Note | I delivered the following comments as the
keynote speaker at the Veterans for Peace National
Convention in San Francisco. - wrp
must begin by saying that standing here before
you is, simply, one of the greatest honors of
my life. I have never served in the armed forces
in any capacity. My father, however, did. He volunteered
for service in Vietnam in 1969. The changes that
war wrought upon him have affected, for both good
and ill, every single day of my life. Vietnam
did not only affect the generation that served
there. It affected the children of those who served
there, and the families of those who served there.
That war is an American heirloom, great and terrible
simultaneously, handed down from father to son
and from mother to daughter, from father to daughter
and from mother to son. The lessons learned there
speak to us today, almost thirty years hence.
me tell you a quick story about my father. His
call to the freedom bird came while he was still
out in the field. He arrived at Dulles Airport
to meet my mother still dressed in his bush greens,
still wearing the mustache, with the mud of Vietnam
still under his fingernails and stuck inside the
waffle of his boot sole.
few days earlier, he had come across a beautiful
old French rifle. It was given to him by a Vietnamese
friend, a former teacher with three children who
had been conscripted permanently into the military.
My father managed to bring this rifle home with
him, and sent it on the flight in the baggage
hold along with his duffel.
father and my mother stood waiting at the baggage
claim for his things to come down. The people
there -- and this was 1970, remember -- backed
away from him as if he was radioactive. They knew
where he had just come from. If the greens were
not a giveaway, the standard issue muddy tan he
and all the vets wore upon return from Vietnam
was. When the rifle came down the belt, not in
a package or a box, just laying there in all its
reality, the crowd was appalled and horrified.
My mother and father looked at each other and
wondered what these people were thinking. What
did they think was happening over there? What
did they think it is that soldiers do? Did they
even begin to understand this war, and what it
meant, what it was doing to American soldiers,
to the Vietnamese soldiers like my father's friend,
and to the civilians caught in the crossfire?
looks on those people's faces there said enough.
The answer was no. They didn't know, and apparently
didn't want to know. Now, thirty-three years later,
we are back in that same place again, fighting
a war few understand that is affecting soldiers
and civilians in ways only those soldiers and
civilians can truly know. Ignorance, it seems,
is also an American heirloom to be passed down
again and again and again.
of you know, far better than I do, what my father
felt that day in Dulles. That is why I am honored
to speak to you tonight. If the American people
fully knew what this war in Iraq was really about,
if they fully knew what it means today to be a
soldier in that part of the world, they would
tear the White House apart brick by brick. If
the people had but a taste of the horror and the
lies, they would repudiate this administration
and all it stands for. They don't know, because
they have been fed a glutton's diet of misinformation
and fraud. Changing that is why we are here.
first of August saw a very interesting article
published in the Washington Post. The title was,
"US Shifts Rhetoric On its Goals in Iraq." The
story quotes an unnamed administration source
-- I will bet you all the money in my wallet that
this "source" was a man named Richard Perle --
who outlined the newest reasons for our war over
there. "That goal is to see the spread of our
values," said this aide, "and to understand that
our values and our security are inextricably linked."
values. That's an interesting concept coming from
a member of this administration. We make much
of the greatness and high moral standing of the
United States of America, and there is much to
be proud of. The advertising, however, has lately
failed completely to match up with the product.
it part of our value system to remain on a permanent
war footing since World War II, shunting money
desperately needed for human services and education
into a military machine whose very size and expense
demands the fighting of wars to justify its existence?
it part of our value system to lie to the American
people, to lie deeply and broadly and with no
shame at all, about why we fight in Iraq?
it part of our value system to sacrifice nearly
three hundred American soldiers on the altar of
those lies, to sacrifice thousands and thousands
and thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq on
the altar of those lies?
it part of our value system to use the horror
of September 11 to terrify the American people
into an unnecessary war, into the ruination of
their civil rights, into the annihilation of the
it part of our value system to use that terrible
day against those American people who felt most
personally the awful blow of that attack?
striking first part of our value system?
living in fear part of our value system?
is not part of my value system. It never will
new justification for our war in Iraq is yet another
lie, an accent in a symphony of lies. The values
this administration represents play no part in
the common morality of the American people, play
no part in the legal and constitutional system
we adore and defend. One of the worst things ever
to happen to this country was allowing the people
within this administration to use words like "freedom"
and "justice" and "democracy" and "patriotism,"
for those good and noble words become the foulest
of lies when passing their lips.
the record, the justification for war on Iraq
procurement by Iraq of uranium from Niger for
use in a nuclear weapons program, plus 26,000
liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum
toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve
agents -- 500 tons, for those without calculators,
is one million pounds -- almost 30,000 munitions
capable of delivering chemical agents, several
mobile biological weapons labs, and connections
between the Iraqi regime and al Qaeda that led
directly to the attacks of September 11.
of these weapons have been found. The mobile weapons
labs -- termed "Winnebagoes of Death" by Colin
Powell -- turned out to be weather balloon platforms
sold to Iraq by the British in the 1980s. The
infamous Iraq-al Qaeda connection has been shot
to pieces by the recently released September 11
report. And the Niger uranium claim was based
upon forgeries so laughable that America stands
embarrassed and ashamed before the judgment of
the world. This is all featured on the White House's
website on a page called 'Disarming Saddam.' The
Niger claims, specifically, have yet to be removed.
Lies. All lies.
Washington Post story, however, reveals a deeper
truth here. Now that the original and terrifying
claims to justify this war have been proven to
be utterly and completely phony -- Niger recently
asked for an apology, by the way -- the administration
is falling back upon the justification for war
that these men have been formulating for years
and years and years.
call it Pax Americana, a plan to invade Iraq,
take it over, create a permanent military presence
there, and use the oil revenues to fund further
wars against virtually every nation in that region.
This we call bringing our "values" over there.
Norman Podhoretz, one of the ideological fathers
of this group of neoconservatives who now control
the foreign policy of this nation, described the
process as "The reformation and modernization
of Islam." That's a pretty fancy phrase. I am
a Catholic, and can therefore call it by its simpler
name: Crusade. We know all about those.
is the Project for a New American Century, the
product of a right-wing think tank that, in 1997,
was considered so far out there that no one ever
thought its members would ever come within ten
miles of setting American policy. One broken election,
however, vaulted these men into positions of unspeakable
power. Their white papers, their dreams of empire
at the point of the sword, have become our national
nightmare, and the nightmare of the world. I speak
of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz,
Richard Perle, John Bolton, Lewis Libby, and the
rest of these New American Century men who have
taken our beloved country and all it stands for
it and thrown it down into the mud.
will note that I did not name George W. Bush,
for blaming Bush for the gross misadministration
of this government is like blaming Mickey Mouse
when Disney screws up. He is not in charge. Truman
said "The buck stops here," and so we point to
Bush as a symbol of all that has gone wrong. But
he is not in charge. These other men, these New
American Century men, have delivered us to this
wretched estate, and by God in Heaven, there will
be a reckoning for it.
is it all ideology for these men? Of course not.
There is the payout. Have you ever heard of a
company called United Defense, out of Arlington,
Virginia? Let me introduce you. United Defense
provides Combat Vehicle Systems, Fire Support,
Combat Support Vehicle Systems, Weapons Delivery
Systems, Amphibious Assault Vehicles, and Combat
Support Services. Some of United Defense's current
Bradley Family of Fighting Vehicles, the M113
Family of Fighting Vehicles, the M88A2 Recovery
Vehicle, the Grizzly, the M9 ACE, the Composite
Armored Vehicle, the M6 Linebacker, the M4 Command
and Control Vehicle, the Battle Command Vehicle,
the Paladin, the Future Scout and Cavalry System,
the Crusader, Electric Gun Technology/Pulse Power,
Advanced Simulations and Training Systems, and
Fleet Management. This list goes on and on, and
includes virtually everything an eternal war might
owns United Defense? Why, the Carlyle Group, which
bought United Defense in October of 1997. For
those not in the know, the Carlyle Group is a
private global investment firm. Carlyle is the
eleventh largest defense contractor in the US
because of its ownership of companies making tanks,
aircraft wings and other equipment. Carlyle has
ownership stakes in 164 companies which generated
$16 billion in revenues in the year 2000 alone.
The Carlyle Group does not provide investment
or other services to the general public.
works for the Carlyle Group? George Herbert Walker
Bush works for the Carlyle Group, has been a senior
consultant for Carlyle for some years now, and
sits on the Board of Directors. This company is
profiting wildly from this war in Iraq, a tidy
gift from son to father.
then, of course, there is Dick Cheney's Halliburton,
profiting in the millions from the oil in Iraq.
Halliburton subsidiary, Brown & Root, is also
in Iraq. Their stock in trade is the building
of permanent military bases. Here is your permanent
military presence in Iraq, and all for an incredible
fee. Cheney still draws a one million dollar annual
check from Halliburton, what they call a 'deferred
retirement benefit.' In Boston, we call that a
Americana. That which President Kennedy spoke
so eloquently and specifically against when he
said, "What kind of a peace do we seek? Not a
Pax Americana enforced upon the world by our weapons
of war." This is now the rule of law for this
nation. It must be stopped, and we must be the
ones to stop it.
is America. At bottom, America is a dream, an
idea. You can take away all our roads, our crops,
our people, our cities, our armies -- you can
take all of that away, and the idea will still
be there as pure and great as anything conceived
by the human mind. I do very much believe that
the idea that is America stands as the last, best
hope for this world. When used properly, it can
idea, that dream, is in mortal peril. You can
still have all our roads, our crops, our people,
our cities, our armies -- you can have all of
that, but if you murder the idea that is America,
you have murdered America itself in a way that
ten thousand September 11ths could never do. The
men and women within this current administration
are murdering the idea that is America with their
Patriot Acts, their destruction of civil liberties,
their lies, their daily undermining of even the
most basic tenets of decency and freedom and justice
that we have tried to live up to for 227 years.
and that alone, should be enough to get you on
your feet with your fist in the air, whether or
not you believe we have any chance of stopping
all this. We may not win, but we damned well have
to fight them. If we don't, we are the traitors
some would say we are.
you stare into the obsidian darkness of the Vietnam
Veterans Memorial in Washington DC, it stares
back at you. The stone of the monument is jet
black, but polished so that you must face your
own reflected eyes should you dare to read the
names inscribed there. You are not alone in that
stand shoulder to shoulder with the dead, and
when those names shine out around and above and
below the person you see in that stone, you become
their graveyard. Your responsibility to those
names, simply, is to remember.
what that dream, that idea that is America, is
supposed to be. Never forget it. Never let your
children forget. Hand it down, generation after
generation, because it is the most valuable heirloom
we all possess. If we lose it, we have lost everything.
all else fails, I fall back on the words of the
extraordinary antiwar activist, Daniel Berrigan.
A friend of Berrigan's, Mitchell Snyder, was for
years an advocate and activist for the homeless
in Washington DC. Snyder became despondent over
the fact that his government could spend billions
on bombs and planes and guns, but could not seem
to find the money to help the homeless. Snyder
became so despondent that he committed suicide.
Daniel Berrigan penned these lines in memory of
Snyder, and it is in these lines that I find my
hope and strength when the darkness creeps too
stood up once, and sat down
Some walked a mile, and walked away
Some stood up twice, then sat down,
"I've had it" they said,
Some walked two miles, then walked away.
"It's too much," they cried.
Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools,
They were taken for being taken in.
Some walked and walked and walked.
They walked the earth,
They walked the waters,
They walked the air.
"Why do you stand," they were asked, "and why
do you walk?"
"Because of the children," they said,
"And because of the heart,
"And because of the bread,"
"Because the cause is the heart's beat,
And the children born
And the risen bread."
cause is the heart's beat. This cause is my heart's
beat. It is yours. May it be there for all time,
until that day comes when we can, once again,
stand in awe and pride before our flag and our
government and our nation, when we can once again
revel in the rescued dream that is America.
then we are at the barricades, and on the streets,
and in the faces of all those who would spend
the precious blood of our men and women on lies
and profit and greed. The obsidian darkness of
that memorial demands this of us. The golden ideals
of this nation demand this of us. The laws of
our forefathers demand this of us. Most importantly,
we demand this of ourselves.
can take nothing from us that we are not willing
to give, and we are not willing to give this great
nation up. Let them be warned. We stand our ground.
Rivers Pitt is the Managing Editor of truthout.org.
He is a New York Times and international best-selling
author of three books -- "War On Iraq," available
from Context Books, "The Greatest Sedition is
Silence," available from Pluto Press, and "Our
Flag, Too: The Paradox of Patriotism," available
in August from Context Books.
August 25, 2003