Choosing nonviolence or nonexistence

June 26, 2012

Veterans Fast For Life, September 1, 1986

I wrote this on August 28, 1986, as I was preparing to embark upon a water only, open-ended fast on the east U.S. capitol Steps with three other veterans protesting U.S. policies of terror being waged against the campesinos of Central America. It is as relevant now as it was then, perhaps more so.


Since returning in February of this year from a nearly 2 month stay in Nicaragua, Vietnam, and all that that experience represents, has seemed imaged on the front of my forehead. Not feeling depressed or in despair, I, nonetheless, experienced about a 2 week period of being in shock, when I first returned to the U.S., like being stunned. It was difficult to talk with anyone who had not been in Nicaragua, a phenomenon that reminded me a bit of my post-Vietnam moments when I did not talk much about the experience there. A major difference, however, was that after returning from Nicaragua, it was not just the diabolical nature of my society that I was mourning, but the hope and tremendous passion and excitement expressed by the Nicaraguan people that I felt was so positive as to be beyond any frame of reference for most North Americans to understand. The Nicaraguan revolution had become a  beacon for t he “Third World” movement to be free from internal and external oppression and was equally a light for the desperate revolution needed in my own culture. Part of feeling in shock was absorbing the reality of this revolutionary spirit in Nicaragua and its applicability for me and my culture as much as it was a reminder of how demonic our barbaric policies in fact are in Nicaragua.

During the spring and summer I purposely avoided cramming my life with multitudes of activities, an ever present temptation in an attempt to help move the political powers to stop the madness of U.S. barbarism in Central America. I did write thoughts most every day, some of which were published in local newspapers, occasionally participated in Central America rallies and events, spoke to high school students at several locations, but generally allowed myself a lot of time for thinking and praying. I made several trips to Washington, D.C. by train for meetings with veterans to plan various responses to the U.S. war mongering policies in Central America, especially, but not exclusively, Nicaragua. On one of those trips, a group of veterans lobbying against contra aid formed the National Federation of Veterans For Peace. Recently, we changed our name to the Veterans Peace Coalition. I also worked at day labor jobs as needed to cover my living expenses. But I reserved a lot of time for thinking and praying. What am I going to do to help stop the killing being committed in my name? What?

I, along with thousands of other North Americans of faith and conscience, had actively participated in a democratic process promoting peace, not war, negotiations, not militarism, in our foreign policies. Going beyond voting, many of us have written to and met with our elected representatives, have organized and participated in many types of protest elections, legal and “illegal”, handed out leaflets on the streets, talked on radio and TV programs, and written numerous letters to editors and articles for journals. After the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives voted on June 25, 1986, to grant $100 million of blood money to the contra terrorists, all our participatory work seemed to have been an exercise in futility. Our freedom of speech and assembly in the context of all that the Constitution prescribes and prohibits loomed as part of the Big Lie. Despite voluminous evidence of the illegality, immorality, and utter stupidity of our Nicaraguan obsession, the people’s body voted to continue terrorism and barbarism. The United States was again declaring an undeclared war on a Third World sovereign nation struggling for its self-determination, a nation freeing itself for the first time from internally and externally imposed oppression. The majority of North Americans polled registered opposition to further funding of our proxy murderers. But the House, to be followed by the Senate vote also approving murder money on August 13, defied their authority derived from the consent of the governed and the Constitution, and illegally defacto declared war on the peasants of a sovereign nation.

The only place where there is any systemic denial of the realities of this barbarism is in the United States itself, among certain “right wing” sectors of our culture as well as in the Reagan administration and Congress. The World Court has ruled our actions in Nicaragua illegal and in violation of international law. The people of the world, including throughout central America, have condemned our policy as wrong and imprudent. We again are witnessing an incredible and shocking paradox: poor people struggling for self-determination are treated by the United States as a threat to our “national security” and are facing being literally wiped off the face of the earth. Real human beings in Nicaragua, among other places, relatively unknown to the U.S., and posing absolutely no threat to us (except to our unfettered dominion over their lives)  are being treated as dispensable pawns to be murdered and maimed in a cruel ideological game being perpetuated by the biggest bully on the earth. Issues of poverty and tyranny benefiting the U.S. are shrouded by us as Soviet Communist expansionism, legitimizing our policies of killing in order to maintain our “free” dominion over the lives of the Nicaraguans struggling to be truly free. Again, this is part of the Big Lie.

What am I going to do to help stop the killing, the madnesses, being perpetuated in my name? All spring and summer, it seems, I have been participating in a surrender process to the Great Spirit. What do you want me to do? I will do anything, I kept saying, to pursue truth and justice with all the power of my being. But what? I prayed that I be open to the Inner Voice and have the courage to follow its guidance. Ever since being in Nicaragua it has been clear that my body would be fully participating with my mind and heart in whatever I was to do. During the second week of my stay in Nicaragua, living with a wonderful family in the mountain city of Esteli, there were a series of attacks in the outskirt areas, killing 11 people. Some evenings I heard the mortars and machine gun fire not far away. My Nicaraguan mother was concerned that I might be afraid. After understanding what she was saying to me, I struggled in Spanish to tell her that I was not afraid, but furious that I could hear my money in the distance, knowing that it was causing needless suffering through fear, killing, and maiming. I had an image then to travel the few kilometers to where the Contras might be and stand with open arms in front of them proclaiming: “For God’s sake, stop the killing, stop the killing. If you need to kill, then kill me, but don’t kill these peasants with my money.” I suppose that it was a foolish idea to go to the point of the shooting and stand there to confront the U.S. killers with my unarmed body. But that image remains.

As I was writing this spring and summer in my Chelsea, Vermont, cabin, I started imagining flatbed trucks driving through the quiet town loaded with bodies of dead and maimed Nicaraguans. For a couple of weeks after the June 25 House vote, I woke up with images of my Nicaraguan mother and other members of her family lying on their mud living room floor with blood oozing from the base of their skulls. Fortunately at the time I had a friend in Esteli with a telephone not far from where my Nicaraguan family lived. My friend was able to check in with the family and found out that nothing so heinous had occurred. However, Pablo, one of my Nicaraguan mother’s 4 sons in the Nicaraguan Army, had been seriously injured when shot by a Contra near Matagalpa. He was in a hospital in Managua facing the possibility of losing full use of his right arm.

One lesson the U.S. government has learned from Vietnam is to conduct military and dominion policies in foreign countries without dead bodies of U.S. citizens returning to North American communities to fuel any visceral, and ultimately, political reactions. This policy is termed Low Intensity Conflict (LIC). The killing and terror is carried out covertly by the CIA, overtly by proxy murderers, assisted by private as well as public, U.S. terror money, and all cloaked in secrecy from the North American people due to “national security” considerations. The use of U.S. uniformed military is to be used as a last resort, and only when the North American people no longer resist such intervention due to manipulated public perception about the demon quality of the people our government is trying to overthrow. Perpetuation of a system where the privilege of the few is at the expense of the many continue to be the name of the game. It is not the Soviet Communists who are coming. It is the North Americans! And we are liars, bullies and killers. And this is all being done in my name. A Big Lie.

The question that began emerging was this: How do I stand in front of the flatbed truck and boldly, and with faith, hold up my weaponless arms and clearly confront the nose of that moving truck and declare: “For God’s sake, stop the lies, stop the killing!” With a couple of other veterans of war our discussions centered on what was the most significant action we could participate in to help stop the killing and to speak to the North American conscience.

There is more information available and more debates have been conducted on the nature of our policies in Nicaragua than probably on any foreign policy issue in our history. Our heads are full. Stuffed! The issues have been debated with the utmost of our intellectual and cerebral capacities. The situation now requires the powerful attention of our hearts and passions, not just our minds. Our hearts have been sadly neglected and they cry out to be honored, fed, and expressed. I know that a number of people of faith and conscience have been expressing a beautiful display of love in opposition to the madness of our policies and way of life. But I am speaking about my needs to express more with my heart and head. I know I speak for many millions of my brother and sister citizens. As Martin Luther King so often stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” An injury to a Nicaraguan, is a deprivation of our wholeness, too.

We are at the brink of violent self-destruction due to our arrogant militarism, our mad proliferation of incredible weapons of destruction, and our preparation and implementation of various counterinsurgency measures repressing the poor of the “Third World.” After all, with 5% of the world’s population consuming 30% to 40% of the world’s resources, we require the existence of a lot of poor. The question is: Are we willing or prepared to pay the price of peace — the promotion of justice, the sharing of resources, and fostering democratization for all people of the earth? We are now daily paying the price of war with our taxes, our consumptive way of life, our daily complicity with the madness of our government, a government speaking in our names and ostensibly operating in a manner to preserve our way of life, our “national security.”

The good news, of course, is that we the people have choices. In terms of the madness of our own government, and of our own collective value system, it is only we the people who can stop it. We can choose to live by and pursue a new way, surrendering to a transformation process leading to ecological living and nonviolence. Our alternative choice is to continue living and thinking as we are now doing, a path I believe will soon lead to nonexistence whether due to ecological, health or military calamities. These possible outcomes flow logically from our dangerous lifestyle. Such a collective, affluent way of life that is so abundantly evident throughout much of our culture, despite substantial poverty, easily promotes a mentality fearful of losing our privileged status in the world. Deep down we know that our lifestyle is built and maintained on the backs of many people. But it is also being perpetuated at the expense of our own souls.

We are living in conflict with ourselves. No wonder we really cannot promote peace, for peace requires living with justice, with love, with the earth and with all living beings. We have been brought up in a thing-oriented, not a person-oriented society. We need a revolution of values, and we can learn the spirit and methods for achieving this from those brave people in the Third World who struggle with great compassion and patience and love for their just societies. We can choose between nonviolence or nonexistence.

One Comment

  1. Mark S Foley
    Posted February 8, 2021 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Another outstanding eyewitness account of the effects of imperialism on a third world country. Same as its ever been, including the colonization and appropriation of the entire Western Hemisphere. Our karmic destiny will be determined or shaped by those of us who bravely admit this wretched history of oppression and vow to overthrow it in the same way we wish to live: collectively, non-violently and with justice for all.

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