U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice - Rome Italy anti-war demonstration in Rome

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Vigil at Palazzo Chigi with Articolo 11
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International Day of Protest
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March 18, 2006 Rome, Italy
Soldiers Against War

Veterans and Military Family Representatives Speak Out Against War

On the morning of March 18, 2006, just hours before the national anti-war demonstration in Rome, representatives of veterans' groups as well as military families spoke out against war at an event organized by Un ponte per… Representatives from the U.S., the U.K., Israel, Palestine and Italy told their stories to a full house at the Rome Province.

Phil Rushton, author of the book "Riportiamoli a casa", who served as moderator, introduced the session and explained the reasons behind it, including the desire to build and expand similar movements in Italy.

The first speaker was 24 year old Joseph Wood, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War who served 7 month tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He joined the army in 2000 at the age of 18, while still in high school because he needed money for college. But by his own admission, that wasn't the only reason he joined. He also had a desire to serve his country.

Joseph hated every minute of being in the military, though now looks back on it as an important part of his life. He left for Afghanistan without knowing much about politics or U.S. foreign policy. He saw the effects first hand, though still believed the military action in Afghanistan was necessary.

After returning home he then left for Iraq, Fallujah to be exact, in August of 2003, where he would remain until March 2004. In Fallujah, his life changed. He met two documentary filmmakers, Garrett Scott and Ian Olds, who were making a film, Occupation: Dreamland, on soldiers at the front as well as journalist Christian Parenti of The Nation. Joseph was one of the soldiers in the film, and this experience of expressing his opinions and ideas on camera helped clear up the confusion that had reigned in his mind.

Joseph considers himself very lucky. He was given a support role during his tour in Iraq, and therefore less dangerous, he got out before the April attacks on Fallujah and he met the right people, without whom "I probably wouldn't be here today."

He has therefore decided to put his experience to use, giving a voice to the soldiers still in Iraq who don't want to be there, and "have a lot to say but can't speak for themselves. We have to be their voice."

The next two speakers were Ory Yossur of Israel and Raed Al-Haddar of Palestine, both members of the newly formed organization Combatants for Peace. The organization was created jointly by Israeli soldiers and Palestinians who have decided to put down their weapons and work together for peace.

Ory explained the importance of refusing to serve in the military in Israel, where there is compulsory service from the age of 18 to 21. Afterwards, in theory, there is a requirement to serve in the reserves, however in practice it is very easy to get out of this service. Therefore, those who refuse to serve rather than simply finding a way out are doing so to take a stand against the violence. Both Ory and Raed spoke of the process through which they realized that the violence would never end if they continued on the same path, that Palestine would never become a state and Israel would never be safe. They both found the answer in working together for peace.

The organization Combatants for Peace will have a major media launch on April 10, 2006.

Next we heard from Lou Plummer of Military Families Speak Out, an organization comprising some 3000 families of military personnel. Lou lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina just outside Fort Bragg, a major military base and of late a location for anti-war demonstrations. Lou had been actively protesting the war when his son Drew, who was serving in the navy, came home on leave before shipping out to Iraq. The two hadn't seen each other for 6 months; so Drew agreed to go to a scheduled anti-war protest, more to spend time with his father than participate in the protest.

During the march he was interviewed by a journalist from Associated Press. When asked about his thoughts on the war he replied that it was probably about money and power, but he had signed up to serve his country and planned to fulfill that obligation. When word made it to his commanders, Drew was charged with disloyalty and demoted. It was then that he realized something wasn't quite right with the military. He also spent some time in jail for refusing to serve. Drew completed his service and left the military one year ago.

As Lou explained, Military Families Speak Out serves to give a platform for those who wish to take as stand as well as a support network for spouses and parents, the latter being the most willing to speak out. They work to influence public opinion through speaking engagements and op-ed pieces in newspapers. Lou, himself a veteran and from a family of veterans going back two generations, also works with Veterans for Peace.

The last speaker was Yonathan Shapira, an Israeli helicopter pilot and one of the first signatories of the famous Israeli Pilots' Letter, refusing to "take part in the attacks of the air force in concentrations of civilian population." For the most part Yonathan flew rescue missions evacuating Israeli soldiers and civilian victims as well as transport of commando forces. He apologized for his English (which was actually quite good), but said that he had finally learned to say "No."

As with the other speakers, it was a long process for Yonathan to arrive at initiating and signing the letter. He began to see not only the policy of assassination missions as illegal and immoral as well as ineffective at fighting terrorism, but also started to question to occupation policies of the Israeli government. When the decision was decided to go public with the letter, the pilots all made it very clear that they were willing to risk their lives to serve their country but refused the idea that all Palestinians are guilty until proven innocent and that bombing from high above would solve the problem.

All of the speakers were excellent communicators, each speaking directly from the heart and telling their stories. They had all taken risks and turned dramatic situations around in order to help others. It was an excellent opportunity for members of the peace movement and the public at large to get to know the soldiers and their families.

Stephanie Westbrook

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U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice - Rome, Italy