years ago.
There is now another overseas chapter of Veterans For Peace - in Britain — to absorb the soldiers of the “coalition of the willing,” who ended up, like their American counterparts, to be unwilling to kill mostly innocent civilians. The legendary British filmmaker, Ken Loach, has covered this subject powerfully in his 2012 work, “Route Irish.” The courageous work of young American photojournalists, in an exhibit called “Eye Level in Iraq,” can also be seen through June 16th at the prestigious de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. The not-to-be-missed exhibit, has a companion book, “Unembedded” with a searing Foreword by famed British photojournalist, the late Philip Jones Griffiths. His “Viet Nam, Inc.” remains the definitive visual documentation of that atrocity.
From Auburn to Sacramento, San Jose to Santa Rosa, VFP members gave presentations on their work of: trying to break the media blockade to tell the truth about the “end” of the U.S. Mid-East wars; bringing counter-recruitment information to high schools and colleges; presenting alternative employment opportunities; fighting the future use of Depleted Uranium; giving “peace scholarships” to students; making the war economy connections to our present Depression (through Occupy, and many other forums); creating permanent memorials to the war dead (the Crosses of Lafayette); joining demonstrations and vigils; pressuring Congress and corporations; creating independent veterans’ media and resource centers; spearheading action to help homeless vets; advocating for vets’ benefits in general; and working to prevent veteran suicides (for several years now, higher than combat deaths), along with many other efforts. The seemingly never-ending fight for veterans’ services and access to veterans’ halls was a major issue – with the struggle over the VFP NorCal regional meeting venue, the Ukiah Veterans Hall, a hot topic, to be continued! No only are historic buildings, created specifically to serve our military personnel, being closed and defunded, but Veterans For Peace in particular is often stonewalled by VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and the American Legion for mere access to those facilities that remain.
“Saving Private Manning” is a campaign that everyone can join, Courage to Resist Field Organizer, Michael Thurman told the conference. The now 24-year-old former military intelligence analyst recently admitted to releasing five sets of documents to the public through WikiLeaks: the “Collateral Murder” video (showing helicopter footage of American military killing of 11 Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters cameramen); the Iraq war logs; the Afghan war diaries; Guantanamo files; and U.S. State Department files. In late February, Manning admitted guilt to 10 charges, but most importantly not the charges of aiding the enemy or espionage. There is no proof that Manning’s leaks have caused any actual harm. In fact, it can be argued that his efforts and sacrifice have helped to “wind down” the wars, thus saving many American and Middle Eastern lives. He could face life in prison.
Members of Veterans For Peace face daunting challenges from the industrial-congressional-military complex. The Northern California regional conference started with a Friday evening vigil and march from the Ukiah Court House steps, and ended with a ceremony at the cemetery for the fallen of wars and a march to town. Next year will see a state-wide meeting in Santa Rosa, hosted by the Sonoma County Dhapter 71. These veterans are unstoppable, precisely because they know – from the inside - the truth about war.
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Chúc Mừng Năm Mới ("Happy New Year" in Việt Namese)
“Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding, and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war.” — Tich Nhat Hanh, Việt Namese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet.
(Nadya Marina Connolly Williams can be reached at email@example.com. She is affiliated with Veterans For Peace, www.veteransforpeace.org San Francisco Chapter 69, of VFP, Director of Communications www.vsasf.org; Viet Nam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign www.vn-agentorange.org; Contributing Editor to "The War Crimes Times," a quarterly print & on-line national newspaper of Veterans For Peace www.warcrimestimes.org, Coordinator of the annual Veterans For Peace Spring tour to Viet Nam, led by the Hoa Binh (Peace), Chapter 160 of VFP in Viet Nam.) ¥¥