|Book Review by Will Shapira
PEACE NOT TERROR/Leaders Of The Anti-War Movement Speak Out Against U.S. Foreign Policy Post 9/11
by Mary Susannah Robbins.
260 pages, $29.95paperback
Veterans For Peace is mentioned twice in this remarkable book: once, briefly, in Jane Collins’ chapter “The War at Home” and the other in a compelling chapter written by VFP board member and national newsletter editor Michael Uhl (my putative boss) entitled “The Chosen: Notes on Being a Veteran in America.” On the supposition that Uhl’s piece would be of greatest interest to readers of this journal, I will focus on it but will comment on other worthies later in this review.
Beginning with his personal history of growing up in America, serving in the military and becoming deeply involved in the peace movement, then adding some little-known but fascinating history of the status and treatment of veterans in our nation, Uhl works his way forward to the present, answering many historic, sociological questions about veterans that haven’t even been asked!
“As for actually ‘being’ a military veterans in the United States,” Uhl writes, “in the sense of choosing to what degree one embraces that identity depends in large part on the individual. Overwhelmingly, the American veterans’ public identity remains a creature of traditional advancement organizations like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) whose membership nonetheless represents only a modest percentage of all eligible veterans…For many, if not perhaps the majority, the veteran experience in the U.S. is the extension of militarism and warfare by other means.”
At the other end of the veterans’ political and ideological spectrum, Uhl notes, are the peaceniks: “Beginning with the Vietnam generation, a substantial cohort of former U.S. service members has created the only sustained peace movement among veterans to exist in human history.” It has undergone many changes over the ensuing 40 years, Uhl notes, “but the chain of this movement’s existence during those four decades remains unbroken. (Someday, I hope Uhl examines the current proliferation of veterans’ peace groups.)
“It is ironic, though hardly paradoxical,” Uhl observes, “that peace movements swell in times of war. Our veteran component of that movement is no exception. Thus, in an atmosphere of perpetual military interventionism that is the cornerstone of American foreign policy, antiwar veterans in the U.S. have never been more active, nor played a more visible or constructive role among the nation’s other forces for peace in organizing public opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to all such expressions of U.S. inspired hegemonic injustice everywhere.
“America’s military veterans, none more than those of the Vietnam (and Uhl’s) generation, and, now Iraq, are a global story line. Their narratives among the fallen and the wounded, as foreign invaders and witting or unwitting executioners of atrocities and torture, their postwar ailments and syndromes, their episodes of dramatic maladjustment to civilian life, are the stuff of literary works, blockbuster movies, and the tabloid news. Of the ex-servicemen and women, or veterans, of other cultures, the world hears little or nothing at all; many are called but few a chosen.”
Space does permit a detailed examination of the other excellent pieces but those that stood out for me were the very timely “Iran’s Nuclear Program and U.S.-Iranian Relations” by Mansour Farhang (I wonder if we will have bombed Iran by the time you read this); the equally timely “War and Warming” by Jeff Jones; the introduction and two chapters by Staughton Lynd to whom Robbins dedicated the book; “What War Looks Like” by Howard Zinn; Noam Chomsky’s “Wars of Terror”; and the author’s preface which better have been run as an afterword and which concludes on a note of optimism: “The hope is that there are so many people who are willing to contribute to a book such as this one, and who are doing such wonderful work. They span the generations. Much of the new anti-war movement is taking place on the Internet. The peace demonstrations all over the world before the war against Iraq testify to people’s wishes, people’s feelings. This is the hope for the future.”
I look forward to Robbins’ next compilation or other work. If you liked this book, may I suggest you call it to the attention of the print and electronic media in your community.