metablue.jpg (14625 bytes)

September, 2003, Volume 11 Nr. 1, Issue 122
Veterans For Peace - The National Convention 
Energy, Commitment and Dedication

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

During the weekend of August 8 - 11, JeanneE and I, attended the 18th annual Veterans For Peace National Convention.  The convention, titled, "Defeating Militarism and the Politics of Fear" was held in the War Memorial Veterans Building, San Francisco.  This was the 4th convention I have had the honor of participating in.  As the years go by, I find myself more and more involved with Veterans For Peace, the exceptional people who are dedicated to non-violent conflict resolution and to putting and end to the insanity of war.  Military veterans and civilians alike are eligible for membership in Veterans For Peace.  Veterans having served their country often elicit an unique respect when they devote their lives to the cause of peace and social justice.  Veterans For Peace full membership is available to veterans.  Associate membership is available to  non-veterans.

The Convention convened its annual meeting at the same location which on June 26, 1945, the United Nations Charter was signed.  President Harry Truman signed the charter here.  In 1951, the Japanese Peace Treaty was signed on the War Memorial's Opera House stage.  

The U.N. Charter is the same charter that today, the government of the United States is violating in its war on and occupation of Iraq.  Since international agreements approved by Congress and signed by the president into law become in effect part of the law of the land, the United States government is violating its own Constitution.  The selected regime running the U.S.A. often seems gleeful when it unilaterally shreds international treaties.  Throughout the 2003 VFP convention, the illegality and unconstitutionality of the oligarchy in power came up.  Veterans repeated over and over, that when they became part of the military, they swore "to protect the Constitution from all enemies both foreign and domestic" while the Bush administration routinely violates that oath.

The spectacular San Francisco Veterans Building is a fitting stage for not only conducting the organization's business meeting, but also for awarding Father Phillip Berrigan posthumous honorary VFP membership.  Katie Berrigan, Phil's daughter,  accepted the membership.  I am honored to have written the resolution which brother John Schuchardt so eloquently and movingly read during the presentation.  There is much one can say about Phil Berrigan.  I'll let my resolution speak for itself below.  

I am tempted to contrast the life of Phil Berrigan with that of George W. Bush.  The contrast is striking.  One is  warrior for peace, the other a chickenhawk for war.  One lived in community with needs met, the other in wealth with wants fulfilled.  One served as an artillery spotter in WWII, the other spotted an opportunity and went A.W.O.L.  One spilled his own blood in protest of an immoral war, the other sends soldiers to battle in  illegal wars.  One spent 11 years of his life imprisoned for activities in the cause of the peace, the other signs legislation that shreds the Constitution to pieces.

 I first met Katie Berrigan when JeanneE, I and our baby daughter, Guinnevere, then less than two years old, participated in The Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace & Justice which was established in the summer of 1983 at Romulus, N.Y., next to the Seneca Army Depot.  Katie, slightly older, and Guinnevere, played together on the grass of the sprawling encampment within eyesight of the razor wire fences shielding what  were the new first strike weapons -- cruise missiles.  I wrote a song about those missiles which JeanneE put to music and put on her CD called, "Power From Within."  Who would have then guessed that twenty-years later, at this VFP convention, Katie would be accepting VFP membership for her dad, while Guinnevere, as a resident of Santa Rosa, California (home of the Sonoma County Chapter 71 of Veterans For Peace),  would be picking up her pappa and mom at the airport. 

Twenty years later, the babies have grown up, and so has Veterans For Peace.  Maturing, the organization has attracted national and international attention and stature as a veterans group willing and able to challenge the U.S. government myopia in using the now clearly outdated and most dangerous modus operandus, war as foreign policy, i.e., Pax Americana.  The public has matured as well.  No longer do people hesitate to talk about the corruption in high places.  They do so with ever louder voices.  The average Jane and Joe in the street openly speak of the Bush administration's disregard of civil rights and its turn toward fascism.  The veteran who traditionally backs the commander-in-chief is realizing that veterans' benefits are being reduced.  Active duty military personnel and their families are seeing that hazard duty pay and even death benefits are being cut back, while the profits for the corporations handed the task of "rebuilding" Iraq go through the roof.  Military families are publicly questioning the reasons for the Iraq war.  They are asking with their loved ones in arms way why it was necessary to go to pre-emptive war?  Why the persistent lying and deception?  Conservatives are beginning to question why many of the corporations now involved in  Iraq, contrary to law, were given government contracts without the usual bidding process -- another example of cabal policies at the top.

Pax Americana

John F. Kennedy warned us about Pax Americana in a commencement speech given at the American University in Washington D.C. forty years ago on June 10, 1963.  It is clear who JFK was warning us about.  He said,

What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children--not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women--not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.

Compare Kennedy's statement with George W. Bush and his never-ending war strategy which, with the, "If you're not with us, you're against us" mindset, set the 21st century's global neo-liberal Pax Americana into motion.  Its marketing strategy based upon public gullibility trades away our rights and freedom for a dubious security.  Veterans For Peace know how indoctrination infiltrates critical thinking.  They know that democracy demands critical thinking and open criticism.  Democracy and liberty demand protecting the Bill of Rights, especially from those who would tear it up under the guise of protecting us, those purveyors of power projecting outward the evil within.  That power is the exercise of empire which leads to tyranny and exploitation..  As Major General Smedley D. Butler (1881-1940), two-time Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient, put it,

I spent thirty-three years and four months in active service in the country’s most agile military force, the Marines. I served in all ranks from second lieutenant to major general. And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism....During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals, and promotion. Looking back on it, I feel that I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate a racket in three city districts. The Marines operated on three continents.”

And, let us not forget the words of George Herbert Walker Bush, who on September 11, 1990, said before a joint session of Congress,

We stand today at a unique and extraordinary moment. The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation. Out of these troubled times, our fifth objective — a new world order — can emerge..."

I say, caveat lector!, and, caveat filius arboreus!

Rachel Corrie

The convention also saw posthumous honorary membership bestowed upon Rachel Corrie, the Evergreen College (Olympia WA) student killed as an Israeli bulldozer ran over her in Gaza.  Rachel was part of the International Solidarity Movement which attempts to stop the destruction of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories.  

We, Veterans For Peace, honored Rachel Corrie because, as the resolution written by Arnie Steiber puts it, "On March 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie became the first U.S. citizen to shed her own blood on Palestinian soil in Gaza, while trying to prevent an Israeli army bulldozer from destroying a Palestinian home."  VFP honors "Rachel for the ideals of  justice, fairness and peace she literally stood for, right up to the moment of her death" and "for the qualities we would emulate; love, compassion, commitment, courage."  And especially, because in these troubled times, we need Rachel's example "to strengthen our own resolve in the pursuit of peace and justice and fairness for all."  Rachel Corrie was our daughter, Guinnevere's, age.  

Here again, I find my life and family history interconnected with the Corrie's tragedy.  Both my father, Jan, and my mother, Stanislawa, served in uniform with the Polish forces in Palestine during World War II. My father, part of the III Corps in Egypt, was a staff car chauffeur for General Wiatr.  The Polish forces were under British command.  Jan was familiar with Palestine.  I remember him telling me when I was a child, some 40 years ago, that world peace would not come until the Palestinians have their homeland.  Palestinians have the right to live on their land and in peace just like anyone else, he said.  My mother served in the capacity of a Polish nurse in the same troubled land.  


Events connecting the present with the past, would continue all weekend. On Saturday afternoon while I was presenting the workshop, "Using the Internet For Social Change", in walked a gentleman with his teenage son.  I hadn't seen Ken Ewing for 30 years.  There we were, after three decades, he an Army veteran with a 13-year old son, Robert, and me, with a 17-year old son, Flang.  In his hand were two letters, long forgotten, that I had written.  The first letter, written in 1981 speaks to the dream of moving to Vermont someday.  We have now been in Vermont 18 years.  The second letter, written in 1988 describes the ordeal of our then 3-year old son's chronic renal insufficiency and impending kidney transplant.  I gave my son a kidney in 1991.  Ken gave me the letters to keep, saying, "Read these and see how far you have come."  

Veterans For Peace, too, has come a long way in the short 5 years that I have been associated with it.  VFP is today an internationally respected peace and social justice organization with thousands of members in 102 chapters throughout the United States.  Someday, in the near future I will reread this issue and see how much further Veterans For Peace has come.  I can hope that when I do, war will be the last resort, not first in our nation's foreign policy.  I can hope that those who profit from death and destruction are replaced by the Philip Berrigans and Rachel Corries of a new awakened generation and nation.  That awakening is taking place as more U.S. citizens realize what Marine Corps Major Smedley Butler stated in 1935, in the classic, War is Racket

It always has been.  It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious.  It is the only one international in scope.  It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small "inside" group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

Ken, his wife Shelley, and son, Robert, joined us at the Saturday night banquet where William Rivers Pitt and the Senator Jim McDermott from the State of Washington spoke.  Ken is now  a VFP member.  If you, the reader, veteran or not, are not a member, of Veteran For Peace, then please join.  An application and contact information can be found on the national VFP website:  The Veterans For Peace statement of purpose begins,

We, having dutifully served our nation, do hereby affirm our greater responsibility to serve the cause of world peace by applying the concept of engaging conflict peacefully, without violence.

Three-hundred plus people attended the VFP national convention entitled, "Defeating Militarism and the Politics of Fear."  Participants attended 25 workshops ranging  from  a panel discussion "Palestine/Israel" and "The Invasion of Iraq: Background and Personal Observation", through "Domestic Repression & Constitutional Rights" and "Veterans and Anti-War Labor/Military Families Speak Out."  A workshop was held on "Getting Your Writing Published and Marketed" in concert with sessions of  "The Veterans Writing Group."  

One of two keynote speakers at Friday's banquet was William Rivers Pitt, the best selling author of "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know", "The Greatest Sedition is Silence", and "Our Flag, Too: The Paradox of Patriotism."  Pitt is a political analyst for the Institute for Public Accuracy.  He is also the managing editor and senior writer for Truthout.  The Veterans For Peace, in keeping with the theme of this year's convention, "Defeating Militarism and the Politics of Fear", gave Mr. Pitt rousing applause when in his opening remarks he said he was not a veteran -- a not so subtle reminder that veterans feel used and abused.  Pitt's speech was detailed this latest U.S. adventure as illegal and imperialist.  Pitt spoke directly "about the lies surrounding the Iraq war in detail, the cost of these lies in the blood of our troops, and the larger reasons for the war in the first place." (VFP Convention program book).   It was laced with wit and humor and touched the character of the collective veteran experience of the hall.  In short, Not in our name!  

The 2004 National Convention will be held in Boston, Massachusetts, within days of the Democratic Party Presidential Convention.  There is much work Veterans For Peace  will be doing between now and then.  This work includes, as stated in the organization's Statement of Purpose, to,

  • Increase public awareness of the total costs of war.

  • Restrain our government from intervening, overtly and covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations.

  • End the arms race and to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. 

  • Abolish war as an instrument of foreign/international policy.

Wage Peace!

Resolution Awarding Posthumous Honorary Membership to Phillip Berrigan

Whereas, Father Philip Berrigan was a priest and a civil-rights activist, a husband, a father of three, and, a fighter for freedom and social justice; and

Whereas, Communitarian Phillip Berrigan and like-minded friends built a nonviolent movement based upon the imagery of beating swords into plowshares; and

Whereas, Neighbor Phillip Berrigan lived in community at Jonah House, the Baltimore home of his family and the Plowshares movement; and,

Whereas, Witness Phillip Berrigan kept a consistent and persistent vigil against violence during the eight decades of his life; and, 

Whereas, War Resister Phillip Berrigan was a favorite target of J. Edgar Hoover and his abusive FBI; and,

Whereas, Inmate Phillip Berrigan frequently resided within the dwellings of United States penal institutions as a political prisoner of conscience; and,

Whereas, Seeker of Truth Phillip Berrigan was an implacable inspector of the United States arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, calling attention to their inherent evil nature; and

Whereas, Activist Phillip Berrigan symbolically confronted the nation's nukes with small hammers, vials of blood and courage; and,

Whereas, Counselor Phillip Berrigan and companions, struggling against the immoral Vietnam War, liberated the Cantonville draft board records; and

Whereas Infantryman Phillip Berrigan served during World War II in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge; and, 

Whereas, Teacher Phillip Berrigan is an example to the younger generation coming of age; and,

Whereas, Phillip Berrigan, a lifelong veteran for Peace, a hero, and an inspiration to those who follow in the cause in Peace; and 

Whereas, it is with sorrow, regret and gratitude, that we as Veterans For Peace, mourn the passing of our friend, Phil Berrigan, on December 6, 2002,

Therefore, let it be resolved that, in order to honor and commemorate his remarkable work and life, Veterans For Peace, bestows posthumous honorary full membership to our Brother and Comrade, Phil Berrigan, who continues to Wage Peace!  

Phil Berrigan Presente!

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski
For Veterans For Peace
July 30, 2003

© 2003 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski, PhD

Return to Homepage