With a name like “Veterans For Peace,” it’s a fair question to ask if we should make statements supporting union members battling government offensives in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
The VFP national leadership and, we believe, the overwhelming majority of our members think the answer is yes. We know too well that militarism and empire are central causes of the economic tragedies that have robbed millions of Americans of their livelihoods, health and homes. Those tragedies are now being played out at statehouses across the country.
Domestic pain is linked inextricably with far greater suffering wreaked by war. Empire has snuffed out over a million Iraqi and Afghan lives along with more than6,000 of our young men and women. The people of this nation have poured over a trillion dollars into those wars and those who profit from them are prepared to spend much more, unless we stop them in their tracks.
"Unless we stop them in their tracks…” A year ago, that sentiment would have been only a rhetorical cry in the wilderness, but the courageous people across northern Africa are showing us what can be done. Like them, however, the first thing we must do is decide when we’ve had enough.
Is it enough to know that since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Wisconsin taxpayers alone have paid for those two wars, over 18 billion dollars, compared to an estimated state budget deficit this year of about two billion dollars?
Is it enough to know that what we’ve spent on these two wars would provide $8,000 annual scholarships for four years for every college-age person in Wisconsin?
Is it enough to know that wars for Empire have forever taken more than 100 young men and women from Wisconsin and left more than 750 wounded?
Forty-four years ago in April, Dr. Martin Luther King spoke in New York’s Riverside Church, giving what many believe was his greatest speech, “Beyond Vietnam.” In it, he called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”
We are learning now that the empire’s violence doesn't only strike "over there." Our war economy is sinking every working-class neighborhood in our country into economic serfdom and the violence that is poverty. Millions of people are thrown out of their jobs and then out of their homes. Pressures cascade onto state and local governments as the stagnant economy and frustrated voters further decrease funds for essential services. Individuals and whole cities here at home have become "collateral damage." Our infrastructure isn't bombed, it just slowly rots.
In that same speech, Dr. King observed, “This war is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy-and-laymen-concerned committees for the next generation…We will be marching…and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life.”
Members of Veterans For Peace are heartsick that we continue organizing antiwar committees and “attending rallies without end.” We don’t just want our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, we want a better life for the many. We want security – the kind of security that can only come when we don’t have to worry about being thrown out of our jobs and our homes. We want the security that comes with health care for everyone. We want education for all. And we want the rest of that better life that we can win only when we can control the appetites of the few.
We know we cannot do this by ourselves. The peace movement, even in its mightiest manifestation, cannot by itself end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, much less get America out of the business of empire.
To do that requires that we take the reins of government out of the hands of the few and place them in the hands of the many.
To do that we need each other! We need to be true to our chants in the streets: “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!” And we need to organize campaigns like VFP’s “How's the War Economy Working for You?” to find the allies we need and who need us.
In 1988, who would have thought that within two years, statues of Lenin would start toppling across Russia? Last summer, who would have known that within a year, dictators would topple across northern Africa?
We must learn from those historic moments and join together, so that a year from now people will point to Wisconsin and say, “This is where we finally decided we had enough.”