My journey to Peace started when I was 13 years old. My older brother was in Vietnam in the Marine Corps, when my best friend’s older brother came home in a casket from there. The impact on my friend’s family was misery like I could have never imagined.
I went to the funeral in the big white church on the town common in our idyllic New England town, but I didn’t have the courage to go inside. The doors were open and the despair that poured from those doors was too much for me to bear. So I stood outside next to the big tree and cried alone. For many years I was ashamed that I didn’t have the fortitude to go inside and pay my respects. I think this experience did more to turn me away from religion than any other event in my life. I couldn’t understand why people gathered in that church to share such terrible misery. Nothing could be gained, so how was it possible that they could find solace?
My older brother did come home after his second tour in Vietnam, and a good thing too. Because if he had been killed I think it would have destroyed me.
By the time it was my turn to go to war I had already convinced myself that political idealism was the only justification for war, and so I volunteered to fight the Communists. But when in the military I found myself surrounded by other volunteers. Christians, that were there as students of the prince of peace. I found it shocking that a Christian was volunteering to kill people, and I even mocked them at times.
But what I didn’t understand was that we were all wrong about war.
I fixed the weapons systems on planes that were being launched 24 hours a day 7 days a week. One day two aircrews came back from a mission elated that our bombing computer was so wonderfully accurate. One plane had a 500 lb. bomb left after their mission and they had to get rid of it before they could return to base, so they used our bombing computer to drop it on a man on a bicycle. His wingman gleefully stated that the bomb had hit the man in the back, and shook our hands in gratitude. There we stood the students of the prince of peace, and political ideologues, shoulder to shoulder, killing innocent people.
Not much later we were pulled into an intelligence briefing where the man from DC told us that we were losing the war. He figured that we already knew that, but asked us to keep the war machine going so that the North Vietnamese would be forced to the peace table, and America could exit the war with good face.
We walked back to work, the students of the prince of peace, and political ideologues, shoulder to shoulder, so we could kill more innocent people.
Later still we had an alert pad in Taiwan where our planes were loaded with nuclear weapons. Richard Nixon, our President at the time, was under political siege and seemed visibly unstable to me on TV. The Israelis and Egyptians were at war and Nixon called a DEFCOM 3, putting the military one step from war. We had already killed 3 million mostly innocent civilians in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. If Nixon had commanded a strike I am convinced that we would have killed another 10 Million Chinese. And there we would have stood the students of the prince of peace, and political ideologues, shoulder to shoulder, mass murderers.
It took me a long time to rid myself of my ideology, but the final straw was broken when we invaded Iraq. I was shocked that we would do this again and I found Veterans For Peace. We placed crosses on the beach first by the hundreds and later by the thousands, one for every US military person killed. Then we read their names, often with family members and friends listening. Their tears and expressions gave me the same feelings of despair and misery that poured from that church in New England long ago. Nothing had changed.
Also standing there listening to us reading the names of the fallen were the young students of the prince of peace, and political ideologues, with their short military haircuts. Shoulder to shoulder and at the ready. Just like us, at the ready to kill innocent people.
This is why I work for Peace.
By Dave Patterson, San Diego Veterans For Peace