Monday, November 17, 2014

Veterans For Peace Not Welcome in Veterans Day Parade

Members of Veterans for Peace, Boston, being arrested at the city's 2007 Veterans Day Parade. Parade organizers denied VFP permission to attend the march. They showed up anyway. Click here for the full story.

Spectators at Portland, Maine's annual Veterans Day Parade last week may have noticed something odd.

While all of the traditional veterans' groups, including the U.S. Navy, the Marines, the Air Force and the local branch of the American Legion were well represented, members of Veterans for Peace were relegated to holding their own small vigil on Monument Square while the parade passed by.

Turns out Maine Veterans for Peace (Tom Sturtevant chapter), the founding branch of the nationwide antiwar protest group composed of soldiers-turned-peace activists, is more or less barred from participating in the annual Veterans Day Parade.

While the group is not expressly prohibited from marching with their fellow veterans ("Veterans for War"?) in the parade, many of VFP's members feel they may as well be. Given the parade organizers' relentless attempts to marginalize and undermine VFP over the years--to say nothing of the constant barrage of verbal harassment thrown members' way by other vets and spectators--many in VFP have simply given up on the parade.

The American Legion seems to be the primary antagonist in these efforts at keeping VFP out of municipal veterans' events. While the nationwide group bills itself as a "nonpartisan" organization, their political clout in perpetuating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been well documented.

"After many years of feeling like step-children, our chapter decided to stop participating," said Bruce Gagnon, VFP Maine secretary, who also heads the antiwar group, Global Network Against Nuclear Weapons in Space, "which likely made the parade organizers quite happy."

So much, it seems, for the constant imperative to "support our troops." Perhaps the neocons and other perpetual proponents of this ubiquitous mantra should clarify the phrase: "Support our troops who support our wars." The rest of them can rot in hell.

It would be one thing if this sort of treatment of antiwar groups was an isolated incident--or relegated to just Veterans Day. Sadly, neither is the case.

In 2008, branches of Veterans for Peace in Washington state and Washington, D.C. were both banned from participating in their towns' Memorial Day parades. According to the story in the Daily Kos ("On Memorial Day, Veterans Dissing Veterans," 05/21/2008), both VFP groups were barred on the grounds they are "too political." Indeed, this is a common justification parade organizers and city officials cite in excluding antiwar groups and voices.

But this asinine excuse implies that the parade itself, which all but glorifies war and the military, is somehow "apolitical." Everything about war--including the decision to go to war, who makes those decisions and who does the actual fighting, whether the justifications for war are legitimate and the use of military force, truly essential--is inextricably tied to politics.

As Prussian general and military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz wrote in On War ("Vom Kriege"), "War is merely the continuation of politics by other means."

As such, the entire parade is one giant political spectacle. Most Americans, for whom "politics" is narrowly defined as voting in elections every two to four years, simply lack the broader political and cultural understanding to view it that way.

We are inculcated from childhood to revere all things military. Despite the allegedly deep and  irreconcilable ideological divides which separate liberals and conservatives, The Military and The Troops remain one of the few unifying bonds. War, as Glenn Greenwald observes, has become our new religion.

Voice even the mildest criticism of The Troops and U.S. Empire--a mistake MSNBC host Chris Hayes made a few years back when he gently and articulately pondered whether all U.S. soldiers should be unblinkingly referred to as "heroes"--and you become a pariah. The only reason Hayes is still on the air is because he promptly apologized for his "offensive" remarks--which he could not have parsed more carefully.

But the lesson of Hayes' criticism is clear: Speak outside the acceptable parameters of discourse--as Chelsea Manning, Bowe Bergdahl, Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg, and the late reporter, Michael Hastings have bravely done--and you are cast out and savagely denounced by the corporate state.

And this, I suspect, is why the power elite go to such lengths to silence the voices of antiwar groups like Veterans for Peace.

"They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country," Ernest Hemingway wrote in his 1935 Esquire article, "Notes On the Next War: A Serious Topical Letter." "But in modern war there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason."

My paternal grandfather, Davide Dario Marletta, was a conscientious objector in Mussolini's Italy, during WWII. He spent three years in an Italian prison. Upon his release, he was extremely weak and malnourished. While conscientious objector status was still a relatively new concept at the time, Axis nations like Italy--along with France, Belgium, and the Soviet Union--had no laws recognizing their rights.

Even after the war's end, my grandfather was regarded as a unpatriotic traitor by his neighbors. His pacifism made him a pariah in his own country. He and my grandmother eventually fled to Scotland, where my father was born, and, later, to the United States.

Much as he hated Mussolini and the Italian Army, my grandfather claimed he would not have fought alongside the Allies, either. He simply despised war--no matter how "noble" the cause.

I suppose, the proverbial apple did not fall far from the tree...

But there are no parades, celebrations or federal holidays for conscientious objectors like my grandfather. People did not stand reverently and heap prodigious amounts of praise on him whenever he entered a room. Those, like my grandfather, who display the courage to resist war have no place in our imperial, military-obsessed culture.

Indeed, I think it says something highly disturbing about our country when those advocating for an end to war and militarism--including many of those who have fought in wars and come to regret doing so--are derided as vile, blasphemous or "unpatriotic." Those who insist on celebrating--worshiping, even--war, meanwhile, are considered "non-political." These "Veterans for War," we are told, are the "realists." They understand that war is "inevitable," and always waged for "humanitarian" reasons.

Yet those antiwar resisters who dare to raise their voices for peace see through these facile, childish rationales. They see war for the carnage that it truly is--"The horror! The horror!" as Joseph Conrad famously wrote in Heart of Darkness. And in denouncing the horror of war, they make the rest of us uncomfortable.

The words of Hemingway are, again, instructive.

A critical chapter in A Farewell to Arms, finds WWI medic, Lt. Frederic Henry rejecting the trite, cliched romanticism frequently used to describe war. Henry, in his first-person narration, explains the utter vapidity of words like "sacrifice," "glorious," and the expression, "in vain" when it comes to the battlefield. The only words that have any real significance for the jaded protagonist are the concrete, tangible names of soldiers, roads, villages, and calendar dates.

He says:

...I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity... Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and dates.

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