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Peace and War: Supporting the Troops, Part 22

by Rusty Nelson Monday, May 15, 2017 | 6:18pm | Comment on this

Peace and War, March 2017

Supporting the Troops, Part 22

If you were asked for a practical solution to end war, where would you begin? If you had a solution to one of the most troubling problems of 21st Century America, how would you bring it to the attention of an authority with the resources and connections to implement it?

For me, with decades of involvement in PJALS and Veterans for Peace, these questions are not simple, overwhelming or rhetorical. In fact, I’m planning to burden you with some of the answers and ask for your help in finding more answers and more action.

Consider the “Marines United” scandal. Many of the Marines and former Marines involved in this boys-will-be-boys mass cyber-rape are undoubtedly among the loudest and most enthusiastic supporters of “the troops.” A few ring-leaders have lost government-related jobs, but it’s likely that a military investigation will fail to make anyone understand what the exposed women face as they try to recover from a profound and public humiliation. After all, why would a public accustomed to the horrors of war, and casual attitudes about objectification of women be outraged by these macho pranks? One could hardly expect our Commander-in-Chief to find anything wrong with war-weary Marines having a little locker room fun.

A recent New York Times commentary suggested having men and women Marines go through boot camp together would mitigate this flap, but that ignores the fact that more men than women are sexually assaulted in the military. Besides, boot camp is the first official time for military recruits to be totally stripped of dignity and dehumanized in order that they will follow instructions and commit acts outside previous moral boundaries. For most veterans, boot camp was the first injection of the Traumatic Stress virus.

Any genuine investigation of “Marines United” will uncover a multitude of problems for any apologist for the U.S. military establishment. Most distressing will be connectors to the worst nightmares of the dedicated flag-waver: Rape, known euphemistically as Military Sexual Trauma; Suicide, and; Post Traumatic Stress…disorder is officially added to this term to postpone the widespread understanding that PTS is not a disorder, at all. It is an injury that may be incurred by a civilian of any age or class through accident, natural disaster, or domestic violence, but is certain to be inflicted in military training and/or combat.

These problems are ours. They affect us as a nation and as individuals, whether or not we ever isolate or identify them as concerns of politics, security, health care, or economics. It’s not surprising that we observe, even study, some of these problems without recognizing them as such. Most Americans fail to recognize executions as murder, or counter-terrorism as terrorism. We have been taught to see the actions of our own government as benign, at worst, and the actions of our designated enemies as threatening, at best. This is a major building block of the scourge of PTS.

On behalf of Spokane Veterans for Peace, I invite you to join us in making five demands for supporting the troops and securing the future of our country and its people by reforming key elements of our military culture. Larry Shook, one of our own members, has helped us understand the challenge faced by our country and by those who suffer with moral wounds from military sources. His research, his work as an investigative reporter, and his personal struggle over the past half-century have helped him envision a way forward to benefit everyone:

  1. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) policy of treatment must be reformed in terms of reporting and benefits given to victims.
  2. Military Sexual Trauma (MST) policy must be reformed in terms of reporting and benefits given to victims.
  3. Reported PTSD and MST must be replied to and ruled upon within 30 days.
  4. Upon exit from the military, all personnel must be trained for the return to civilian life and considered for lifelong support.
  5. The draft or conscription must be reinstated and reformed to include all American citizens. Drafted persons holding positions of pacifism or forms of conscientious objection must be given non-combat options within the military.

Some of us have reservations about reinstating the draft, specific ideas for integrating differently-abled, voiceless, and privileged recruits, and caveats about lifelong support. However, we affirm this list as a profound and achievable improvement for a country muscle-bound by its military spending and clueless about real national strength. And I can confide in PJALS people that we fully intend to undermine public, political, and corporate support for war, the primary contributor to most of the world’s ills. (Larry and I have both written about other ways to end our country’s dependence upon war as its default foreign policy.)

Not surprisingly, this plan has been dismissed by Sen. Patty Murray. Almost any member of Congress would find it difficult to comprehend this as something to make our country safer and stronger. Elected officials universally declare their unwavering support for military members and veterans of U.S. armed forces, but when faced with changing violent, sexist, and racist government cultures, or even saving hundreds of millions of dollars, they follow the military dictum, CYA. That doesn’t mean, “Cover Your Allies.”

We are making our demands public to gain attention and respect from status quo lovers in Congress, the VA and Defense Department. Here’s where you come in. Help us mount a compelling social media campaign. Mary Kay McCollum, an emerging voice in this struggle whom you may know from our workshop at PEJAC, will be blogging on her story of MST and stories from other victims and survivors. VFP will have other reports and commentaries to spread. We need your suggestions for placement and correspondence, as well as your messages to our congressional delegation and contacts with their own stories about being set up for failure by the military juggernaut.

You may be ready to act, or you may wish to gather more information or start reading Mary Kay’s blog. Alert! Do not read her blog if you wish to maintain the popular, sanitized image of a U.S. military lovingly staffed by self-sacrificing heroes who have no personal ambition beyond the protection of our diverse and grateful population and carrying out the wishes of our flawless government. Otherwise, feel free to ask any member of Spokane VFP. We have a one-page rationale for the five reforms, resources for a closer look at policies and practices on PTSD and MST, and articles and books we think everyone touched by PTSD should read.

Spokane VFP #035 is a small group, but we cannot afford to think small. We are no longer willing to kill or injure anyone, but we are fighting for our lives and for others who don’t know, yet, what hit them. Most of us support PJALS and other social justice organizations and insist upon having a good time, even if we are saving the world. Find us at or on facebook at SpokaneVeteransForPeace#35.

Besides this project and preparing to release our second book, Vet Lit 2: So It Goes, around Memorial Day, we are trying to attract new people, veteran and associate members.  We just barely avoid the spectre of being a bunch of old white men, but we’re grateful for members of every demographic, whether they show up every time or faithfully support our efforts from home.  Membership is through, headquartered in St. Louis.   – RN

Rusty Nelson on Peace and War: “Making History”

by pjals Monday, Dec 5, 2016 | 2:14pm | Comment on this

Rusty Nelson on Peace and War: “Making History”

Rusty Nelson

Rusty Nelson

For years, I have railed against the wholesale use and abuse of certain inescapable terms in the popular lexicon of American discourse.  Along with certain obscenities that continue to nibble away at my own vocabulary, “The Economy” is one that stands out.  Pundits, politicians and pedagogues seem to agree that the term has the same meaning for me that it does for Matt Shea, Bill Gates, and Domantas Sabonis.  “The Economy,” of course, bounces off me differently than it does anyone else, including my children and their children, and I resent the implication that I’m just another naked chick in a crowded nest, open wide for whatever worm that differently-feathered parent figure dangles above me. Read more »

Rusty Nelson on Peace and War; Fire!

by pjals Thursday, Sep 15, 2016 | 12:12pm | Comment on this


rustyAs tough as it always is to narrow the scope of my commentary, I had done the writing before going to church Sunday morning. I planned to tinker with it and submit it in the afternoon, almost in time. But Sunday was not a good day for polishing a manuscript.

We noticed the menacing plume from the South Hill. It was disturbing but hardly surprising, and we reassured my daughter when we stopped at her home. When we arrived at our place, we had driven past the expanding column of smoke and chatted with our neighbors about its trajectory and tried to contact Jerry and Marilynne Mueller, our partners who were visiting her sister-in-law in hospice care. The smoke grew thicker in the relentless wind. Despite our assessment, Lara, 8-months pregnant, her husband working in Florida, was told to evacuate. We suggested she head to Spokane with her four-year-old and her dog. No sense joining us in the path of the fire.

The fires are not out, not even contained, and smoke is everywhere. We have a few items packed, in case, but Lara is back in her home. Muellers returned before the highway was closed. Their earth-sheltered home may be as fire-resistant as any in the county, but a family compound on the river, including a cabin built by their own hands decades ago, is reported destroyed in the Hart Road Fire.

The humidity is almost nonexistent. Fire danger is high in the entire area. Homes have been lost, lives altered, and two connections will inevitably be made. Climate change and war. Neither will be taken seriously enough.
Of course it’s always hot and dry in our summers. We see this much damage from lightening-caused fires. Our conflagrations pale in comparison to those raging in Southern California, or even those so close to us last year. But the extreme weather causing misery across the globe only matches one pattern, the herds of tornadoes and incredible floods in other parts of the country, climate change spurred by the ways humans bully nature. And now our smoke springs into the mix, spewing carbon with no safe place to land. We’re watching a cycle that’s killing our planet and hoping for another price drop for our precious fossil fuels. We argue over the safety of trains freighting frighteningly incendiary fuels through our midst, while it’s the safely delivered cargoes that make us weak and sick, cause the greatest degradation of our air and water, threaten the environment of humanity. We have climate deniers in Congress and climate liars in corporate board rooms, and our resolve to save the earth is wavering.

War? Seriously? What could three little wildfires, now called the Spokane Complex, have to do with war? One might be allowed to wonder if we might have safer electrical transmission methods than wind-whipped, vulnerable lines stretched across miles of crunchy, parched vegetation if the bulk of our research and development dollars was not dedicated to death and destruction.

Nobody has died in this cluster of local fires. Are we getting carried away?
But someone will say, “It looks like a war zone.” There’s a lot of trauma when fires gobble, or even threaten, our cherished possessions. We depend upon courage, perhaps heroism, from ourselves and others in our community. Terror and adrenaline push our physical limits. Fear and anger are to be wrestled and conquered. But this is no war zone. When you emerge from your burning house, no one is waiting to shoot you. Mortar rounds won’t find you as you set your hose and sprinkler. Neither IEDs nor landmines await the wheels bearing your family members and pets away from the inferno.

I would be wrong to trivialize any loss you’ve known by fire, here or far away, sentimental articles or loved ones or material value or precious family or friends. I will never forget hearing in the middle of the night that the offices of PJALS were burning, standing in the parking lot and watching firefighters douse the flames, sifting through charred and soaked documents that had been as dear to me as the earliest crayon drawings of my precocious children. It was not war. No rockets red glare or bombs bursting in air. No second airliner zeroing in to finish us off.

Perhaps these fires are little more than background noise for you. The smoke blows by or enhances your sunset. It’s not a war. The trees will come back, the forest will survive, insurance will help with crops and houses. But don’t ever say “firestorm.” That’s too close to home. My country has been in denial all my life about firestorms. When did you know about firestorms as military weapons?

I was nearly forty when I learned we dropped atomic bombs on Japan to show the Soviet Union what we could do, not because we needed more weight to win the war. A few years later, I learned about Dresden, Germany’s military-free city, when I read Slaughterhouse Five. The only way Vonnegut could tell his story of the shameful allied firebombing was to wrap the truth in fiction. It was only a few months ago that I learned it was common knowledge in Hawaii in 1941 that the Japanese were about to bomb Pearl Harbor. And there are still more dirty little secrets about firestorms the U.S. inflicted upon civilian populations. You know about 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, but do you know about the 30 firebombings after Tokyo, the firestorms U.S. aircraft set in city after city, some burning at temperatures never seen before, burning women and children whose men were away in the emperor’s military. Not every bombing produced that firestorm that burned steel and cement and vaporized human beings, but there was enough heat and death to end the war. Still, we could not end the war without revealing our perfection of the art of war. We could not disappoint the creators of the atomic bomb, the heroes of Los Alamos and Hanford.

If someone doesn’t take your fire too seriously, perhaps they’ve been already burned, scorched by war, singed by the insensitivity of the powerful and haughty. We all need to watch and listen for ways to get over the willingness to burn our enemies by the unit, by the family, by the millions. We need to find generals, presidents and prime ministers who will refuse to kill millions of innocent people. Imagine a president who could say no to war, no to military contractors, no to nuclear weapons, no to the briefcase with the nuclear codes.

It starts with us. Let’s make it simple. No killing. No war. No preparation for war. No new nukes. No refurbished nukes. No first use. No second use. There is no use for nuclear weapons.

We still wonder where this fire will go next. It’s uncontained, and its smoke gauzes our prized view of the north Palouse. Our electricity is on. Our phone works, and we communicate with neighbors without any sense of doom or panic. It’s not war. There’s hope. -RN

A Time for Nostalgia

by pjals Tuesday, Nov 17, 2015 | 11:11am | Comment on this

Rusty NelsonRusty Nelson: On Peace & War

There was never time for nostalgia, here, even when I wrote this column every month. Just as PJALS was so often derailed from local projects by global violence and the siren call of war, my plans for a 40th anniversary recollection have been curbed by horrible attacks in Paris. Curbed, but not cancelled.

Here’s what must be said in November, 2015: The established powers of the earth continue to prepare for the same war, thinking we’ve learned from every tragic human sacrifice offered in the names of peace, panic and greed. Now, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our outraged allies to prove we have not yet learned the lesson of the Trojan Horse, never mind Vietnam or Iraq. Read more »

Rusty Nelson on Peace and War: Trying to Support the Troops

by pjals Friday, Feb 27, 2015 | 12:12pm | Comment on this

Rusty Nelson on Peace and War: Trying to Support the Troops

               It must have been several years ago because the signs we held said “Free Bradley Manning,” and we Vets for Peace didn’t have to defend Chelsea Manning’s transgender rights while bringing attention to the persecuted, military whistle-blower Americans were trying to ignore. At an event in Riverfront Park, I was approached by two burly young men who said they were active duty military and considered Manning to be a traitor. They thought the army intelligence analyst’s reporting a massacre by U.S. helicopter crews was insignificant compared to the release of other classified information to Wikileaks. At least they knew something about the case. But then, they issued a challenge they might like to have back, now. “If you want to do something for an American soldier, put our government to work to free Beau Bergdahl.”

How things change. Private Manning, known now as Chelsea, is serving a 45-year prison sentence while the soldiers she reported remain uncharged and unpunished. Sgt. Beau Bergdahl is back in the U.S. after a controversial hostage/prisoner exchange, awaiting a decision on whether he will be charged with a crime. The story is different from the one several years ago, and several men from his unit want to see Bergdahl punished for being a deserter and putting them at risk. Read more »

Another Look at the Cycle of Violence

by Rusty Nelson Friday, Aug 29, 2014 | 12:12pm | Comment on this

Rusty Nelson on Peace & War

I believe you know that support for capital punishment in this country: is diminishing; was only a foot deep when it was a mile wide; is based upon fear and ignorance rather than common sense or justice, and; is always weakened when executions are honestly examined as factors in the cycle of violence in our communities and institutions.

You should also know that Gov. Inslee’s moratorium on executions is little comfort to the men on our death row in Walla Walla, who believe they are likely to be killed when a new governor takes office. Believing this is a splendid time to ban the death penalty and that public enlightenment is the best way forward, the Inland Northwest Death Penalty Abolition Group wants Spokane to see its new production of The Exonerated on November 21 or 22, at Gonzaga University. The Center for Justice produced two performances of The Exonerated, five years ago at the Civic Theatre, and is co-sponsoring this show, which will, again, be directed by Bryan Harniteaux, Spokane’s attorney/playwright. Read more »

Write, Tinker, Abolish

by Rusty Nelson Monday, Jun 2, 2014 | 1:13pm | Comment on this

Rusty NelsonRusty Nelson on Peace and War

By the time I wrote my first editorial about the death penalty, Nancy had produced several articles, including a commentary in the Spokesman Review, but Washington had not yet killed Dodd and Campbell. Lethal injection was catching on, but Nevada had resumed executions with a firing squad, Florida electrocuted a man whose crime would have been self-defense if he had not been gay, and Washington was dusting off its gallows. If I had been better organized and more careful, I could compile a book from our experiences, observations and opinions on state killings. And I have a lot more to say. More than I’ll try to cram into this space.

To paraphrase Einstein, everything’s changed about executions in the U.S. but the way we think about them. Two recent developments should affect the way Americans think about capital punishment, but thinking doesn’t change easily. Read more »

Commemoration of What?

by pjals Friday, Feb 28, 2014 | 10:22pm | 3 comments

Rusty NelsonRusty Nelson on Peace and War 

Veterans for Peace is such a tonic for me that it seems almost unthinkable there could be sharp divisions among its members and chapters. I remember the thrill of solidarity at the national convention in Seattle a few years ago and affirmation from Spokane vets who attended subsequent conventions. I loved being with Western Washington members last November in Auburn, and in Tacoma in February, not to mention planning, laughing, and solving global problems with our local members.

What disharmony could exist among veterans who agree that war should be abolished as our default foreign policy and that our leaders should be accountable for the devastating costs of war? Alright. That’s a silly question for anyone who’s spent years working in peace and justice organizations.  Peace mongers come in all imaginable types. In fact, it was reassuring to hear VFP leaders talk, at our Tacoma conference, about recent internal squabbles, because they involve disagreements which allow for constructive discourse and encourage independent points of view.

As one who joined VFP about the time I started working for PJALS, I was not drawn to the regional conference to be enlightened by workshops, but to be part of the community-building for our chapter as well as among state-wide chapters. Feeling some success in that, I was caught off guard by one workshop: “Vietnam Commemoration.” Read more »