Another Memorial Day has marched past. I am a Vietnam-era veteran who served stateside as a conscientious objector. For six years I worked to end the slaughter of Vietnamese and Americans. Peacemakers do not expect to be rewarded with pensions, monuments, or parades.
Yet we should respect those who fought for their country. We should also respect those who thought for their country. As Major General Smedley Butler, winner of two Congressional Medals of Honor, wrote: “War is a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of 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 masses.” The first defense of the nation is defense against war.
Since World War 2 the United States has fought wars not of defense but of empire, for oil and raw materials. President Eisenhower said as the United States became involved in Vietnam: “Now let us assume that we lose Indochina. The Malayan peninsula… would be scarcely defensible --and tin and tungsten that we so greatly value from that area would cease coming” (8/4/1953).
This is unpopular to repeat, since millions of American families now depend on war for employment and respect. President James Madison wrote of standing armies: “Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people" (6/29/1787). President Jefferson said, “The Greeks and Romans had no standing armies, yet they defended themselves. [They] took care to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression as a standing army” (9/10/1814). President George Washington himself warned that “A large standing Army in time of Peace hath ever been considered dangerous to the liberties of a Country...” (5/2/1783).
Today the Pentagon and weapons makers need wars to justify jobs. Thus the Pentagon does not conquer enemies, it creates enemies. As President Eisenhower said before leaving office, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed” (4/16/1953).
Therefore, for the past 40 years, I’ve supported the troops by helping expand an American economy that enables people to raise families by living for America rather than dying. I’ve started organizations that help make America greater and safer through energy efficiency, urban agriculture, community currencies, regional health systems, co-op businesses, green cities. Such efforts make it likelier that the children of today's soldiers will not become soldiers, that their children will not kill other children, and that other countries will admire America rather than fear us.
Glover is founder of more than a dozen organizations dedicated to ecology and social justice, author of six books on grassroots economies, and a former professor of urban studies. http://paulglover.org