This reflection by Milwaukee Veterans for Peace Chapter 102 President Paul Moriarity (pictured) appears in the current issue of the Riverwest Currents newspaper and the July newsletter of Peace Action Wisconsin.
On a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in June of 2002 I was dismissed from my final formation in the Wisconsin Army National Guard Armory on Richards Street. I stood at attention for the last time in jeans and a white t-shirt while the commanding officer read off some announcements. I had turned in all of my gear and uniforms. I walked out of the armory with only a couple of unit patches, rank insignia and my ribbons. As I turned left onto Capitol on my way home I felt a real sense of freedom, having finally finished four years of active duty service and three years at Richards Street.
I thought that I was finally finished with the Army, especially after learning in that last formation that the Army was instituting ‘stop loss’ for soldiers close to the end of their contracts. They would have to extend their service time by a year or more. I felt like I had escaped; no one called my name nor said anything to me as I walked out the door. Only the following March, when the US invaded Iraq, did I realize that the build up for that war began much earlier than was let on publicly.
I was thankful as I watched the march to Baghdad on TV that I wasn’t there, but also felt the desire to protect and fight with fellow soldiers. Something I feel shame about now was feeling excitement as Fox News showed me the raw footage of the 25mm cannon of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle firing into a blue jeep that was supposedly threatening the convoy, I’m sure shredding the Iraqi bodies in that vehicle instantly to pieces. I guess in that moment, like for so many of us, watching war on TV was just like another movie. I had confused real destruction of human life with the familiar and comfortable version of ‘death’ we watch on a flat screen every day.
I’ve watched too much of the last 10 years on TV without lifting a finger. The invasion and escalations in Iraq and Afghanistan, governments justifying and lying to wage war, the increased exploitation of the Earth’s resources, financial institutions ruining millions of lives, peoples’ sweat and work disappearing, the dumbing down of education, the growth of joblessness and poverty in our own city and state by free market policies and politicians who have never had the public trust and public benefit in mind. And on TV before all of that….9-11. One cool and brilliantly sunny September morning, eating cereal…phone call…TV on…squinting eyes and pursed lips…scared to move…watching, as the justification for a never ending global war burned…shattered…jumped…crushed…crumbled into the streets.
What is difficult to see in the dust of what we have built, and the purposeful confusions we consume is the dignity we all possess, the humanity we all share, the part in the struggle that all of us have claim to, because all of us have a part and claim to an oppressive system that shapes our thinking and actions. I think overcoming speechlessness, as the author Alice Walker has put it, from all the horrible events of the recent past is a first step to reclaiming our dignity. We must name the struggles and injustices we experience in Milwaukee and around the world. When we name what’s harming us, we can begin to heal and imagine something different.
My small realization since quietly leaving the armory that morning ten years ago is that the Army has, and will never be finished for me. I have a responsibility to work in solidarity with veterans returning home with traumatic experiences, in solidarity with victims of war, to work in solidarity with all of those who are affected by the costs of war, which would be just about all of us and our communities. I’m sure we have all at some time wondered why Milwaukee always feels like it is struggling. The question we need to start with asks where all of our money is going. How is the war economy working for us? Paul Moriarity