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John Kerry and Veterans for Peace
by Ben Terrall
August 24, 2004

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In his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in Boston, John Kerry reassured the corporate establishment which lavished millions on the festivities that he would restore sanity to the maintenance of empire. (Both parties are swimming in corporate contributions: Money Magazine reports, "More than 125 companies, unions and private foundations, including some 50 members of the Fortune 500, will pump at least $103.5 million into the conventions of both major U.S. political parties this year, thanks to new election rules that help big donors skirt campaign finance limits.") This year's JFK intoned, "We need to make America once again a beacon in the world. We need to be looked up to and not just feared." Kerry proposes to do this by increasing the armed forces by 40,000 troops. He also pledged to double the size of U.S. special forces to fight "terrorist campaigns," then corrected himself and said "anti-terrorist campaigns."

Given the behavior of CIA operatives and U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, Kerry's confusion is hardly surprising. His own experiences waging scorched-earth war in the "free fire zones" of Vietnam has given Kerry first hand knowledge of the reality, as opposed to the high flown rhetoric, of U.S. warfare for "national security" and "freedom."

The messy truths of military occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine were neatly evaded throughout the convention. There was no mention of torture, Abu Ghraib or Iraqi casualties; the rule was zero tolerance for peace activists. Global Exchange and Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin was dragged out in handcuffs for unfurling a banner reading "End the Occupation of Iraq," and Democratic delegates had other anti-war signs confiscated so as not to compete with the blandly positive "unity" messaging of Kerry's campaign gurus. Similarly, the small number of delegates for the consistently anti-war Dennis Kucinich were pressured by Democratic Party big-wigs like Walter Mondale to endorse Kerry: though delegates, some of them for Kerry, called out for a debate on the platform, none was allowed. Efforts by Kucinich supporters to include a plank calling for "immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq" had been quashed earlier that week in favor of the tepid statement, originally opposed by anti-war delegates, "people of good will disagree about whether America should have gone to war in Iraq." Bill Clinton's national security advisor Sandy Berger, who negotiated the language for the Democratic "leadership", exulted, "we didn't give up anything."

Along with the clampdown on grassroots peace activists, exclusion of any reference to John Kerry's vocal membership in Vietnam Veterans Against the War sent a clear message, nicely spelled out by commentator Jonathan Schell: "Military courage in war is honored; civil courage in opposing a disastrous war is not honored." Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards gave a resolutely saber-rattling speech in which he told "al Qaeda and these terrorists: You cannot run. You cannot hide. And we will destroy you." Edwards was clearly echoing George W. Bush's belligerent "war president" rhetoric, as Kerry was when he promised to "never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security." This was an odd choice of words given that the Skull and Bones veteran from Massachusetts also pledged to "rebuild our alliances and to be a president who restores America's respect and leadership -- so we don't have to go it alone in the world."

Given the disinterest the rest of the world has shown in sending cannon fodder to shore up the occupation (witness the recent defection of Spain and the Philippines from Bush's Coalition of the Killing), Kerry's statement that "we should transform the military force in Iraq into a NATO security force under the leadership of an American commander" hardly sounds realistic. As Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, wrote recently, "one must question how Kerry plans to enlist support for a war that not only has been proven to be without justification but violates the very principles of international law one presumes would serve as the rallying cry for garnering international support to begin with."

The Democrats' embrace of such stilted right wing clichés is intended to sway "swing voters" that overpaid consultants for the Democratic Leadership Council seem to have decided are eager for a nominee who salutes his audience and announces he is "ready for duty."

The Kerry/Edwards dismissal of its core constituency's overwhelmingly anti-war sentiment (a poll showed that over 95% of delegates opposed the Iraq war) is one of the main reasons Ralph Nader is again running for President, this time not on the Green Party ticket but as an independent candidate with veteran Left activist Peter Camejo. Nader's critique: "Kerry has to have an exit strategy. There's no light at the end of his tunnel."

The group Veterans for Peace is also committed to pushing Kerry on his pro-war stance. Hence it held its national conference in Boston several days before the start of the Democratic convention, with many attending veterans staying on to inject some anti-war spirit into Democratic Party proceedings. Those attending were united in their opposition to Bush's rabid warmongering, but spanned a range of opinions on how much to oppose or support Kerry. National president of Veterans for Peace David Cline, who received three purple hearts in Vietnam, explained, "we want to beat Bush and get our foot up Kerry's ass."

Freddy Champagne, who was part of a cross-country "Veterans for Peace Stop the War" bus tour that generated press in regional papers en route to the VFP conference, told me that after arriving in Boston it was extremely difficult to get anti-war veteran perspectives into the corporate media. In its reams of coverage devoted to the electoral hoopla infesting the city, the Boston Globe only deigned to run a tiny story about the Vets for Peace conference.

Champagne stressed the Democratic Party's complicity in the destruction of Iraq.

"It has been one continuous war, beginning with the first gulf war, on through the sanctions which killed hundreds of thousands of kids," he said in an interview with Fault Lines. "Sanctions against civilians are a violation of the Geneva conventions, and thousands of Iraqi, women, children and men dyed as a result of U.S. policies under Clinton."

Champagne and others in Veterans for Peace were kept from hoisting an anti-war banner at the pro-Kerry veterans caucus, and were asked to leave when one of their number made a point of asking every speaker that left the podium why they supported Kerry's total embrace of Ariel Sharon and the brutal Israeli policies in Palestine. Kerry's official "Band of Brothers" clearly has no room for dissent from its position of supporting a kinder, gentler, but no less militarized, empire.

Diane Rejman of the Redwood City, CA chapter of Vets for Peace, told me that though most veterans in Boston may have been for Kerry, "I haven't talked to anybody in any circle that believes that Kerry gets in everything will be fine. If he gets in that's a start." Rejman stressed the importance of a new organization called Iraq Veterans Against the War. She also pointed to a new VFP resolution addressed to whomever is elected President in November. Titled "To White House Occupant After Jan. 20, 2005," it demands:

"[T]hat the next U.S. president announce, within 10 days of taking office, that he will withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq within 60 days, and that if this 10-day period following the inauguration passes without a publicly-announced decision to withdraw all troops from Iraq within 60 days, Veterans for Peace chapters around the nation will begin a campaign including, but not limited to, petitions calling for the impeachment of the president."

The resolution further states, "The United States presence in Iraq is causing, not preventing, destabilization and violence. Veterans for Peace is committed to ending this immoral, unjust war of empire regardless of who wins the 2004 U.S. presidential election."

Given the commitment of both major candidates to perpetuation of U.S. military might in Iraq and elsewhere, people in the U.S. who marched in record numbers to oppose Bush's war should do everything they can to support keep the peace movement alive by supporting that initiative and developing others equally militant.

For more information:

* Veterans for Peace:
* Military Families Speak Out:
* Iraq Veterans Against the War:

Ben Terrall is a writer and activist living in San Francisco, CA. He co-edits the journal Indonesia Alert!. He can be reached at

Other Articles by Ben Terrall

* Banana Republicans and the Marketing of War