“Our role in the antiwar movement is important as a voice of authority to challenge the notion that military funding supports vets,” Maggie Martin emphasized to the FS. She is co-director of About Face: Veterans Against the War (formerly Iraq Veterans Against the War).
She joined the Army directly out of high school and was deployed first to Kuwait, then twice to Iraq. It made her the antiwar organizer she is today.
In the runup to the second Iraq war in 2003, millions of people in the U.S. and around the world protested that it was for imperial control of Mideast oil and marched to stop it.
They did not succeed and the movement collapsed. Gradually, as the U.S. started one war after another, large-scale public protests declined.
But today there’s new life in the antiwar movement, and veterans are leading it. As Martin says, “A few thousand people involved is a lot, but we want a few thousand leaders.”
Opposing multiple wars. About Face, which is made up of post-9/11 vets, is one of several veterans’ organizations opposing U.S. intervention in dozens of countries, as well as domestic militarization of police forces and the Border Patrol.
Other activist groups include Veterans for Peace and Courage to Resist. Veterans for Peace has service members from all eras and their supporters. It works in counter-recruitment, antiwar action and social justice causes.
Courage to Resist is made up of veterans and community members who focus on supporting active-duty military war resisters.
On Veterans Day 2018, About Face disrupted an event where Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden awarded the Liberty Medal to George W. Bush for his so-called “commitment to veterans.” The protesters opposed “a rewriting of history that both erases the needless destruction and loss of life and the fact that lies were told to push us into wars that continue to this day.”
As far as commitment to former service members goes, in fact, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) under G.W. Bush undercounted injured service members by two thirds, ignoring those not hurt in direct combat. His administration buried the fact that because of inadequate funding veterans faced ever increasing wait times for care and that the VA was fraudulently covering it up. This scandal only surfaced years later.
These groups are not afraid of controversial positions. After President Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria in December 2018, both Veterans for Peace and About Face issued statements supporting the pullout. And they criticized the U.S. record, including the arming of non-ISIS Islamist groups and horrific bombings. Both groups also demanded the U.S. immediately withdraw from Afghanistan and Yemen.
About Face also wanted diplomacy to ensure that U.S. withdrawal “is not an opening for the Turkish government to devastate Kurdish communities in northern Syria” and called for accepting more Syrian refugees and overturning the ban on Muslim immigration.
Antiwar groups especially expose war profiteers. Maggie Martin says, “About Face stands against the corrupt military industry that makes the bulk of its profits from government contracts. Their CEOs make $20 million-a-year salaries funded by the taxpayers. They have massive ties to politicians. And they determine that in foreign and domestic policies, war will be the tool of choice.”
Robert Gumbs, an African-American member of Veterans for Peace, agrees. He had a long career in the military and worked at the Pentagon. He observes, “The military contractors strut around like they own the place.”
Work for social justice. Today’s veteran activists do much more than fight perpetual war.
They defend whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, who help to ensure that the truth about U.S. foreign policy gets to the public.
Vets organize against wrongful use of troops at the U.S. border and militarization of police. In December, About Face members went to the U.S.-Mexico border to take part in civil disobedience. They protested deployment of the military by President Trump in response to the refugee caravan from Central America and demanded just treatment for asylum-seekers.
Veterans for Peace is organizing in Mexico on behalf of the caravanistas. Courage to Resist issued a call to the troops on the border to resist orders to perform domestic law enforcement. Such orders are illegal for the military.
Another part of the struggle is for veterans’ own rights. This includes everything from demanding accessible health care, especially mental health services, to fighting cuts in benefits and attempts to privatize the VA medical system.
Martin observes, “About Face has powerful women.” They consciously work to build women’s leadership. Members press themselves to overcome the chauvinism taught in the military. She says, “Some other groups try to address these issues, but many do not.”
There are also efforts to bring deported veterans back home. In the early 2000s, immigrants who served were promised a fast track to citizenship. Instead many have been deported, often to countries they do not know. Unified U.S. Deported Veterans fights for a return to the U.S. and citizenship for hundreds of honorably discharged members of the military.
Many veterans feel the need to serve the community. An outstanding example of doing this was their outpouring of support for the Standing Rock Sioux struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline. In November 2016, Veterans Stand for Standing Rock formed and put out a call to defend the demonstrators. Some 2,000 veterans responded despite the bitter winter cold.
About Face and Veterans for Peace in particular see themselves as interconnected with other social change movements. About Face has joined several coalitions and works for racial and economic justice.
Veterans for Peace launched a Veterans Challenge Islamophobia campaign to oppose racism and hostility toward the Muslim community.
In 2018, the U.S. waged wars in seven countries. A majority of Americans oppose this country’s permanent warfare and domestic militarization.
Veterans have seen the war machine up close, and they are leading the way in organizing resistance and collaborating with other movements for fundamental change.