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A Stroll In The Park On Veterans Day-Tuesday November 11, 2014 - Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S. Troops From Afghanistan! Hands Off Syria! Hands Off Iran! Hands Off The World!
Peter Paul Markin comment:
Back on Veterans Day 2010 I happened to be at the Boston Common located 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.
In The Desperate Search For Peace- The Maine March For Peace and Protection Of The Planet From Rangeley To North Berwick -October 2014
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
“You know I never stepped up and opposed that damn war in Vietnam that I was part of, a big part of gathering intelligence to direct those monster B-52s to their targets. Never thought about much except to try and get my ass out of there alive. Didn’t get “religion” on the issues of war and peace until sometime after I got out when I ran into a few Vietnam veterans who were organizing a demonstration with the famous Vietnam Veterans Against The War (VVAW) down in Washington and they told me what was what. So since then, you know, even if we never get peace, and at times that seems like some kind of naïve fantasy I have to be part of actions like today to let people know, to let myself know, that when the deal went down I was where the action was, ’’ said Jack Scully to his fellow Vietnam veteran Pete Markin.
After Peter thought about what Jack had said about his commitment to such actions he made this reply, “You know I didn’t step up and oppose the Vietnam War very seriously until pretty late, after I got out of the Army and was working with some Quaker-types in a GI bookstore near Fort Dix down in New Jersey (both of the other men gave signs of recognition of that place, a place where they had taken their respective basis trainings) and that is where I got, what did you call it Jack, “religion” on the war issue. You know I have done quite a few things in my life, some good, some bad but of the good that people have always praised me for that social work I did, and later teaching I always tell them this- there are a million social workers, there are a million teachers, but these days, and for long time now, there have been very few peace activists on the ground so if you want to praise me, want to remember me for anything then let it be for this kind of work, things like this march today when our forces were few and the tasks enormous.”
With that the three men, as the sun started setting, headed back to the last stretch to York in silence all thinking about what they had accomplished that day.
It had been a long day starting early for Peter since, due to other commitments, he had had to drive up to York before dawn that morning. Jack and Mike already in York too had gotten up early to make sure all the Veterans for Peace and personal gear for the march was in order. They were expected in Saco (you know how to say it now even if you are not from Maine, or even been there) for an 8:30 start to the walk and so left York for the twenty-five mile trip up to that town about 7:30. They arrived at the inevitable Universalist-Unitarian Church (U-U) about 8:15 and prepared the Veterans for Peace flags that the twelve VFPers from the Smedley Butler Brigade who came up from Boston for the last leg would carry.
And so a little after 8:30 they were off, a motley collection of about forty to fifty people, some VFPers from the sponsoring Maine chapter, the Smedleys, some church peace activist types, a few young environmental activists, and a cohort of Buddhists in full yellow robe regalia leading the procession with their chanting and pacing drum beating. Those Buddhists, or some of them, had been on the whole journey from Rangeley unlike most participants who came on one or a few legs and then left. The group started appropriately up Main Street although if you know about coastal Maine that is really U.S. Route One which would be the main road of the march until Wells where they would pick up Maine Route Nine into North Berwick and the Pratt-Whitney plant.
Peter had a flash-back thought early on the walk through downtown Saco as he noticed that the area was filled with old red brick buildings that had once been part of the thriving textile industry which ignited the Industrial Revolution here in America. Yes, Peter “knew” this town much like his own North Adamsville, another red brick building town, and like old Jack Kerouac’s Lowell which he had been in the previous week to help celebrate the annual Kerouac festival. All those towns had seen better days, had also made certain come-backs of late, but walking pass the small store blocks in Saco there were plenty of empty spaces and a look of quiet desperation on those that were still operating just like he had recently observed in those other towns.
That sociological observation was about the only one that Peter (or anybody) on the march could make since once outside the downtown area heading to Biddeford and Kennebunk the views in passing were mainly houses, small strip malls, an occasional gas station and many trees. As the Buddhists warmed up to their task the first leg was uneventful except for the odd car or truck honking support from the roadway. (Peter and every other peace activist always counted honks as support whether they were or not, whether it was more a matter of road rage or not in the area of an action, stand-out or march). And so the three legs of the morning went. A longer stop for lunch followed and then back on the road for the final stages trying to reach the Pratt-Whitney plant for a planned vigil as the shifts were changing about three o’clock.
[A word on logistics since this was a straight line march with no circling back. The organizers had been given an old small green bus for their transportation needs. That green bus was festooned with painted graffiti drawings which reminded Peter of the old time 1960s Ken Kesey Merry Prankster bus and a million replicas that one could see coming about every other minute out of the Pacific Coast Highway hitchhike minute back then. The green bus served as the storage area for personal belongings and snack and, importantly, as the vehicle which would periodically pick up the drivers in the group and leaf-frog their cars toward North Berwick. Also provided rest for those too tired or injured to walk any farther. And was the lead vehicle for the short portion of the walk where everybody rode during one leg before the final walk to the plant gate.]
So just before three o’clock they arrived at the plant and spread out to the areas in front of the three parking lots holding signs and waving to on-coming traffic. That was done for about an hour and then they formed a circle, sang a couple of songs, took some group photographs before the Pratt-Whitney sign and then headed for the cars to be carried a few miles up the road to friendly farmhouse for a simple meal before dispersing to their various homes. In all an uneventful day as far as logistics went. Of course no vigil, no march, no rally or anything else in the front of some huge corporate enterprise, some war industries target, or some high finance or technological site would be complete without the cops, public or private, thinking they were confronting the Russian Revolution of 1917 on their property and that was the case this day as well.
Nothing came of the security agent’s threats as there was no need for that but as Peter got out of Jack’s car he expressed the hope that someday they would be leading a big crowd to shut that plant down. No questions asked. In the meantime they had set the fragile groundwork. Yes, it had been a good day and they had all been at the right place.