There can be no peace without healing. That conviction was the focus of Veterans For Peace during the years David Cline was its president. It inspired the VFP objective, “seek justice for veterans and victims of war.”
This was the height of the Iraq War, and soldiers and marines were returning from Iraq deeply wounded in spirit. Jimmy Massey was one of them. Remember Jimmy? Marine recruiter cum VFP peacenik? It was Jimmy who told how we suffered with him during the Boston VFP convention in 2004 as he faced the demons released by his experiences. Dave Cline had a similar story he told from his battlefield in Vietnam of killing and regret.
There are many of us like David and Jimmy who have had to overcome denial to deal with the horrors we saw and inflicted, a denial rooted in the cultural conditioning and military training we underwent. We had to grow up and take responsibility for not only what we did, but how we felt as we did it. We had often taken a kind of mad delight in violently destroying and ending lives. We horrified ourselves.
Later, we either accepted the pain of shame or buried it in drugs or other compulsive and obsessive behaviors. If we accepted it and were lucky to have the right guidance, we may have recovered enough to gain the necessary humility to work for peace.
Peace-making is not about ideology; it is about recognition of a deeply human condition — the capacity for love. When we joined the services, we were taught conditional love, as in: “If you love your country, you’ll hate its enemies.” Or: “If you love your mates, your comrades in arms, you must hate those who oppose you.”
We had to learn how the natural phenomena of love was turned against us and against other human beings, how it was perverted into the passion for violence and war. To become peace-makers, we had to re-discover love as an unconditional, unspoiled part of ourselves. And to do that we had to re-make ourselves.
We had to heal.
In St. Louis, a small part of the local Veterans For Peace chapter is working with homeless veterans and veterans in trouble with the law to help them turn their lives around, to re-enter society, to gain employment and to, themselves, become a resource for more healing.
I find there is a particular role that only veterans can fulfill, that of working with fellow veterans to heal the wounds of war and to counteract the militaristic conditioning that sent them into war and later destroyed their lives.
There will always be opportunities for public protests, civil disobedience and other expressions of righteous anger in the vast arena of justice and peace. We should always seek those opportunities and seize them. But, in the meanwhile, there is a constant need for the work of healing that not only involves veterans who are in pain but the communities they live in. Families, friends, community service organizations all want to help in the healing. They are grateful to veterans who can talk to other veterans in a language only they can understand.
To those who say that there are plenty of other veteran service organizations out there to help veterans, I can only repeat what one of our VFP members, who works with the homeless for St. Louis City told me. He said those organizations, like the VFW, American Legion, the Disable American Veterans, AmVets, mostly deal with either the physical wounds or seek disability claims from the VA. Even the Vet Centers, which have been taken over by the VA, while they work on the psychological wounds, need a lot of help from the larger community to develop training and employment opportunities.
I appeal to members of Veterans For Peace and other compassionate veterans, especially those who have seen or been near combat, to consider engaging in this kind of work. Look around you, find the opportunities, the stand downs, the veteran drug courts, the Vet Centers — the volunteering options are many. It will enrich your lives, and it will help change the culture that now serves war so blindly.