Veterans for Peace Talk To Students About War
BETWEEN THE LINES Q&A from the nationally syndicated radio newsmagazine "Between The Lines" http://www.btlonline.org
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in major media
For release Dec. 7, 2001
Veterans for Peace Respond to White House Call to Talk with Students About War
Interview by Melinda Tuhus.
* Some veterans visit schools to explain why they oppose the war in Afghanistan and are critical of U.S foreign policy.
As the U.S. war in Afghanistan entered its second month, President Bush put out the call for veterans to speak in schools in commemoration of Veterans Day. He asked them to discuss their experiences defending freedom and democracy. Many responded, including James Madison of Middletown, Conn.. Madison served honorably with the Marines during the Gulf War, but since then has joined the group Veterans for Peace. For years he has spoken out against U.S. foreign policy and military interventions, including the current war in Afghanistan.
So Madison, a self-described patriot, formed a group called "Veterans Teaching Peace in Schools." He put out his own call through the Internet to find other veterans with similar views to talk with students about their opposition to the war.
Between The Lines Melinda Tuhus spoke with James Madison about his opposition to the Afghan war, criticism of U.S. foreign policy and how students have responded to his views.
Jim Madison: One of my concerns was that I know there's are a lot of veterans out there who don't necessarily feel that this war or our militaristic foreign policy in general is a good idea. And I knew that there were people like myself -- veterans -- who wanted to speak out on behalf of peaceful alternatives to the war. So as soon as I heard about Bush's call for veterans to go into schools, I realized that I could throw together an organization that would be a kind of a countermovement. So I got on a few e-mail lists, talked to a few people, bounced some ideas around and ended up getting some pretty good responses from both veterans who wanted to speak to students as well as teachers, students and parents who wanted to have veterans come and address their student groups.
Melinda Tuhus: How widespread was the response?
Jim Madison: We actually ended up getting organized in 28 states altogether. A total of about 70-some veterans who volunteered to go into speak and about 60 people who wanted to volunteer to be coordinators: teachers, students, others who wanted to get those veterans in there. And the response was very strong, especially from the veterans. They wrote me a lot of good e-mail (letters) about their concerns and about their experiences. They had a really intense desire to get out there and share the fact that there are some different points of view that really need to be considered as to how we can approach this particular crisis as well as our foreign policy on an ongoing basis.
Melinda Tuhus: You served with honor in the Persian Gulf War. Why are you opposed to the war in Afghanistan?
Jim Madison: I joined the Marine Corps when I was 17 years old and I was in Desert Storm for eight months or so, about the entire length of the war. At that time, I was very gung ho. I was a young person and I felt that was the best way to serve my country. But, as the years passed and I got out, I looked at our foreign policy and I realized that a lot of what we do as a nation is very destructive around the world. We have been bombing, invading and occupying nation after nation, decade after decade for almost a half century now. I realized that kind of military action throughout the world is exactly the kind of thing that causes people to hate us. And when you engage in this level of militaristic behavior, all throughout the world, you make enemies and those enemies inevitably come back to do you harm. And I realized that our militaristic foreign policy, far from making us safe, is in fact the very thing that is putting us in danger. It's the very thing that makes people hate us enough to plot to come back and hijack our planes, to level our buildings and to do things that are very harmful to us.
What I didn't want to have happen was for people to believe that somehow just because a person is a veteran, they're automatically going to subscribe to the war, they're automatically going to support blind obedience to our government. I don't want that to be the understanding that people have.
Melinda Tuhus: What did you find when you spoke in schools? Did you speak more than once or how many times did you speak to students?
Jim Madison: During November 11th to the 17th, I gave two speeches — I've been talking about this issue for years. But now I talk about it with specific reference to Sept. 11 and to Afghanistan. The response I get is pretty interesting once you explain to people our point of view, once you point out that for the last half century, we have been engaging in some severe military actions. For example, we blew up the pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, wiped out half of their pharmaceutical supply because we said it was involved in chemical warfare. It turns out it wasn't. We backed the Israelis when they went into Lebanon and killed 10,000 people, mostly civilians. We bombed Iraq flat and now we've isolated them for 10 years so they can't rebuild their water treatment plants, they can't rebuild their power generation plants; the country is in ruins and according to UNICEF, 4,800 children a month are dying over there because of the contaminated water and the lack of medical care that comes from not having electricity. We bombed Kosovo, we blew up the Chinese embassy, we fly spy planes off the coast of countries like China, and the list goes on and on and on. Those are the kind of things that people don't really think about, but when we go in there and explain that, and then we say that we are in fact an occupying force in Saudi Arabia, which Arabs, consider their Holy Land. When you start itemizing all these things, people realize, "wow, you know, there's a reason that we're developing all this hostility around the world." And people begin to see the connection.
I'm always careful to point out, all of our military action doesn't justify what happened on Sept. 11 in any way. But when people see the connection, they start to understand that a lot of this is because of the hate that we create through our own foreign policy. I don't get a lot of resistance on that once I explain to people they start to see that.
One of the biggest concerns that I get is, "how do we end it now? How do we get out of this?" We've dug ourselves so deep, we have troops in over 100 countries, we have hostile engagements that we've done for decades and decades and that's a challenging issue. We really, as a nation, through our military actions, have dug ourselves into quite a hole and we have created quite a bit of hate out there.
But what we're saying is we need to start somewhere and we need to start now. And there are some very legitimate alternatives, things that we could have done differently. For example in the war with Afghanistan, negotiation wasn't even tried; the administration immediately dismissed it. The Taliban had a meeting of their clerics and they decided that they wanted to negotiate, to discuss. That wasn't a delaying tactic, that was a legitimate response. That was part of the Arab culture, the desire to negotiate and think things through and work things through. We just dismissed it.
We didn't try to build an international coalition. We're basically operating unilaterally. We could have done some type of international coalition, we didn't really build that up either.
We also should have gone through criminal justice channels. Its very simple, September 11th was not an act of war; it was a crime. The reason is very simple: governments commit acts of war, individuals commit crimes. This was not an event that was sanctioned or initiated by a government, it was a group of individuals a groups of highly motivated, very hate-filled individuals who decided to attack us. But that is a criminal act and therefore we should have persued criminal justice channels on an international scale. All of these things we should have done intsead of just jumping into war.
For more information about Veterans Teaching Peace in Schools, visit the group's Web site at http://www.erols.com/madjim
See related links and listen to an excerpt of this interview in a RealAudio segment or in MP3 on our Web site at: www.btlonline.org
for the week ending 12/07/01.
Melinda Tuhus is a producer with Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending Dec. 7, 2001.