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

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.

I have an affinity for Chelsea Manning and Beau Bergdahl, not because they found themselves in the midst of a stupid, illegal war, as I once did, but because they dared to break away from the herd, assert their individuality, and distance themselves from the senseless killing that is part of every war. I knew the military could not be trusted to spare Manning for her courageous display of integrity, but I’m not ready to accept her harsh sentence, either. Most of Bergdahl’s story remains mysterious, but it seems to me that he could not justify what he was being told to do regarding people he did not hate. I don’t expect him to be treated very well.

Manning’s supporters are struggling to raise legal funds, but the media are tired of the story, which never had much traction with them, anyway. Bergdahl’s case, too, is slipping out of the public eye, as we are quietly told, every week or two, that a decision will be made, soon. The Pentagon spin doctors don’t want you to remember the soldiers whom they can’t squeeze into the hero mold. For instance, they’re not going to email you updates on how Sgt. Bales is getting along in prison for practicing his military craft on randomly selected Afghan civilians. It’s hard enough for them to keep a lid on the most egregious cases of military sexual trauma.

Meanwhile, we are treated to plenty of media coverage of other byproducts of perpetual war, and we’re warned about public comments regarding our military adventures and adventurers. The Brian Williams kerfuffle reminds us that we can even get into trouble for the way we praise our heroes in the armed forces. In fact, I contemplated writing about Williams’ problems, myself, until it became clear that every valid observation and conjecture on the subject has already been

made, at least once, but I would point out that his buddy, the retired sergeant major, credited with his safety when he wasn’t almost shot down, didn’t bother to correct his memory when they had a high-profile reunion at a hockey game

Speaking of the hero mold, Chris Kyle seems to have broken the mold and been elevated, posthumously, to an exclusive pedestal. It wasn’t sufficient that his memoir captivated war fans around the country before he was shot to death while trying to help a marine veteran deal with his PTSD. Self promotion could not achieve what Hollywood has for the former sniper, and his film story is now in the record books for legendary money-making. Kyle will be, if he is not already, the most famous enlisted person in U.S. military history and will probably surpass John McCain as the most recognizable figure to have been in the U.S. Navy and not been subsequently elected president. Have your kids ever heard of John Paul Jones or David Farragut? Not that I think they should.

While American Sniper, the film, continues to bust blocks, the Kyle saga continues in a Texas courtroom. Perhaps there’s a verdict as you read this, but I’m betting there’s no closure. Not for the families of the victims or the 27-year old defendant or the millions to whom the deadliest sniper, ever, is an object of adoration and patriotic pride. Certainly not for the military which relies upon the uncritical loyalty of each pillar of American values.

Eddie Ray Routh is on trial for the murder of Kyle and Chad Littlefield, two years ago. His plea is: not guilty due to insanity, and early testimony makes one wonder why the prosecution would take the case to trial and make it painfully obvious that Routh should have been hospitalized upon discharge from the Marines in 2010. From my perspective, the state risks confirming our fears that the U.S. military routinely recruits mentally ill persons and trains them to kill, or trains fine young people to kill before placing them into a crucible which will ensure moral and/or physical wounds which will limit their capacities for constructive citizenship.

If you miss the irony in the movie or book, I doubt you can avoid it in the courtroom. Littlefield, not a veteran, had tried to help a number of PTSD victims and was something of a Kyle groupie. Although the good Samaritans realized their charity case was seriously delusional, it didn’t occur to them that handing him a loaded gun was a bad idea. And, regardless of the outcome of the trial, it appears Kyle will be remembered as a great patriot and hero who lived and died trying to help his fellow Americans. Many of us who learned too much, too soon, about war, will never be able to think of a prolific sniper in a far-away country as someone who is saving lives, and it’s torturous to contemplate navy recruiters telling teenagers that if they’re good enough for the SEALS, they could be like Chris Kyle.

I don’t recommend that you disparage Kyle publicly, unless you are prepared for ostracism, at best. But if someone wants my opinion about snipers, I’ll recommend they read a significant part of my favorite American novel, The Brothers K, by David James Duncan.

When I went to Vietnam, in 1967, I was a true believer and a good shot. There were times I wished to be enlisted instead of commissioned, but I never wished I’d been a sniper. Today, I wish someone had told me, “Don’t kill for me. I feel safer with no enemies.”


Warrior Songs Spokane hosts retreat and “A Public Listening”

Friday, Sep 19, 2014 | 11:11am | Comment on this

There are so many unacceptable costs of war from human life to the “demonic destructive suction tube” draining resources from our federal budget. While we continue to oppose each and every act of war, let us not also tell the truth about the costs incurred by veterans, their families, and our communities resulting from these acts. Please spread the word about this great healing opportunity for veterans with PTSD to anyone you know who may benefit from it. There is also a public event on Saturday Nov 22 for community members to learn more and show support.

Warrior Songs Spokane:
A healing retreat for veterans with PTSD

November 19-23, 2014 Read more »

Truth in Recruitment: a letter from Veterans for Peace member George Taylor

Monday, Jun 2, 2014 | 12:12pm | Comment on this
George Taylor, Kristin Stoneking, Liz Moore

George Taylor (right) with FOR director Kristin Stoneking (center) and PJALS director Liz Moore at our 2014 Action Conference.

Dear concerned citizens,

Truth in Recruiting is a nationwide educational program sponsored by Veterans for Peace, Society of Friends, the War Resistance League and many other national groups.  It is an informational vehicle designed to present a more accurate and truthful presentation about enlistment into all branches of the armed forces: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine. This program seeks to expose the information that most official recruiters for the armed services keep quietly to themselves: Information like the extreme suicide and sexual assault rates in the military; or that 40 percent of recruits who enlist in the military today will not complete their full term of service.

The Veterans for Peace, chapter 35 in Spokane, has also created its own Truth in Recruiting program. It maintains that students in the public school system, as well as their parents and teachers, deserve the right to be presented with all of the accurate and truthful information about armed forces enlistment in order to make the most informed choices regarding their future. Read more »

Commemoration of What?

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 »

Pull the Pentagon Pork: Protect our Priorities, Protect Families

Wednesday, Mar 6, 2013 | 1:13pm | Comment on this

Pull the Pentagon PorkUpdate: Check out our photo petition on the National Day of Action to Pull the Pentagon Pork here!

By Lucy Vazquez

On Tuesday February 19th PJALS members met with John Culton, the Eastern Washington Director for Senator Patty Murray as our second mobilization, following up on our December action, where we delivered over 1,100 signatures of individuals and 18 different organizations that have signed on as part of PJALS’ Bring Our Billions Home Campaign. As the fight over the budget continues and more cuts to social programs are on the chopping block, PJALS decided to make a stance and urge Senator Murray to protect our communities and fight to reduce wasteful Pentagon spending.

Sitting in Senator Murray’s Eastern Washington Director John Culton’s office with seven PJALS members–veterans, students, farmers, mothers and fathers, and other everyday people–and listening to their stories made me realize this is not about numbers, it’s about impacting real people and communities. Read more »

Work Not War: Bring Our Billion$ Home

Friday, Oct 21, 2011 | 2:14pm | Comment on this

by Shar Lichty, Organizer

On Saturday, October 8 PJALS held what has sadly become a yearly event, a march against US war and occupation to commemorate the 10th anniversary of US war in Afghanistan, now the longest war in US history. As part of our Bring Our Billion$ Home campaign this year’s theme was “Work Not War.”

We kicked off the event with a community speak-out, hearing from veterans and community members on the human and economic costs of war. Speakers included Rusty Nelson and Mike Edwards from Veterans for Peace, service providers David Brookbank and Reese McMullin-Holford and Pastor Liv Larson-Andrews from Salem Lutheran Church. The speak-out was followed by a march through the Garland District in a show of support for our local, small businesses. (Pictures after the jump!) Read more »

Community Speak-out and March for Work Not War

Tuesday, Sep 27, 2011 | 5:17pm | Comment on this

1:00 pm, Saturday, October 8, Clarke Park on the corner of Garland and Division Speak Out Against the War

Join PJALS members like you to commemorate 10 years of US war and occupation in Afghanistan. Speakers will include veterans and community members on the many costs of war including out-of-control military spending and the resulting lack of funding for lifeline programs for struggling families in our communities.

And, two days prior, join us to Meet and EatMeet and Eat

Thursday, October 6, 5:30-7:00pm, Lobby of the Community Bldg, 35 W. Main