Local to Global: Voices of soldiers and veterans for peace

  • Pat Hynes of Montague. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 11/6/2022 9:21:06 PM


The first Armistice Day in 1919 was a celebration of the moment that the brutality of World War I, which robbed 40 million soldiers and civilians of life, ended; and peace began. In 1926, the U.S. Congress declared an Armistice Day resolution “inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.”

All public ideals of peace with all other peoples were discarded on June 1, 1954, when the U.S. government renamed Armistice Day as Veterans Day. This erasure of Armistice Day tragically matched our country’s history of militarism after World War II: bombing North Korea nearly out of existence and metastasizing into a pathological military-industrial-government complex.

But many thousands of soldiers and veterans of U.S. wars of the 20th and 21st centuries have turned against war and revived the intent of Armistice Day: “friendly relations with all other peoples.”

World War II: The Good War Gone Bad

The probing journey made in 1966 by World War II veteran Howard Zinn to the French Atlantic coast town of Royan — a town he had helped to destroy as a bombardier in a 1945 Allied air-ground assault — sheds piercing light into military culture and the inevitable inhumanity of war.

His April 1945 bombing mission took place three weeks before the end of the war in Europe and just after the U.S. Air Force tested the new jellied gasoline Napalm, later used in Vietnam, on Royan. Zinn collates the venal motives behind the assault on the small town: blinding military ambition and pride in compiling victories, the quest for honor and glory even in militarily useless battles, the irresistible urge to try out new weapons and a habit of obedience to duty. All generate … the one-way momentum of war beyond the bounds of just war principles and international conventions – even for the “good guys.”

Vietnam: Resistance, Regret and Redemption

Not until the Vietnam War, did soldiers revolt massively against the war and sustain their defiance after the war.

While still a teenager, Claude Anshin Thomas killed hundreds of Vietnamese as a door gunner on an assault helicopter, for which he received numerous medals and the Purple Heart. “My involvement in this war … scarred my body … my heart … my soul…. But as I pieced together the shrapnel of my life … I discovered that there is no justified killing … and no rectitude in war.” After years of homelessness and profound isolation, drugs, alcohol and exploiting women for sex, he studied Buddhism and was ordained a monk in the Soto Zen tradition. As a mendicant, he made pilgrimages in war-torn regions of the world, including Vietnam where he met with Vietnamese war veterans suffering the same cumulative sorrow of war, to promote peace and nonviolence.

Iraq: Moral Injury

Thousands of U.S. soldiers turned against the war and declared themselves COs, went AWOL, refused to re-deploy, spoke out and returned their war on terrorism medals in a public act of conscience. Their voices have a uniquely moral tenor.

As a member of Bravo Company 2-16, Ethan McCord rescued two injured children from a van in Baghdad, riddled with bullets by American helicopter gunners. Later, McCord and fellow soldier Josh Stieber published, “An Open Letter of Reconciliation and Responsibility to the Iraqi People.” Their letter concluded: “Please accept our apology, our sorrow, our care, and our dedication to change from the inside out. We are doing what we can to speak out against the wars and military policies responsible for what happened to you and your loved ones.”

Both have since worked in reparation and reconciliation efforts with Iraqi Health Now, which provides direct medical and health aid to people in Iraq.

Afghanistan: Refusal, Regret and Reconciliation

What could have happened if the atrocity of September 11, 2001 had been treated as a crime with a coordinated international intelligence investigation and not as the case for war in Afghanistan? 9/11 was a crime committed by non-Afghan individuals.

NaoRozi left the U.S. Army rather than kill strangers whom he was supposed to hate.

“I held a weapon before people I didn’t know and who didn’t know me. … We weren’t enemies because we didn’t even know one another. … There were so many dead young bodies, and all of them were strangers to me. I thought, why did we do this to one another? …Weren’t their mothers waiting for them at home?. Those U.S. veterans who committed suicide had a conscience.

Rozi became a peace activist. He lived and worked with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, “seeking a better life, seeking a better world.”

Undoubtedly, the voices of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers, vets and war resisters will emerge in protest of that war.

“War cannot be humanized, it can only be abolished.” — Albert Einstein.

Pat Hynes is a board member of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice. Her recent book, “Hope, But Demand Justice” is available from World Eye Bookshop and Haley’s Publishing. On Nov. 12, Traprock will sponsor an Armistice Day event on the Greenfield Common from 11 a.m. to noon. All are invited.


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