by Jill Dalton
The moment I emerge above ground from the South Ferry Station in lower Manhattan I must appear lost. I’m not lost just disoriented, which happens from time to time when I arise from the subterranean bowels of the New York City subway system. The man standing at the corner asks, “Need a cab? “No.” I reply. “I need 55 Water Street. “ The cabbie points, “Two blocks down—on the right.” And off I go. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never been to the Vietnam War Memorial in New York or Washington, D.C. for that matter.
I’ve never much felt like paying homage to these lost souls as it brings up too much pain from my own life with a Colonel father who served in three wars. His Swan Song was Vietnam. Our entire family had to deal with the ramifications of the aftermath of that war and we never fully recovered. My father returned from his tour of Vietnam a different man and the country he’d given his total love and undying devotion to and his family had changed. Our living room became the new battleground.
I no longer saw my father as the mighty war hero from WWII or the savior of the Nazi horror but as a cog in the military war machine of death and destruction being perpetrated on innocent people in some land far, far away that we had no business being in. Back then it was called the communist threat. The Domino Theory was how they justified it. “It we don’t stop the communist they will take over the world one country at a time.”
My father and I were mostly estranged from the time I was eighteen until right before his death, which was twenty-three years later. We reconciled and made our peace shortly before he died, and all these years later I’ve come to know and understand him, and now realize we were both fighting for the same thing just from a different perspective.
So visiting these war memorials has never held any fascination or deep burning desire for me, but after many years of healing I realize it’d be an honor to stand side-by-side with other like-minded peace activists and Vets as well as active duty military who believe, as I do, these wars of aggression are wrong and must end now.
These illegal wars are destroying our country and the men and women who serve it. Tens of thousands of untold innocent people in the Middle East have been murdered and for what? War profiteers who make billions on death and destruction run these illegal wars of aggression. This is why these wars are not discussed. They are in fact taboo. Whenever I mention “the wars” to even close friends I am, for the most part, met with silence. Like I’ve brought up a very impolite and distasteful subject that shouldn’t be discussed in polite company. Other times I’m met with out and out hostility, and the argument becomes about, well, we’re not the only bad guys or I’m called angry and unpatriotic for not supporting our troops. Like I’m supposed to wave the flag, wear a yellow ribbon, and shout rah, rah like the so-called patriots who follow blindly without knowledge or understanding of what’s really going on–as if being willfully ignorant were a virtue.
What these people and many others like them do not understand is the people who are the most critical of their government and this country are the one’s who care and love this country the most.
At the entrance to the memorial I’m greeted by a cheerful woman handing out or I should say trying to hand out pamphlets to passersby, which no one takes except me, as she asks, “Are you aware today’s the eleventh anniversary of the war in Afghanistan?” To which I reply, “Yes, I am and that’s where I’m going.”
The headline on the flier reads, “Awakening from the nightmare of war. Afghanistan: 11 years too long, Veterans say bring ‘em home, Keep ‘em home!”
And the quote at the bottom of the page reads,
To begin the process of change, to stop the war, to establish justice, it may be necessary to break the law, to commit acts of civil disobedience, as Southern blacks did, as antiwar protestors did. Howard Zinn, historian/political activist
Civil disobedience? Justice? Not exactly subjects most Americans are interested in. It seems most would rather discuss what over the hill, has been or wanna be star will be humiliating themselves on “Dancing With the Stars” this season.
Once inside, the memorial is rather underwhelming. Certainly nothing like the one in Washington. There are about fifty or so people milling about so I scope out the situation, and find a bench that isn’t too wet to sit on, as it’s been raining on and off all day.
I’m excited as Chris Hedges, Margaret Flowers, Glen Ford, Kevin Zeese, as well as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghan veterans are scheduled to speak.
I strike up a conversation with a woman who sits on the bench next to me. Turns out she’s a Vet, but luckily got out in the 90’s, and now travels around the world teaching organic farming. She just finished walking the Appalachian Trail and is headed to Florida the next day, as the cold is not to her liking. Can’t say as I blame her, but Florida?
I no longer celebrate the Fourth of July or Columbus Day. I do not wave the flag of hatred, racism or aggression our flag has come to symbolize, but I’m not the only one.
Combat veteran and poet Jenny Pacanowski steps to the microphone and waves her arms in the air. “I’m a female combat veteran. Take a good look cause you’ve probably never seen one.” Jenny explains she rehabilitated herself through art. She then reads her powerful poem about veterans suicides, “Parade.” Here’s a section from the poem.
The funeral procession from Syracuse airport to Ithaca NY was over 50 miles long.
Dragging his dead body through town after town of people, families and children waving flags.
The fallen HERO had finally come home.
I wonder how many children who saw this, will someday want to be dead HEROS too.
I did not wave a flag that day or any day since my return.
I live in a dream called my life. Where the good things don’t seem real or sustainable.
I live in the nightmares of the past called Iraq and PTSD that never run out of fuel.
Is it better to be dead hero?
Or a living fucked up, addicted, crazy veteran?”
Chris Hedges, a hero of mine, a rare man of integrity, intellect, empathy and honor reads from his piece, “The Maimed.” And irony of irony when Hedges speaks, as if on cue, a large fireworks display begins in the distance. It sounds like bombs bursting in air, and because he’s been in so many conflicts, he doesn’t even flinch, he just calmly reads.
It is only the maimed that finally know war. And we are the maimed. We are the broken and the lame. We ask for forgiveness. We seek redemption. We carry on our backs this awful cross of death, for the essence of war is death, and the weight of it digs into our shoulders and eats away at our souls. We drag it through life, up hills and down hills, along the roads, into the most intimate recesses of our lives. It never leaves us. Those who know us best know that there is something unspeakable and evil many of us harbor within us. This evil is intimate. It is personal. We do not speak its name. It is the evil of things done and things left undone. It is the evil of war.
Retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard served in Vietnam, and was arrested with Occupy Wall Street, calls these wars a “lethal and toxic absurdly from corporate America” and continues “America has lost it’s conscience. An entire generation has gone to waste in this insanity.”
Reverend Eric Johnson, a son of a Veteran talks about the pain and stress of war, and how wars don’t end at 10 p.m. “We want justice. We are witnesses. They close the memorial at 10 p.m., but war does not end at 10 p.m. “ He asks, “What do we want?” And the crowd shouts back, “Justice!” “What do we stand for today?” Again we reply, “Justice!”
Then, a handsome young soldier I’d noticed earlier and taken a few photos of speaks and my heart breaks.
My name is Micah Turner. I’m 24 years old and I’ve served four combat tours. More soldiers have committed suicide then have been killed in these wars. One month ago today I deserted my unit and tonight I will turn myself into the military police. Thank you for letting me speak.
Kevin Zeese from Occupy D.C. emphasizes,
The empire economy is not working for us or others. We steal resources and workers in other countries. These wars are for transnational corporations. We must 1. Take the profits out of war and 2. Live by the rule of law. Both parties are guilty. These presidents should be in prison. We have the right to peaceful assembly.
Dr. Margaret Flowers, a pediatrician who, like many of her colleagues, left the medical profession because it was impossible to deliver high quality health care in this environment, turned activist and proponent of single payer healthcare for all, has been arrested more than once for this worthy cause. She calls these wars a health crisis and assures us, “This is not the ruling class but the looting class.” Here’s her powerful open letter to President Obama regarding Single-Payer healthcare.
You can also watch Dr. Flowers in action as she confronts Wall Street investors trying to profit from health care.
Another young soldier, Javier Ocasio, tells the story of how he awoke and became involved in anti war activism. He was suffering from horrible PTSD and was unable to communicate with his young daughter. His wife would implore him to please spend time with her but he just couldn’t. And then the unthinkable happened, his daughter died suddenly, and he asked if he could carry her body to the morgue. He recounts how heavy her lifeless body was, and that’s when he made the connection. He thought of all the parents in the Middle East who have to carry their dead children’s bodies and miracle of miracles he woke up.
How many more years will we continue these illegal wars of aggression? How many more innocents have to die in our name? How many more soldiers have to commit suicide? How many more souls need to be laid waste? How many more citizens have to lose their homes, their jobs, go without healthcare? How many more children have to go hungry? How many more have to be incarcerated? How many more of our rights have to be taken away? How many more Gulf oil spills covered up with corexit or Fukushima’s? Where is the outrage as our rights are systematically stripped away as our country is hollowed out from the inside?
Evil triumphs when good people do nothing. Americans have allowed, and are colluding with their own demise. We remain silent just like the German. We are obedient and compliant. We merely obey. We stand mute and docile as they radiate us at airports or pass the NDAA in the dead of night with never so much as a whimper from the brainwashed, non thinking, non questioning consumers who genuflect to the lies and misdeeds of this nation, and instead worship at the cult of illusion.
What will it take for Americans to awaken from their slumber?