One of the most inspiring events thus far at the Veterans For Peace National Convention underway in Miami was a presentation on Thursday by several veterans who have refused to participate in war. Typically, they have done this at the risk of significant time in prison, or worse. In most cases these resisters avoided doing any time. Even when they did go behind bars, they did so with a feeling of liberation.
Gerry Condon refused to deploy to Vietnam, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, escaped from Fort Bragg, left the country, and came back campaigning for amnesty. President Jimmy Carter pardoned resisters as his first act in office. Condon never “served” a day, in either the military “service” or prison.
Jeff Paterson of Courage to Resist refused to fly to Iraq, choosing instead to sit down on the tarmac. Ben Griffin from VFP’s new chapter in the U.K. refused to participate in our nations’ wars and has been issued a gag order. He’s not permitted to speak, and yet he speaks so well. Mike Prysner of March Forward and Camilo Mejia of VFP here in Miami described their acts of resistance.
Mejia did us all the enormous favor some years back of putting his story down in a book — an extreme rarity, sadly, for peace activists with great stories to tell. Mejia’s book “Road From Ar Ramadi” is a terrific introduction for anyone wondering why someone would sign up for the military and then refuse to kill people. Mejia, who now works on domestic civil rights issues in Miami while remaining part of the antiwar movement (another rarity), is a co-convenor of the VFP convention.
In October 2003, Mejia was the first U.S. soldier to publicly refuse to fight in Iraq. At that time only 22 members of the U.S. military had gone AWOL from that war, a number that would quickly climb into the thousands as the war worsened and as belief in the various rationales offered for the war evaporated. Soldiers also began to refuse particular missions that would be likely to kill civilians or to put themselves at risk for no purpose other than the advancement of a commander’s career — a commander safely giving orders from a base. Veterans of the Iraq War would soon work with Veterans For Peace to form a new organization, Iraq Veterans Against the War. But at the time of Mejia’s refusal to fight he stood virtually alone.