On April 29, in a packed Monroe County Library meeting room, Veterans for Peace President Mike Ferner gave a lecture titled "Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan."
Ferner, who has been to Iraq twice, once before the 2003 U.S. invasion and once afterward, said, "I am basing much of my statements on the 'Beyond Vietnam' speech which Martin Luther King gave at the Riverside Church in April 1967. It is a sad commentary on our times that much of what King spoke is still true today."
Ferner, who lives in Toledo, was brought to Bloomington by the Bloomington Peace Action Coalition (BPAC), the Bloomington branch of the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom and peace activist and Bloomington Alternative contributor Linda Greene.
Ferner reiterated parts of King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech, including his statement, "The United States is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world" and that if activists rallied to stop war there would be an endless succession of ministers and leaders to fight with them. But there would always be a "next war" if all we do is organize to stop the present one.
Ferner said that King's observation in "Beyond Vietnam" that it would be better for those who oppose war to restructure society so that peace would be the objective remains true today.
"A soldier quickly finds out in the field that the stated objective of the war and the reality of the war actions, are two very different things." - Mike Ferner, Veterans for Peace
"Peace with justice," he said, "for without justice there will be no peace."
Ferner pointed out how the United States is an empire and how wars are carried out by the U.S. military to protect U.S. corporate interests.
"A soldier quickly finds out in the field that the stated objective of the war and the reality of the war actions, are two very different things," he said.
Ferner also spoke of how the U.S. military has a $5 billion annual budget for recruiting and that the people must take control of the centers of information (schools, newspapers, radio and television, etc.) and make sure that true information is presented to the population.
In the question-and-answer period that followed the lecture, Ferner described how, as a Navy corpsman who worked in military hospitals treating wounded veterans during the Vietnam War, he saw first-hand the human cost of war. Several other veterans attending the event also spoke and gave reasons why they work for peace.
Ferner said the goal of his presentation was to get everyone who attended involved in a town hall discussion.
Long-time Bloomington Peace activist Rita Lichtenberg said "everything is connected," and others agreed.
One veteran pointed out the hypocrisy of saying that "we won the war."
"Peace with justice, for without justice there will be no peace."- Mike Ferner, Veterans for Peace
"If I lose my heath, I can lose my job," he said. "And yet we say we won World War II against Germany. Germany has universal health care, why don't we?"
Elsa Marston brought up a recent Thomas Friedman column in the New York Times and pointed out the racism in his piece.
"Until we stop demonizing others with the intention of making ourselves fear them so much that we're willing to attack them first, we will never achieve peace," she said.
Another speaker pointed out that Martin Luther King is most known for his civil rights work and that racism creates the attitude that "others" are somehow lesser human beings, justifying inhuman actions against them.
Ferner was asked if he agreed with King that "the arc of history is long, but it curves toward justice." He replied, "Yes, I do agree with that statement. I don't think I could continue my activism unless I believed in the inherent goodness of mankind."
Ferner, who posts regular commentaries on his blog, ended the meeting by congratulating the vibrancy of the Bloomington peace movement and the large attendance at his presentation.
"Nationwide, we are hearing reports that the peace movement is losing steam with President Obama being elected," he said. "It is said that people are burning out and getting disillusioned. However, this gathering is yet one more example that we are still gathering and organizing."
Ferner related how his daughter had said to him, "I guess Iraq is my generation's war, just like Vietnam was your generation's war."
"Let's change the world so that future generations will not have 'their' war," he said, as he concluded the event. "Let us all work for peace."
Dave Stewart can be reached at email@example.com.