Call of Duty: Resisting War in Venezuela

... and Promoting Universal Peace as a Former Marine Vietnam Vet

Every war is a war against children.

— Egalntyne Jebb, founder Save the Children a century ago.

Responding to the British post-war blockade of Germany and Eastern Europe, Jebb participated in a group attempting to deliver food and medical supplies to children who were starving.

In London’s Trafalgar Square, she distributed a leaflet showing the emaciated children and declaring:

Our blockade has caused this, – millions of children are starving to death.

She was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined. But the judge in the case was moved by her commitment to children and paid her fine. His generosity was Save the Children’s first donation. Source: Kathy Kelly

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This vet for peace has made a life duty to a simple call to action —  Hands Off Venezuela. Imagine the same call in 1960 —  Hands Off Vietnam; or in 1970 —  Hands Off Chile; or in 1991 —  Hands Off Haiti; Hands Off Puerto Rico 140 years ago.

Those ham-fisted, Imperial-seeped and Monroe Doctrine-primed hands are ours, Uncle Sam’s.

There are resisters to this global hyper power disease that we have been infected with in America that professes a USA-rules-the-world mentality. Dan Shea is that Vietnam Veteran for Peace. He puts his actions where his mouth is.

Rewind the tape 13 years, and we see Dan as a Veterans for Peace organizer  working on the city of Portland becoming a sanctuary city for soldiers AWOL from the armed services who were inserted into Iraq and Afghanistan illegally.

“This is an opportunity for the citizens of Portland and the City Council to support the soldiers who are coming back and their right to speak out,” said Dan Shea of Veterans for Peace, who first proposed the idea.

Shea told an interviewer in 2006 he had enlisted with the Marines and spent most of 1968 in Vietnam, where he was exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange. That resulted in his diabetes, he said.

Shea professes he never supported the Vietnam War, yet like many boys and men (girls and women) back then – especially high school drop-outs — he felt obligated to serve. However, when he came home, he felt betrayed by the country, saying the initial reasons for going to war were nothing but lies. The same thing is going on today, he said.

Over the years of our illegal incursion into Iraq, destroying the country and killing a million or more, and then our longest war, Afghanistan, Shea has talked to veterans who can no longer support the war because of what they participated in or witnessed. “These are people of conscience,” he said. “They served for what is the best of our country — the ability to speak out — and now they are being persecuted for that.”

Shea has had a long history with Central America, and Latin America in general. He went to Venezuela in 2006 and met Hugo Chavez. He also has been to Nicaragua to meet with the revolutionary government and actors in that country which overthrew a despotic dictator, Somoza, who was a puppet of the United States.

Fast-forward to the current debacle of the US and its vassal states and even the supposedly “independent” EU countries  pushing for a violent overthrow of the Chavismo Nicolas Maduro. Shea has just returned from Venezuela on a fact-finding trip that included embracing the Venezuelan people.

Dan and I talked about how that arc of social justice and the golden rule, if indeed true, would have “saved” the world from war and injustice a long time ago. Unfortunately, the boomerang of the capitalists and lords of war continues to cut down movements and countries wanting no more of the insanity of “the endless war on terror” mentality Bush and his neocons (supported by Obama) promulgated.

How can we ever forget Mark Twain’s anti-imperial words in regard to his time and historically the crime of war:

There has never been a just [war], never an honorable one–on the part of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud little handful–as usual–will shout for the war. The pulpit will–warily and cautiously–object–at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, ‘It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.’ Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers–as earlier–but do not dare say so.

And now the whole nation–pulpit and all–will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.”

― Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories

For 70-year-old Shea, that grotesque self-deception is what now emanates from the very pores of Trump’s regime, from the profiteers of war, from the elite who want Venezuela for their profits, and from the Democrats – the supposed opposition party – who believe America is the great white hope that should be meddling in Venezuela’s affairs.

That moniker, Vietnam vet for peace, speaks to Daniel Shea’s persuasive and holistic approach to life, and he’s  not easily dissuaded by the long arm of capitalism’s systems of oppression which create mayhem through social and cultural injustice he’s experienced in his 70 years on planet earth. He’s a former Marine who had been deployed to Vietnam in 1968.

He did not see himself engaging in the tradition of military service so many in this country seem compelled by — especially civilians like Donald Trump, who not only actively got out of military service during the Vietnam War, but also has been quoted many times deriding vets who went to war, calling them “losers.”

That call of duty, Shea told me, was predicated on being stuck in a hard labor job in Portland, Oregon, and the reality that his draft number would be called up anyway.

He wasn’t a supporter of the war, but he said he just went in to “just get it over with.”

“I did not support the war,” he told me. “I knew the minute I stepped into boot camp that it (military life) was not for me.”

Heck, he went AWOL before being sent to Vietnam – “We went out drinking, and we ended up showing up late to our duty station.” Hard drinking because he and his band of brothers didn’t know if they were going to live or die once in-country. For their human sanity wanting to drown out the reality of possible pending early grisly deaths – it’s a normal emotion and psychological state to resist death, one’s own death – Shea and the others were thrown into the brig.

This story begins in reverse, with Venezuela March 2019, but without a narrative context, few would know why the Portland, Oregon chapter president of Veterans for Peace just returned from Venezuela as part of a big delegation to meet with the people of that country, the people in the streets, in government, in the media and just the regular Jose and Josefina in an effort by this peace delegation to carry forth on some real ground truthing.

“We were on a mission, to listen, to observe, and to attempt to assess the root causes of opposition grievances and whether there might be avenues for talks to address their concerns and find compromises and produce a peace to the advantage of all concerned,” Shea told me. Obviously, the delegation was not blinded by the media lies and the Trump Administration’s propaganda war and the opposition party’s back-stepping.

The right for Venezuelans to determine their futures was always at the forefront of Shea’s and the others’ minds during this delegation. Nicolas Maduro was elected as the leader of the country, and this largely unknown puppet – hand-picked by the Trump people and his same old usual suspects of neocons, going way back, gleaned from the dirty wars of Central America and international felons (like Elliot Abrams) — Juan Guaido is as legitimate to Venezuelans to lead their country as is Donald Duck or Elvis Presley.

“Our main mission was to express our Solidarity with COSI – Venezuela — Committee of International Solidarity and Struggle for Peace.” Shea went with folks like Dr. Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese, Co-chairs of Popular Resistance.

Other heavy hitters included Ajamu Baraka, Black Alliance for Peace and 2016 VP running mate of Jill Stein; Joe Lombardo, co-coordinator United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC); Gerry Condon, President of VFP; Sarah Martin, Anti-War Committee; Miguel Figueroa, President Canadian Peace Congress; Eva Bartlett, fearless Canadian freelance journalist; and others.

Dan and I cleared the air early on in our interview: I asked him what makes 2019 and Venezuela different than all the other times US presidents/ administrations have taken that which was not theirs to take, who murdered those who resisted and, then who set forth imperial overreach to subjugate people and societies through generation after generation.

“Same old story, nothing has changed – Capitalism is at the root cause of targeting Venezuela. The country’s oil is the price, and the US Corporate Masters will use any means necessary including war,” Shea told me. “They are willing to kill hundreds of thousands of people in order to secure oil for the United States. This was pretty much publicly stated by John Bolton to FOX News in which he said that United States would benefit economically from access to Venezuelan oil.”

Yet we are in an era of cognitive dissonance, distraction and delusional thinking, where the corporate mass media drive a false narrative that supports regime change and resource plunder while the uninitiated public is bombarded with the meaningless of social media feeds and popular lobotomizing culture. Or as Twain describes the US public’s myopic masses as that “great, big, dull bulk of the nation.”

The trip this past March was righteous and part of Shea’s vow of non-violence and weeding out the lies of the very country he went to war for. The trauma of combat was real for him as an 18-year-old in Indochina, but he made it clear to me that it was “the moral injury of realizing I was part of a killing machine that resulted in four to six million people killed and still many more effected by the health effects of Agent Orange.”

He tells me that when he first returned from “his war,” via the Philippines, he like many Vietnam vets was reluctant to self-examine with friends, family or the public: “I just didn’t want to talk war, about Vietnam, or anything associated with the military.”

He slogged ahead, used the GI Bill to enroll in community college in Portland. He got married with his first child on the way. He and his wife were living in an apartment, and got their first house soon thereafter.  Shea began his political development – or we could call it a series of enlightenments — during this period. Then his wife Arlene became pregnant. “This news was received with great joy as I always wanted to have children. We began a series of healthcare classes for pregnant women studying natural birth alternatives, and regular visits to the doctor to make sure Arlene was getting all the nutrients she needed during her pregnancy.”

Lamaze classes, and then the birth of Casey in 1977.  When Arlene’s water broke, the couple was extremely excited. It was a tough labor,  “I think it was about 10 hours and our doctor was a longtime family doctor by the name of Doctor Miracle . . .  how could you go wrong with a doctor named miracle?”

Shea was present at the birth and vividly recalls the doctors rushing his son to the side and then the medical team whispering, eventually stating there were some health concerns with Casey.

“Casey had a seizure and had to be rushed up to the NICU at Doernbecher Neonatal Unit Children’s Hospital. We learned our son had been born with a cleft palate, congenital heart disease and other abnormalities.”

Lots of tears, but Shea and his family were able to celebrate the miracle child, and then a year later, they had a second child, Harmony. Shea learned that the birth anomalies of his son were related to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. In 1981, their son at the age of three passed away, after seven weeks in a coma from a failed heart surgery.

I’ve worked with veterans who have a grief so painful and so deep tied to the trauma of Vietnam and the battle scars and the inhumanity of napalm dousing villages and carpet-bombing cities. However, the other story to the trauma is both tied to their own failing health and especially all the birth defects of offspring.  “I didn’t even want to live but the love of my wife and my daughter kept me grounded. Additionally, I came to see that my story — my loss — was just one out of millions of lives and all those children in Vietnam who would have been exposed to Agent Orange or who had been killed by our bullets and bombs.”

Out of the personal and historical pain, Shea began to “take a strong and deliberate opposition” to all wars and all military interventions. He dug deep into what the idea of how War and Peace had been so at odds in this Indian-killing country. He was attempting to understand how both civilians and military leaders could see it as “honorable to send their children to foreign shores to kill other children.”

I too have questioned our militarism with a military father who was in uniform for 32 years. Shea has wondered what mechanisms are in place and what sorts of psychological blind-spots would possess working class folks to be part of a deliberate military invasion of another nation to kill other working class families, including innocent men, women, children and even infants.

I still remember Muhammad Ali’s words when I was 10 years old and my father was a regular army officer in Vietnam:

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? (February, 17, 1966)

I continually remind people that Trump is a bad hombre in the sense he has a cadre of lawyers and some in criminal enterprises working for him and for whom he works. Bad hombre in the sense Trump has narcissistic personality disorder and believes he is the right hand of god even as he lives, breathes and dreams the way of Satan in the Bible he so publicly reveres.  Bad hombre in the sense Trump is a physically inept bully who encourages racism, white nationalism, misanthropy and blind allegiance to the red white blue and Benjamin’s.

I’ve been around real bad hombres, literally, people who slit the throats of their enemies, people who have no compunction fighting mano y mano to the death, yet these people in the drug dealing world and others I have met as a journalist and then some who I worked with as incarcerated folk have more humanity in their pinky fingers than a Trump and his Klan could ever hope for.

Yet, this country has gone downhill since its first slave holder president, George Washington, who stole from his own soldiers, relished killing the Mohawks for land they wouldn’t sell, and proceeded to break every treaty with the First Nations people.

Things have only gotten worse since Cherry-tree Cutting George took the helm.

Dan Shea: “You’re right this began before Trump. The same faces we saw involved in Central America in the 1980s are now pushing Trump to continue on this path. Those faces of course are John Bolton and Elliott Abrams as well as probably a number of other right-wing Republican capitalist anti-communist propagandists. Besides wanting other countries’ resources, they cannot stand to have examples in the world where socialism trumps Capitalism. This just might give people ideas . . .  and that’s dangerous for those in power who are raping the Earth of its resources polluting, our oceans.”

Mini Q & A:

Paul Haeder: What did the people of Venezuela leave you with?

Dan Shea:  Funny you should ask that question because after visiting with President Maduro, there was a press conference held outside the Presidential Palace and I said it’s my turn to speak. Told them I was born in the United States, but my father was from Panama as well as my grandmother so I have roots one foot in the US and one foot in Panama as well as Central America, but my heart is in Venezuela —  with all of you.

You might ask why I feel that way and I would answer because I have seen the tenacity of a people to stand up against one of the most powerful nations on Earth. Venezuelans have refused to accept United States in their bulling attempts and threats to overthrow their elected president and surrender their oil. This is basically the real interest of the United States and their corporate masters — OIL!

PH: What do you suggest people in the US — who do not want to interfere with the Venezuelan elections and people’s right to their own self-determination and the current legitimate government’s right to move forward — DO to affect change?

DS: Organize, organize, organize. Join any number of groups opposed to war, opposed to interventions. Be involved in mass demonstrations in Washington DC, say no to NATO, say no to war and racism, and demand Hands Off Venezuela.

If you’re a veteran, join Veterans For Peace, become a part of the solution not the problem. If you are a soldier currently in the military, VFP encourages you to resist illegal orders of invading a country that has been no threat to the United States. Refuse to deploy, refuse to continue serving in the military by becoming a conscientious objector. If you wish to battle injustice, totalitarianism, dictatorships then start here at home in the ‘belly of the beast’ and resist war, violence and help us build a massive Antiwar and Peace Movement.

PH: Discuss what you learned about this bizarre gambit Trump and the other pols are creating in the international press from the Venezuelan people’s perspective.

DS:  Most of the stuff coming from the US is lies, exaggerations and cherry-picked statistics to suit their narrative. Such as hyperinflation, and the lack of food and goods for sale because of shortages, but Trump and the media fail to tell you how US sanctions are creating that crisis.

PH: Notable moments there.

DS:  You have to maintain some sense of humor even under the dark cloud of war. Thus, Guaido has become joke. In a press conference in Venezuela, I felt it necessary to inject a little humor by declaring myself President of the United States. If Juan Guaido can declare himself president of Venezuela, then why can’t I declare myself the president of the United States.

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We talked about how things have changed since the anti-war and pro-civil rights movements in the country in the 1960s. Maybe that was a flashpoint moment, which led the copulating forces of the US government and corporations to entrench themselves deeper and deeper into anti-democratic methods of suppressing the masses, or even stopping targeted movements and campaigns.

Not many Americans who want change are willing to face jail and employment termination. Upton Sinclair stated it almost a century ago:

I intend to do what little one man can do to awaken the public conscience, and in the meantime,  I am not frightened by your menaces. I am not a giant physically; I shrink from pain and filth and vermin and foul air, like any other man of refinement; also, I freely admit, when I see a line of a hundred policeman with drawn revolvers flung across a street to keep anyone from coming onto private property to hear my feeble voice, I am somewhat disturbed in my nerves. But I have a conscience and a religious faith, and I know that our liberties were not won without suffering, and may be lost again through our cowardice. I intend to do my duty to my country.

— Letter to the Louis D. Oaks, Los Angeles Chief of Police, 17 May 1923

We are today deeper in a time of dumb-downing, largely because we have sold our souls and our brawn and intellectual mettle to the corporation. We have variations now on this theme that Sinclair and H.L. Mencken toyed with:

  • Never argue with a man whose job depends on not being convinced.
  • It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
  • It can be very hard to understand something, when misunderstanding it is essential to your paycheck.
  • It is rather pointless to argue with a man whose paycheck depends upon not knowing the right answer.

For Dan Shea, he has great hope for and in the young people today, who are understanding putting truth to power and are training their minds to not only not accept war as inevitable, but also to train themselves to accept the very proposition that socialism is the only way to stop the madness. “They understand this perverse Orwellian language such as ‘preemptive war,’ or how politicians and generals call mass murder ‘collateral damage.’ To repeat, I see the people of Venezuela standing up against one of the most powerful countries in the world.”

He ends the interview with an allusion, deploying Albert Camus: The Greek myth has Sisyphus condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again. For Camus, life is absurd and meaningless, as we see with Sisyphus, yet, “The struggle itself … is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

“I guess the gods would forgive him once Sisyphus pushes the boulder up the hill, but each time he pushes the stone up the hill, he is defying the system. I feel free knowing I too can defy the system.”

Paul Kirk Haeder has been a journalist since 1977. He's covered police, environment, planning and zoning, county and city politics, as well as working in true small town/community journalism situations in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico and beyond. He's been a part-time faculty since 1983, and as such has worked in prisons, gang-influenced programs, universities, colleges, alternative high schools, language schools, as a private contractor-writing instructor for US military in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Washington. He organized Part-time faulty in Washington State. His book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his autobiography, weekly or bi-weekly musings and hard hitting work in chapter installments, at LA Progressive. He blogs from Otis, Oregon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.