Shortly after the occasion of Independence Day, I want to report on going to West Point on June 28, 2001, with six colleagues to raise questions for incoming cadets about the legality and purpose of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
West Point is arguably the most famous and admired US military school. It is also a shrine to soldiers who have died in the United States’ wars. Politicians routinely go there to bathe and sanctify themselves, and their arguments, whatever their virtue, with the blood of soldiers.
West Point’s motto expressed on its web site is “Duty, Honor, Country,” and like all units of the military, it is also about following orders.
But what if the United States’ civilian and military leadership are collectively psychotic, delusional and criminal in pursuing a war or wars, as is the case with Iraq and Afghanistan?
What if the delusional goal of a specific war or wars, is not freedom, independence or protection, but forcing people in other nations to adopt corporately-controlled governments like that of the United States, where the public interest is given lip service, but corporate expansion and high profitability are paramount?
George Andrzejewski, Martha Conte, Gayle Dunkelberger, Nora Freeman, Kwame Madden, Bennett Weiss and I arrived at West Point at 6 AM on the 28th while the nearly full moon was fading out of the hazy, light blue sky.
We came at that hour to be on time to greet nearly 1,400 cadet candidates and their families who would begin arriving at 6:30 AM for Reception Day or R-Day, the day that the cadet candidates are sworn into the Army and when they enter Cadet Basic Training, known as “Beast Barracks.” As the R-Day schedule below indicates, it is a day in which the Army intends to win the loyalty and total support of the cadets’ parents as it immerses their children in military culture and seeks to transform them into Army officers.
We first set up a series of signs on the sidewalk along West Point Highway in downtown Highland Falls, leading into Thayer Gate, West Point’s main entrance. The signs said, in the fashion of Burma Shave signs:
- Questions for Cadets:
- Do Our Wars Violate International Law & Nuremberg?
- Do You Want to Fight to Help Energy & Mineral Companies?
- See www.FreeWestPoint.com (a new website directed at cadets and instructors.)
George Andrzejewski, one of those welcoming cadets and their families to West Point, June 28, 2010. (Photo by Gayle Dunkelberger)
When the signs were in place, Kwame and I drove to West Point’s Stony Lonesome Gate, north of Highland Falls and positioned ourselves with a banner on a grassy triangle where the two entrance roads to the gate join. Cars entering from 9W north and south could easily read the banner, which said:
- Questions for Cadets:
- Do Our Wars Violate International Law?
- Do You Want to Fight for Energy Companies?
- See www. FreeWestPoint.com
Kwami and I found that the predominant response to the banner, by cadets and parents, was studied avoidance, eyes front, no expression. In one car, the man who was driving and the young man in the front passenger seat, looked straight ahead, but woman sitting in back read the banner then turned to talk to the men in the front seat.
There were times when I thought we and our message were invisible until a driver, a man or a woman, lifted a middle finger to us or showed a thumb down. One woman, driving a small SUV with others on board, gave us the most vigorous thumb down I have ever witnessed in my years of protesting the current wars. On two occasions we got a wave of approval.
The cadet candidates, overwhelmingly white and male, looked extremely solemn as they passed, although several grinned at us in defiance and two young men laughed at us.
My colleagues at the Thayer Gate experienced similar responses.
One of the most satisfying moments at the Stony Gate came when three large tour buses filled with what appeared to be cadets or cadet candidates were forced to slow down by traffic entering the gate, thus, making it easier to read the banner. One of the buses stopped for about two minutes next to us and all in the bus had a chance to study the banner.
Two khaki green, Stryker, light-armored vehicles were also caught in this traffic jam and the soldiers driving and riding on them read the banner.
In the course of our picketing, one soldier flashed us the peace sign. Another who said he had been in Afghanistan, when asked what he thought of the mission, said: “I just do what I’m told.”
By 10 AM we had picked up our signs, and we gathered to discuss the day.We felt that if our questions would prompt even one cadet to ask our questions about the wars or to decline to participate in them, our time was well spent.