A Salute to Veterans

“… I have been accused of obstructing the war. Gentlemen, I admit it.  I abhor war.  I would oppose war if I stood alone…. I have sympathy with the suffering, struggling people everywhere. It does not make any difference under what flag they were born, or where they live.”  

Eugene Debs’ address to the jury: Debs v. United States, 249 U.S. 211, (1919).

It is Veterans’ Day again.  Some will celebrate. Some will march in parades. Some will rally around the flag. Some will go shopping. Some will mourn.

Some mourn for the 500,000 Iraqi children, killed by US policy. When Leslie Stahl on CBS television’s 60 Minutes asked former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about the deaths, Albright made her famous statement,”… we think the price was worth it.”  Really – worth it to whom?  To the voters, to the people, to you?

Some mourn for students in US schools who are never taught an accurate history of the United States. They are never taught about the treatment of Native Americans. They are never taught about No Gun Ri, Mi Lai or many other war crimes. How many students are correctly informed about the conviction of the United States in the International Court of Justice? In 1986, the United States was found guilty of mining the harbors of Nicaragua, among other violations.  Check your child’s history textbooks. Chances are that information is not included. Subtle censorship is censorship of the most serious kind.   It is under the radar.  Unless parents and students are paying close attention, it is overlooked.  There is an easy fix to this problem – just use Howard Zinn’s history books. That would save taxpayer dollars and show respect for the spirit of the First Amendment.

Americans nevertheless celebrate Columbus Day and continue to wave the flag. What is the purpose of education, if not to give an accurate view of world history?

Some mourn mostly for those we have killed and some mourn for those we haven’t killed yet, but will in the days ahead. Some mourn for all of the mothers and fathers who put their children to bed at night, while wondering if this will be the night that they are killed by a drone attack.

No nation can compare with the United States when it comes to the ability to slaughter innocent civilians. Is the use of drones a war crime?  No matter how one feels about drones, it is certain that drone-warfare has raised the killing of civilians to a new level.  The slaughter of little girls walking to school is a crime against humanity. It is a crime that shocks the conscience.

Today American “heroes” kill innocent women and children from the safety of over 60 drone bases throughout the US. Do the drone operators sitting at computers thousands of miles away from any danger deserve our respect? Should they be thanked “for their service?” Is killing-by-computer really an example of heroism? Does wearing a uniform make anyone a hero?  Does wearing a uniform guarantee the moral or legal right to kill unarmed civilians?  How does “heroism” of the distant and anonymous drone operator conform with the up-close-and-personal willingness to stand alone in opposition to evil and injustice of the American combat soldier risking his life in the frigid snow of the Ardennes Forest in December 1944?

When I think about heroes, I always think about my friend Elliott Adams from Sharon Springs, NY.  During the 60s, Elliot volunteered for the Army and fought in Vietnam. He was a paratrooper and was wounded in the intimate crucible of combat. After hospitalization, he was redeployed to Korea, and then Alaska. Elliot may seem like a hero to most Americans, but that is not why I think of him as such. As a former president of Veterans for Peace, and more than almost anyone I have known, Elliot has totally dedicated his life since his discharge to working for global peace. He has gone to Gaza with Physicians for Social Responsibility. More recently, he has been at the forefront of peaceful protests against the use of drones at Hancock Air Base near Syracuse, NY, for which he was arrested, tried and found guilty.

Elliot’s sentencing speech, delivered to the Judge is one of the most articulate anti-war statements ever heard in a US Court. It serves as a heroic summary of the moral depravity of America’s continuing terroristic wars of empire.

“I appreciate the bench’s effort to understand the arguments made – arguments involving local law, international law and, even the principles of civil disobedience.

My experience in war has taught me that in life we periodically get tested to see if we can stand up to the pressures of “socially acceptable procedural norms” which push us to work within the little laws, and instead comply with the requirements of International Humanitarian Law. I cannot condemn others when they fail that test for I have failed it myself. But those who do fail it are condemned to live with the horrendous cost society pays for their failure. I believe this court failed that test. The court may not have felt an unavoidable compulsion to comply with International Humanitarian Law, but it certainly was given the justifications it could have used to stand up and comply with International Humanitarian Law. But being here in DeWitt near an epicenter of war crimes couched in the humdrum of civilian life, the bench may find it is tested again … and again.

I believe that my codefendants and I did what is right morally, but more relevant to this court, what is required by the law, the big law, the law that deals with thousands of lives, not the little law that deals with disorderly conduct. If the court had chosen to decide on the big law, it would have found us innocent. But since the court chooses to rule on the little law, the law about orderly conduct, then it must not only find me guilty but guilty to the fullest extent, with no mitigation.

As the court stated there will always be consequences for pursuing justice rough “changes made by actions outside the socially acceptable procedural norms.” Among other life experiences I have over 15 years in local elected public office and it became apparent to me that abiding by the “socially acceptable procedural norms” can only lead to more of the same injustice, indeed those norms are there to prop up those injustices.

I am proud to accept the consequences of my acts and any jail time. I do not want any suspended sentence. If you give me one, also please let me know how I can violate it before I leave the courtroom. I do not have money to pay a court; I spend what little money this old man has trying to bring about justice. My community service has been doing the duty that the courts shrink from – calling attention to war crimes and trying to stop war crimes. Standing in this court is a community service, it is the little I can do for society.”


Rosemarie Jackowski

is an advocacy journalist and peace activist. She was arrested on March 20, 2003 in a peaceful anti-war protest, and was tried and convicted by a jury. After a lengthy appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court overturned her conviction. She is the author of "Banned in Vermont," and ran as a socialist candidate for Vermont Attorney General. "Banned in Vermont" can be purchased by contacting the Northshire Book Store in Manchester, VT either online or by phone.

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