Why a Combat Veteran Supports the Occupy Movement

My name is Jim Scarborough. I’m a former infantry officer and a Vietnam combat veteran.  Some of you have seen the sign I’m carrying, urging other veterans to join us in support of the Occupy movement.   However, I’m not here today because I’m one of the 99%.  As a veteran, I’m proud to be a member of a very elite group of our society – not one of privilege, or wealth, or power – but one bound together by shared sacrifice, by mutual trust, and by our solemn oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

It is the oath I took as a young man when I accepted my commission to serve this country as a military officer that brings me here.  I remember as I spoke the words of this oath, the dignity and honor that they evoked – the pride in my nation and the sense of purpose and of grave responsibility that they conveyed.  I said then that “I, JAMES ROBERT SCARBOROUGH, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

James Scarborough speaking to Occupy Boston Sunday, November 27th

My grandfather, my father, my uncle, both of my brothers, and my son Kevin who is here with me today, have all served in the U.S. military in time of war.  They, and every other veteran and active duty service member have sworn this oath. In doing so, we stand in a proud tradition that began on this very soil over 200 years ago, before there was a professional military, or even a United States.  Those early soldiers were united then as we are now in a common purpose to defend their rights against a ruling elite of which they played no part and in which they had no voice.  We stand with them, these early revolutionaries, our founding fathers, whose final words above their signatures on the Declaration of Independence declared, “we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Although my time of military service has long since passed, I’ve never been released of that oath nor have I ever forsaken it, for I too have pledged mysacred honor, and the simple truth behind my being here is that I consider myself to be honor-bound and duty-sworn by my oath to do so.

In the early days of the Occupy protests, I saw the Veterans for Peace and other veterans reciting their military oath as they stood up against the Boston police to protect the peaceful, non-violent, citizen-protesters here in Boston.  I saw Marine sergeant Shamar Thomas confront the New York police at Occupy Wall Street, repeating over and over to them “There’s no honor in this! There’s no honor in this!” I saw these things, and realized that I too must take a stand.

I can’t speak for all veterans in voicing my support of the Occupy movement. There are many veterans who disagree about both our aims and our tactics, and they have every right as free Americans to do so.

However, I think I can speak for all veterans in saying that whatever our differences and whatever our opinions, we consider it our “sacred honor,” and our charge to defend the Constitution of United States.  This is our sworn oath.  It is this commitment to bear true faith and allegiance to this oath and to each other that binds us together as a band of brothers and sisters. We say to each other “I’ve got your back!” and this has always been the true essence of military service and it is our allegiance to this oath that both separates us, and binds us, with those we serve – the people of the United States.  To each of the veterans here and across the nation who have stood up in defense of the Occupy protesters and in defense of our rights under First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, I say “Brothers and Sisters, I’ve got your back!”

Veterans are separate from the general population in the sense that we’ve undertaken a special responsibility to stand in defense of this nation, even unto death, and many of our comrades, including some of my closest friends, have given their last full measure and paid the ultimate price.  As a group, we have earned a special place in society, one we’ve paid for with shared sacrifice, with faithful service and often, with our blood.

So, my reason for being here today is far more than a protest against broken government and social injustice. For me, it is a matter of my personal honor and, although I may not speak FOR all veterans, I do hope to speak TO all veterans and add my voice to the growing number of us who have spoken out in defense of our freedom and of our rights under the First Amendment.

It was here in the streets of Boston that our American form of democracy was born. The grievances of those American colonists against the British crown were no more severe than those we have today against our own government. Those grievances, coupled with the arrogance and intransigence of the British crown and ruling classes, resulted in the armed revolution that bought us our freedom and independence.

I think that we would be well-served to remember what our founding fathers said in our Declaration of Independence, that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness..”

All of us know these words, but they are far more than the dry words of a history text.  They are the foundation of our very form of government and are our heritage as a free people.  If we forget this; if we lose sight of the meaning and purpose of these words, we forget everything we stand for as a nation and we bring dishonor upon ourselves and upon the memory of every brave American who has ever stood up in defense of these hard-earned freedoms.

We are fortunate to enjoy these freedoms that our founding fathers won for us with their blood and sacrifice – freedoms so integral to our values as a nation that they form the very foundation of our system of government.  They are expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States that I have sworn to support and defend and provide that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

There is nothing in the Constitution that creates or guarantees the rights of financial institutions, corporations, political parties, paid lobbyists, or the rich and powerful to control and manipulate our government for their own ends and purposes and there is nothing in the Constitution that contemplates the existence of a class of professional politicians whose driving impulse is to keep themselves and their political cronies in perpetual power.  Yet these are the forces we face today, and they threaten everything we stand for as a nation.

As a society we have become so accustomed to the trappings and institutions of government that we have lost sight of their meaning and their purpose.  We have allowed our rights to erode bit by bit as they have been usurped by a privileged elite who now rule over us for their own benefit and to their own purposes.

Our Constitution has served for centuries as an example to the entire world of how a free people can govern themselves through democratic means. It provides the framework for a government of the people, by the people and for the people and it guarantees the American people the right to choose our government.

We are now told that elected and even appointed officials have the right to govern us and that they have the right to choose the time, place and manner in which we can exercise our rights of free speech, of assembly, and of petition to our government for redress of our grievances.

I say to each of them, “You are our servants, not our masters!”  I remind both our elected representatives and our appointed officials that it is “to secure [our] rights, [that] Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.  Our present form of government has become so destructive to those ends that we stand on the verge of withdrawing that consent and invoking our right to alter or abolish it and to institute new government.

These are strong words and this is a strong remedy, but they are not ours; they are those of our founding fathers, expressed in the Declaration of Independence. But neither are they idle posturing or a historical curiousity.  They are our heritage as a free people and our natural and our Constitutional right.  We stand firm in our resolve to alter this government and return it to the people.

Our Constitution provides us with the mechanisms to do so, not only through the elective process but also through our rights of free speech, of peaceable assembly, and of petition to our government to redress our grievances.  To deny these rights and ignore our grievances is to blatantly disregard those values from which our nation was born.

Many have criticized the Occupy movement, saying we can’t succeed or have lasting influence unless we evolve into a political movement.  They say we must take sides in the upcoming elections, choose candidates, wage political campaigns, and express our views at the ballot box.

I answer them by saying that our voices cannot be heard over the maddening din of partisan politics and broken campaign promises. Our vote isn’t being counted. We can’t compete with Wall Street money.  We can’t compete with multi-million dollar political action committees.  We can’t compete with high-powered professional lobbyists.  We can’t compete with self-serving, hyper-partisan political parties.

I say to them that the political process and the freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution encompass far more than the right to vote and to wage political campaigns. The true safeguard of our freedom and our political process isn’t to be found in our right to vote. The true safeguard is found in the plain meaning of those rights guaranteed us by the First Amendment – our freedom of speech, our freedom of peaceable assembly, and our right to petition our government for redress of grievances.

The Occupy movement is already the greatest demonstration in our nation’s history of the power, and the purpose, of the First Amendment.  Through these protests, we are participating in the political process in its highest, and most Constitutionally-protected, form.

I remind everyone of the words of the Preamble to our Constitution, that “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, [did] ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It is we, the people of the United States, who own the Constitution. It is the living legacy of our forefathers and is our birthright. It shall not be taken from us or denied us because it’s not “convenient” for government to concede to us those freedoms which are ours by right, not because government has given them to us.

Government derives its just powers from consent of the governed; not the other way around.  We, the people of the United States, rule this country – not the politicians in Washington who have failed to represent us; not the mayors of cities all across the country who have attempted to silence our voices; not the police who have met peaceful protest with increasing violence and unjustifiable use of force; not even the courts who are sworn to uphold the Constitution but who, too often, have twisted and perverted the plain meaning of the First Amendment and denied us protection of our rights to speak freely, to assemble peaceably, and to petition our government for redress of our grievances.

To those who criticize us, who say we are a movement without leaders and without clear objectives, I answer that you misunderstand us. We are not a movement; we are the voice of a people who love our country and who are committed to save it.  We seek to restore the American dream, not to destroy it, and to return our nation to a government of the people, by the people and for the people.  Join us in this common purpose and together we can do this.  United we stand and divided we fall.  It’s as simple as that!

We call ourselves the 99%, but as a voice in our society and our government, it is we who are the 1%.  We demand that the government of this country be returned to the people of the United States and we stand firm in our resolve to continue this struggle until we once again have a government that is representative of, and responsive to, the people of the United States.  We seek nothing more and will accept nothing less.

Yes, we are the 99%, but as an organized group we remain small and relatively powerless. But our strength is growing and our determination is unwaivering.  Despite the forces arrayed against us, we have the power of right and justice with us and the weight of history is on our side – not theirs.

And so, I say to you, my fellow veterans, and to every American who believes that we deserve a better government and a better society, borrowing the words of William Shakespeare, that “we few …we band of brothers….” have been called  “once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!”

This is a battle we can win and we must win.  Through our peaceful occupation and sheer physical presence, through our resolve and our determination, we have already sounded a message that cannot long be ignored or dismissed.

By our courage, by our determination, and by our resolve to continue this struggle until we have returned our government to the people of the United States, we shall prevail – for we are the 99%, and we will take our country back!



James Scarborough is a wounded and highly decorated Vietnam combat infantry veteran and a member of Smedley Butler Chapter #9 of Veterans For Peace in Boston. This speech was given Sunday, November 27th to a gathering of the Occupy Boston movement.   Here’s a You Tube of the speech.


  1. Dennis Brasky says:

    Wow! We all need to circulate this to as many as possible. There is so much good out there that had no way to be expressed until OWS. To hell with the tweedle dum and tweedle dumber of the two corporate parties – we now have our voice!

  2. Michael Uhl says:

    In The Mind Field is proud to post the speech that former Army infantry officer and Vietnam combat veteran, James Scarborough, delivered recently before those assembled at Occupy Boston. Using a patriotic language that, from the lips of a typical office-seeker in our political culture might normally strike VFP members as demagogic, if not patently reactionary, Scarborough instead fashions a message of deep solidarity with the average American of the so-called 99% who is subject to the whims and caprices of the 1%, the dominant elite who govern, and, indeed, rule us.

    Scarborough’s display of his medals, and his paeans to the cult of the warrior, might seem at first like garden variety male chest thumping, with an added taste for self-promotion. But I remember sitting with the late VFP president Dave Cline on several occasions when he was being interviewed by some reporter, and the first thing Dave would do would be to lay his combat medals on the table. In fact few human beings will ever be confronted with the circumstances that led to Dave’s and to James Scarborough’s commendations. There are soldiers exposed to extraordinary dangers, who sometimes perform extraordinary feats of bravery on the field of battle, risk their lives repeatedly to save and protect their fellow combatants.

    We don’t hear much of the heroes who die performing such acts. But we sometimes hear about those who survived. The author Karl Marlantes has recently written about how he came by his own medals for valor as a Marine platoon leader in Vietnam, and, even in advance of the details which I would like to hear, it strikes me that Scarborough’s actions were very likely of a similar caliber. Scarborough, as with many combat heroes before him, most likely got his medals because he wasn’t thinking of himself, he was thinking of someone else. That’s solidarity in the truest sense of the word, and the better part of honor, even in dirty wars like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

    To the degree the message at the core of James Scarborough’s speech is difficult for my generation of antiwar Vietnam veterans to hear because the formulaic language he employs usually serves to manipulate a political process that favors special interests, and alienates the right to vote from the right to genuine representation, is to recognize the distance we have traveled from the mass of our fellow citizens who we would wish to sway with the good news of our progressive alternatives to the status quo.

    We of the Vietnam-Era New Left used to proclaim as an organizing principle that we had to meet the folks we hoped to influence, not where we stood, but “where they were at.” Organizing was a process, not a pre-condition. We were advantaged by the existence of a movement of enormous size and diversity that provided its activist members with the political education of a lifetime, and with analytical skills that allowed us to comprehend the details and realities of a given political moment that were shrouded from the vast majority who had been marginalized from the struggles in which such practical understanding is acquired. This consciousness is our abiding legacy as individual graduates of that movement, even as we obviously failed, for many and complex reasons, to evolve a post-Vietnam Era organization of any substance to contend as an force of genuine opposition in the existing political arena.

    In the ensuing years since the heyday of our Vietnam movement, we activists of the old guard have often shaped our political opposition into forms of individual resistance and to a general bearing of witness, for VFP members in particular, to the dire consequences of our increasingly militarized political economy at home, and especially the immediate harm we continue to cause to our veterans and among the victims of war in the countries we have invaded and occupied In the absence of a mass movement to empower us, and give us greater visibility and credibility in the public eye, we have turned to preaching over organizing. Perhaps this was our only alternative, well intended and honorable, given that over the past decade no mass antiwar movement comparable to the one in which many of us were politicized, has emerged from our children’s generation to provide the leverage our positions require to influence public opinion, as we were once able to do during the Vietnam War.

    Different times require different thinking, different tactics, different forms, even as the goals and the vision remains constant. The vision, the demand for justice, is unalienable and universal. And justice in the American context, an appeal to fair play, is precisely the dominant message that motivates the Occupy Movement today. And, I need hardly point out, this generational upheaval has arisen independently of the antiwar movement we have been attempting to build for the past decade. To be relevant today, we, like James Scarborough, must keep a cheek on both stools. We need to build our bridges, not forward to utopia where we alone occupy the moral high ground, but back to the place where most of the 99% dwell in today’s reality. And we must at times communicate, as Samuel Beckett once wrote, in the language we were born with, or not communicate at all. Texts – like James Scarborough’s words – aren’t cast in stone as the great Brazilian theorist of world illiteracy, Paulo Freire, observed. They can be read differently, depending on the social and economic reality of who’s reading them. Michael Uhl

  3. Michael Thomason (AussieMike) says:

    Thank you, James Scarborough! It does my heart good to hear your words and see the commitment in your face when presented with the horror of what the present politicos (Democrat and Republican) are trying to do to the citizens of this country.
    THEY are the destroyers of Constitutional rights!
    We MUST protest and VOTE them ALL out!

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