What's a patriotic American to do?
The other night, I heard a radio broadcast of a February 18, 2005 speech by Scott Ritter, a former Marine intelligence officer and arms inspector in Iraq for seven years and a veteran of the first Gulf War. Ritter, as you may remember, warned before the invasion that attacking Iraq was wrong and would be disastrous. (We ran our own assessment of the pending war on this website, and came to similar conclusions.)
In his recent speech, Ritter called for immediate withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq and warned that the U.S. may be preparing for its next foreign military invasion, this taking the form of the bombing of Iran.
How does a former Marine officer become a leading critic of the military policies of the commander-in-chief?
Ritter was clear: his loyalty is to something greater -- to the Constitution of the United States and to a country founded by people who valued freedom and democracy over authority.
As a citizen, he said, it is not only his right but his patriotic duty to try to stop the destruction carried out in the name of Americans by the neoconservatives in power. These neoconservatives, he said, have hijacked the U.S. flag, hijacked the language of patriotism, and hijacked the values we hold dear. The US is not spreading democracy, we are undermining it. We are not spreading liberty, we are spreading disdain for the U.S. as recent public opinion polls show.
Patriotic Americans can't sit silently by while this administration shames our boys and girls in uniform and our nation, he said.
Ritter doesn't let anyone off the hook. The US population has become addicted to a lifestyle that requires access to the resources of the rest of the world. Our elected representatives get the message from us -- we expect them to use whatever means necessary to get those resources, and get them cheap. But we don't want to know how -- we remain remarkably badly informed about the rest of the world.
Asked about the role of big business, he said: "Yeah, war's a racket. General Smedley Butler said that."
Hearing that, I looked up the extended quote from General Butler:
"War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses. ...
The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.
I wouldn't go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. ... I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. ...
I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
... Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."
Major General Smedley Butler, USMC
Excerpt from a speech delivered in 1933
What did Ritter suggest we do? He did not suggest there were any easy ways. But he did say we need to get together with others in our communities, make the connection with the military families, with people who have not been part of the peace movement. And we need to reclaim the meaning of patriotism.
YES! has been publishing articles about peace and nonviolence since we started publication, and we will have an article in the upcoming issue on military families and Iraq War veterans organizing for peace. But I can't say I know of a magic bullet, or should I say, a magic olive branch. Speaking out courageously, withdrawing support for the corporations profiting from war, countering efforts to recruit our children for war, and reaching out to those hurt on all sides of the conflict -- those may be starting places. Ritter's challenge remains on my heart, though. How can we patriotic Americans stop this war in Iraq and stop another war before it begins?
You can get audio or transcripts of Scott Ritter's speech at the Alternative Radio website.