Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veteran's Day Parade Protest

 Binghamton, NY; November 11, 2017

Developing Heart

Jack Gilroy, President, Veterans for Peace, Chapter 90

We all miss our old pal and peace activist, Stu Naismith. Grandson of the founder of the game of basketball (Rev. James Naismith), Stu was the driving force to establish a Veterans for Peace chapter in Broome County. Chapter 90 Broome County came together in 2002 and we’ve been active ever since.

Stu would have been with us ringing the large bell of the First Congregationalist Church on November 11, Armistice Day. Stu would have approved of us going back to Armistice Day, a celebration of peace, of laying down of weapons of destruction and planning for no more war, rather than a Veterans Day with praise for warriors.

When folks questioned why so many Americans seem to celebrate war and warriors and have little regard for people in foreign lands where we bomb, invade and kill Stu answered by placing his hand over his heart: “It’s what one has in his heart…it’s all about heart” said Stu.

Veterans for Peace members are people of heart. We wonder why so many intelligent people in our culture seem to lack heart? Why, for example is there such little regard for brothers and sisters outside of our protected, wealthy culture of the United States of America? Are we stuck in the old adage “the only good Indian is a dead Indian”? Or unable to shake off our roots of racial hate and exploitation of black Americans? Why is there such little ‘heart’ for Muslims in our culture? Why have we so little heart for the millions of Muslims who have suffered so since our invasion of Iraq in 2003?

Peggy Naismith, Stu’s widow, was one of several members of Veterans for Peace who rang the large ground based bell at First Congregationalist Church on the Front St side in Binghamton. We tried to do 11 rings for 11/11/11…the end of hostilities to the Great War…the peace signed at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, November 11, 1918.

Rev Art Suggs with the help of Doug and Judy Gardner opened up the living room of First Congregational and we were treated to coffee and pastry and homemade vegetarian soup by Cecily O’Neil. It was a warm refuge from the coldest day so far this fall of 2017.— and a good get-together as we waited for our main feature, a 1PM graveyard ceremony and a parade we were told we could not be part of.

Part of our conversation prior to the parade focused on Europeans and how they wonder why Americans are so callous toward Iraqi and Afghan people. A United Kingdom and Germany study (by Physicians for Social Responsibility) of American awareness of Iraqis killed since the 2003 invasion revealed that most Americans believed about 9,000 or so Iraqis were killed. Conservative statistics start at 500,000 Iraqis killed and go to beyond a million plus dead resulting in our invasion and occupation of Iraq.

We asked Rev. Art Suggs if he would allow Veterans for Peace to place a symbolic Iraqi and American graveyard on the lawn of First Congregationalist Church. It would illustrate deaths since our 2003 invasion of Iraq. He took the plan to his congregation and they approved of it. We purchased tombstone materials and in the living room of John Patterson and Cecily O’Neil and with the help of Hannah Sprout, a high school student, cut 101 styrofoam tombstones. 100 for Iraqis based on 500,000 dead and 1 for Americans based on United States official count of 4520 dead.

At 1Pm on November 11th, Armistice Day, we set the ‘tombstones’ into the Main St lawn of First Congregationalist Church. 100 for Iraqis and one lone US flag covered stone.

Art Suggs spoke with eloquence of his own story as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. His daily assignment by the US government for refusing to train to kill was to bury American soldiers in his Midwest metropolis city…”it was almost daily work” said Art.

Rev. Gary Doupe spoke of nonviolence and lead us in prayer from his Methodist Prayer book held dearly since his childhood.

Chuck Heyn of Calicoon, NY told of his 15 months as a combat medic in Vietnam. Chuck spoke from the heart. His emotion struck us all. We were moved in mind, heart and soul.

Jim Trainor of Endicott spoke of his two tours of duty in the US Army including Special Forces. Jim, now a social worker in Binghamton has found time over the years to see through the lies of militarism and the accepting culture.

Ed Kinane of Syracuse spoke of the 174th Attack Wing in Syracuse where extrajudicial killing of Afghan people takes place right up road from Binghamton. Ed himself told of being in Iraq before, during and after the invasion of Iraq by US forces.

Jim Clune, a CO during the Vietnam War tied in the economic robbing of Americans and people around the world. Jim, who had visited Iraq between the two United States wars there spoke of his observations while there and the decades of treachery of US policy in Iraq.

Bill Paccone of Brackney, Pennsylvania spoke of his military service in Korea, his knowledge of the awful destruction we left in North Korea 1950-53 and the growing danger of nuclear war with shocking instability in leadership of both nations.

Rick Sprout of Binghamton praised the event we were having and urged greater solidarity of local peace and justice groups. Rick, a leader of the Green Party urged folks to come to the Bundy for a film presented by Peace Action’s Alan Jones with a focus on the main reason Costa Rica has been voted such a peaceful place to live.

Dick Keough of Syracuse, an Army veteran whose military service led him to the priesthood told of how he was converted to nonviolence in the military when told in bayonet practice to scream "Kill” as he plunged his bayonet into an ‘enemy’.

There was no time for an open microphone as the parade approached. Some of the men in red uniforms and carry guns screamed some obscene comments our way but our purpose was not to engage them. We simply stepped into the tail end of the parade and walked (we don’t march anymore) to the court house without incident.

Next Armistice Day of 2018, we hope to be at the United Nations for an international gathering of Veterans for Peace.