Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

My Photo
Name:
Location: Bath, Maine, United States

Thursday, June 01, 2006

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN


I am writing from Titusville, Florida. My partner Mary Beth and I arrived here today, flying into Jacksonville and paying a quick visit to our long-time dear friend Peg McIntire in St. Augustine. Peg is 94 years old and will introduce me on Saturday evening in Gainesville when I receive an award from the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice (FCPJ). I worked for the FCPJ for 15 years and it was there that I became involved in organizing around space issues.

From St. Augustine we drove further south to Titusville where my mother lives. We took mom out to dinner at a local restaurant overlooking the Indian River. Just across the river from our dinner we could see NASA's vehicle assembly building where the space shuttle is prepared for each mission.

I told mom and Mary Beth a story about my first big space event back in the early 1980's. I organized a space conference for the FCPJ and we had a Russian cosmonaut and U.S. astronaut Edgar Mitchell as speakers for that event. It was the first time that a Russian and U.S. space traveler had ever been together on the same stage. They both came to speak out against weapons in space.

I had called NASA and asked if the cosmonaut could get a tour of their facility. At this time we were still in the midst of the Cold War with the former Soviet Union so this was a big deal. NASA invited me to bring the cosmonaut to the vehicle assembly building for a tour. As we entered the huge building, with a shuttle standing on end inside, the workers all stopped what they were doing and watched us as we were shown around the complex. It must have been quite a site to see the Russian and the peacenick getting the tour.

And today we now hear that NASA is reassuring people that the next shuttle launch will be only in "minimal" danger due to orbiting space debris that could impact and destroy the shuttle. Just as we face global warming due to earthly pollution, we also face the problem of pollution of space due to our thoughtless use of space.

As I retrace my footsteps during this 10 day trip to Florida I will see many old friends who helped build the momentum that launched the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. The issues are more important than ever.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

MEMORIAL DAY PARADE FLOAT


WE WILL REMEMBER THE ATROCITIES


Yesterday was the annual Memorial Day parade in the town of Brunswick where I live. The theme of this year’s parade was Vietnam. Our Maine Veterans for Peace (VfP) chapter, for the third straight year, was in the parade. This year we hired a professional float maker to build a float that honored Hugh Thompson, the helicopter pilot in Vietnam who stopped the slaughter at My Lai.

On March 16, 1968, while flying a recon mission in his helicopter, Chief Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, landed at My Lai, coming upon a ghastly scene of dead, dying, and horribly maimed bodies.

Charlie Company, under the command of Lt. William Calley, did a sweep of the My Lai village and found no Viet Cong anywhere around. Though not a shot was fired at Charlie Company, the U.S. soldiers went on a rampage, gunning down old men, women, children, even babies. Families huddling together for safety in huts or bunkers were shown no mercy, dragged out, shot, their bodies thrown in ditches. Within three hours, some 500 Vietnamese were killed in cold blood.

Outraged, Hugh Thompson put this chopper down in direct line of fire between the U.S. troops and wounded villagers, and told his crew to train the copter’s M60 heavy machine guns on the soldiers and to “open up on them” if they again fired at the civilians. Thompson was able to rescue about one dozen people to safety.

For all his heroism, Hugh Thompson was shunned for years by fellow soldiers, received death threats, and was told by a congressman that he was the only American who should be punished over My Lai. Thirty years would pass before Thompson would gain some recognition for his act of bravery. He died at the age of 62 on January 6, 2006.

As our VfP chapter prepared for the Memorial Day parade we were quite aware of the breaking story in recent days from Iraq about the U.S. massacre at Haditha. On November 19, 2005 Marines allegedly killed 24 unarmed civilians in a 3-5 hour rampage. One victim was a 76-year-old amputee in a wheelchair holding a Koran. A mother and a child bent over as if in prayer were also among the fallen.

A high-level Marine investigation is now underway but, according to Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), there appears to have been an effort to cover up the incident. “It goes right up the chain of command,” Murtha says.

Haditha is the tip of the iceberg in Bush’s illegal war on Iraq. No media has yet documented the U.S. destruction of the entire city of Fallujah. Killings of innocent Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops, reported daily by the Iraqi people, are never taken seriously by the mainstream media. In the case of Haditha there were pictures taken by U.S. troops of the war crimes that have helped provide evidence to bring the story to light.

These kind of atrocities have been going on ever since the U.S. military set out to create the empire. The slaughter of innocent people happened all across America as the Native people were systematically eliminated. Wounded Knee in South Dakota is just one well known episode of U.S. genocide of Indian people. In Korea, Vietnam, Panama and now Iraq it is the same story – over and over again.

“America in the view of many Iraqis has no credibility. We do not believe what they say is correct,” says one Iraqi tribal leader. “U.S. troops are very well-trained and when they shoot, it isn’t random but due to an order to kill Iraqis. People say they are the killers.”

Yesterday as we paraded through Topsham and Brunswick, Maine people along the parade route were forced to confront more than the normal glorification of war that these Memorial Day parades represent. The boy and girl scouts, beauty queens, high school bands, pigs and cows, antique cars, dancing cartoon characters, marching soldiers carrying flags and rifles…..... all the things of militarism, materialism and diversion from reality were in the parade.

But there for one brief moment the VfP float was a reminder. Our group passed out 1,000 flyers through the crowd telling the story of My Lai and Hugh Thompson. At the end of our large VfP delegation was our banner that read “Abolish War.” We will remember. America can run but cannot hide from its past. The ghosts remain with the living.

(Parts of this report were excerpted from VfP flyer and from an article called "The Haditha Massacre" by Marjorie Cohn)