Remarks by Dexter Kamilewicz protesting Blue Angels
Thanks for coming out today to support the troops. There are a lot of people in the military who do need your support – and people there who believe as all of you do. And Gretchen and I have five children. One of our children is Ben. He’s 29 years old and he’s a soldier in Ramadi in Iraq. Ben was recruited by the Vermont National Guard before Sept 11. He joined in order to pursue the dream of competing for the Olympics in Turino, Italy in 2006. He was enticed into the Army National Guard by the promises that he would train as a world class athlete in exchange for one weekend a month two weeks per summer. He ultimately qualified for world cup as a bi-athlete.
However, Ben’s army experiences have been a very different reality for him. He was deployed to Iraq, about two months ago. He has come close to being killed several times in fierce face to face fire fights and mortar attacks in the middle of the night. The stresses of his experiences in war threaten to change him forever. He knows the realities of war. Ben’s realities are far different from the glorification of war we are expected to revel in -those computers generated battles in which everyone gets up and lives to slaughter again without being affected by the carnage. That is not the reality of Iraq. Ben and his fellow soldiers arrived in Iraq only to be issued unarmed humvees with turrets in very poor mechanical condition in their 3rd tour. I might add that there were many soldiers in their 2nd and 3rd tours as well.
This happened in spite of a letter that he wrote to the Maine congressional delegation once before complaining about the poor equipment and training he saw during his train-up in Mississippi. He currently works 12 hours a day without rest, in 120-130 degree temperature, with about 40 pounds of armor on him. This goes on for day after day. In fact for the first 45 days he had one day off.
And those 12- hour days turned into 20 hours when they have to go house to house to meet the Iraqis face to face. Even world class athletes have their limits. Some of us are able to talk with our soldiers because we provided them with satellite phones and it’s really discouraging to listen to them falter and talk, hardly being able to articulate how they feel. Knee-deep sewage runs in the roads of the Sunni triangle. And that’s no lie. There’s no consistent water or electricity. There’s no local economy for the Iraqi citizens to earn money to feed their children. The Iraqis see nothing but hate. The Iraqis he sees have nothing but hate and disgust for America for destroying their lives. So much for the things that you read in the paper! When they are deployed, the public affairs officer speaks to all the soldiers. He said that if your parents or loved ones need help dealing with the press we’d be happy to help them. But you’re employees of the United States. And you don’t have an opinion.
My son has broken that mold. He speaks regularly through letters and E-mails to our congressional delegation and the congressional delegation from Vermont, telling them what’s happening on the ground and it just isn’t pretty. He sees Iraqis every single day and he sees their torment in their eyes, as there is nothing for them. For 2 ½ years they’ve lived a life very similar to the one we saw on television just a week or two ago. If you can imagine the extraordinary hardships they faced in New Orleans, it holds no candle to what our soldiers face in Ramadi and the Sunni triangle. This seems to be the standard across Iraq, especially in populated areas. You may wonder why we don’t see pictures of Fallujah. But I suspect that Fallujah looks a little like New Orleans but there are 400,000 people living in tents up in the hills. That’s what we’ve brought to Iraq.
Ben is one of the very few Americans who are being asked to bear most of the burdens of the decisions of our politicians. They have great difficulty in justifying the slaughter in Iraq, but allow it to continue without a plan, without discussion, and without questioning. They originally asserted that we invaded and have occupied Iraq to protect the world from weapons of mass destruction, then to break the link between the terrorists and Iraq, then to protect the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein. None of these reasons are true. Only recently have we begun to get the truth. President Bush recently said we are in Iraq to protect our oil interests, to keep oil from terrorists. That is the real reason we are in Iraq today. Is it right for a country to occupy a sovereign nation for their resources? The question is why didn’t we invade Saudi Arabia. You’ve seen pictures as to why we didn’t do that.
Ben and his fellow soldiers are being asked to carry a burden that most Americans have refused to bear or to share. Congress will not discuss a military draft to share the so-called sacrifice and service and replace the already worn-out troops. Women serve and die in Iraq, but George Bush and [Rep.] Tom Allen’s daughters do not serve in Iraq. Neither the Bushes nor the Allens sacrifice. Such is the rhetoric of war. Instead they allow the use of stop-loss to virtually enslave soldiers by making them serve multiple tours, because everyone knows that the war in Iraq would be over if the children of politicians and the wealthy had to serve by means of a draft. Why should Ben and other soldiers be required to shoulder these burdens indefinitely while others are exempt, if the cause is so noble?
I believe that the killing of innocent people in Iraq rises to crimes against humanity as defined by the Nurnberg trial. It would be nice to think that the soldiers could just sit down and make it go away, but that can’t happen. The American people must take a stand against the slaughter in Iraq. We shall be accountable for the continued carnage in Iraq if we don’t take a stand against it. It is time for Americans to confront our elected officials. The President and his administration and members of Congress need to be asked about the corrupt nature of the war in Iraq and demand that it be ended. I urge all who can to assemble in Washington, D.C. on the weekend of September 24-25, to assemble and call for an end to the war in Iraq and to bring our troops home now. I’ll leave you with this. When ever we Email Ben, or talk with him on the phone, we ask him what he needs. And I’ll tell you what he says and two of them are always at the front. He says, keep working to get us out of here.
Remarks by Kathy Kelly
Speaking September 10, 2005, at Brunswick Naval Air Station, Brunswick, Maine.
Good morning! What a privilege to be here with you! I feel very grateful to be part of this group. I’ve had so much inspiration in one morning. Dexter’s talk is one that I will carry in my heart. All the music, the strength of the drum beats, the familiar faces, new faces, and the very, very hard work that went into creating this weekend, particularly the individuals that inaugurated the vigil. Thank you for the chance to be with you again.
I’d like to speak with you a little about disarmament in a way that never occurred to me in the years in which I would plant corn near nuclear missiles and try to talk to people about wartime refusal. When I was in Iraq during the shock and awe campaign, I went to a hospital one day. We thought we might give voice to some of the people that had been hit by United States bombs. And I held in my arms a woman who was the aunt of a young boy whose arms had been cut off by a bomb. His arms were turned into driftwood, and he wasn’t aware yet that she was his only surviving relative. His entire family killed in that blast. And she shuddered and wept in my arms. She asked, “Who will tell him, how will I tell him, little Ali Abas, when he wakes up and asks ‘will I always be this way’ “? She was so brave. She told the Iraqi government to buzz off, she was going to stay at the hospital all through the shock and awe bombing, and so she did.
And I brought back to the United States the trauma of a story of a woman whose arms had been blown off. The only way she could breast feed her baby was for someone to place the baby in front of her and hold the baby up to her breast. And I think also of a woman I read about in the New York Times last year who went to a hospital with her sister’s baby that had just been born, and she raced there hoping to get the baby to an incubator. The people at the hospital said that there were no incubators here for you, but they called another hospital and she got in a taxi. She took the baby to the second hospital confident that there was an incubator there. But by the time she got to the second hospital, another baby had needed that incubator. And the doctors were frustrated and angry at the situation. One of them said to her, “This is not a hotel. You cannot put in a reservation.” And so the aunt of the baby turned to a nurse and said, “Do something for me.” And the nurse said “Well, here you can use this handheld machine, just press and relax, press and relax and this will enable the baby to breathe.” And she pressed the handheld machine for eight hours until her arms gave out and the baby died. And so we know a new definition for disarmament. Do we think that the combination of her suffering and the arms that will ache after her loved ones never return will give our country security? Of course not! People want security. We understand that. But to be thoughtful, adult people today is what gives us a much better chance for a secure future – thoughtful, adult people on the day they’re going to see the Blue Angels.
All of us when we think about it heard the same history, growing up, that this country as a new country pioneered the refusal to be colonial subjects of a faraway power, one that wants to take away your resources, and take your sovereignty. And a revolution occurred. It was not one in which one army was pitted against another army, but rather the advice of “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.” It was very similar in many ways to the refusal on the part of the Iraqi people to be colonial subjects of the United States today.
People don’t want to tolerate colonialism, and in our country understanding that is one of the best steps towards security. If we think further: suppose your neighbor had a garage full of weapons, and suppose further that your neighbor is furious with you, and has a grievance with you and threatens to use one of those weapons to kill you or your children. Don’t you think you’d want to know what your neighbor’s grievance is? Of course, you’d want to know. You’d want to understand. But we’re told by President Bush: “We won’t listen. No American TV should ever have to show the picture of Osama Bin Ladin. And during the election campaign season, I heard Mr. Kerry say the same thing. I want to listen! I do want to know what are the grievances that people have against this country. That doesn’t excuse terrorism, but we need to try to explain to ourselves why is there anger, why is there resentment, and you know it gets to be kind of a short discussion. People don’t like to live under occupation, one that takes their country’s precious natural resources and hand them over to another power. So I think I can say for sure, in those many trips we made to Iraq with the Voices in the Wilderness, that people didn’t like living under Saddam Hussein. There were many that wanted the United States to come. I would always say that those economic sanctions strengthened Saddam Hussein. It was an obscene, unnecessary, illegal, and immoral war, but I’ll tell the truth. There were people who wanted Saddam’ Hussein out so badly, who wanted to be taken back into the family of nations, who anticipated that the United States would come in and look out for their interests, and who sought the hand of friendship, almost like a battered woman or spouse who thinks that maybe there’s love at the end of a fist. They thought that friendship was coming. And now there’s great betrayal and great disappointment and there’s great anger. As Dexter so eloquently described to us: telling the story from the point of view of the United States soldier. Yes, bring these troops home! Bring them home now! Bring them home alive, and pay reparations to the Iraqi people for the suffering we’ve caused.
When the Donnelleys and I were going to Iraq in 1998 we weren’t representing our government. But as Americans we said quickly to people whose positions we saw were miserable,, harsh, and unfair. We said, “we’re sorry.” And do you know, those few words communicated volumes. Every delegation that went over to Iraq, with Veterans for Peace, with Bishop Gumbleton, with Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow, with Pax Christi -all those Americans that went all those years – were greeted with Friendship. No group of people could have pretended or put on a farce so many times in a row. We went all over Iraq. We went to the poorest neighborhoods. We went to schools, We went to many of the areas where people didn’t speak to us through words. They spoke to us by sitting us down, bringing us tea, begging us to stay for dinner. There was true friendship extended. It could have continued. But as long as America productivity is more and more into making more and more weapons; more and more means to disarm other people, literally; as long as we continue pouring our resources into the rat hole of military spending, we will not find security, living together with neighbors in other parts of the world.
Its instructive that when other countries all around the world wanted to pour aid into the United States in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the first response of President Bush was No! We’ll take care of ourselves. He didn’t want to be indebted to other countries. He didn’t want to say thank you another country. He didn’t want to recognize that we are all part of one another. Now we’re at a very difficult juncture, a very difficult juncture, because it’s going to be increasingly hard to influence the ruling elites that run this country. The Democrats put forth a war-maker as a candidate. He was not able to triumph over a rabid imperialist. And so we now face, I believe, a situation of what you might call a moral imperative, not to collaborate with those war criminals, with those ruling elites, not to collaborate. Now I know I’m looking at many people who worked very, very hard in the 80’s and went to Central America and befriended people and started sister cities. You’re very familiar. I know with the risks that were taken by people in Central America, when they tried to assert a desire for human rights and resist wrongful and cruel and unjust governments and resist. We don’t take those risks.
We don’t take the risks of people in El Salvador who went up against death squads and assassins and torturers and murderers and people who could disappear their loved ones. We’re not taking that level of risk, We’re certainly not taking the risks that people took who went up against Nazi Germany. There wouldn’t be death camps waiting for us, if we raised our level of risk taking. But we do take a terrific risk with what we’re doing to our own planet, with our degradation of the environment, in our consumption of the world’s resources, and with our terrible wastefulness of what took four billion years to build up, fossil fuels, and now we’re ready to burn them up in the next 100 years. We are the ones we’re waiting for to take the risks to make changes, to say for the children and the children’s children, Yes, the American way of life is negotiable! We don’t want empire. We don’t want colonialism. We’re ready to change and to take risks in order to do it. And that’s how we’ll experience security, and that’s how we’ll hand security off to the children. So what are those risks?
You know, for many years I was not the one to stand up in front of large groups and advocate war tax refusal. I know it’s a risk that most people just can’t take. So I just gotta say now, it’s such a risky time for us; if you don’t want war, get it out of your personal budget. Don’t Pay! Don’t pay for these insane weapons! Listen to Bruce Gagnon! I know that all of you have helped fuel him and kept him going. And he’s a prophetic voice that we need to hear. Vandenberg Space Command is now putting weapons into the outer space. We are well on our way to a new arms race. China is not going to put up with it. People’s productivity in this country – 177 billion dollars in the last year’s budget – is going towards weapons that won’t even be fully completed until two generations from now, and look what’s happened in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
We’ve got to let these war-makers know. We don’t want to collaborate. It’s a moral imperative. Withdraw your support, the one thing they want from us. And what’s the one thing we can control? [shouts of “Money”] So it’s a very serious thing to think about, I know. And if you can’t take that war tax refusal for your self, give support perhaps to a young person who wants to do it. Or maybe you know a young person who’s in the military and wants out. Let’s make sure they know they’ve got a home with us. That we’ll get them jobs, that we’ll be at their trials, that we’ll recognize them as the patriots in this country today. Keven Benderman, Camilio Mejia: these are the names of people we should be holding up to our young people and insisting that they’re the ones who understand the real history of patriotism in this country.
Our revolution was fought against colonialism! If George Bush wants to put us in jail, [for not handing over the resources of Voices in the Wilderness] we will go openly and lovingly, but we won’t turn over one dime to the war criminals.
We are all part of one another. I know that John Donne’s words will stay with all of us: “Do not ask for whom the bells tolls, it tolls for thee.”
Kathy Kelly outlined plans for bells to ring Oct 24, 25throughout the United States, for 1000 minutes in each of 100 U.S. cities to symbolize the 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed in the U.S. war.
Bruce Gagnon’s Report
REPORT ON BLUE ANGELS PROTEST IN BRUNSWICK
Over 300 people from throughout Maine marched from downtown Brunswick to the Naval Air Station on September 10 to protest the “Great State of Maine Air Show” that featured the “Blue Angels” flight team. Organized by Maine Veterans for Peace (VfP), and co-sponsored by many peace groups throughout the state, the event was clearly a success as the Maine Sunday Telegram reported with their front-page headline, “Air show thrills fans, irks opponents.” As usual though, the Portland-based paper had to get one negative shot in, and they did, by reporting that “about 100 protesters” were present.
Any reporter worth their salt would have noticed that the very long-line of marchers who walked the two-miles to the Navy base had to be more than 100 people. The march was lead by VfP president Doug Rawlings (Farmington), carrying the organization’s flag, and behind him followed VfP members Tom Sturtevant (Winthrop) and Eric Herter (Harpswell) carrying a big banner that read “Real Angels Do Not Drop Bombs.” Next in the line was a series of large white banners with many small caskets on them, each labeled with the name of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.
A large contingent came from the Blue Hill area carrying a huge and colorful puppet with hands that said “Disarm” on them. They needed 20 volunteers to also help carry long sticks that had black cardboard jets on one end and butterflies on the other. Judy Robbins (Sedgwick) would call out “Disarm” and the sticks would be flipped and the butterflies would replace the jets in the sky. It made one think of Herschel Sternlieb’s (Brunswick) idea that the Naval Air Station, set for closure in 2011, should be turned into a lovely world class botanical garden. Surely many species of butterflies would be attracted in such a conversion process.
The response from the public, driving or cycling to the air show, was not as intense as some had expected. Sure we got our share of middle fingers and catcalls, but not nearly as much as one might have expected. The previous day the local Times Record newspaper carried nine letters to the editor, including one by Doug Rawlings, expressing opinions on the coming protest. Along with several weeks of front-page protest coverage in the Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald, the main goal of VfP was accomplished. The intention of the protest was to make the air show a controversy and have the public debate the real purpose of the event. VfP maintained that the air show was not really just for “clean family entertainment” but was instead an expensive military recruiting gimmick. It was clear the VfP message was heard across the state.
Once at the main gate a one-hour rally was held that featured several singers and speakers. Following a stirring opening speech by Doug Rawlings, Mary Beth Sullivan (Brunswick) reported on the all-night candlelight vigil that she organized at the main gate of the base. Over 25 people joined the vigil and all were moved by the community-building experience. Dexter Kamilewicz (Orrs Island), whose son Ben is now in Iraq with the Vermont National Guard, shared the sad story about how after only two-months in the country Ben has already faced several near-death situations. Ben reports that the U.S. is doing nothing to solve the sewage problem, the lack of water problem, the joblessness problem, and that the Iraqi people’s hatred of the U.S. is growing day-by-day. (Sounds a bit like New Orleans but not as widely reported.) Ben encourages his parents and supporters to create even more pressure on the government to bring the troops home now.
Keynote speaker Kathy Kelly, from the Chicago-based group Voices in the Wilderness, has been to Iraq many times. She told stories of innocent Iraqi civilians who are suffering from the war and asked those assembled at the Navy base to do more, to take greater personal risks to end the war. Kathy suggested that war-tax resistance needed to be considered as a way to say, “I won’t pay for this immoral war any longer.”
Leaning up against the barbed wire fence of the Navy base were two long wooden poles holding up a large banner called the “Iraqi War Cloth.” This particular cloth was the one that was used months ago when the names of the U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, and an equal number of dead Iraqi civilians, were read in the Portland office of Rep. Tom Allen. It was on that day that we realized that each time we marked the cloth with a red or black X, as a symbol of a dead soldier, or Iraqi civilian, the marks bled through the cloth and left an X mark on the white office wall. It was that event that helped force Rep. Allen to finally agree to hold a public town hall meeting on Iraq, last July 17, that drew over 500 attendees.
During the rally I announced that we’d now done five such readings of the names in the offices of senators Snowe and Collins and Tom Allen. In the beginning the reading took five hours but the last time we did a reading it took six hours as the numbers of the dead mount. I announced that the next reading would be held on October 14 (Friday) in Biddeford in the office of Senator Olympia Snowe.
Surely, as Kathy Kelly said, we can all do more. Surely, our lives in Maine, are much less chaotic and traumatic than the lives of those in Iraq today, or even those who are from New Orleans. Can’t we step up and risk a bit more in a non-violent campaign to end the senseless killing in Iraq? Can’t we all do more to say fund human needs not war? As one sign read during Saturday’s protest at the Navy base, “Make levees, not war.”