Yesterday, a friend asked me what I thought of the participation of veterans in the events at the Capital Building in Washington, D.C. this past week beginning on January 6. He knows I am a veteran of the Vietnam war wounded in combat and that I was also active in the anti-war movement upon being discharged from the Marine Corps in 1969. He felt that made my opinion valuable. Maybe it does, or maybe not so much. But it is also worth a disclaimer, hence the title of this post.
What I write after this paragraph is my opinion. It may contain truth, but life is a big picture, a panoramic movie screen. It’s complex and nuanced and comprised of almost as many realities as individuals. That is my way of saying I don’t know everything and don’t pretend to understand all the intricate motivations that drove veterans into their actions.
First, let me interject something here. I’m bothered by comparisons of this event to Black Lives Matter and Antifa protests the past summer. Yes, looting and violence occurred during them. It has on the periphery of every major protest in this country that I know of, including when Indiana University fired Bobby Knight and when the University of Kentucky won its last NCAA championship. But the looters and the criminals this summer comprised a very tiny percentage of the whole, were most always outside the movements themselves, and some have been proven to be right-wing agitators.
More importantly, these protests and marches were held to correct injustice and discrimination, as were the civil rights and antiwar protests of the sixties. They were not initiated with violence in mind and with a desire to create an injustice, the overturning of a legal and proper democratic election.
The fact that Donald Trump lost the presidential election by more than seven million votes is not an opinion. It’s the unavoidable fucking truth. Let’s not compare apples to oranges or Jesus to Charley Manson.
That said, there were two groups of veterans active in D.C. during and immediately after the violent insurrection on January 6, 2021. One group of veterans, along with other deranged and mostly white people, intended malice and an undermining of the American government simply because they didn’t get their way in the recent election.
You don’t come, as one veteran did, with 500 rounds of ammo, several Molotov cocktails, and two pipe bombs to peacefully protest anything. You come to violently bend everyone else to your will. You come to kill, maim, and torture. Yes, that happens in wars every day, but read the soldier’s oath. When it happens, a soldier is supposed to be engaged in defending his government, not destroying it.
“Let’s not compare apples to oranges
or Jesus to Charley Manson.”
And, yes, you can peacefully protest as a veteran after the fact if you feel betrayed by the mission itself. Thousands of us did upon returning from an unjust war in Vietnam and thousands have continued in voicing their concerns in America’s pre-emptive wars to protect corporate interests in third world countries. I know because I traveled to D.C. myself in 2008 to march with Veterans for Peace to end the war in Iraq, one that we knew by then was being fought under false pretenses. No one brought any weapons, and nothing was damaged. We never broke formation. We made our voices heard and left.
This was not that on January 6th. If you’re honest and halfway sane, you know that. As a Marine my motto was and is “Semper Fidelis” always faithful to my oath, to my country, to the Constitution and to Marine Corps values—Honor, Courage, Commitment. That faithfulness also dictates a responsibility to criticize the humans who comprise the government and hold them legally accountable for their actions. What we, as veterans, remain faithful to are the ideals that create this government, not demagogues who seek to pervert those ideals for personal benefit.
The other motto that I tried to live by as a non-commissioned officer in combat was also from the Latin “Ductus Exemplo” or lead by example.
I took my son to that anti-war march in D.C. because I wanted him to see one of the tools our democracy gives us to help correct it when politicians lead it astray for personal agendas. Used correctly and peacefully, protest is a strong and viable means for change—see Mahatma Gandhi, see Martin Luther King. Again, this was not that.
Wiping shit on hallowed walls, killing police officers, breaking windows, threatening to hang a vice-president, and assaulting the very bedrock symbols of our nation in a mob riot because your favorite white guy didn’t win a legal election is actually the opposite of a legitimate protest.
The word for this is also treason. I repeat, veterans involved in the insurrection of January 6th betrayed their solemn oath to this nation.
On January 7th another group of veterans made themselves known in and around the Capital Building. These vets spent the day cleaning up trash, fixing broken things, and helping to restore order to a damaged democracy. I can say without hesitation that these are the brothers-in-arms whose company I prefer and who exhibit that quality of Ductus Exemplo that is so needed now in our government and our country.
Will I stop my activism personally because of the stench and stain left by riotous fools on the ideals that I once fought and bled for more than fifty years ago? Will I stop criticizing with words and with my vote those corrupt and self-serving politicians who betray the same ideals as these deluded rioters? No.
My last venture into peaceful activity came in 2016. I was 68 years old and drove over a thousand miles to link arms peacefully with the Great Sioux Nation at Standing Rock reservation. Yes, there was violence there. People long abused by the politicians and corporations were attempting to stop a dangerous oil pipeline. Its only existence was for more profit from foreign buyers. However, the violence came from local law enforcement thugs and corporate mercenaries as they sprayed Native Americans with water cannons in sub-zero weather, shot them with rubber bullets, and crippled them with flash grenades while they stood in line quietly praying to their ancestors for guidance. After years of peaceful protests and sacrifice and after years of legal court battles, the Dakota Access pipeline was shut done.
I’m getting too old and physically damaged for that type of action now, but as long as my mind works, I will continue on the front lines figuratively, if not literally. But I will act in accordance with my values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment and remember that my actions should always be in harmony with the goal of maintaining the ideals that so many of my brothers have died to protect.