Rejecting the Accolades of Unjust War:
Iraq, Afghan War Vets Throw Back Medals, March with Thousands Against U.S.-NATO Wars
by Larry Everest
I'm going to toss this medal today for the 33,000 civilians who have died in Afghanistan that won't have a monument built for them.
Brock McIntosh, Army National Guard, deployed to Afghanistan
I'm giving back my medals for the children of Iraq and Afghanistan. May they be able to forgive us for what we've done to them.
Steve Acheson, U.S. Army Iraq war vet
Chicago. On May 20, more than 40 vets--men and women, from different branches of the military--made a dramatic statement to the world.
Veterans of America's so-called "war on terror" courageously tore off their medals and denounced what they represent: "Global War on Terror Service Medals," "Operation Iraqi Freedom Medals," "National Defense Medals," "Good Conduct Medals," "Expeditionary Medals." They spoke from the heart about why they were rejecting these "cheap tokens," given to them, as one vet put it, "in an attempt to fill the void where our conscience used to be," and repudiating what they had done to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. They talked of the children. The women. The innocent. The destruction. The pain. The sorrow. The hurt. The lies. In a message that now must be spread, these vets hurled their medals toward where the leaders of NATO, the U.S.-led military alliance, were meeting and plotting their next bloody moves.
This action, organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), culminated a spirited march by more than 5,000 people--Occupiers, antiwar activists, students, and many others--from all over the country who had come to Chicago to protest NATO's May 20-21 summit, its ongoing war in Afghanistan, and its military aggression across the globe. Joining the vets in leading the march and rally, under the theme "Honor the Dead, Heal the Wounded, Stop the Wars," were women from Afghans for Peace--representing the Afghan people, the victims of the U.S.-NATO invasion and occupation.
This was a powerful, significant action. These veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have directly experienced--and participated in--the horrors and crimes being committed by the U.S. around the world. It took gut-wrenching reflection and enormous courage for them to face, then come together to call out painful truths of what they'd seen, done and been part of--in direct opposition to the empire of carnage they'd once served.
What these men and women did on this day was a call not just to other vets and military personnel, but to everyone in the U.S. and millions around the globe: Wake up. Muster the courage to face the truth--your rulers are committing horrific atrocities and towering crimes around the world. They're cloaking it in bald-faced lies. They're doing it in our names, enlisting us to carry it out. Think about the people of the world! Don't go along! Stand up! Speak out!
Adding to the significance of this action was the unity expressed between the vets and those who they had been taught to treat as "the enemy." Suraia Sahar of Afghans for Peace told Democracy Now!, "It's the first time an Afghan-led peace movement is now working side by side with a veteran-led peace movement. And so, this is how--this is the beginning of something new, something better."
And how did the media in this self-proclaimed land of democracy and free speech cover this? Largely with silence. These cheerleaders for America's blood-soaked military and predatory wars were not going to allow veterans--who they claim to honor and cherish--to puncture their post-911 narrative of the U.S. as the "victim," the "good guys" fighting "terror" with harsh truths from the front lines--especially not when their empire is facing daunting problems and perilous waters ahead.
Rejecting the Accolades of Unjust War
The vets' action in Chicago was consciously modeled on the 1971 anti-Vietnam War "Dewey Canyon III" protest organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which brought hundreds of veterans to Washington, DC to throw their medals back at Congress. (For an account of Dewey Canyon III, see vvawai.org/archive/sw/sw31/pgs_35-44/dewey_canyon.html.)