Veterans For Peace Maine speakers at the March 20, 2004 anti-war rally in Augusta, Maine
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Richard Clement and this is my wife Rita. We are the parents of three great kids and we are very proud of the wonderful young people they have grown up to
Our oldest son Brian is 21 years old, he is in the Army and is currently part of the massive troop rotation, taking place in Iraq. As I speak he is in Kuwait preparing to enter Iraq to be stationed just north of Baghdad.
Our daughter Elisa and son Benjamin are here with us today.
I want to tell you a little bit about Brian: Richard already told you that he is 21 years old and being
that age some things are just a given. – He likes to drive, fast if at all possible. His arrival in our driveway was usually announced minutes earlier by the loud music preceding him.
– He likes all kinds of music and has surprised us many times by the variety he’s interested in.
– His favorite candy bar is Snickers and we still include them in all packages to him.
– For his 21st Birthday he skydived for the first time and now he can’t wait to do it again.
– He likes to tease his brother and sister and does so mercilessly but in good humor.
– He’s quick with a smile, always ready to give a hug and a friend to many.
I could tell you so much more about him, instead I hope that he will come home safely and that you can meet him in person.
Military Families Speak Out is an organization made up of families such as ours. Mother and father, brother and sister, all who have a very personal stake in this war. They have a loved one in danger. We are not so very different than you. Everyone here at this rally and at the others around the world grieves at the senseless loss of life, but families of service men and women listen a little more intently. They listen for the “where” and “when” when casualties are announced and silently pray their thanks when it is not their own.
When my son Brian called from Kuwait one week ago, I spoke to him of the preparations we were making for today. He told me “Pa, go for it. Do what you know is right. I’m proud of you for speaking out. Maybe what you are doing will get us out of here sooner.” Well – we need to get our troops out of there sooner.
Our families are loosing loved ones daily. Over 570 deaths, over 3200 wounded, over 8500 other medical evacuations. How long will this go on? Will this war drag on endlessly like Vietnam? Or, do we have the power here today to start to bring change to our country?
Our troops were sent into an illegal war, a war built on lies of the greatest magnitude.
Weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons, links to Al Qaeda, imminent threat to homeland America – ALL LIES!
They were sent there against the wishes and opinions of the majority of the citizens of the world. Mr. Bush brings our loved ones home in “transport tubes” in the dark of night. He has not attended a single service for those he has sent to their deaths.
We need Mr. Bush to know that he will be held accountable for the reasons for which he sent our children to war. We will not sit quietly by. We will march, we will write to our congressmen and women. We will perform acts of civil disobedience and our voices will be heard. Our voices will surely be heard this November! This November we must show the world that we do not believe in George Bush’s America. A quote from President Theodore Roosevelt:
Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official.
I am here today to say that I am a proud father of an Army soldier and a patriotic American. I do not wrap myself in the flag and shout “my country right or wrong”. That is not true patriotism. Patriotism is to rise up and change you country when change is necessary. Now is that time. Change is of the ultimate importance.
Many of the people in attendance today are working actively for peace. For those of you who just came to the march, I encourage you to not stop there. Join one of the many peace organizations represented here today. Become a political activist. Speak out! We have 576 crosses here today that I designed and made and Carole Whelan added the tapestries and bunting. These represent American deaths in this war.
Could I have a moment of silence to honor them and all the other victims of this tragedy.
In closing, I would like to ask you to think of all the people in harms way around the world, soldiers and civilians. Think of them in that special way you have for your loved ones. Hope and pray for their continued safety and speedy return home. Bring our troops home. Thank you!
Veterans for Peace joins you today as we stand witness to the human cost of this government’s immoral, unjust, and misguided war in Iraq. Each of the 576crosses on that trailer represents the life of an American soldier who was killed this past year. If we were to include those Americans wounded in this war, we would need another six trailers of crosses; if we were to include those Iraqis who have died this year at the hands of the United States military, we would need at least another twenty. When will the killing stop? In the names of those who have died to this date and for the sake of those whose lives are presently in danger, we must pledge today to stop this war now.
Let us take a moment before we march to put a name to 13 of these crosses. As we head out into the streets today let us remember:
- Sgt. Michael Acklin II Age 25 from Louisville, Kentucky
- Major Jay Aubin Age 36 from Waterville, Maine
- PFC Rachel Bosveld Age 19 from Waupun, Wisconsin
- Specialist Daniel Cunningham Age 33 from Lewiston, Maine
- Private Ruben Estrella-Soto age 18 from El Paso, Texas
- PFC Nichole Frye age 19 from Lena, Wisconsin
- Staff Sgt. Kenneth Hendrickson age 41 from Bismarck, North Dakota
- Sgt Linda Jimenez age 39 from Brooklyn, New York
- PFC Duane Longstreth age 19 from Tacoma, Washington
- PVT. Scott Tyrell age 21 from Sterling, Illinois
- Sgt. Mellissa Valles age 26 from Eagle Pass, Texas
- Specialist Jeffrey Wershow age 22 from Gainesville, Florida and
- Sgt. Ryan Young age 21 from Corona, California
Let us remember them because too soon, if not even now, their names may slip from our conscious memory and become mere numbers scrolling across our TV screens, lost as author Michael Herr wrote about casualties in Vietnam lost “in the surreal contexts of television…” and after enough years of watching those numbers cross our screens, Herr reminds us that we got “ to a point during the Vietnam War where we could sit there in the evening and listen to the man say that American casualties for the week had reached a six-week low, only 80 GI’s had died in combat, and you feel like you’d just gotten a bargain.”
We owe it to those who have died, both American and Iraqi, to never let that easy disregard for the casualties of war take over our lives; we must not let up on this government until it brings our troops home. We must keep our attention focused on this war until each and everyone of our soldiers comes home, until all Iraqis are free to decide their own futures. We must help heal what has been wounded. We must let these soldiers know that it is we who come out for vigils, who march, who write our representatives, who pray for the safe return of these men and women who truly support the troops. We will not support the war that they are waging but we will support their struggle to hold onto their humanity.
And how can we do that here in Maine? How can we help this state heal from the wounds of this war, while, at the same time, work to prevent another war from mutilating yet another generation? First off, we need to bring our soldiers back into our communities, to provide them with a means to work alongside us as we work for peace. There is an urgency to this task – we cannot wait for years, as many of us did during the Vietnam War, to do peace work with returning soldiers. We cannot wait for 58,000 American soldiers and two million Iraqi citizens to die before we bring this war to a grinding halt. We must work now. We must tell these service men and women that they do not have time to embrace their pain in private. They have to step forward and work with our young to counteract the war mongering propaganda of this government and its lackeys. They need to enter our towns’ schools and tell our students of the hell and suffering that is war.
This work will not be easy. Dr. Allen Egendorf in his work with Vietnam veterans entitled “Healing from the War” has given us some idea of what we can expect from our returning soldiers:
- Many will experience horror when they conclude that no political or ideological rationale could justify violence on that scale. The horror will grow for those who acknowledged their personal complicity in the wrongs. The pain will be most intense for those who saw that they had gone to war out of personal blindness.
- Reflective soldiers will experience themselves and their comrades as violators of the earth. The ruthlessness with which they as organized warriors dealt with the order of nature to defend their own lives will appall them.
It is this group of soldiers who you and I have to reach out to, to embrace, to work with for peace. You may urge them to join Veterans for Peace, you may set up G.I. Coffeehouses in your community as we have done in Farmington, you may help them prepare for the inevitable invitations to come and speak in front of classrooms, or you may just sit and listen to them express their anger, their fears, their outrage, their grief, their sorrow. But no matter what you do, you must help them believe in themselves again. Show them that their suffering can be transformed into healing work not just for them but for all of us. Show them that there is hope; that their complicity in this horrible war can be used to ensure that no more war will be waged in our name. Show them that the force of their anger and ours, their sorrow and ours, their hope and ours can be joined as a force of truth that cannot be ignored. Show them that we can all say NO TO WAR.
Today let’s march down the streets of this state capital with a force and a message that must be reckoned with. Let us let our witness here today resound throughout the land and when these young men and women come home and ask how we supported the troops, we can proudly point to this moment and say by demanding an end to war. Let’s let them hear us all the way to Washington and Baghdad and Kabul: NO MORE WAR.
Thank you everyone for being here today, this beautiful day, this first day of spring.
America, look at us. Look at all of us. Your being here today is a courageous gift to every American soldier, to every Iraqi child, whose mothers and fathers have the same dreams and passionate yearnings for their children as we have for all our children in this country.
America, do not tell us we are not patriotic.
America, do not tell us we do not care.
It is because we do care so deeply for the future of our world, for all of the children all over the world, that we are here today.
Veterans often feel a little crazy, clinging to the truths of their war experience of so many years ago. We have a very special responsibility to tell others what we learned in war, and what we saw there. We are a part of the conscience of this country, and we must continue to tell America that war is wrong.
What I learned in Viet Nam was that life was so painfully real. It seemed so plain and simple, the suffering of others was real, and the maimed remain maimed, and the dead forever dead. And I learned that war, no matter how necessary or justified by our government, is immoral. And I learned that our terrible and powerful American wisdom is engraved over 58,000 times on the face of the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, and now on the 576 crosses here before you today.
I wonder today still if the President and Congress and the American people, if they could have been with me the night a landing zone was overrun, and I carefully and sadly and incredibly painfully put one young son in a body bag to be sent home to America… I wonder if they could have touched their young hands and stroked their young faces and said goodbye as I did… If they would have ever have allowed this to happen again. And I wonder if they had to send their young sons and daughters first, if there ever would have been this war.
America, I was your daughter…
I was the girl next door.
Remember when I was 13, America, and rode on top of the fire engine in the Memorial Day parade? I’d won an essay contest on what it meant to be a proud American.
And it was always me, America, the cheerleader, the Girl Scout, who marched in front of the high school band . . . carrying our flag . . . the tallest . . . the proudest . . .
And remember, America, you gave me the Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizen Award for patriotism, and I was only sixteen.
And then you sent me to war, America, along with thousands of other men and women who loved you.
It’s Memorial Day, America. Do you hear the flags snapping in the wind? There’s a big sale at Macy’s, and there’s a big parade in Washington for the veterans.
But it’s not the American flag or the sound of drums I hear – I hear a helicopter coming in – I smell the burning of human flesh. It’s Thomas, America, the young Black kid from Atlanta, my patient, burned by an exploding gas tank. I remember how his courage kept him alive that day, America, and I clung to his only finger and whispered over and over again how proud you were of him, America – and he died.
And Pham. He was only eight, America, and you sprayed him with napalm and his skin fell off in my hands and he screamed as I tried to comfort him.
And America, what did you do with Robbie, the young kid I sat next to on the plane to Viet Nam? His friends told me a piece of shrapnel ripped through his young heart – he was only seventeen – it was his first time away from home. What did you tell his mother and father, America?
Hold us America . . .
Hold all your children America. Allen will never hold any- one again. He left both his arms and legs back there. He left them for you, America.
America, you never told me that I’d have to put so many of your sons, the boys next door, in body bags.
You never told me . . .
Peggy Tuxen-Akers, Viet Nam 1970-1971
Viva Cuba! I have only a few minutes here so I won’t go back to the campaign of 1928. Some folks, however, may remember the anonymous individual in Ronnie Reagan’s inner circle who let us know that when Ronnie was caught in an especially spectacular untruth, he explained that it was not a lie but rather a makie-uppie.
Well, we’ve come a long way since then. Now our government feels no need to acknowledge any difference between fact and fiction, between delusion and reality. Perhaps they don’t know the difference: they certainly don’t care.
So it is that war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. The circle of deceit remains unbroken from Iraq to Afghanistan, from Palestine to Venezuela, from Haiti to Cuba. But since this is an Olympic Year let us remember that we are number one and when we triumph we shout for joy: USA! USA! Ponder that. Practice that: USA! USA!
So whose military budget is greater than the rest of the world combined? USA! USA!
Whose military budget is so huge that it requires cutbacks in every town in Maine, in health care, in education and in every kind of social service? USA! USA!
What is the name of the only industrialized country in the world that has no system of health care for its citizens and leads the world industrialized nations in homelessness and malnutrition and numbers of its citizens in prisons? USA! USA!
So to fully understand the threat that Cuba poses for the civilized world (a.k.a. Bush, Cheney, Halliburton and the descendants of Batista in Florida) let us consider that tiny island nation, 90 miles from Key West, 60 miles from Haiti – a nation with one-third the per capita income of Mexico, one ninth that of Brazil and perhaps one zillionth of the U.S. No homelessness, cradle to the grave health care for everybody, free education from pre-school to professional school, junior high maximum class-room size of 15, full-funding for full citizen participation in endeavors of the arts, culture and sports.
Yes, what country is it that has the highest rate of physicians to citizens in the world.
Cuba Viva Cuba! What country is it whose principal exports are health-care workers and educators and coaches to countries in need. What country is it that has stood tall and WITH great dignity against 45 years of non-stop assaults, covert operation, assassination attempts and an evermore stringent blockade. Yes dear friends its Cuba, Cuba linda – beautiful Cuba, the country that is dangerous because it may inspire other countries to be independent – independent of NAFTA, independent of FTAA, independent of the World Bank, independent of the USA. VIVA CUBA