Iraq Veteran Paul Chappell Talks About Peace At USD

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ALISON ST JOHN: This is KPBS Midday Edition. It is Veterans Day, Monday, November 12. I’m Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. What is it about war that is so compelling? We admire soldiers who go to war risking everything for love of country. We tend to glorify war, making it something noble and heroic perhaps because it so powerfully brings out qualities like courage and loyalty. Peace is less easy to glorify. Even if we want it we tend to take it for granted even when we have it, quietly getting on with it day by day. Our guest today has been through war, but he’s come out changed with a different perspective on peace. Iraq war vet Paul Chappelle will be giving the Veterans Day lecture at the University of San Diego this evening. He is a retired captain who served in the Army for seven years and is the author of four books called will War ever end, the end of war, peaceful revolution and the art of waging peace. He’s also the peace leadership director for the nuclear age peace foundation . So, Paul, thank you very much for joining us today.

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

ALISON ST JOHN: So you graduated from West Point in 2002 and you served in the Army and you were deployed to Baghdad in 2006. Now, what were you thinking about peace when you began your military career?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Well I grew up in Alabama very conservative and I thought that peace was a naïve dream and I thought that in order to create a peaceful world we need to make it safe through violence and through force and my views began to change in West Point and in the Army about those various issues.

ALISON ST JOHN: So they even began to change before you left West Point.

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Even at West Point my ideas began to change.

ALISON ST JOHN: Even before you’d seen action or been deployed been through Easter to think differently about piece, how so?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Well there is a quote from Gen. MacArthur who was a West Point graduate and five star general and said the soldier above all other people prays for peace for he must suffer and bear the deepest scars and wounds of war and general MacArthur talked about how most soldiers joined the military they believed they were fighting for peace if you listen to any American president whether President Bush or Pres. Obama they always say we are fighting for peace talk about how we are liberating people spreading democracy, spreading freedom fighting terrorism some of people join the military with good intentions and MacArthur recognize that and my views changed the point where I realized well, war is terrible but there’s no other way to solve these problems, war is a necessary evil and I began to study failed to understand there’s a more effective way to understand conflicts been through more flair which assert methods.

ALISON ST JOHN: What happened when you were deployed how did that continue to change your thinking along these lines?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I think it pushed my thinking a lot of my views began to change and I think being deployed furthered my evolution and how I thought so I think it’s a really gradual process. If you look at Gandhi for example a letter to realize that Gandhi was a military recruiter for different types. He was a military recruiter in 1899 for the four were 1906 for the Zulu war 1914 and 1919 World War I he supported World War I he served in two wars as a medic of the war (inaudible) the British army, supported the Polish violent resistance against Nazi Germany and Gandhi’s views even gradually gradually change because these are very complex issues and I think if we really understand how to replace the war with a more effective way to solve conflict. It is a very complex process.

ALISON ST JOHN: As you are saying, so much of history we learned is based on the idea that war is inevitable and it is a natural part of change why would you dispute that?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: One reason I would dispute that is there it is this myth that human beings are naturally violent but if you look at military history the evidence that we are naturally violent is not so overwhelming. Just to offer little bit of evidence we know that for a fact that war traumatizes your brain. People go to war and they have serious trauma this is the reason why the military does combat rotations. But if we were naturally violent why would war traumatize your brain if it were natural why would people go to war and become more physically unhealthy. John McArthur said that human beings have a deep yearning for peace and the yearning for peace is so powerful that whenever any government goes to war whether it is democracy a dictatorship they always say they are fighting for peace. So if you look at Alexander the great, the Romans, the Spartans, if you look at the Mongols, if you look at the Nazis, the European empires, they always say they were fighting for peace, fighting for self-defense, liberating people, bringing people civilization. The Nazi Germany published a book about Hitler’s speeches from 1933 and the title of the book is the new charter Germany desires work and peace and they are all peace speeches about how Hitler wants to create equal rights and wants to create peace throughout the world and he wants world disarmament and he wants to fight for the poor farmer and end poverty. And so McArthur was saying that if we do not have this deep deep desire for peace why do the government throughout history always say they are fighting for peace?

ALISON ST JOHN: You may say, you know that perhaps if we evolved to the point where we were now resorting to war as a way to solve our problems, but, supposing the problem with that is, supposing that the US adopted that attitude and ceased to prepare for war. Is that a viable strategy when the rest of the world may not be thinking along those lines?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Yeah, I think it is a multilayered approach. I think the nonviolent methods are very proactive. They are kind of like preventative medicine. They try to solve the conflict before it arises or tries to solve the root cause of the conflict. A lot of the conflicts are caused by poverty, ideological differences, problems in how people think but it is a multilayered response for example terrorism is a transnational criminal network. We should go after terrorism with some sort of police operation. We went after Timothy McVeigh, we went after the Unabomber and We used the FBI and police. We did not want people to go after these kinds of terrorists. In the attacks on September 11 should be viewed as a criminal act and we should’ve used international Police work to arrest and bring people to justice and we should maintain a strong National Guard. Country were to invade our country along the California Pacific we should maintain a National Guard I think there’s a lot of mythology out there, a lot of misconceptions and we need to show people the true security threats to our country are if you look at for example the 2009 Army sustainability report 2009 Army sustainability report lists the major threats to our national security. Three of the threats it lists are income inequality, poverty and climate change.

ALISON ST JOHN: Right, climate change is one of them.

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Sounds a lot like the occupy Movement. I tell you people when the occupy movement and the Army agree on something we have to pay attention and we have to understand the threats of the 20th century are different than the past. Things like income inequality, poverty, foster conflict and according to the Army will create conflict in the future.

ALISON ST JOHN: You are saying better efforts should be focused towards a more domestic kind of law enforcement kind of an approach rather than, how do you distinguish that from the current situation?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I think the current situation we have to look again at the deeper problem. The greatest threat to American security the 21st century is the hypocrisy of many American politicians. If you look at the first American president to identify Middle Eastern hatred for the US was Pres. Eisenhower in 1950 he talked to the national Security Council and said why do people in the Middle East hate us, he called it the campaign of hatred and the computer conclusion the national Security Council came to essentially but they don’t hate us because we are free it’s because the block freedom and democracy in the Middle East. If you look at every government we supported them, dictators, we supported theaters in Pakistan Tunisia Egypt Bahrain, Pakistan, we supported the Shah of Iran overthrowing a democratically elected leader in Iran before that. And we support the most brutal Muslim dictatorship in the world, the Saudi Arabian government whose dictatorships in this Pakistan, we support the Taliban and this creates resentment and the resentment is the long run going to (inaudible) already is.

ALISON ST JOHN: I just want to tell our listenership he said (inaudible). I want to shift it from the politics of it and got politics as we go on, people may say who is this guy, maybe he is someone who did not enjoy his deployment, that witnessed a lot of violence who feels like he doesn’t want to handle the stress of it. Did you experience more in a way that you felt was damaging to you as an individual, or are you talking more about the political level of this?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I think that’s a really good question. I think if you look at the pew research study that was done that, 51% of post-9/11 veterans think that using too much violence makes terrorism or send my view is a little bit different because I consider myself promilitary and antiwar. I got a lot of good things out of West Point got a lot of good things out of the military. And the military is shifting its role in terms of, in 2009 the US military performed 150 for humanitarian aid missions in 61 countries. And I think that a lot of these ideals I got from West Point and the military have made me a better person but I think that you could be promilitary and antiwar. And I don’t, there was a point when I had some very conservative and I still consider myself in many ways conservative and I just cannot think of anything more un-American than supporting dictatorships. I can be a soldier and see good things about the military but still have a problem with our government supporting dictatorships around the world because I think that’s a very un-American thing for our government to be doing.

ALISON ST JOHN: When you yourself went to war, were there times when you woke up in the morning and you are having a very hard time serving because you didn’t feel that what you were being asked to do was justifiable?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I think that a lot of soldiers struggle. There is a big myth that soldiers are robots and I think that’s not true. Again the pew research study pointing out that 51% of post-9/11 veterans think that using too much violence makes terrorism worse. I think a lot of soldiers are critical thinkers and they struggle with the issues and if you just look at the Vietnam War and the reactions many veterans had I think that a lot of soldiers think through these things and it is a struggle. Think I thought a lot of things and had some struggles but I think a lot of soldiers are thinking human beings.

ALISON ST JOHN: Just to fill in our listeners tell us a little bit about where you were deployed.

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I was in Baghdad and my father also was in the Army for 30 years and has also shaped my development even before the military.

ALISON ST JOHN: And so did you actually get deployed in active duty in places where you were in combat?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Well, I was, I mean, we were attacked and it was a different kind of role. It’s a very much different kind of warfare that for example, it’s a much different kind of warfare than traditional commission American warfare.

ALISON ST JOHN: Right, okay, So you’ve written books about this and talked about it a lot obviously, have you had any negative reactions from other veterans to your views?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Well, not that I’ve seen. I think the way I framed my message and the way that I validate certain things about the warrior ideal

ALISON ST JOHN: The warrior ideal, okay. So you validate the warrior ideal, so but how could the warrior ideally exist without war?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Well if you look at Gandhi, Gandhi said I am a soldier I am a soldier of peace. You look at Martin Luther King Jr. he said we did not hesitate to call our movement and army and Gandhi and King, this is something that took me a while to figure out but Gandhi and King said that if you want to do nonviolent struggle you have to have the ideals of the warrior. You have to have the discipline, the strategic thinking, the courage, the willingness to die, the selflessness and sacrifice and Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. used very militaristic metaphors to describe the movement because they wanted people with the warrior ideals but Gandhi and King said that their weapons are not guns or bombs or weapons, their weapons I love, understanding entry that that is how you fight the nonviolent struggle. The warrior ideal is combined with nonviolent weapons.

ALISON ST JOHN: One of the things I’ve always thought of venturing to understand how war can be justifiable is the Buddhist idea that, have you read the Bhagavad-Gita? And it’s Arjuna talking to Krishna and saying I am fighting my brother, how can I do this it’s morally very toward Krishna is kind of saying well, you have to accept surrender to what is answered without any attachment to the outcome. And, under that philosophy, perhaps war is just a natural part of being human. Of this existence that we live in.

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I think what is natural is struggle. And nonviolent conflict is a struggle. It is a struggle of truth against ignorance is a true the intersection it’s up struggle of truth against hatred and King and Gandhi uses military metaphors to frame nonviolent struggle as nonviolent methods as a struggle because people have a tendency to think of nonviolence as wearing a peace T-shirt and sitting around and doing nothing and they were trying to frame it as a struggle, where, when you conduct nonviolent struggle people will try to kill you and if you look at King getting dozens of death threats a day, if you look at civil rights protesters being attacked you see a lot of similarities in terms of the danger, the risk and the kind of strategic thinking you need to solve a problem.

ALISON ST JOHN: So how would you say, somebody even who is a veteran, we have thousands of veterans here in San Diego could continue to use those Warrior skills in a way in the service of peace.

PAUL CHAPPELLE: This is one reason why Gandhi was recruiting people to be in the military. Gandhi had a realization. He realized that it’s easier according to Gandhi it is easier to get somebody who was in the military and basically teach them not to kill because they would have all the other warrior attributes, discipline, courage, strategic thinking, selflessness, cooperation and it would be to get somebody who is afraid to die and get them to join nonviolent struggle because Gandhi believed to do a nonviolent struggle you have to be able to do personal risk and be attacked and sacrifice. That is one of the reasons why Gandhi was a promilitary. So I think that a lot of the RGB to use in the military can be transferred to other aspects of life whether it is nonviolence or personally for personal growth.

ALISON ST JOHN: And would you say under your philosophy that it’s not acceptable to be ready to kill, but it is acceptable to be ready to die?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I think that there are two different situations. If somebody breaks into my apartment and tries to kill me I have a right to defend myself and the thing is, I could defend myself without having to kill the person. I could knock the person unconscious, I could wrestle the person to the ground and get them in a submission hold or I could perhaps stab the person and call 911 and have the ambulance come. If I do kill the person I have killed the person who made a choice to attack me. The difference between a situation and war is that in war, the vast majority of people killed are innocent civilians of the somebody breaks into my house and I end up killing the person that killed one person and made a choice to attack me. But if you have a war going on in some complex up to 90% of people killed are civilians to the chaos and confusion of force with the most different situation. You can believe in personal self-defense but not believe in larger scale warfare that kills lots of innocent people.

ALISON ST JOHN: In some ways this approach is particularly relevant now in a situation where it does seem like civilians are getting more and more in the countries where we are at war.Yeah. Talk a little bit about how you see your approach you know, how we need to practically wage peace at this point in time politically in the United States?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Again we have to look at the root causes of these problems and we have to understand how supporting dictatorships around the world builds resentment that extremists can take advantage of. If you look at some like Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda or that ideology they are able to create so much consensus and momentum because they are able to tap into people’s resentment regarding the way we support these brutal regimes and prevent development and progress and democracy. So I think that again going back to Eisenhower and the national Security Council if we recognize that hypocrisy threatens our national security that is one thing we can resolve immediately and then we can take other vital steps to ensure national security and other ways.

ALISON ST JOHN: Okay so in terms of the climate change because that was one of the things you mentioned that I was interested in, do you have much to say about how we can, in essence wage war job that threat to our nation and how does that involve this warrior ethic that you talk about?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I think that if you look at climate change, climate scientists are saying we’ve reached a tipping point and we’ve reached the point of no return. In terms of the most problematic things happening over the next 100 years. And we’ve kind of crossed the threshold. If you could people don’t believe in climate change their seeing what is happening is inevitable. We cannot prevent it. Now if you look at what wars were fought over in the past they were often fought over her ideology and things like that and in the 20th century humanity almost blew itself to pieces. Now imagine a war paradigm attitude combined with climate change where we have legitimate problems perhaps billions of people serving starving and migrating populations of imagine those kinds of crises with more people in the world than ever in human history combined with nuclear weapons and a war mentality. It is a recipe for disaster. So I think that if we do not end the war. I’m prior to the greatest catastrophe, climate change happening over the next 50 years is going to be a very dangerous situation so I think if we end the war. Before that we have a chance of surviving as a species.

ALISON ST JOHN: Great. I would like to thank you so much for really stirring the pot. Bringing up some good ideas about how we can avoid war. We’ve been speaking with Iraq war veteran Paul Chapelle is giving Veterans Day lecture at University of San Diego this evening it is at seven o’clock at USD’s Warren Auditorium. Paul, thank you so much.

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Thank you

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night: The Tragic Death of Brian Arredondo

By Linda Pershing, with Lara Bell. Originally appeared in WarIsACrime.org. Memory portrait by Gina Johnson, http://operationhometies.com

Brian Arredondo never really recovered from his brother’s death in the Iraq War. When they were kids, Brian adored his older brother Alexander and tagged along with him whenever he could. They were often seen playing together in parks and schoolyards in communities surrounding Boston, Massachusetts, and Bangor, Maine, where they grew up. As teens the two boys were perfect targets for military recruiters: first-generation Americans on their father’s side (he emigrated from Costa Rica), working-class youth (Alex attended a technical high school where much of the curriculum focuses on job training), living with their mother after their parents divorced when they were young. Promises of career training, male camaraderie and “becoming a man,” appeals to patriotism, a $10,000 signing bonus, and funding for college enticed Alex Arredondo to join the marines, just a month before September 11, 2011.

Brian was distraught and seemed to lose his focus and motivation when Alex enlisted. Shortly thereafter, he dropped out of high school at the beginning of tenth grade. On August 25, 2004, a sniper’s bullet to the head killed Alex during his second deployment to Iraq. Brian’s world fell apart. On the day Alex was killed, military officials came to his mother’s house in Bangor to notify the family. Brian, 17 years old at the time, was home alone. He guessed why they were there, but they wouldn’t tell him the news until his mother, Victoria Foley, arrived. As they waited around the corner in the government van, Brian got an emotional call from his father, Carlos Arredondo, who was living in Florida at the time and had also just been notified about Alex’s death. Brian became desperate, punching holes in the walls as he paced the floor, waiting for his mother to get home. After she arrived, Brian tried to call his father to talk with him again. His distraught stepmother, Mélida Arredondo, answered the phone and told Brian to turn on the television: news coverage of a burning van outside his father’s home. Reporters announced that Carlos Arredondo had set fire to the van and been caught in the blaze. In disbelief Brian saw his father on fire, rolling on the ground, trying to extinguish the flames. Carlos lay unconscious in a hospital intensive care, burn unit for two days and nearly died from the incident. Nine days later, accompanied by two medics, he attended Alex’s wake, funeral mass, and burial on a stretcher, wrapped in bandages and with a morphine drip to numb the pain. The story made international news.

Eventually, the war in Iraq took the lives of both brothers. Flash forward seven years to December 19, 2011, when Brian’s mother and her partner found Brian hanging from the rafters of a shed in the backyard, where he had been living. No longer able to quell his despair, Brian killed himself at the age of 24. Near his body all he left was a copy of an email instant conversation between his stepmother Mélida Arredondo and a marine in Alex’s unit, who had been at his side when Alex died. Brian committed suicide the day after U.S. troops were “officially” withdrawn from Iraq. Perhaps he couldn’t face the fact that, unlike other soldiers, his brother would not be coming home.

The gross inequality between the rich and the poor in our country define this story. Try to imagine an alternate reality: what if Jenna Bush, the daughter of George W. and Laura Bush, enlisted in the marines and were killed by a sniper’s bullet in Iraq? Imagine her twin sister Barbara struggling with debilitating depression and taking her own life seven years later. Would Bush and his cronies have been so willing to invade Iraq and launch a war if their own kids were going to pay the price? It’s unthinkable, of course, because the Bush twins had so many other options: Barbara attended Yale, and Jenna was offered a job as a correspondent on “The Today Show” after she graduated from college. Military recruiters target rural and lower income youth and first-generation Americans who have more restricted access to college and careers.

When soldiers die in battle, we tend to focus on the grief of parents and spouses. Siblings often fall through the cracks. Looking back at the years since Alex’s death, Mélida Arredondo commented that Brian’s life had been a “downward spiral” of anguish, depression, and self-destruction. Family members repeatedly reached out to Brian and tried to get him professional help for his depression, drug use, and trouble with the law. He accepted his family’s legal, monetary, and employment assistance but declined counseling. Instead, Brian put on a good front, smiling broadly and assuring the family that he was doing fine, or that he had made a new start and would do better in the future.

In retrospect, it’s clear that Brian was in distress. After Alex’s deployment to Iraq and subsequent death, Brian started self-medicating with drugs, which he often hid from his family. With time, his drug usage became more serious. He pleaded with parents and friends to loan him money, which they later learned he used to support his drug habit. He began using marijuana, and then cocaine. After one violent confrontation with the police, Brian was admitted to Bridgewater State Hospital for psychiatric evaluation in April 2011. The clinical evaluation report noted that Brian admitted to using Percocet and heroin at least once a day; hospital intake workers discovered injection track marks all over his arms.

After he was arrested for having an open alcohol container in his car, reckless driving, and several accidents, the state of Maine took away Brian’s driver’s license. He became dependent on parents and friends to transport him, which made working a job very difficult. On occasion he worked with his father and was employed at a pizza restaurant and as a janitor, but he never worked for more than a few months at a time. For most of the past seven years he was unemployed, which only exacerbated his feelings of helplessness and dependence on others.

This wasn’t the first time Brian tried to kill himself. While military officials were at his mother’s home, informing her about Alex’s death, Brian slipped away and ran into the street, looking for oncoming traffic. Later he told his parents that he wanted to be hit by a car. Still reeling from Alex’s death, in 2006 he tried to hang himself with an electric cord but failed when the cord broke. And in 2011, when police tried to arrest Brian on outstanding warrants, breaking in to the backyard shed while he was sleeping, he raised a machete and dared them to shoot him.

His troubled relationships with young women and problems with anger management signaled another facet of his distress. Almost immediately after his brother’s death, Brian became involved with a young woman—perhaps to replace his close relationship with his brother. Her father didn’t approve, had a violent confrontation with Brian, and got a restraining order to prevent him from coming to their home. Their relationship was rocky and punctuated by abusive and destructive behavior. A second young woman also pursued Brian. There was jealousy and abuse on all sides. There were multiple incidents involving interpersonal violence and destruction of property. Girlfriends and parents called the police, who arrested Brian several times. By 2011, Brian faced a number of misdemeanor and felony charges, which had escalated in the past several years. He was scheduled to go to court on December 21, 2011, two days after he died. His mother recalled that Brian told her that he expected to be sentenced to a minimum of two years in prison, which probably wasn’t a realistic assessment. Francis J. DiMento, Jr., his attorney, told us in an interview that he thought it unlikely that Brian would do jail time for these offences (Interview, June 7, 2012).

In response to Alex’s death, Mélida and Carlos Arredondo began to speak out about their experiences. They became peace activists and advocates for support services for military personnel and their families. Carlos creates memorials designed to raise awareness about the significance of Alex’s life and sacrifice, using his military boots and uniform, medals, large photos of Alex and Brian, and numerous other mementos with personal meaning. Sometimes he also displays a full-size coffin, calling on viewers to visualize the real cost of war in terms of individual human lives. Mélida and Carlos are well known for their activism in the Boston area, where they have lived for many years. They make it a point to meet with public officials at community events, sharing with them the stories of their sons’ deaths and advocating for support services for military personnel and their families. In retrospect, since Brian’s death they have worried that they didn’t pay enough attention to him, wrapped up, instead, in their grieving for Alex and their dedication to activism. His mother, Victoria Foley, sorrowfully recounted that he seemed depressed and remote in the days before his suicide, and her attempts to get Brian into counseling were unsuccessful. The boys’ deaths have taken an enormous toll on their families. The loss has redefined their lives forever, leaving them to deal with the deep despair of losing two children to the Iraq War.

This tragic series of events is a brutal reminder of the devastation that war brings: two young sons dead, with parents and family members left to wade through the unbearable grief, self-blame, devastated lives, and the narrative of youth dashed to pieces by death and sorrow. Brian never really accepted his brother’s enlistment in the military or his death in Iraq. In response, his life became a succession of dangerous actions and disastrous decisions, sending him down a path to self-destruction. It’s certainly possible to interpret Brian’s suicide as an expression of hopelessness. It’s also possible to consider that Brian ended his life as an act of resistance, reminiscent of Dylan Thomas’ epic admonition to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Perhaps—compounded by substance abuse, problems with interpersonal relationships, dropping out of school, and troubles with the law—it was a refusal or inability to accept that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq made sense. Many Americans willingly accepted, or remained silent, when Bush and his advisors launched these foolish wars, and as Obama continues them, increasing drone strikes in the region and ramping up U.S. involvement in Afghanistan while withdrawing troops from Iraq. Many stood on the sidelines watching as other people’s sons and daughters—usually the poorest and those with the fewest options—were swept up in the patriotic fervor, recruited by the military, and sent off to fight. Now we pay the price of public apathy and complicity. The deaths of Brian and Alexander Arredondo diminish us all.

Authors’ bio: Linda Pershing is a professor, and Lara Bell is an undergraduate student at California State University San Marcos.