A veteran reflects on the left and the peace movement

Published on People’s World, by Joseph Turcotte, November 27 2009.

As a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and a veteran of sorts of the antiwar movement, I feel that the left as a whole has done a poor job of speaking to veterans. This is unfortunate considering they are an extremely important resource and could be great allies in our fight for democracy and freedom for the people of America and the world. We must find a way to communicate with them without parroting rhetoric that is frankly inapplicable to today’s military and today’s war.

When we protest war, do we protest the war itself, the warrior, or the people who truly started the war in the first place? Vets feel they are being protested as well as the war. How can we separate the war from the warrior? It’s like trying to dissociate a shoe from a shoemaker or an exterminator from their poison. Soldiering requires a high level of training and skill. It also requires a sense of honor, self-sacrifice, courage, duty and loyalty – noble values that we on the left hold in high esteem as we work for peace and justice. However, in our zeal for opposing war, we often have failed to recognize these positive traits in U.S. soldiers. We often generalize and dehumanize them …  

… How do we address soldiers experiencing alienation from the society they once belonged to? Their dissatisfaction can be fodder for right-wing extremist groups. Such groups are working to recruit these alienated and troubled soldiers and Marines and twist them into foot-soldiers of hate and death. Or they are tricking them into Quixotic crusades for unrealistic candidates like Ron Paul and his “libertarian” circus. This trend may have terrible consequences for the future of this country. We may be moving toward a similar situation as the one in post-World-War-I Germany when legions of disaffected German soldiers were recruited by fascist thugs to fight progressive reforms and help turn Germany into a fascist state. Today, the myriad “tea party” groups, whose anger at any kind of progressive reform is to some degree fueled by closeted racism, are feeding the feelings of victimhood already present in many soldiers.

To reach veterans, disaffected and otherwise, we must clearly communicate the nature of war, the Iraq War in particular, and their role in it without attacking their honor or dignity, or else we lose their ear. We must separate them from the war without lying to them or talking down to them.

We must explain the truth: …

… We must communicate that we do not hate America when we disagree with policies of its leaders and their marriage to big business. We must communicate the class roots of warfare and the veterans’ role in it. We must tell them that it is morally right to use their freedom of speech to talk about their experiences. We must convince them that we are fighting FOR them if not WITH them. Most of all, veterans need to hear that values of honor, self sacrifice, courage, duty, and loyalty – their values – are needed to fight for democracy and freedom here at home. We need them to help us build a better future for America, and to bring peace at last for the rest of the world. (full text).

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