Local Vets for Peace Chapter is Banned from Duluth’s Memorial Day Parade

Gary G. Kohls, MD

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower

For the first time in recent memory, the Duluth-area Vets for Peace Chapter 80 float has been banned from participating in Duluth’s Memorial Day parade.
The Northland Veterans Services Committee, the organizing committee planning this year’s Memorial Day parade, has informed the local chapter of Vets for Peace that it will not be allowed to participate. The decision was recently announced over the phone to VFP Chapter 80 president Phil Anderson. The person on the phone simply said that the planning committee “didn’t like us or our group.”
Chapter 80 has had a float in the Duluth parade each Memorial Day for a number of years, and it has been in many other summer event parades across the Northland. The float has always been well received by parade watchers, and it and its clear peace messages often garner applause as it passes by. The theme of this year’s float is “Honor the Fallen, Heal the Wounded, Work for Peace.” In past years, the float highlighted the unaffordable, high cost of war, and gave specific information on the exact monetary costs for each of the communities that were hosting the parade.
The episode reminded me of why I lost interest in attending Memorial Day and Armistice Day (now re-labelled Veteran’s Day) events and parades a long time ago.

Whatever happened to the noble sentiment from U.S. militarists: “I may disagree
with what peacemakers say about war, but I will fight to  the death defending their right to say it”?

I lost interest, and some of my patriotism, when I started thinking for myself as an open-minded adolescent living in a small rural Minnesota town. Every time I went to one of those patriotic events, I sensed hypocrisy, self-delusion, or ulterior motives. For one thing, I noticed that most of the Christian clergymen who prayed the prayers and recited the benedictions and invocations seemed to be pro-war, an attitude that directly contradicted Jesus’s teachings that prohibited, for his followers, the participation in homicidal violence.
I also noted that the very forgettable speeches were usually given by some pot-bellied, retired career military officer who came from who knows where, obviously having been assigned to Sacred Heart, Minnesota’s event. That officer was usually vehemently pro-war but never seemed to mention the downsides of militarism, the enormous economic and psychological costs, or the folly of the wars that paid his salary and guaranteed his comfortable retirement. I also was never very impressed with the uniforms they wore either.
 My gentle, non-punitive, non-alcoholic father had been too young to be in WWI and was too old to have been in WWII, and that made a big difference in my life. My equally gentle, non-punitive, non-alcoholic mother told me clearly that being engaged in any of the killing professions was something to be avoided if possible, and that wars were events too horrific to be celebrated.
In my growing-up years, most of the war veterans I was aware of in my hometown were sad, sullen alcoholics who never attended church. Some of them were known abusers of their children and wives and were, in general, very scary people best avoided. Nobody I knew seemed to truly understand those troubled World War II veterans, especially why they drank too much or isolated themselves.
Do combat veterans need hero-worship, or do they need compassion and understanding?

It was only later, after coming in contact with psychologically traumatized combat veterans in my medical practice, that I started to understand what was going on. It was then that I began sensing that what these spiritually, mentally, and physically traumatized combat veterans needed and deserved was my understanding of and compassion for their victimization (by forces beyond their control). Rather than hero-worship or “honor” of their “sacrifices,” they actually deserved our concern, compassion, and understanding (and perhaps our pity) about their war-related mental, spiritual, and physical disabilities.
None of the combat veterans (mostly Vietnam War vets) with whom I have come in contact during my lifetime ever thought of themselves as heroes worthy of being “thanked for your service.” In my experience, a lot of these vets have exhaustively and compulsively pondered—and then felt guilty about—why they had physically survived while some of their buddies never made it back home. And they gradually came to realize that they had fought and died in vain.
 I have also become aware of the multitude of soldier-perpetrated atrocities, rapes, thefts, drug abuse, and the killings of innocent, unarmed civilians that happen in all warzones. Mob rule and unconditional obedience to authority is the norm in war. Therefore, I can’t in good conscience offer carte blanche thanks for every ex-soldier who comes back.

All Wars Are Banker’s Wars

But I knew that compassion and regret (rather than blanket hero-worship, honor, and respect) were the more appropriate automatic responses to the reality that many of the permanently war-damaged souls had been duped into joining up, thus becoming cannon fodder for the bankers, predatory lenders, war industry investors, and other corporate war profiteers who start wars and then keep them going until the money stops flowing.
 American wars over the past century have actually been fought to make the world safe for capitalism and capitalists, and not “to make the world safe for democracy.” (Yes, Virginia, there might have been a few aspects about America’s participation in WWII that were the exceptions to the rule that says that “all wars are banker’s wars,” but it is important to realize that central bankers—like all conscienceless, amoral corporations that continuously search for maximum profits—facilitate wars from the safety of sterile boardrooms. They are eager to exploit the [voluntary] need for a nation to borrow huge sums of money before going to war and the [involuntary] predatory lending that inevitably happens after the wars are over and the destroyed nations need to be rebuilt. For the documentation of that profitable “blow it up; build it up” assertion, watch “All Wars Are Banker’s Wars” at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hfEBupAeo4.”

Veterans for Peace: A brief history

Veterans for Peace, Chapter 1, was first organized in Maine back in 1985. The movement now has over 150 chapters. VFP is currently made up of U.S. military veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the two Gulf Wars, and other conflicts, as well as peacetime veterans and non-veterans. The group works to promote alternatives to war. Military veterans in other nations who have seen the futility of war and the corruption in their militaries have often been inspired by Vets for Peace to organize and form similar organizations in their own countries.
The organization has justifiably opposed the post-1985 military policies of the United States, NATO and Israel, and has opposed military actions and threats to Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Libya and Syria.
In 1990, Vets for Peace qualified as an official United Nations non-governmental organization with a permanent, non-voting position in the U.N. General Assembly.
VFP’s stated objective is “We draw on our personal experiences and perspectives gained as veterans to raise public awareness of the true costs and consequences of militarism and war—and to seek peaceful, effective alternatives.”

Vets for Peace members still recall the oath they took upon enlisting in the military. That oath said, in part, “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Vets for Peace members have come to understand that aggressive, exploitive militarism, the killing of innocent civilians, and imperialism are not constitutional but rather meet the definition of international war crimes and crimes against humanity as expressed in the Nuremberg Principles. They also see that the perpetrators of American wars often meet the definition of domestic enemies of the state. Therefore, out of good conscience they must speak out, argue with their government, and resist it when necessary.

Five-star general and U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower’s quote resonates with VFP members: “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” Of course, Ike also said, “Dollars and guns are no substitutes for brains…”

VFP Chapter 80 meetings are held on the second Thursday of each month at the Superior Public Library, 1530 Tower Avenue, at 6:30 p.m. New members are always welcome. For more information on local efforts, please call 218-349-1786 or 715-372-3004.

“Every Saturday and Monday afternoon at 5 pm, KUMD (103.3 FM) features a radio show called “Highway 61 Revisited”.It is hosted by local Dylanologist John Bushey. Be sure to tune in on Monday May 19 for updates on the week’s events.”

Dr Kohls is a retired physician who practiced holistic, non-drug mental health care for the last decade of his career. He is involved in peace, nonviolence and justice issues, anti-environmentalism and other violent, unsustainable, anti-democratic movements.