Why pick a military town as the site for an antiwar rally? As a veteran and a resident of Fayetteville, N.C. near Ft. Bragg, I can think of at least 50 reasons. Each of those reasons has a name and each were members of our community prior to their deaths in Iraq.
Some may argue that voicing opposition to war in a military town is somehow disrespectful. Tell that to the military families and veterans from many wars, including the current one, who plan to gather here on March 19, the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Like the majority of Americans, we now reject the reasons used to justify the war and many of us feel that the US government failed to successfully plan for what has happened. That lack of planning affects our communities more so than most.
Antiwar activism by veterans has been largely forgotten or downplayed. During the recent election, John Kerry talked much at length about his time in Vietnam. It wasn't his service there that brought him to the national spotlight. It was his membership in Vietnam Veterans Against the War and his memorable testimony before Congress. During the Vietnam War a GI-led demonstration in a park in Fayetteville drew 4000 people, many of them servicemen. On the first anniversary of the war last year, the park saw another demonstration, the town's largest action for peace in nearly 35 years. For three hours groups like Military Families Speak Out and Veterans for Peace condemned the senseless waste in Iraq.
Former North Carolina-based Marine, Michael Hoffman, recently announced that the organization he co-founded, Iraq Veterans Against the War, plans to meet in Fayetteville on March 20, the day after the rally. Formed in the summer of 2004, the group is rapidly adding new members, including some who served with the 82nd Airborne. That unit and others based at Ft. Bragg produced the 20,000 Iraq vets in the local community. Hoffman hopes to add a few of them to IVAW’s swelling ranks.
Military Families Speak Out, an organization of people who are opposed to war in Iraq and who have relatives or loved ones in the military formed in 2003. Its members are traveling from all over the country to be at the rally. Several members of Gold Star Families for Peace composed solely of those who have lost loved ones in the war are scheduled to speak. Local officials sponsor billboards proclaiming North Carolina to be "America’s Most Military Friendly State". These events will reflect that sentiment in a way few would have imagined.
Protesting the war in Iraq is not a new activity in Fayetteville. A group of local of veterans, military wives and their community supporters conducts occasional vigils in the center of town and has since the day the U.S. invaded. The early vigils met with catcalls. As the disaster in Iraq became evident, derision subsided and vocal support emerged.
Those local activists supported Army paratrooper Jeremy Hinzman who left Ft. Bragg for Canada, applying for status as a refugee on the grounds that he was being forced to participate in an illegal war. He was denied conscientious objector status while serving in Afghanistan after telling the review board that he would defend his squad were it to be attacked at the base. The military refused to allow him to serve as a medic, instead ordering him to continue as a rifleman.
The national director of Veterans for Peace, Michael McPhearson, is a Fayetteville native. He served as a field artillery officer in the first Gulf War. He has a son stationed at Ft. Campbell Army base in Kentucky. He will speak at the March 19 rally, just as he did last year. McPhearson’s mother sometimes stands with others at the vigils behind a handwritten wall that now contains the 1483 names of American servicemen dead in Iraq.
We are tired of the ubiquitous yellow ribbon magnets that command us to "Support Our Troops." To those of us living in this military town, real support for the troops means Bring Them Home Now!