BOSTON – War veterans and their allies gathered in historic Faneuil Hall on the eve of the Democratic National Convention to demand the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and to call for the defeat of George W. Bush Nov. 2.
The meeting was sponsored by Veterans for Peace as part of its national convention. Hundreds of veterans of every war since World War II were in the crowd. A cheer went up when a group of Iraq war veterans filed onto the stage and announced they have formed Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), modeled on Vietnam Veterans Against the War that Kerry helped lead and that played a crucial role in forcing the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.
Michael Hoffman, a former Lance Corporal in the 11th Marine Division, told the crowd that his sergeant told his squad, “You are not here to liberate Iraq. You are here for oil.” The sergeant “also said our obligation was to bring our fellow soldiers home alive and well. We still have that obligation so we have come together to form Iraq Veterans Against the War … to bring them home.”
Kelly Dougherty of Colorado Springs, a former sergeant in an MP unit, said she saw first hand “the conditions the people are living under, conditions that don’t seem to be changing, no jobs, no electricity, no clean water. These are basic human needs. So how can the Iraqi people discuss elections, a constitution? This is a war for empire. You want to support the troops? Demand that they be brought home from Afghanistan and Iraq, that they get the benefits they are entitled to.”
“I don’t think Bush has any intention of withdrawing from Iraq, ever,” declared Daniel Ellsberg, who won fame when he released the Pentagon Papers exposing the lies used to trick the nation into the Vietnam War. He criticized Democrat John Kerry’s vote for the Iraqi war but drew a standing ovation as he urged the standing-room-only crowd to vote for Kerry as the “only way to defeat Bush.”
Already, people around the world “have suffered more oppression from our president than we suffered from King George III,” Ellsberg continued, speaking in the hall where the American Revolution began. “If Bush stays in power, our Bill of Rights will be swept off the board. … We have three-and-a-half months to do everything we can to avoid the Bill of Rights being destroyed.”
Veterans for Peace President David Cline told the World, “There are many threads in the cloth that make up Veterans for Peace. We represent soldiers from many wars. We have to remove the neo-conservatives from the White House and Congress. Kerry is not going to be a savior. We have to have a movement with longevity to push for progressive change in foreign and domestic policies.”
Nancy Lessin, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, told the veterans, “You more than anyone else know what our loved ones go through. Bush lied and who died? Nine hundred of our soldiers and thousands of Iraqis.” She scorned the Pentagon inspector general’s report that there are no “systemic problems” revealed in the torture of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers. “This whole war based on lies is the systemic problem,” she said.
Lessin blasted Camilo Mejia’s one-year prison sentence for refusing to return to active duty in Iraq. Mejia cited torture of Iraqi detainees as one of his reasons for refusing. It is the same sentence handed down against an MP convicted of torture, she said. The crowd cheered when she called for a struggle to free Mejia as a “prisoner of conscience.”
Vietnam veteran Charlie Clement of Massachusetts introduced two survivors of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki atomic bombing, in which 200,000 people died. “We deeply regret the holocaust of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Clement said. Terumi Tanaka, secretary-general of the Japan Confederation of A&H Bomb Sufferers, was greeted with applause when he called for “a total ban on nuclear weapons.”
Veterans for Peace activist Wayne Wittman, a Korean War vet from St. Paul, Minn., told the World, “People don’t understand the cost of war. It’s our job to instill in them the irreversible, unsolvable situation we create with war. Our friend Paul Wellstone said, ‘Don’t whine. Organize.’”
The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212 @ yahoo.com.