All U.S. Troops Out Of Afghanistan Now!-Not Another War In Iraq! Stop The Bombing Raids In Syria! -Hands Off Ukraine! Hands Off The World!
Click below to link to the Veterans For Peace Facebook page for the latest news on what anti-war front the organization is working on.http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Veterans-For-Peace/49422026153
Late one night in 2014 Ralph Morris and Sam Eaton had been sitting at a bar in Boston, Jack Higgin’s Grille, down a few streets from the financial district toward Quincy Market talking about various experiences, political experiences in their lives as they were wont to do these days since they were both mostly retired. Ralph having turned over the day to day operation of his specialty electronics shop in Troy, New York to his youngest son as he in his turn had taken over from his father Ralph, Sr. when he had retired in 1991 (the eldest son, Ralph III, had opted for a career as a software engineer for General Electric still a force in the local economy although not nearly as powerful as when Ralph was young and it had been the largest private employer in the Tri-City area) and Sam had sold off his small print shop business in Carver down about thirty miles south of Boston to a large copying company when he had finally seen a few years before the writing on the wall that the day of the small specialty print shop specializing in silk-screening and other odd job methods of reproduction was done for in the computerized color world.
So they had time for remembrances back to the days in the early 1970s when they had first met and had caught the tail-end of the big splash 1960s political and social explosion that stirred significant elements of their generation, “the generation of ’68” so-called by Sam’s friend from New York City Fritz Jasper although neither of them had been involved in any of the cataclysmic events that had occurred in America (and the world) that year. Sam had that year fitfully been trying to start his own small printing business after working for a few years for Mr. Snyder the premier printer in town and he was knee-deep in trying to mop up on the silk-screen craze for posters and tee shirts and had even hired his old friend from high school Jack Callahan who had gone to the Massachusetts School of Art as his chief silk-screen designer, and later when he moved off the dime politically his acting manager as well. Ralph’s excuse was simpler, simplicity itself for he was knee-deep in the big muddy in the Central Highlands of Vietnam trying to keep body and soul together against that damn Charlie who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Occasionally over the years Ralph would come to Boston on trips at Sam’s invitation and they almost always would go have a few at Jack Higgin’s during his stay talking mainly family matters before Ralph would head back to Troy and his family but more frequently of late they would go back over the ground of their youth, would go over more that ground more than one time to see if something they could have done, or something they did not do, would have made a difference when the “counter-revolution,” when the conservative push-back reared its head, when the cultural wars began in earnest with the ebbing of that big good night 1960s explosion. Sam would return the favor by going out to Albany, or more frequently to Saratoga Springs where he, they could see who from the old days, Utah Phillips before he passed away, Rosalie Sorrels before she left the road, Ronnie Gilbert and Pete Seeger before they passed but you get the picture, the old folk minute of the early 1960s that Sam had been very interested in when he started to hang around Cambridge later in that decade, were still alive enough to be playing at the famous coffeehouse still going from the 1960s, the Café Lena, although minus founder Lena for quite a while now. Sam had never lost the bug, never lost that longing for the lost folk minute that in his mind connected in with him hanging around the Hayes-Bickford in Harvard Square on lonesome weekends nights seeing what was to be seen. Sam had dragged Ralph, who despite living on about less than an hour away had never heard of the Café Lena since he had been tuned to the AM stations playing the awful stuff that got air time after the classic period of rock went into decline and before rock became acid-tinged, along with him and he had developed a pretty fair appreciation for the music as well.
The conversation that night in 2014 got going after the usual few whiskey and sodas used to fortify them for the night talkfest had begun to take effect had been pushed in the direction of what ever happened to that socialist vision that had driven some of their early radical political work together (in the old days both of them in these midnight gabfest would have fortified themselves with in succession grass, cocaine, speed and watch the sun come up and still be talking. These days about midnight would be the end point, maybe earlier.). The specific reason for that question coming up that night had been that Sam had asked Ralph a few weeks before to write up a little remembrance of when he had first heard the socialist-anarchist-communist-radical labor militant international working class anthem, the Internationale, for Fritz Jasper’s blog, American Protest Music.
Sam had noted that Ralph had with a certain sorrow stated that he no longer had occasion to sing the song. Moreover one of the reasons for that absence was that despite his and Sam’s continued “good old cause” left-wing political activism socialism as a solution to humankind’s impasses was deeply out of favor (that activism as Ralph mentioned to Sam on more than one occasion these days considerably shortened from the old frenzied 24/7 desperate struggles around trying unsuccessfully end the Vietnam War from the American side by getting the government to stop the damn thing although the Vietnamese liberation forces in the end and at great cost had had no trouble doing so).
People, intellectuals and working stiffs alike, no longer for the most part had that socialist vision goal that had driven several generations, or the best parts of those generations, since the mid-19th century to put their efforts into, did not have that goal on their radar, didn’t see a way out of the malaise through that route. Had moreover backed off considerably from that prospective since the demise of the Soviet Union and its satellites in the early 1990s if not before despite the obvious failure of capitalism to any longer put a dent in the vast inequalities and injustices, their suffered inequalities and injustices, in the world. Sam had had to agree to that sad statement, had had to agree that they, in effect, too had abandoned that goal in their own lives for all practical purposes even though they had been driven by that vision for a while once they got “religion” in the old days in the early 1970s, once they saw that the anti-war struggle that animated their first efforts was not going to get the war-makers to stop making war.
Maybe it was the booze, maybe it was growing older and more reflective, maybe it was that Ralph’s comments had stirred up some sense of guilt for losing the hard edge of their youthful dreams but that night Sam wanted to press the issue of what that socialist prospective meant, what they thought it was all about (both agreed in passing, almost as an afterthought that what had happened, what passed for socialism in the Soviet Union and elsewhere was NOT what they were dreaming of although they gave third world liberation struggles against imperialism like in Vietnam dependent on Soviet aid plenty of wiggle room to make mistakes and still retain their support).
Both men during the course of their conversation commented on the fact that no way, no way in hell, if it had not been for the explosive events of the 1960s, of the war and later a bunch of social issue questions, mainly third world liberation struggles internationally and the black liberation question at home they would not even be having the conversation they were having (both also chuckling a little at using the old time terms, especially the use of “struggle” and “question,” for example the black, gay, woman question since lately they had noticed that younger activists no longer spoke in such terms but used more ephemeral “white privilege,” “patriarchy,” “gender” terms reflecting the identity politics that have been in fashion for a long time, since the ebb flow of the 1960s).
No, nothing in the sweet young lives of Samuel Eaton to the Carver cranberry bog capital of world in Carver (then) working-class born (his father a “bogger” himself when they needed extra help) and Ralph Morris, Junior to the Troy General Electric plants-dominated working- class born would have in say 1967, maybe later, projected that almost fifty years later they would be fitfully and regretfully speaking about the their visions of socialism and it demise as a world driving force for social change.
Ralph and Sam had imbibed all the standard identifiable working-class prejudices against reds, some of those prejudices more widespread among the general population of the times, you know, like the big red scare Cold War “your mommy is a commie, turn her in,” “the Russians are coming get under the desk and hold onto your head,” anybody to the left of Grandpa Ike, maybe even him, communist dupes of Joe Stalin and his progeny who pulled the strings from Moscow and made everybody jumpy; against blacks (Ralph had stood there right next to his father, Ralph, Sr., when he led the physical opposition to blacks moving into the Tappan Street section of town and had nothing, along with his corner boys at Van Patten’s Drugstore, but the “n” word to call black people, sometimes to their faces and Sam’s father was not much better, a southerner from hillbilly country down in Appalachia who had been stationed in Hingham at the end of World War II and stayed, who never could until his dying breathe call blacks anything but the “n” word); against gays and lesbians (Ralph and his boys mercilessly fag and dyke baiting them whenever the guys and he went to Saratoga Springs where those creeps spent their summers doing whatever nasty things they did to each other and Sam likewise down in Provincetown with his boys, he helping, beating up some poor guy in a back alley after one of them had made a fake pass at the guy, Jesus; against uppity woman, servile, domestic child-producing women like their good old mothers and sisters and wanna-bes were okay as were “easy” girls ready to toot their whistles, attitudes which they had only gotten beaten out of them when they ran into their respective future wives who had both been influenced by the women’s liberation movement although truth to tell they were not especially political, but rather artistic. Native Americans didn’t even rate a nod since they were not on the radar, were written off in any case as fodder for cowboys and soldiers in blue. But mainly they had been red, white and blue American patriotic guys who really did have ice picks in their eyes for anybody who thought they would like to tread on old Uncle Sam (who had been “invented” around Ralph’s hometown way).
And a lot of that good old cause for Ralph since about 2010 had been through working with a later manifestation of VVAW – Veterans for Peace (VFP) which as Ralph will describe below is what has enhanced his political profile. Sam had also joined the group after Ralph beat him down about it. (VFP has a category of supporters called associates who have all the rights of membership except a decisive vote on the issues before the body when their votes would determine the outcome. Here is how Ralph “connected” with VFP in Boston of all places on one of his trips to see Sam:
Back on Veterans Day 2010 I happened to be at the Boston Common heading toward Jack Higgin’s Grille, the one on Charles Street not the one near Quincy Market, to meet Sam in a location just off the downtown section when I came across some white flags, maybe twenty, waving in the distance over near when Charles Street intersects Beacon Street (the main street of the famous Beacon Hill section of Boston). Since I was heading that way I decided to check out what those flags were all about. Upon investigation I found that the white flags also contained in black outline a peace dove symbol and the words Veterans for Peace. Yah, sign me up, my kind of guys and gals. So, to make a long story short, I marched with the contingent that year in their spot behind, and not part of, the official parade sponsored by the city (the reason for that separation will be described in more detail below) and have marched each year since, including this year.  Previously in promoting and commemorating this peace event I have recycled my sketch from 2010 out of laziness, hubris, or the basic sameness of the yearly event. I have updated that sketch a bit here to reflect on this year’s event.
Listen, I have been to many marches and demonstrations for democratic, progressive, and socialist causes in my long political life. Some large, many small but both necessary. However, of all those events none, by far, has been more satisfying that to march alongside my fellow ex-soldiers who have, like I have, “switched” over to the other side, have gotten “religion” on the questions of war and peace and what to do about it, have exposed the better angels of their nature after the long hard thrust of war and preparations for war have lost their allure, and are now part of the struggle against war, the hard, hard struggle against the permanent war machine that this imperial system in America has embarked upon.
From as far back as in the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) days (the days when even guys like the present Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry had to march in the streets to allay their angers and hurts) I have always felt that ex-soldiers (hell, active soldiers too, if you can get them out of the barracks, off the bases, and into the streets as happened a little as the Vietnam War moved relentlessly onward) have had just a little bit more “street cred” on the war issue than the professors, pacifists and little old ladies in tennis sneakers who have traditionally led the anti-war movements. Maybe those brothers (and in my generation it was mainly only brothers) and now sisters may not quite pose the questions of war and peace the way I do, or the way that I would like them to do, don’t do a bookish analysis, complete with footnotes, of the imperial system and their cog part in it, but they are kindred spirits.
Now normally in Boston, and in most places, a Veterans Day parade means a bunch of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) or American Legion-types taking time off from drinking at their post bars (the infamous “battle of the barstool,” no, battles) and donning the old overstuffed moth-eaten uniform and heading out on to Main Street to be waved at, and cheered on, by like-minded, thankful citizens. And of course that happened in 2010 (and this year) as well. What also happened in Boston this year as in 2010 (and other years but I had not been involved in prior marches) was that the Smedley Butler Brigade of Veterans for Peace (VFP) organized an anti-war march as part of their Armistice Day (“Veterans Day”) program. Said march to be held at the same place and time as the official one, one o’clock in the afternoon in downtown Boston near the Common.
Prior to 2010 there had been a certain amount of trouble, although I am not sure that it came to blows, between the two groups. (I have only heard third-hand reports on previous events so all I know is that there were some heated disputes) You know the "super-patriots" vs. “commie symps” thing that has been going on as long as there have been ex-soldiers (and others), maybe before, who have differed from the bourgeois parties’ pro-war line. In any case the way this impasse had been resolved previously, and the way the parameters were set in 2010 and this year as well, was that the VFP took up the rear of the official parade, and took up the rear in an obvious way. Separated that year, if you can believe this, from the main body of the official parade by a medical emergency truck. This year by a phalanx of Boston Police motorcycle cops. Nice, right? Something of the old "I’ll take my ball and bat and go home" by the "officials" was in the air on that one on every occasion.
In the event this year’s march went off as usual for both parties, as we waited behind the motorcycle cordon for the “officials” to pass by. While waiting I noticed that while the anti-war contingent was about the same size as it has been for the past few years that I have participated, filled out with other peace activists from Quakers and shakers to ranters and chanters and ant-drone folk (strolling along with a mobile replica of a drone to make their point nicely), all angelic, or at least all also on the right side of the angels, the VFP component looked a little smaller. This reflecting the inevitable aging, can’t make the walk, reality that VFP like myriad peace and social justice-oriented organizations are now peopled, alarmingly so, mainly by older activists who cut their teeth in the struggles of the 1960s (or earlier).
Equally as alarming was the sight of more of my Vietnam era veterans using canes, walkers and other aids to either walk the parade or to get around and listen to the program at the end of the march at the Samuel Adams Park at Fanuiel Hall. The hopeful sign though was an increased number of Iraq (Iraq II, 2003) and Afghanistan veterans who have had enough time to reflect on their war experiences and made a decision to come over to the side of the angels.
One such veteran spoke from platform, as did veterans from World War II, the Korean and Vietnam War eras, as well as a speakers, young speakers and proud from the Iraq and Afghan war zones, who sang, read their poets, or read their prose pieces to flush out the event. And to say that a new generation of anti-war soldiers will take the torch, take it and go forward as the older generations fades away.
But here is where there is a certain amount of rough plebeian justice, a small dose for those on the side of the angels, in this wicked old world. In order to form up, and this was done knowingly by VFP organizers in 2010 and this year well, the official marchers, the bands and battalions that make up such a march, had to “run the gauntlet” of dove emblem-emblazoned VFP banners waving frantically directly in front of their faces as they passed by. Moreover, although we again this year formed the caboose of this thing the crowds along the parade route actually waited for us after the official paraders had marched by and waved, clapped, and flashed the ubiquitous peace sign at our procession from the sidelines. Be still my heart.
That response just provides another example of the "street cred” that ex-soldiers have on the anti-war question. Now, if there is to be any really serious justice in the world, if only these fellow vets would go beyond then “bring the troops home” and pacific vigil tactics and embrace- immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all U.S./Allied Troops from everywhere, embrace a more studied response to the nature of war policy “in the belly of the beast” then we could maybe start to get somewhere out on those streets. But today, like at that first white flag sighting in 2010 I was very glad to be fighting for our peaceful more social future among those who know first-hand about the dark side of the American experience. No question.