No, this is not a military-oriented guide to keeping fit. Yet it has made some people uncomfortable if not downright sore.
It’s about the peace movement and how a U.S. Marine company using downtown
With barely a week’s notice, an article in the local paper announced that a weapons company of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Reserves would spend a weekend running around our downtown, honing combat skills by firing blanks at imaginary enemies. The North West Ohio Peace Coalition (NWOPC) and local Veterans for Peace (VFP) designed a response, different from what many in the peace movement had seen or that some were even comfortable with.
That response was:
· A message written for the Toledo Marines by VFP member and retired Special Forces Master Sergeant, Stan Goff. He compared the lies leading up to his first combat assignment, Viet Nam, with Iraq, urging the soldiers to “reflect on what you are doing and what you are about to do … you yourselves must carry the burden of the memories … if you decide that you have to chart a different course with your life, we have contact information for those who can help … we have a whole community of veterans and military families who will welcome you with open arms and our support.”
· “Cadence” chants written by VFP members around the country.
· Banners and picket signs with messages like, “We love you. Stay home,” “Support the troops, keep them home,” and “Bush and Cheney lied; soldiers died.”
· Oversized portraits of Iraqi civilians and war casualties.
· A sound truck playing Edwin Starr’s rock classic, “War!”
For two hours late Friday night, as the Marines set up their weekend command post in (believe it or not) an abandoned center for selling blood plasma, 30 peace activists stood with banners, signs, photos, and “War, Goff’s message and cadence chants alternating over the P.A. Negotiations with the Toledo police got us only as close as the opposite side of the street, so an artificial gulf kept us from reading soldiers, expressions or hearing their responses that would have only been whispered under doubtless orders against “fraternizing with us. One of our band, chafed by the order not to use a public sidewalk on a public street, crossed the thoroughfare to make a point and was promptly arrested.
The next day a dozen activists returned with signs, photos, banners, “War,” and a bullhorn for Goff’s letter, ready to peacefully engage squads of Marines who had come to engage “enemies in parking garages and alleys.
With the mobile “War unit circling the blocks, broadcasting the song to the Marines, the activists on foot followed one detachment past the main library, singing out a whole list of VFP cadences.
The most familiar chant was:
“Hey, hey Uncle Sam
We don’t want your I-raq war
Peace is what we’re marchin’ for.
Am I right or wrong (You’re right!).
Am I right or wrong? (You’re right!)”
But the most popular was:
“Dubya’s lies should make him choke
He must still be snortin, coke
Saddam’s secret poison gas
Must be something Rumsfeld passed.”
In front of the Family Courts building, the Marines regrouped and rested momentarily, presenting a perfect opportunity to read Goff’s message again. As the Reserves began to move out in pairs, guns pointed in all directions, the words of the Special Forces veteran echoed off the court building, clear as a bell:
Back at the blood plasma/command post, the peace activists gathered to say goodbye with an impromptu addition from one of the group, a high school English teacher, interested in delivering a message of Christian love.
Describing Christ as an outspoken critic of the occupying Roman Army, he referred to the command to “love your enemies as ultimately an act of self protection, one that could interrupt the cycle of violence. He ended with the Golden Rule and an exhortation to the Marines to “think for yourself.
The next day two email messages stood out against the usual inbox clutter.
One was from a local VFP member who, as a 15 year-old was drafted into the German Army in the closing days of WWII, then emigrated to the
“Our troops are in
Another was from a
Added to those critiques is the following anecdote. Walking downtown the day after the protest, a City streets worker dashed across the road to shake my hand and say, “thanks for what you’re doing to get our troops home.
That comment represented the kind of response I hoped our message would elicit from the “persuadable middle of public opinion.” The response I hoped for from young soldiers was based on what I remembered as a teenager during the
In those volatile days I alternated between being a conscientious objector and following John Wayne’s example of serving my country joining the Marines to fight the commies. Remembering those days, it was easy to put myself in the place of young reservists, quite possibly bound for
This leads to the larger question of whether the peace movement can ethically construct a message and deliver it at appropriate times that is not about how we feel about the war, but how soldiers and our neighbors in the persuadable middle feel about it? It’s high time we undertook this discussion.
Mike Ferner is a former Navy Hospital Corpsman and a member of Veterans for Peace. He spent three months in