U.S. Navy Veteran Preaches Peace
Many countries around the world have seen the devastation caused by unmanned drone strikes from the United States. Although they decrease the number of troops being sent into an area, these drones often leave paths of destruction and death in their wake as many innocent civilians lose their homes and families. At the same time, however, a wave of sympathy for these nations is coming from the U.S. through Veterans for Peace (VFP) and its president, Leah Bolger.
On Thursday, Oct. 11, Bolger spoke before an audience of veterans and students alike as part of the Burlington Center for Peace and Justice’s ongoing lecture series called “The Cost of War.” Bolger talked primarily on the immorality and illegality of these drone strikes against innocent civilians while, at the same time, stressing the importance for students to step outside of their comfort zone to enact real change.
Bolger served in the U.S. Navy from 1980 to 2000 and retired as a commander after serving tours throughout countries such as Iceland, Japan, and Tunisia. In 2004, she founded a new chapter of the VFP after seeing the “Eyes Wide Open” museum exhibit in Illinois; wherein, each dead soldier and civilian in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars is represented by a pair of boots.
“I just had a really visceral reaction to that exhibit and how the boots humanized the numbers of deaths, with the piles of soldier and civilian shoes,” Bolger said. “I originally joined the military because I needed a job. I was naive about what our country had done in the past.”
Bolger had recently spoken to the Congressional Joint Deficit Reduction Committee on how the increased spending on wars and the military industry is putting a drain on our economy. However, because she had spoken out of turn and was not a member of the Congressional Committee, she was forced out by security. Bolger has been arrested several times for acts of civil disobedience.
Many members of the VFP agree that the diminishing of civil liberties within the United States is among the reasons why justice and peace are difficult to attain. Dave Ross, a member of the Vermont chapter of the VFP, expressed great distaste with the lax regulations extended to military industry on what they can do to U.S. citizens.
“The government came down on our right to assemble and discuss these things: with the movements at Freedom Plaza, Wall Street and San Francisco,” Ross said. “If you look at the acts of search and seizure permitted by the National Defense Authorization Act and other anti-terrorist laws, it’s gotten to a point where we don’t have much of a constitution anymore. I feel as though I’m a stateless man.”
The parts of the NDAA that Ross referred to are related to sections 1021 (a) and (b) of the document which do state that Congress has the right to detain “a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States.” This part of the document, indeed, can be utilized on any person, foreign or domestic. The person will be subjected to “detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.”
Laurie Gagne, director of Peace and Justice at St. Michael’s and one of the coordinators for Bolger’s talk, was very pleased with how receptive students have been towards the speakers chosen by the Burlington Peace and Justice Center.
“After the Colman McCarthy speech, a number of students told me that they thought there should be a course in Peace and Justice which students should be required to take in order to graduate,” Gagne said. “Needless to say, that warmed my heart.”
Indeed, many students have embraced Peace and Justice as a good field of study, but two students decided to take it a step further and became Peace and Justice majors. Juniors Trevor Madore and Amanda Sanderson helped design different special major programs within the Peace and Justice Department. Madore declared his major as a sophomore, in addition to studying political science.
“I felt peace studies need to coincide with political science studies,” Madore said. “The goal of government is to create peace for its people and the countries it has relations with. This is, obviously, not the case in many areas, especially the United States, but it is ideal.”
Madore is one of many students who have strong apprehensions to new types of modern warfare imposed by the U.S. government that Bolger discussed.
“To think that President Obama was the person to call for these drone strikes is even more disturbing,” Madore said. “He had the audacity to accept the Nobel Peace Prize then turn around and be a catalyst for robotic warfare.”
Warfare and military industry are controversial topics in U.S. society today, but groups such as Veterans for Peace exist to provide an opposing opinion to war through people who have experienced it firsthand.