Florida Veterans for Common Sense President, Gene Jones, made the following comments at the Veterans’ Day ceremonies in New Port Richey, Florida.
Thank you for gathering here today to celebrate our veterans. Thank you for walking with us and standing beside us. Every one of us who wore the uniform of our great country appreciates the honor and respect you show us.
As veterans we rejoice that our country has set aside this day to honor us. We are humbled by your show of support today.
Let us reflect on the meaning of this special day.
On November 11, 1918, the guns of WWI went silent. —a war so brutal and devastating that people believed that that it would end all wars.
Reflecting the hope for no more war, Congress set aside November 11 as ‘Armistice Day’ and the legislation authorizing it dedicated the day to the cause of world peace and called for exercises to perpetuate peace and appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with other peoples.
In the 1950’s, Congress changed the name to Veterans Day, but let us never forget that Congress established this day to perpetuate peace.
And this day of peace has special meaning to me. You see, in WWI, the politicians sent my Granddaddy to bleed and die in the filthy trenches stretching across the French countryside. Wounded by the Germans, the medics placed him in the third triage group—the likely to die group. Obviously, he survived or I would not be here today.
Like many veterans, my Granddaddy didn’t talk much about his war experiences, but he did relate enough for me to know without question that he had come face to face with hell on earth.
And due to his experience in WWI, he related to me in his gentle way that war should be avoided unless necessary to protect and defend our people.
Although he never complained, it was clear to me that he didn’t believe that the WWI victory was worth the cost to him and his compatriots. He believed the doughboys didn’t bleed and die to protect America, but that politicians entangled us in foreign squabbles to prop up European monarchies and colonial powers, the very circumstance our forefathers warned us to avoid.
As you might expect my Granddaddy’s war experience made him question almost everything politicians said about foreign threats. And he had good reason. After all, the very politician who ordered him to France campaigned on a peace platform.
Still, Granddaddy did his duty and was not a pacifist. I never doubted that would fight for us in an emergency.
When I graduated from high school, the Vietnam War was heating up which worried Granddaddy. He knew I was subject to the draft and liable, like he had been, to be ordered halfway around the world to fight and kill, or be killed. He never advised me not to serve, but warned me to avoid the fight if possible.
My Granddaddy died while I was serving in Japan.
Granddaddy was a citizen soldier who did his duty and a man who understood the American ideal well. He internalized the lessons the founders taught. John Quincy Adams admonished us not to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. Revolutionary War veteran Thomas Paine’s warned that, “The author of war lets loose the whole contagion of hell and opens a vein that bleeds a nation to death,” and Benjamin Franklin viewed war as expensive folly.
We have forgotten, or too often ignore, the founders’ sage wisdom. As a consequence, we pay a terrible price.
Since WWII, instead of building friendship we have made many enemies. By my count, we have bombed more than twenty countries and have used force, or quasi-military interventions, over sixty times to overthrow or interfere in the internal affairs of other countries—mostly weak and defenseless ones.
Here is a partial list: Central America. Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras.
South America: Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Columbia.
Island Neighbors: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Grenada.
Asia: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Korea and the Philippines.
Africa: Egypt, Libya, Zaire, Sudan, Angola, Somalia, Oman, and Yemen.
Middle East and Central Asia: Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Europe has not been spared either: Greece, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, and Bosnia.
Of course, in some cases cogent arguments can be made for intervention, but many subverted our own values. War was not declared by Congress, and often not even debated, and our government sometimes justified the attacks on lies and propaganda.
In the main, most of the interventions have been counterproductive by making more enemies than friends.
And, of course, the biggest loss is the terrible price our soldiers pay. Over two million soldiers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, thirty-five percent of these veterans may suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Ten percent may suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury. Suicide rates among veterans are at an all-time high. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan killed over 5400 brave American soldiers and over 750,000 have been treated by the Veterans Administration.
In addition, constant warfare weakens our economy and our democracy.
President Eisenhower told us that every bomber is one less schoolhouse. Joseph Stiglitz, a Noble Prize winning economist, concludes that the Iraq war will have cost us enough money to provide Americans with universal health care for thirty years.
A constant political refrain is that we can’t afford to repair our infrastructure or take care of people unable to care for themselves because we are too far in debt. Yet, we find ourselves so far in debt because we spend so much on militarism. War spending crowds out domestic spending that could increase our global competitiveness.
Our war spending almost equals the rest of the world combined, and most of them are allies. We spend about two and half times the defense budgets of China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and Cuba combined.
And the spending is often not productive. The Pentagon spends with too little oversight and fails, or refuses, to account for its spending according to its own inspector generals and the Congressional Budget Office. An example of gross waste during the run-up to the Iraq invasion was Pentagon’s payment of millions of dollars to the Iraqi National Congress. It was led by convicted fraudster and self-proclaimed “hero in error” Ahmed Chalabi to generate ‘intelligence’ to justify the Iraq invasion although the CIA knew Chalabi was a con man.
Whose pockets are lined by the billions paid to mercenary companies?
After his retirement, Marine Corps Commandant General Smedley Butler, the most decorated soldier in American history, reflected upon his long career suppressing indigenous political movements.
He concluded that he was a hit man for corporations and that war is a racket. Let’s open our eyes to the ongoing racket.
Perpetual war weakens our democratic soul. Do we already live in a surveillance state? We’ve disgraced ourselves by authorizing torture and have made the executive “The Decider.” Now, American citizens can be executed at the command of the President without the benefit of trial, or even charges as far as we know.
Our liberties are eroded by perpetual war. Let me bring this home to you. Just last week, an Army veteran and former CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, who some of you may know, bought a ticket to hear a talk by General Petraeus and to ask him a question. Because of a peaceful protest at a Hillary Clinton event, The State Department had placed Ray on its Be on the Lookout (BOLO) list. Ray sued the State Department to be removed from the list and he won. At any event, when Ray reached the Petraeus venue with ticket in hand, security guards man-handled him, placed him in handcuffs, and arrested him.
Ray came to the event with the intention of asking a question. He had not violated any law, but he was silenced.
We veterans who value the rule of law and democracy demand that those who arrested Ray be held fully accountable.
We veterans must speak truth.
Even though it’s plain that the wars in Iraq accomplished little except generating more terrorists and destabilizing a wider area, we still hear many of the same people who lied us into that war call for more of the same with their sights not only on Syria and Iraq, but Iran as well. They must be challenged.
Nevertheless, we can be thankful that we live in country in which veterans continue to serve our as involved citizens after our term of uniformed service ends. We veterans have sworn an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. Our commitment to that oath doesn’t terminate when our military obligation ends.
Veterans will lead the way in standing up for our Constitution and from our experience as warriors, we are prepared to take on our next mission-waging peace. We know that this struggle will not be easy and that it requires the same valor, dedication, and honor as fighting. As John F. Kennedy said, “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”
We veterans know we can accomplish the mission. One of our fine Florida Veterans for Common Sense members, Dennis Plews, has suggested that we take one of our aircraft carriers and dedicate it to humanitarian and disaster relief. Imagine the many friends an aircraft carrier dedicated to saving lives and helping people will make as compared to those dedicated to death and destruction.
From Iraq we should have learned that so-called victory can generate more enemies and an endless cycle of violence. As evidence, I offer this, soldiers we trained in the Iraq surge, now fight for ISIS. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld came to realize that in Iraq we were generating terrorists faster than we could kill them.
Veterans call on our fellow citizens on this Veterans Day to be the authors of goodwill and friendship in order to change America’s culture of war. Like my Granddaddy, today’s veterans will speak out for truth and be skeptical of the propaganda spewed by political and military elites who encourage more war and without learning from past mistakes. Veterans will lead the way to end perpetual war in which we find ourselves for veterans know that a safe and prosperous future depends on peace, not war.
George Washington said, ‘Cultivate peace and harmony with all.” I challenge you to go forth with that mission.
Thank you for your support.
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