How I spent my summer vacation, at the

2006 National Convention of Veterans For Peace

 

Four of us made a delegation from Chapter #71-Sonoma County, California, to the national convention of the Veterans For Peace (VFP) held in Seattle in mid-August, 2006. I was very impressed by the professional sense of purpose of this diverse group of citizen-veteran-activists for peace and demilitarization from all over the USA. The business meeting, conducted by president Dave Cline, vice president Sharon Kufeldt, and executive director Michael McPhearson, demonstrated that the board and officers understand that inclusion of the members in decisions is essential. Conclusions of the board, regarding resolutions and other actions, were explained and presented to the members for ratification following a democratic model for conducting business, accepting all input from the delegate audience.

          It is well known that the Constitution of the United States is modeled upon some of the centuries-old principles of the Iroquois Confederacy known as the Great Law, still operating today as the law of those nations. How nations (states) could retain their independence yet work together peacefully under one overall system of “government” had no model in Europe; so it is intriguing to me that, according to author Jerry Mander, some of the following principles that could have made a true democracy for us, were left out: (1) There is no top chief (executive); (2) all decisions are made by consensus (no “majority rule”) among the various legislatures, and they are not final until everyone agrees, no matter how long it takes; (3) universal suffrage, which took the U.S. 150 years to accomplish; (4) leaders (called chiefs by white America) are mostly appointed and removed by the women; (5) if war is deemed to be necessary, it does not begin until enough volunteers show up, or it will be called off!

          How would it be if the U.S. were to operate under such principles? What if our “chiefs” were required to: “. . . be honest in all things . . . self-interest must be cast into oblivion . . . [to] look and listen for the welfare of the people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground, the unborn of the future Nation?[1] Once appointed, suppose one of our leaders did not live up to such standards; what if a council of American women could remove and replace them, by a simple consensus (not a “vote”)? Wow! What a concept. Our founders, steeped in Europe’s patriarchal history, could not bring themselves to go this far toward democracy; they had to maintain their own privileged positions. Besides the democratic system of “governance,” all ancient peoples lived in a close relation with, and reverence for, the natural world, that our industrial society disdains.

          Meeting in a city named for a famous chief of that area, I missed any presentation by a current chief from the nearby nations. I hope that future conventions will be addressed by chiefs of aborigine nations within North America. A major benefit from such wisdom-keepers would be learning how the principles of VFP are in sync with preservation of the land, how that can be uppermost in our deliberations on nuclear issues, warfare in general, the welfare of future generations, expenditures of the national treasury, spiritual recovery, and reverence for all Life, vs. our desire for human supremacy. I believe these principles are implicit in the mission of VFP, but they might be more explicitly stated by some aboriginal members.

          Scientists tell us that we have only ten years in which to turn around—to undo the systems and technology that endanger Life on the planet—or else there will be no turning back. In such case, we must begin now. Dependence on things must go. A convention workshop led by VFP member-veteran-citizen-activist Brian Willson has the formula for what is needed in its description:

 

"This workshop will be a discussion about liberating ourselves from the claustrophobic box of Western materialism disguised as representative democracy. In fact, we in the West, especially in the United States, have been the beneficiaries of 500 years of ruthless colonialism. The collective American Way of Life is equivalent to a weapon of mass destruction. Our lifestyle would not be possible without impoverishing, through force, 80 percent of the world's population while exploiting vast finite resources, and doing so with total impunity. Many of us in the peace movement protest the violence perpetrated by our military forces around the world, while remaining comfortably disconnected from the fact that our own addiction, our collective lifestyle, is what drives these policies. Archetypal human characteristics of empathy and equity are as important for our survival as air, food, and water, yet they have been preempted by our compliance with "representative democracy" and capitalist economics. The goal of this workshop is to instill in participants a renewed sense of personal responsibility through reconnection with these ancient characteristics, as well as an appreciation of the importance of imagination in the revolutionary process."[2]

 

This peaceful “revolution” will require an enormous leap of faith for some people (and not just in the U.S., but we could lead the way if we had real leaders in power): It requires putting aside the cherished beliefs that have brought us to this crisis. It requires a turning to simplicity that will be uncomfortable for many who may profess that they have already cast aside their previous beliefs. In the U.S., it requires total rejection of the principles of the Republican Party, which relies entirely upon the idea of the supremacy of an elite that are “destined” to rule over the lives of the masses; i.e., masses who all supposedly have “equal opportunity” to live the American dream of excessive wealth by serving the system, and without any so-called “affirmative action.” It also requires divestment by the Democratic Party of the ideas of an industry-dominated society based upon technology, whether privately or publicly owned. In other words, it requires the dismantling here and abroad of much of the heavy industry that drives us to war; that uses vast quantities of energy; exploits underpaid labor; and pollutes the earth, air, and water. There is no room for any of these concepts in a future world devoted to Life. Neither communism nor capitalism alone satisfies the needs of the future. Some sort of “social-ism” may help us get to the vision of the Iroquois Nation, to temper our penchant toward technology as the only solution, to end up with a “comfortable” life for all; but the political system itself is only part of the answer. Before progress can begin, we have to cut off war at its roots! Only the peaceful world envisioned by VFP promotes Life.

Renowned psychiatrist, James Hillman, has written: “Only a contrite awakening to Christianity’s hypocrisy in regard to peace and war could release a new dispensation, a new reformation to rid monotheistic religion of its roots in war and the roots of war in monotheistic religion.”[3] (Hillman posits that all of us in the West are psychologically “Christian.”) A world based upon unrestricted global capitalism requires war to sustain itself. How else can fortunes be protected from the less fortunate who want to share in the Earth’s bounty? In October, Hillman addressed the annual Bioneers Conference in Marin County on “Reclaiming the Country from the Nation.”

The revolution I envision is peaceful, but difficult, seemingly impossible, yet necessary, and may have already begun, spiritually. It needs more fire. I believe there is a current, a spirit—running through the world’s common people—that wants to rise up and shout, “Enough!” (Terrorism may be an unfortunate manifestation of it.) The word common is significant, for it leaves out the elite, and that may be the key to the whole program: An essential element for beginning the revolution is destruction of the idea of “eliteness;” i.e., the idea that there are any humans that are superior to any others, or for that matter, that there is any species that is superior to any other! Without this basic understanding, I believe any program toward our salvation will fail.

I was deeply disappointed in the address by John Perkins.[4] After a lucrative career, employed by a ruthless system to exploit third world countries, I would like to have heard an apology from him to the U.S. veterans in his audience who may have been harmed by his presumed “failures” (but not until he had served a prison term for extortion, or worse.) Did he know to whom he was talking? I would like to have heard him say something about Peace to the assembled VFP to show that he knows something about its mission; and I wish he hadn’t preached to us that we should try (like the Rainforest Action Network) to cajole multi-national corporate CEOs who “really want to do the right thing,” instead of protesting to our political parties for a solution. Does he mean Bechtel, Chevron, Lockheed-Martin, Monsanto, and Halliburton? Is he just naïve, or is he keeping his options open for future employment? Aren’t CEOs well paid to do what they are doing? Do they have the power to change direction on their own? Could VFP really convince them to “do the right thing?” No! Conscience is required of them, rather than self-inflation; where there is no conscience, law is required.

Writing about what is required for a sustainable planet and how to achieve it, award-winning Harvard naturalist, E.O. Wilson writes: “The CEOs and governing boards of the largest corporations, supported by government leaders committed to an expanding capital economy, are the commanders of the industrial world. Like princes of old, they can, in the realm of economics at least, rule by fiat. The protesters say: Include us, and while you’re at it, the rest of life.”[5]

The ideas of all these writers are connected, not just by economics and politics, but by spirit. Bio-history shows us that species homo sapiens is hard-wired to want a peaceful and cooperative world. It wishes for a less pressured environment that appreciates the wonders of Life on this planet. It longs for a clean environment that does not destroy life with chemicals, does not disrupt the natural balance of the planet that allowed Life to flourish, and that provided the unadulterated nutrition that has kept Life alive, so far. When will we return to our natural being? Can the world wait any longer, for Peace?

 

n      Jack Russell, Sonoma County Chapter #71

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Mander, Jerry (after Parker.) In the Absence of the Sacred. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1991, p. 237.

[2] Willson, S. Brian, description of workshop in Sow Justice – Reap Peace: Strategies for Moving Beyond War.  Veterans For Peace National Convention. Seattle, Washington. August 10-13, 2006.

[3] Hillman, James. A Terrible Love of War, New York: The Penguin Press, 2004, p. 216

[4] Perkins, John. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2004.

[5] Wilson, Edward O. The Future of Life, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002, p. 188.