By: Wally Myers
Two conventions were held in the Twin Cities; one to build peace; one to rationalize war. The Veterans For Peace and the Iraq Veterans Against the War chose to convene in Minneapolis to speak out and demonstrate for peace. Across the river in Saint Paul the Republicans spoke of the immanent victory by their militaristic obstinacy.
We, veterans of Vietnam and Iraq, have been scarred by the many deceits of the victory-through-militarism story, where truths are often denied. For Vietnam, there’s the denial that with Agent Orange our government poisoned us as well as the future generations of South Vietnam, our allies. For Iraq, there’s the denial that with Depleted Uranium our government nuked us and made the future Iraq, with soaring birth defects, a radioactive heartbreak.
But we veterans, having been deceived before, search for the truth to take responsibility. We applaud New York, Montana, Connecticut, and New Mexico for testing Depleted Uranium contamination in returning troops. Veterans For Peace is asking you to do some research and let’s have our state test all who return to North Carolina. Tragically, how will we ever clean up Iraq?
Although it is important to recognize the denials of war crimes, we will not harness the positive power that builds peace without “Creating a Culture of Peace”. That was the title of one of the workshops that built on Gandhi’s non-violent resistance movement. Extending his work, in The Different Drum, M. Scott Peck shows how inclusiveness, vulnerability, and honesty can help grow peaceful communities. And in Doing Democracy, Bill Moyer analyzes social movements in terms of timing and sequence and how to develop action plans that work.
This was heady and hopeful; but peace is also about training the heart. We did that by role-playing how to redirect verbal conflict with those afflicted by hate. We took turns being aggressive and conciliatory. The first step to deescalate is to center yourself by calming down fear and agitation, and then reinforce the attitude to stay peaceful, to do no harm. When first engaged, admit that you are vulnerable and show that you pose no threat. Receive the truths of others and see yourself within them. Articulate the truths that we share. It’s not about winning an argument; it’s about recognizing our shared goals and agreeing on how we will be together. This is practicing peace.
Across the river those who seek to oppress others sought to silence us. Undeterred, Veterans For Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War lead the march of some 10,000 to 30,000 people from many organizations. Eight hundred were arrested or detained. The two people who did get into the convention were shouted down with “USA” and pushed out. The Republicans used patriotism as a weapon of exclusion, used power as a weapon of coercion, and used police as a weapon of isolation; some folks need to take a workshop on practicing peace; perhaps we all do.