Suel D. Jones is on an unusual mission. The 60-ish Vietnam vet, who hails from Texas and has a hideaway cabin in Alaska, wants to create a Veterans For Peace chapter in Hanoi. “I already got 10 members,” Jones said last week as he talked up his latest campaign, while hawking copies of his memoir, Meeting the Enemy: A Marine Goes Home, at the 24th national convention of Veterans For Peace.
In his memoir, Jones wrote: “At a Veterans For Peace convention in 2006, I was asked about how I was recruited into the Marine Corps. I replied that I didn’t have to be recruited. My parents, the church, and society had recruited me since birth.” After years of wrestling with rage he brought home from the war, Jones moved to Vietnam and did volunteer work with the Vietnam Friendship Village, a hospital for children and Vietnamese veterans affected by Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant used by the US military to destroy much of the forests in Vietnam. “I felt that as a warrior I was not complete until I returned to the country where I had fought in order to help heal the wounds of the war,” he added.
At a nearby table, Marine vet Doug Zachary of Austin, Texas, was selling a variety of books, buttons and bumper stickers on peace themes, including War Is a Racket by Smedley D. Butler, the legendary Marine major general and two-time winner of the Medal of Honor. Among the most popular items for men and women who stopped by between workshops on conflict resolution and other aspects of peacemaking were olive drab T-shirts emblazoned with the Veterans For Peace logo—a white dove on a military helmet—and an unusual team spirit message: “Recruiting for Peace.”
The event at the University of Maryland also drew Master Sergeant (ret.) Wesley Davey. A draftee during the Vietnam war, Davey ended up in Iraq with an Army Reserve unit at age 54. He arrived in College Park on a dual mission. A founder of the Minnesota chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Davey is also challenging the official “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that discriminates against gays in the military. “I was against this war, but felt that as the first sergeant I should deploy to Iraq to look out for the good people in my unit,” Davey told an assembled gathering of antiwar activists with ties to the military.
In a news article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2007, Davey bluntly said: “For the second time in my life, a president has plunged our country into a quagmire where there is no way to win a victory which can be defined. I thought we learned a lesson in Vietnam. I was wrong.”
Another participant was a mother of a young war veteran who attended a workshop on poetry for peace. “My son has several poems in this anthology,” said Tina Richards, a Missouri member of Military Families Speak Out, waving a copy of Warrior Writers: Re-Making Sense, a collection of poetry and art by members of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Writing and reading poems on the war at antiwar events was a great help to her son, who was struggling to cope with severe health problems after two tours with the Marines in Iraq. When requests to the VA and traditional veterans’ organizations for assistance proved fruitless, Richards said she found Veterans For Peace on the Internet.
“I called my son and said ‘we’re going on a march to New Orleans,’” joining a protest march by veterans’ peace groups in 2006 through hurricane-ravaged towns awaiting federal assistance while billions of dollars were spent on waging war in Iraq. During an evening of songs and poetry by participants, her son got up, she recalled, and read a poem he’d jotted down on a napkin. And now he’s a published poet, Cloy Richards, with a growing family of his own and a future he couldn’t see through the pain before.
The veterans’ convention in a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC, drew scores of people from across the United States. It also drew one of the newest members of Congress. “It is important to hear a voice for peace. We who are working for peace have to open up the space for people to move in that direction,” said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Maryland), who was elected last year. “I think that the work you do as veterans working for peace gives the rest of us validation for what we do,” she added.
In her keynote speech, Edwards noted that she grew up in a career Air Force family and lost her brother at age 27 as a result of “psychological problems” from his military service. “I feel that I, as a very strong opponent of the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan, am a great patriot,” she said. Yet in working to change these policies, activists need to “work for peace with respect” for other people’s perspectives, she advised. Noting that she went on a tour of Afghanistan with other members of Congress, she concluded that the US strategy of widening the war with more troops “will not work. I’m a big supporter of President Obama. But I disagree with him on this.”
Summing up the focus of the convention, Michael T. McPherson, executive director of Veterans for Peace and a Gulf War I veteran, wrote in the program book that “We must reach out and educate about the full horrors and impact of war. … We must provide and live alternatives to war. We must become examples of conflict resolution in all aspects of our lives and build solidarity with allies in search of justice. … This weekend we gather to gain strength and learn from each other to do that work.”
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