Dan Falcone: Can you tell me about Veterans for Peace in general and provide the readers some background information on the organization and how you became involved and interested in it?
John Grant: Veterans For Peace was established in 1985 and it is for all veterans from all wars and peace time. I joined in 1985, so I’ve been in it for a while and have many good friends in the organization that I see at national conventions around the country I often attend, usually in August. VFP is structured in local chapters and at-large members. We have a chapter in Philadelphia that meets monthly. The chapter is a bit in the doldrums right now; but then things happen and it perks up. Peace is an on-going struggle that never lets up. Militarism is much more successful.
What are your thoughts on our educational system and how they instruct students on the realities or consequences of war?
I am quite a critic of our educational system, which I believe avoids the idea of teaching critical thinking. That said, there are many wonderful teachers who do teach how to think, but not many.
World War II veteran Bernie Friel was a dear friend of mine and often spoke with my students as a guest speaker. Do you ever visit classrooms and give talks to students? What is the structure of your talk and what do you share with them?
I too, was a friend of Bernie’s. I met him during a year VFP stood across the street in West Chester opposite loudmouth, right-wing flag-wavers – and others gung-ho on the Iraq War. We went out there to help the local peace activists stand up to these obnoxious people. Bernie was a fine man, great to chat with.
I speak in schools when asked. A friend who was a wounded combat Marine and I sometimes speak together. I give the history of the war and he tells about being wounded and two men dying trying to save his life – which they did. He spent a year working in Vietnam in 2001-2002, and I did a film on him there. As for me, I talk about militarism and history and the god-awful mess we’re in in places like Iraq. I made two trips to Baghdad in 2003 and 2004. You can see the sorts of things I write about at This Can’t Be Happening. I can fashion my speaking in a number of ways. I do an hour on radio on Radio Free Kansas, a show run by a friend. I like an audience to ask questions or discuss things.
General Smedley Butler, a heroic figure in my view, hailed from Newton Square, PA. He seems to be downplayed in local and national history. What can you say about Butler and his work?
I’ve done a bit of research on Butler and have several ideas about a novel or screenplay about him. I think his life is an amazing lesson for Americans to consider – especially in these times. He also led quite an exciting and entertaining life. He was critical of US imperial militarism, so I love to talk about Smedley Butler.
How has the military changed in the era of Obama and how do you compare the foreign policies of Bush to Obama?
President Obama is a good man with good instincts and a rather unique president – i.e. he is half African, half Irish-American. His father was a Muslim socialist in Kenya, a British colony and he was raised by a stepfather for a time in Jakarta, Indonesia, who taught him how to make it on the street with other kids. His step-father’s family suffered under the oppression of the Dutch.
So he was dealing with Asians on the street at about the time his first opponent, John McCain, was bombing Asians from the air – very different experiences. The Right hates him; they understand how really different he is to be sitting in the White House. That said, one does not become president of the US without avoiding the necessary corruption. In some ways, Obama has been worse than Bush – in the realm of surveillance and war-on-terror issues.
The military has changed as the freaky state of the world has evolved post 9/11 and as result of debacles like Iraq, which has led directly to the rise of ISIS. Our military’s mission is to protect American Exceptionalism as the world is changing in profound ways thanks to rapidly rising technological change, social media, globalization and cyber space. I see the changes we’re going through as a sort of “synthesis of the medieval world” vs. the “modern nation state era.” Corporate globalization, cyberspace and the rise of things like ISIS point to this in my view. National borders mean less.
Our military has evolved out of a state of post-WWII nationalism and imperialism and is not very deeply entrenched beyond democratic political control. The NSA is scared and its capacity to watch us grows greater each year; the rise of surveillance technology is increasing in magnitude. China, India, Brazil, and Russia – everyone is capitalistic now. Given such a changing and confusing mess, and the dangerous conditions it implies, the peace movement has become impotent. The anti-militarist left has to figure out new ways to address it. The world is quite a challenge for everyone these days. The old rules no longer apply.
Do you often find resistance in the locality from Tea Party Patriots and right-leaning members of the society who do not fully understand the horrors of war?
I mentioned the year we took on the “patriots” in West Chester. I’m not sure that the right doesn’t understand the “horrors of war” as much as they have a lot more to lose than the left, which has been pigeon-holed. I developed a continuum to discuss this. On one end is “vengeance” and on the other is “forgiveness.” Loosely, the right understands much, but through a dangerous impulse toward vengeance, while the left leans toward forgiveness, not out of weakness or cowardice, but to move on with wisdom and historic awareness. The left does not get pulled into the abyss of violence.
Of course, forgiveness is easily ridiculed and violence is very effective. Just look at what ISIS has been able to do. People like Bill O’Reilly are now literally calling for religious “Holy War.” We live in very scary times.
I consider Veterans for Peace to be truly heroic. I often worry however about their lose/lose proposition of take say an area like Chester County, where Romney won a majority. The dilemma for me is this: conservatives view veterans that criticize war efforts as “traitors,” and other activists that did not serve as “cowards.” The propaganda mill is thick. What are your thoughts on this perception?
I see power trumping truth as a general rule in our culture, at least in the short run when emotions are volatile. In the end, after the smoke has cleared, chances are good truth will win. Propaganda recognizes this and is a way of life in our culture dominated by advertising and marketing; that is, the public relations and the sales pitch of war.
We are addicted to cinematic special effects to the point simple reality is not enough. To me, this has become our tragic flaw and we no longer are able to “know ourselves.” We believe the bullshit – in the sense Harry Frankfurter, chair of philosophy at Princeton meant it in his little book On Bullshit: There’s lying and there’s bullshit. Those employing the former know the truth they are giving the falsehoods about. Bull-shitters don’t care what the truth is; they are all about power. Our culture is seriously saturated with this.