June 20, 2013
Raise Your Voices, Protest, Stop These Wars
Posted on Dec 31, 2010
By Ron Kovic
The following is a personal appeal from Ron Kovic, Vietnam War veteran and author of “Born on the Fourth of July,” to Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and active-duty service members. Kovic issued the appeal on Dec. 12, 2010, to bring more veterans and GIs into the anti-war struggle and to support the work of March Forward! To learn more about March Forward! visit their website here.
As a former United States Marine Corps infantry sergeant who was shot and paralyzed from the mid-chest down on Jan. 20, 1968, during my second tour of duty in Vietnam, and as someone who has lived with the wounds of that war for over 40 years, I am writing this letter to ask you to join me as we begin a critical new phase in the growing anti-war movement.
Many of you have already served multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. You have been coming home now for almost 10 years. Many have begun to question, to doubt these wars and our leaders. More than 2 million of you have served honorably in both theaters of conflict. Though many years separate us, we are brothers and sisters.
Though we have fought in conflicts generations apart, we have all been to the same place. We know what war is. We understand it, and for many of us, our lives will never be the same again. In many ways, we represent a very powerful force in our country—a moral, spiritual, and political high ground that is unassailable, a potential to transform our nation that is undeniable. No one knows peace or the preciousness of life better than the soldiers who have fought in war, or been affected by it directly; the mother of a son who has died; a wife who will never see her husband again; a child who will never have a father; a father who will never see his son again.
For it is we who live with the physical and emotional scars of war, and we who live with these wounds every day and feel their weight and pain every morning. It is we who have walked and wheeled through the streets of our country and watched children stare at us and wonder why. And it is we who cry out now for the future, for a world without war.
Those of us lucky enough to have survived combat yearn for life now, for beauty, for all that is decent and good, for in war we saw the worst in the human being. We saw poverty and death, killing and savagery, the darkest sides of the human soul, the most hated parts of our humanity.
I, like many Americans who served in Vietnam and those now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan (and countless human beings throughout history), had been willing to give my life for my country with little knowledge or awareness of what that really meant.
Like many of you who joined up after 9/11, I trusted and believed and had no reason to doubt the sincerity and motives of my government. It would not be until many months after being wounded, and while recovering at a veterans’ hospital in New York, that I would begin to question whether I and the others who had gone to that war had gone for nothing.
Change does not come easily, and opposing one’s government during a time of war is often very difficult. You’ve been taught to follow orders, to obey and not question, to go along with the program and do exactly what you’re told. You learned that in boot camp. You learned that the day the drill instructors started screaming at you. It is “Yes, sir!” and “No, sir!” and nothing in between. There is the physical and verbal abuse, the vicious threats and constant harassment to keep you off balance. It is a powerful conditioning process, a process that began long ago, long before we signed those papers at the recruit stations of our hometowns, a process deeply ingrained in the American culture and psyche, and it has shaped and influenced us from our earliest childhood.
The late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once joined with the group Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam in declaring that “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” King went on to say, “The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war.
“Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.”
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