I heard Ron Kovic of “Born on the 4th of July” fame speak last night. Kovic, who lost use of his legs in combat in Vietnam, helped found Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), and has been an peace activist ever since. VVAW was a hugely important group. As Hunter Thompson once pointed out, while cops may have enjoyed cracking hippie skulls at demonstrations, they had no stomach at all for attacking Viet Vets in wheelchairs.
He spoke to about thirty of us at an Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) organizing meeting. ICUJP is a Los Angeles coalition of about 80 mostly faith-based organizations doing serious peace organizing. There were Quakers, several ministers, a rabbi, and two nuns present, as well as people like me, from secular groups. One retired minister (whose name escapes me) has been organizing for peace since 1949 and did federal time for refusal to go to Korea. In other words, these are serious long-time activists.
Kovic talked about his fury and hatred while lying in the hospital realizing he would never walk again. He regretted some of his early activist statements, when he attacked people and didn’t care if he hurt them – because, he said, he’d been so badly hurt himself. Then he had An Experience, and came to understand that nonviolence is the only way, and the best way.
The core of his speech is as follows. War solves nothing. We as a country already have far too many mangled, disabled, homeless Viet and Gulf war vets, yet now our leaders wish to have another lunatic war? If we wish to stop this war, we must do it on our own. Our elected representatives will be of little help. They are part of the problem.
We are living in dangerous times, among the most dangerous ever in this country. However, with danger comes opportunity. It’s time to speak out, to organize against insane wars with the simultaneous ongoing erosion of basic civil rights. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to take action and make a difference. What happens in the coming months and years will be talked about for decades to come. This moment in history is why we are here. A rebirth is coming to the US, and we who choose to can help make it happen.
Visionary? Yes! Hopeful? Absolutely! He is a genuine man of peace.
PS Anyone in LA interested in peace organizing should link up with ICUJP. They welcome all.