This Memorial Day, I want to say thanks to a different kind of veteran. This is not a generic, blanket commendation to those who participated in US wars, most of which (since 1945, anyway) had very little to do with “freedom.” Instead, I wish to thank those that risked their reputations, careers and personal freedom to reveal war crimes, blow the whistle on wrongdoing, or refuse to participate in illegal military actions. In addition, I thank those who, after having served in the military, have spoken out to denounce the unnecessary death and suffering caused by US foreign policy.
The first veteran I wish to honor served in World War I and numerous US foreign interventions: Major General Smedley Butler, the most highly decorated man in the history of the US Marine Corps. In 1935, after his retirement, he wrote a book called War is a Racket, which was highly critical of US foreign policy. He supported veterans in the “Bonus Army” in their 1932 march on Washington and refused to participate in the 1933 “Business Plot” in which wealthy businessmen conspired to overthrow FDR in a fascist coup. I pay homage to Butler in my novel Centrifugal Force, in which a group of rebellious veterans, with grievances similar to those of the real-life Bonus Army, call themselves the “Smedley Butler Brigade.”
Next is a man with whom most of you are probably familiar: retired Congressman Ron Paul of Texas. Paul, who is also a medical doctor, served as a flight surgeon in the US Air Force from 1963-1965 and then in the Air National Guard for another three years. During his years in the US House of Representatives, Dr. Paul was an outspoken critic of US foreign intervention. After the 9/11 attacks, he was one of the few Republicans who did not jump on the Afghan War bandwagon, insisting that the pursuit of Osama bin Laden should be a matter of international law enforcement and not a cause for military conquest. He refused to support the illegal Iraq War or the inhumane sanctions on Iran, and probably could have become President if he had compromised. Today he continues the fight for a just foreign policy through the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.
Finally I wish to honor a man who has been much maligned: former US Army Private Bradley Manning, who languishes in prison for the alleged crime of giving classified material to the website Wikileaks. Notable among these materials is the “Collateral Murder” video, which shows US helicopter pilots in Iraq gunning down unarmed civilians, including journalists. Though none of the materials subsequently released by Wikileaks has endangered American military personnel in any specific way, Manning was of course arrested and stripped of his rank. In the intervening years, the government has subjected him to unbelievably harsh treatment, including solitary confinement. The media has also attacked him, minimizing his heroic actions by calling him “unstable” and by calling attention to his homosexuality. He is still awaiting trial. Patriotic Americans who realize that Manning is not a traitor but a hero for opposing US government war crimes (which endanger us all by inspiring terrorists around the world) should contact the Bradley Manning Support Network.
These men are only three of the many veterans who not only served in the military, but maintained the capability for independent thought. They acted on the strength of their convictions, in defiance of the jingoistic herd mentality that surrounded them. This is the true spirit of America – not unthinking obedience, but an unswerving dedication to the ideals of freedom, justice, and peace.