Brooklyn High Seniors Rally Against US Wars

 Brooklyn high school students and Grandmothers Against the War at May 18 vigil-photo by Rex Bounds

The day was downcast, but the high school seniors from Brooklyn Collaborative School standing in the rain on Fifth Avenue were not. They were proof that daring and principled teachers could raise their students’ consciousness about the material and political costs of the U.S.’s current wars and integrate them into the anti-war movement.


It was the morning of May 18. About eight or nine kids, all Latino and African American, had joined the Grandmothers Against the War vigil at Rockefeller Plaza. Their social economics teacher, Stephen Simons, thought it would make a good field trip to supplement their class discussions regarding the question: Was the Iraq war a just war?


Carol Husten, a former teacher and member of the Granny Peace Brigade, began the event by talking to the kids about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It became quickly apparent that the students were well versed in the causes and effects of the war. When Husten asked them, for instance, why they thought we invaded Iraq when there were actually no weapons of mass destruction, one young man promptly replied, “Oil.” They were also very aware of the fallacies spouted by military recruiters to lure kids into their ranks.


Barbara Harris, chair of the Granny Peace Brigade Counter Recruitment Committee, explained “opt-out” options so that recruiters wouldn’t be able to harass them in their homes. She told them that though they would be assured of being trained for all sorts of non-fighting jobs, they would more likely be trained for only one thing—combat.


Vietnam veteran and Veterans for Peace member Bill Steyert described the horrors and the immorality of the Vietnam War and urged the young people to stay out of the military.


At that point, the kids read a statement they prepared for the event: “In May 2003, former President Bush stated the Iraq War was part of ‘Mission Accomplished.’ Last year, 2010, President Obama shared that troops would come home by August 2011. Please, Mr. President, keep your word. No May 18, 2012 with our troops in Iraq, no American troops engaged in warfare in our name. For the future of this country, re-do the American military budget. Switch for education and peace.”


One of the students, Miguel Gomez, had this to say when asked whether the Iraq War was a just one: “The Iraq War is one of the most controversial wars that impacted society. Thousands of innocent civilians died in Iraq, thousands of our own men died and to this day they are still recovering dead bodies. I believe the Iraq War is an unjust war because of the amounts of lives that were taken in vain due to an unclear cause, and because we destroyed a country that never hurt us. The living conditions in Iraq are worse in comparison to Saddam Hussein’s control in the past. We are enemies to ourselves because we are hurting another country, killing our own men and women, and hurting our economy. Bring our Troops Home.”


Senior Andrea Navarro answered the same question: “I believe the war in Iraq was an unjust one. We went in for mysterious reasons and it has taken away funds needed at home for education and health care.”


We were extremely inspired by these marvelous youngsters. We have long bemoaned the fact that there are no youth in today’s anti-war movement. We believe that without them, policy cannot be changed, as it was in the Vietnam era. The Brooklyn kids give us hope that their generation can become committed peace activists. We urgently need to believe others will continue the struggle for peace. The Brooklyn high school students helped assure us we needn’t worry.


Joan Wile is a grandmother of five who founded Grandmothers Against the War over six years ago. She is an ASCAP lyricist and composer with a long career as a singer in cabarets, recording studios, on movie sound tracks, and on records.