I’d like to take this opportunity to celebrate the courageous voices of three women in this organization that are so important to what we do.
Colonel Ann Wright served for nearly three decades in the United States Army and Army Reserve. After retiring she continued to serve her country as a diplomat with the US State Department, where she served at embassies in Sierra Leone, Mongolia, Micronesia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Grenada, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan. With deep misgivings of the direction of US foreign policy creeping in for some time, Ann had enough during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. On the eve of the Iraq War, she resigned in a scathing letter to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell over the lies and deception surrounding claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
Since leaving the government, Ann Wright has been an outspoken antiwar activist and is now one of the leading voices of the movement. She was arrested on board the Gaza Freedom Flotilla when it was raided by Israeli commandoes in 2010. She has been arrested in numerous acts of civil disobedience in Washington and around the world, setting a fine example for the rest of us as to what leadership and bravery look like. VFP Chapter 180 was proud to have hosted her in October 2017, and look forward to her return next time she is in the area.
Captain Brittany DeBarros is an officer currently serving in the US Army Reserve. During her active-duty deployment to Afghanistan she witnessed firsthand the strength, resilience, and beauty of the Afghan people, and realized that her commitment to serve the ideals of her country and humanity were not matching up with the everyday realities of our military operations there. Brittany has since joined organizations such as Veterans For Peace and About Face: Veterans Against the War and has been an outspoken in support of causes like the nationally-organized Poor People’s Campaign.
Last year she came under fire for statements she made in support of the cause of peace, while serving in the US military. Regulations prohibit members of the US armed forces from making “political statements” while in uniform. Yet, there are no shortages of service members and leaders in uniform making statements not only supporting, but celebrating war, brutality, and the dehumanization of foreign populations. Why, she wondered can’t a leader make a statement critical of the endless wars we fight and die in, and that celebrates the humanity of the people our military is supposedly sent to protect? It remains to be seen what the consequences of the army’s investigation will be, but what is clear is that in Captain DeBarros we have a true leader–one that embodies the idea that true moral courage is not doing what you are told, no matter what is right. True moral courage means doing what is right, no matter what you are told.
Finally I have to mention the work of another legend in the peace veteran’s peace movement. Susan Schnall served as a nurse in the US Navy in California, treating wounded soldiers and Marines returning from the war in Vietnam during the 1960s. Fed up with seeing the anguish of these young men returning from combat, she began attending antiwar rallies and protests. She eventually landed in trouble for her antiwar activism while serving in the military, but rather than be deterred, she doubled down on speaking truth to power. Having read about US aircraft that dropped propaganda leaflets over Vietnamese civilians, encouraging them to support the US-led war by moving to so-called “protected hamlets” (which were little more than concentration camps), Susan decided to borrow a page from their playbook. In a small private plane, she flew over military bases and US naval ships in the San Francisco Bay area, instead dropping antiwar leaflets in support of the burgeoning GI War Resistance Movement.
For this stunt, she was promptly court martialled, yet continued to attend antiwar rallies in her naval officer’s dress uniform. If senior military leaders could go on television to call for more young lives to be expended in Vietnam, she thought why shouldn’t she appear in public to call for an end to the madness? In 1969, she was convicted by court martial and sentenced to six months at hard labor for her involvement in protesting the American war in Vietnam. Susan Schnall acted in line with her moral convictions and her responsibility to safeguard human life. Today, as a professor of public health in New York, she is active in Veterans For Peace and is especially vocal about the issue of Agent Orange remediation efforts. Her work to protect the health of US and Vietnamese veterans as well as Vietnamese civilians is remarkable.
These are just three women who are central to the work of Veterans For Peace: exposing the true costs of war and militarism, and building a culture of peace. I invite you to read further about the work of VFP and extraordinary individuals like Ann Wright, Brittany DeBarros, Susan Schnall, and countless others. Their work and sacrifice are something we should all be immensely proud of. To them I sincerely say thank you for your service.