Good Veterans and Bad Veterans
By Kevin Young at May 26, 2008
Earlier today the annual National Memorial Day Parade took place in
Of course, the argument that "political" groups have no place in an event like a Memorial Day parade is absurd. Regardless of the intentions of individual participants, such events are highly political in that they invariably promote a certain vision of
Events like today's parade in DC are even more politically-charged when they are sponsored by war profiteers like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, by the government of Kuwait, and by groups like the US Army and the NRA (all of which sponsored this year's DC parade). And when the event's organizers deliberately ban dissenting voices from participating while allowing rabidly pro-war groups like the American Legion (with its slogan of "100 percent Americanism") to take part, the event's message becomes unequivocally supportive of current US foreign policy .
What the communications director of the
The implicit distinction that politicians and the press make between "good" and "bad" veterans is nothing new; in fact, this distinction has been apparent at least since the US began engaging in overseas imperialism. Bad veterans are those who come to recognize the horrors of war and the callous motives of the elites who send common soldiers to kill and be killed. For this reason, the bad veterans are extremely dangerous to elite prerogatives and must be silenced or discredited.
In Dalton Trumbo's classic World War I novel Johnny Got His Gun, a young unsuspecting teenage boy from the
Trumbo's account, though fictional, could be taken as a microcosm of the way antiwar vets have been treated over the past century. The most famous veteran testimony to come out of the
Throughout the current war in
The exclusion of Veterans For Peace from today's parade is the latest example in a long history of official attempts to silence those veterans who question US policies. Why such repression is directed against the bad veterans should be clear: in contrast with many forms of citizen protest, veterans' questioning of warmakers' policies and/or the refusal to fight exerts direct structural pressure on the elites who wage wars by depriving them of the manpower they need to do so. Maintaining control over the military rank-and-file is so crucial that militaristic States have historically been known to take unprecedented measures when this control is threatened. Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero spent three years speaking out against the US-backed Salvadoran dictatorship's repression of workers and peasants, during which time the government could easily have had him killed, but in March 1980 he finally crossed the line when he urged the military rank-and-file to lay down their arms; he was assassinated by a government-sponsored death squad within a matter of hours. The imprisonment and assassination of popular leaders like Eugene Debs (WWI) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (
Supporting veterans' groups like VFP (www.veteransforpeace.org), Iraq Veterans Against the War (www.ivaw.org), and Courage to Resist (www.couragetoresist.org), and doing counter-recruitment work in high schools, colleges, malls, and parks are therefore among the most important efforts to which the antiwar movement can devote its time. Not only do these efforts stand to have enormous personal significance for war resisters and for youth who might otherwise be drawn into the military, they also hold tremendous potential for undermining the ability of Congress and the President to continue waging war in the Middle East, and for limiting our government's ability to maintain an economy based on war and militarism in the future.
 Quoted in "Vets for Peace Booted from National Memorial Day Parade," The Progressive (online),
 See the VFP website: http://www.veteransforpeace.org/Parades.vp.html. According to the site, "Throughout the last few years, a growing number of VFP Chapters are being disqualified from participating in these important traditional events." See also Stephen Manning, "Veterans Peace Group Blocked From Parade," Examiner (
 Quoted in Manning, "Veterans Peace Group Blocked From Parade."
 "Vets for Peace Booted from National Memorial Day Parade."
 Ibid., 234-35 (see chapters xix-xx generally).
 Ron Kovic, Born on the Fourth of July (New York: Pocket Books, 1977). See Part 4, chapter 1.
 Ibid., Part 5, chapter 2, and Part 6, chapter 2.