Veterans’ Day Mourning

…My community service has been doing the duty that the courts shrink from – calling attention to war crimes and trying to stop war crimes…

— Elliott Adams

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. I am among the mourners.

I mourn the execution of Pvt Eddie Slovik – the gentle soldier who was too gentle to kill. He refused to fight. On January 31, 1945, the US executed him before a firing squad. He was the only soldier executed during WW2.

There are some other veterans who have earned our respect. Pfc Bradley Manning is a hero. He has not been convicted of any crime. His contribution to humanity will go down in history along with Thoreau and so many others.  Through his imprisonment, Manning has exposed the dark side of the US Justice system.  How long should any prisoner be held without trial? That is the question that Manning has exposed for all the world to see.

The results of the recent election show that 98% of United States voters support the foreign policy of the Democratic/Republican Party. That includes support for war, torture, and imprisonment without due process.  98% of the people, as evidenced by their votes, are not with Manning – but many of us are. Being in a small minority is inconvenient. Supporting crimes against humanity is worse – not an option for people of conscience. More important – history will be on the side of Manning.  Someday, Manning will be celebrated as the hero he is.   It took many years for the film, The Execution of Private Slovik, to be produced. Someday there will be a film titled, The Imprisonment of Pfc Bradley Manning.

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

As a nation, none can compare with the United States when it comes to the ability to slaughter innocent civilians. Now we can do it from the comfort of our own neighborhoods… at no risk to our own safety.  Some believe that the use of drones is a cowardly approach to warfare. Others argue that the use of Drones is 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.

Do the veterans who sit at a computer thousands of miles away from any danger deserve our respect? Their safety is not at risk. 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 give the moral or legal right to kill unarmed civilians?  Really, how can ‘heroism’ be defined.   Heroism is the willingness to stand alone in opposition to evil and injustice.

When I think about heroes, I always think about my friend, Elliott Adams. During the 60s, Adams volunteered for the Army. He fought in Vietnam. He was a paratrooper. He was wounded. After hospitalization, he was redeployed to Korea, and then Alaska.  All of those things might make Adams seem like a hero to most people, but that is not why I think of him as a hero. Adams is a former president of Veterans for Peace, but that also is not why he is a hero to me.  More than anyone I have known, Adams has dedicated his life since being discharged from the military to working for global peace. He has gone to Gaza with Physicians for Social Responsibility.   More recently Adams has been at the forefront of the protests against the use of drones at Hancock Air Base near Syracuse, NY.  Adams has been arrested while participating in peaceful protest.

Below is Adams’  Sentencing Speech as he delivered it to the Court. This is one of the most articulate anti-war statements I have ever heard.

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 that 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 through “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 a community service, it is the little I can do for society.

Rosemarie Jackowski is an advocacy journalist living in Vermont. Read other articles by Rosemarie.