welcomes Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) as a columnist.
Representatives of MFSO and Veterans will be writing in
this space on a regular basis.
attending a recent Veterans For Peace summer cookout I
was surprised to learn a long-time activist I have known
in passing for years is a Navy veteran. He is a member
of the Newark, NJ-based Peoples Organization for Progress,
a grassroots Black activist group advocating to meet the
needs of the oppressed and disenfranchised in New Jersey. I commented to him, “I had no idea you are a veteran.”
responded, “I seldom talk about that.”
should not have been surprised at all. I began my activism
with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People (NAACP) many years before I was a member of Veterans
For Peace (VFP). I did not think of using my veteran status
as a voice of activism. But since I met David Cline, former
President of VFP, and have worked with other veterans
who found their activist voice years ago, I am now comfortable
speaking out as a veteran. But it did not end there. My
son decided to enter the military and I found myself joining
Military Families Speak Out and using my voice as a father
of a soldier.
want to share with you my experiences and thoughts about
speaking out in these voices because if you are a vet
or military family member, you may not feel free to speak
out or may not want to use that voice.
know it is extremely difficult for a person to speak out
against war when a loved one is in the military, and especially
when that loved one is deployed. Military families are
already under extreme stress, facing multiple deployments,
living with post traumatic stress, physical injuries and
other hardships. The pressure of not knowing if you will
ever again see the person you love alive or at all is
a heavy burden. Families do not want to cause trouble
for their service member.
if you do not support the U.S.
wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan and feel a need
to talk to other military family members who feel the
same way, contact Military Families Speak Out, (www.mfso.org).
There are thousands of people just like you, who feel
uncomfortable with the wars. Some speak out, others do
not. Most important is to share with other families who
understand your feelings and know that we can support
the troops and be against the wars. Not everyone can speak
out, but everyone needs support. We are against the wars
policies that continue the wars, but we love our children,
spouses, parents, aunts, uncles, friends and others in
our lives. You are not alone.
I left the Army, I did not think about challenging my
country’s foreign policy. I was busy working on issues
of bias, bigotry and racism here at home. In early 2001,
when the Bush Administration decided to ramp up the National
Missile Defense system that I believed was a huge waste
of money, I traveled to DC to protest. Around that same
time, I happened across signs claiming 500,000 children
died in Iraq due, in part, to U.S.-led
United Nations’ sanctions. I served in Desert Storm/Shield,
hence that information hit me hard. Since my days in high
school, I have kept up with U.S. foreign policy, but for the first time, I
began to feel responsible.
I was working in New
York on September 11, 2001, my feelings of responsibility
did not allow me to easily accept the official reasons
for the attacks. I believe al Qaeda is dangerous and would
have no quarrels with killing me or people I love and
the Taliban movement uses repression similar to the methods
once used by th e Klan, here in the U.S.
I also know that my government is not an innocent victim
in the tragedy and that U.S. policy of war is more
about economic and political domination than keeping me
and the people I love secure. Thus, I must use my veteran
voice to speak out.
you are a veteran or military family member who is also
a peace activist or against the wars, your voice is critical. We have a kind of legitimacy because as veterans,
we have prepared for and/or fought in war, and as military
families, we sacrifice our loved ones to war. Society
has bestowed on us a certain prestige and privilege. It
may not be fair or right, but it is what it is. I
see my responsibility to speak out against war and for
peace as similar to White, or male privilege. In many
ways it does not matter how I feel about my privilege
as a veteran; if I take advantage of it or not, it is
there, just as it is there for me as a man and for people
with white skin. The question is, what do we do with our
privilege? Speaking out against war is my way of using
my privilege to create positive change and a peaceful
does not have to be a peace activist or against the wars
to use your veteran voice. I have learned to use it to
advocate on many issues. This is also true, perhaps to
a lesser extent, for military family members. Our sisters-
and brothers-in-arms, returning from the current conflicts,
are having a terrible time finding jobs and housing. This
has always been true for veterans. At any one time, 25%
of the homeless are veterans. Only 2 years into the current
conflicts, I met two Iraq war vets; one
a young man with a family and the other a young woman
with a baby, who were both homeless.
there are over 35,000 immigrants serving in the military.
Many of them will go on and easily gain their citizenship.
Others, because of misinformation and other reasons will
find themselves trapped in an immigration system in dire
need of reform.
and mental health concerns are important issues in the
veterans’ community. Tens of thousands are returning with
mental and physical health challenges. The Rand Corporation
estimates that at least 1 in 5, or about 300,000 service
members, have Post Traumatic Stress concerns and around
the same number suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury.
is a high rate of self-medication or drug abuse in the
veterans’ community. As a consequence, a 2009 Drug Policy
Alliance report states, as of 2004, over 140,000 veterans
were in federal and state prisons. Of that number:
drug and prison reform concerns will only grow worse as
the wars drag on. Perhaps closest to my heart is the similarity
between police and soldier abusive behavior. When I visited
in 2003, I sat through testimonies of families describing
mistreatment by soldiers and searches conducted of their
homes. It eerily reminded me of statements I witnessed
by victims of police brutality and some of the mistakes
and mishaps that have taken place in neighborhoods because
of the “Drug War.”
veterans, we can ask the question, is this why I served?
Did I serve so that people could go hungry and homeless?
Did I serve so that my fellow soldiers could be incarcerated
because their PTSD went untreated? Did I serve to return
to mistreatment by law enforcement? Your voice as a vet
or military family member is another device to pull out
of your advocacy tool kit. It is a powerful voice that
you can use at critical times to help make the world a
[Iraq Veterans Against the War is a National organization of active
duty service members and veterans who have served since
September 11, 2001 and who are opposed to the war.
Military Families Speak Out is a National
organization of people opposed to the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan who have relatives or loved ones who are currently
in the military or who have served in the military since
Fall of 2002. Bring the troops home now and take care
of them when they get here!
Veterans For Peace is a National organization
of veterans from all branches and eras who work to put
an end to war.]
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, Michael T. McPhearson, is the former Executive Director of
Veterans For Peace, current Co-Chair of United For Peace
and Justice, and a member of Military Families Speak Out.
He was a field artillery officer in the 24th Mechanized
Infantry Division during Desert Shield / Desert Storm,
also known as Gulf War I. Michael joined the Army Reserve
1981 as an enlisted soldier at the age of 17 and attended
basic training the summer between his junior and senior
high school years. He is a ROTC graduate of Campbell
University in Buies Creek, North Carolina. His military career
includes 6 years of reserve service and 5 years active
duty service. He separated from active duty in 1992 as
a Captain. Michael’s son joined the Army in January, 2004
and served one tour in Iraq.
He separated from the military in 2007. Click here
to contact MFSO.org and Mr. McPhearson.