Peace Action at Work

March 26th, 2010

By Jan Barry

In cold rain and summer heat, snowdrifts and bitter winds, a Veterans For Peace Chapter 21 contingent anchors a weekly peace vigil on a busy street corner by the NJ National Guard Armory in Teaneck. Chapter members are also active in numerous vigils, public meetings and marches around the state, as well as in New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

“This is what the troops put up with, so we’re out here in the same kind of weather conditions,” one of the vets explained to a visitor to the Teaneck vigil one blustery day. The solidarity with today’s soldiers extends from memories of guard duty and patrols in military units in Vietnam, Korea, even as far back as World War II. The solidarity also extends across American society: A retired cop stands next to a retired firefighter, a Jewish mother next to a Catholic priest, holding signs commemorating the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan of more than 5,000 US troops from across the nation, signs crafted by a house painter and carried by a plumber from his repair truck to every weekly vigil.

Drivers honk their horns, sometimes two and three in a row, and wave to the peace vigil regulars from family cars, delivery trucks, school busses. Some passersby stop on cold days, roll down a window and with a big smile hold out a big container of coffee or hot chocolate. College students stop by between classes, parents drop by with young children, frazzled parents of soldiers and, sometimes, raw-edged young veterans come by for comfort for their unrelenting concerns.

Many in the chapter have protested the war in Iraq since the US invasion and violent occupation began seven years ago. Some joined to focus their protest on the war in Afghanistan, now expanding into it’s ninth year. To address the deaths and destruction of soldiers and civilian societies by both wars, Chapter 21 cosponsors a wide range of public outreach activities, often in partnership with Military Families Speak Out, which has family members serving on active duty.

This month’s actions range from a “Speak Out — Sing Out” at a church in Teaneck to a contingent from New Jersey joining a national peace march in the nation’s capital; from conducting a writing workshop for veterans and family members in conjunction with vets in a neighboring area of New York state to planning workshops for the Veterans For Peace national convention in Portland, Maine in August.

“We’re a movement,” Chapter 21 President Ken Dalton said during discussions this week on plans to widen war protests to the doorsteps of national elected officials, including members of Congress and President Obama. “We can make changes. It may not be happening as fast as we’d like, but it’s happening.”

Adding to the pressures to wind down these costly wars is the disastrous financial squeeze on Americans, from state governments slashing staff and social programs to rising unemployment levels for young veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Jobless rate at 21.1%” for veterans in their early 20s, The Washington Post reported last week. “It was significantly higher than the 2008 unemployment rate among veterans in that age group: 14.1 percent. Many of the unemployed are members of the National Guard and reserves who have deployed multiple times, said Joseph Sharpe, director of the economic division at the American Legion. Sharpe said some come home to find their jobs have been eliminated because the company has downsized. Other companies might not want to hire someone who could deploy again or will have medical appointments because of war-related health problems, he said.”

These are issues that Veterans For Peace in New Jersey and across the nation have been repeatedly raising at public events with other groups and in talks with members of Congress and their staffs. Spending an estimated $1 million per year to keep a soldier in Afghanistan is unsustainable, especially as tens of thousands of Americans lose their jobs — and millions can’t find jobs — at home. It’s an urgent discussion that hopefully all Americans will join.

(This article was also posted at EarthAirWater.)

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6 Responses to “Peace Action at Work”

  1. Tom |

    I agree with many of the positions these folks take. We have to do a whole lot better in terms of both employment and health care for the veterans who served in combat for all of us.

    I hope there’s even more demonstrated opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As I’ve said many times, I think it was right to take down the regime of Saddam Hussein and remove the Taliban from power, along with disrupting (if not destroying) al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. However, after those two worthwhile missions were accomplished, we began making serious mistakes.

    We’re well on the way to disengaging in Iraq, and that’s a good thing. The President stated that we would begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in mid-2011, but I doubt that the withdrawals will be much more than token levels. The sooner we get most of our troops out of both countries, the better. We can support them diplomatically, with foreign aid, and with military training, to a reasonable extent and to the degree that they want it. In any case, we aren’t going to tranform them into modern democracies that approach Western standards no matter what we do.

    The truth is, our involvement in both countries has morphed into something well beyond the war on terror. Fighting terrorism, which we have to do, is like a game of perpetual wack-a-mole. Hit them in one country, and they’ll move to another, as they’ve proven repeatedly. We should hit them hard and fast wherever they appear, and we certainly shouldn’t engage in fruitless “nation-building” in every country they move to. We can’t afford the cost in either blood or money.

  2. larry |

    What are your thoughts on the recent Tom Hanks charges that the U.S. was guilty of racism in the execution of the war against Japan?

  3. Brianna |

    “In any case, we aren’t going to tranform them into modern democracies that approach Western standards no matter what we do.”

    That may be a little unfair in Iraq’s case. From the reports I’ve heard, they’ve been doing fairly well. The secular party won the elections, which is a very encouraging sign. I certainly agree we can’t afford further nationbuilding, but to let Iraq slide at this point would be a betrayal of the blood and treasure we have already poured into the operation. It’d practically be a crime to let that country lapse back into some sort of terror regime.

    “What are your thoughts on the recent Tom Hanks charges that the U.S. was guilty of racism in the execution of the war against Japan?”

    Quite aside from the fact that it’s an idiotic charge, what does that have to do with anything in this article or what Tom said?

  4. larry |

    In as much as Jan’s article was about veterans I thought he meant veterans in general. His piece came close behind the media release of the Hank’s comment. What was wrong with the question? I have a special respect for veterans and their problems.
    Nuff Said already.

  5. Brianna |

    Ah, sorry. I thought you were baiting. For some reason I just can’t figure out, I’m a tad sensitive on the race subject this week.

  6. Tom |

    I agree that progress has been made in Iraq, but at what cost? I understand that we have a certain responsibility for the aftermath when we undertake forcible regime change in a country (which might be a good reason for not doing it in the first place). Allawi won the recent election by a very thing margin, and Maliki says he doesn’t accept the result and will challenge it in court. That’s fine, I suppose, as long as there isn’t bloody violence and fighting in the streets. Frankly, I don’t have much confidence that won’t happen, either now or in the future.

    Iraq is an artificial country with a society fractured across many fault lines. The same is true of Afghanistan. We can stay in both countries ’til the cows come home, and that’s not going to change. Only the people of those countries can change it, and that’s highly unlikely to happen.

    You’re right that we can’t just walk away from either country, at least not immediately. We ought to remember that for the future.

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