A Veteran’s Perspective on Memorial Day

by Barry Ladendorf, Veterans For Peace Board President

First published May 30, 2016 on BillMoyers.com.

As Americans mark Memorial Day, a holiday that invites us to reflect on the cost of war, we are reprinting these remarks that a leader of the Veterans for Peace made last week at Ralph Nader’s Breaking Through Power conference in Washington.

For 31 years, Veterans For Peace has been the only veterans organization that has rejected war, violence, nuclear weapons, the destruction of the environment created by war, the steady erosion of our civil liberties, the corporate greed that drives our wars and the systemic injustice it produces, here at home and abroad, all in the name of advancing the American empire.

As veterans, we refuse to accept the notion that, in order to protect the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, the Constitution that we swore to support and defend can be ignored, shredded and cast aside as an inconvenient nuisance standing in the way of American hegemony.

It is abundantly clear that the threat to the Constitution does not come from some far-off land. It is not China or Russia or even ISIS that endangers the Constitution, but it is the enemy within the borders of our own country and right here in this city.

As members of Veterans For Peace, we bring to the peace movement our collective experience from our participation in every war from World War II up to and including the current wars in the Middle East. Our experience teaches that war and violence do not bring lasting peace. Therefore, our founders included in our Statement of Purpose a commitment that we would seek to end war, only by nonviolent means.

Many of our members come home from war broken down, physically, mentally, emotionally and morally. But we work to transform and heal ourselves from soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen trained to wage war to men and women committed to becoming non violent peacemakers.

We pledge to not give in to war and violence and the injustice it brings to all living things but to continue to work for peace with all likeminded people.

Message of Peace

My name is Mike Hanes and I am with the San Diego chapter of Veterans for Peace. After my experiences in the Iraq invasion as a Force Recon Marine operator, I came to the conclusion that the glory, idealism and patriotism that was sold to us growing up, and later as service members, was to perpetuate an elite agenda of militarism, profit and resource exploitation. I now look at War simply as a means to extract/ secure resources, ensure industrial profits, and keep the populace in a perpetual state of fear.

War is the most insane creation that humanity has ever invented! It ensures a position of de-evolution rather than a state of evolution. We want our next generation to be better than us, not in a state of regression! As we move forward in the 21st Century, it is vitally important for us to elevate our consciousness and understanding of human behavior in order to promote values that is in line with peaceful problem solving. A great place for us to start is trying to better ourselves. Trying to be more empathetic rather than judgmental. Give a little more. Lend a helping hand to others. This I strongly feel is the premise of post traumatic growth for all people, rebuilding and strengthening the individual and those around you.

In an age of rapid technological advancement and the sharing of information, we have the capability to both shift our values quickly and finally make War a thing of the past. It is time to transcend the War mentality and bring humanity together. So how do we create a world of Peace? The great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated that, “those who love Peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love War.” In the two year period I have been with the Veterans for Peace, I have seen great organization from this group of dedicated men and women. To follow that up, the great futurist Buckminster Fuller stated that, “you never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” This reality hits us hard in an old outdated socioeconomic system based on competition, scarcity, strategic advantage, and the priority of profit over human well being.

Today in the 21st Century, we have the capability to do much better and we must! I encourage all Veterans, peace makers, young and old people to think out of the box in creating that new model of cooperation and sustainability; to band together being a voice for logic, reason and sanity in making global peace a reality.

May Peace prevail,
Michael Hanes

From Japan to Vietnam, Radiation and Agent Orange Survivors Deserve Justice From the US

by Marjorie Cohn, Truthout | Op-Ed

We have just marked anniversaries of the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the US government against the people of Japan and Vietnam. Seventy years ago, on August 6, 1945, the US military unleashed an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing at least 140,000 people. Three days later, the United States dropped a second bomb, on Nagasaki, which killed 70,000. And 54 years ago, on August 10, 1961, the US military began spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam. It contained the deadly chemical dioxin, which has poisoned an estimated 3 million people throughout that country.

Devastating Effects of Radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki

On the day of the first atomic bombing, 19-year-old Shinji Mikamo was on the roof of his house in Hiroshima helping his father prepare it for demolition when he saw a huge fireball coming at him. Then he heard a deafening explosion and felt a searing pain throughout his body. He said he felt as if boiling water had been poured over him. Shinji was three-quarters of a mile from the epicenter of the bomb. His chest and right arm were totally burned. Pieces of his flesh fell from his body like ragged clothing. The pain was unbearable. Shinji survived but most of his family perished.

Shinji’s daughter, Dr. Akiko Mikamo, told her father’s story at the Veterans for Peace convention in San Diego on August 7. She wrote the book, Rising From the Ashes: A True Story of Survival and Forgiveness From Hiroshima. Akiko’s mother Miyoko, who was indoors about a half-mile from the epicenter, was also severely injured in the bombing, but she too survived.

Akiko said 99 percent of those who were outdoors at the time of the blast died immediately or within 48 hours. A week after the bombing, thousands of people had experienced a unique combination of symptoms, Susan Southard wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

Their hair fell out in large clumps, their wounds secreted extreme amounts of pus, and their gums swelled and bled. Purple spots appeared on their bodies, signs of hemorrhaging beneath the skin. Infections ravaged their internal organs. Within a few days of the onset of symptoms, many people lost consciousness, mumbled deliriously and died in extreme pain; others languished for weeks before either dying or slowly recovering.

Southard notes that the US government censored Japanese news reports, photographs, testimonies and scientific research about the condition of the survivors.

To read more stories like this, visit Human Rights and Global Wrongs

Gen. Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project, which created the atom bombs, testified before Congress that death resulting from exposure to large amounts of radiation takes place “without undue suffering.” He added it is “a very pleasant way to die.”

Thirty years after the end of World War II, numerous cases of leukemia, stomach cancer and colon cancer were documented.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were criminal because at the time Japan was already defeated and had taken steps to surrender. With these atomic bombings, the United States launched the Cold War, marking the beginning of its nuclear threat.

The Continuing Legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam

Sixteen years after the United States’ nuclear attacks on Japan, the US military began spraying Vietnam with Agent Orange-dioxin. In addition to the more than 3 million Vietnamese people killed during the Vietnam War, an equivalent number of people suffer serious diseases and children continue to be born with defects from Agent Orange. US veterans of the Vietnam War and their children suffer as well.

Agent Orange caused direct damage to those exposed to dioxin, including cancers, skin disorders, liver damage, pulmonary and heart diseases, defects to reproductive capacity and nervous disorders. It resulted in indirect damage to the children of those exposed to dioxin, including severe physical deformities, mental and physical disabilities, diseases and shortened life spans.

Dan Shea joined the US Marine Corps in 1968 at the age of 19. He served in Vietnam a little more than two months. But he was in Quang Tri, one of the areas where much of the Agent Orange was sprayed. When Shea saw barrels “all over” with orange stripes on them, he had no idea the dioxin they contained would change his life forever. When they ran out of water, he and his fellow Marines would drink out of the river.

In 1977, Shea’s son Casey was born with congenital heart disease and a cleft palate. Before his third birthday, Casey underwent heart surgery for the hole in his heart. Ten hours after surgery, Casey went into a coma and died seven weeks later.

Just as the US censored information about the effects of radiation after the atomic bombings, the US government and the chemical companies that manufactured Agent Orange – including Dow and Monsanto – also suppressed the 1965 Bionetics study that demonstrated dioxin caused many birth defects in experimental animals. The spraying of Agent Orange finally stopped when that study was made public.

Shea, who also addressed the Veterans for Peace convention, works with me on the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign. We seek to obtain relief for the Vietnamese, Vietnamese-American and US victims of Agent Orange through the recently introduced H.R. 2114. US vets have received some compensation, but not nearly enough. Vietnamese people and Vietnamese-Americans have received nothing for their suffering.

This bill would assist with the cleanup of dioxin still present in Vietnam. It would also provide assistance to the public health system in Vietnam directed at the 3 million Vietnamese people affected by Agent Orange. It would extend assistance to the affected children of male US veterans who suffer the same set of birth defects covered for the children of female veterans. It would also lead to research on the extent of Agent Orange-related diseases in the Vietnamese-American community, and provide them with assistance. Finally, it would lead to laboratory and epidemiological research on the effects of Agent Orange.

Agent Orange in Japan

The US government has also denied that Agent Orange is present on Okinawa, the Pentagon’s main support base during the Vietnam War. In February 2013, the Pentagon issued a report denying that there is Agent Orange on Okinawa, but it did not order environmental tests or interview veterans who claimed exposure to Agent Orange there. “The usage of Agent Orange and military defoliants in Okinawa is one of the best kept secrets of the Cold War,” according to Jon Mitchell, a journalist based in Tokyo.

“The US government has been lying about Agent Orange on Okinawa for more than 50 years,” Mitchell said. An investigation by Okinawa City and the Okinawa Defense Bureau found dioxin and other components of Agent Orange in several barrels found on Okinawa. Many bore markings of Dow Chemical, one of the manufacturers of Agent Orange. The Japan Times cited reports of military veterans who said that burying surplus chemicals, including Agent Orange, “was standard operating procedure for the US military on Okinawa.”

Two hundred and fifty US service members are claiming damages from exposure to Agent Orange on Okinawa during the Vietnam War, but very few have received compensation from their government. In spite of the Pentagon report, the US Department of Veterans Affairs granted relief in October 2013 to a retired Marine Corps driver who has prostate cancer. The judge ruled that his cancer was triggered by his transport and use of Agent Orange.

Abolish Nuclear Weapons and Compensate Victims of Agent Orange

Besides being criminal, the United States’ use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and poisoning of Vietnam and Okinawa with Agent Orange, are a shameful legacy. The denial and cover-up of each of these crimes adds insult to injury.

As we work toward a nuclear deal with Iran, the US government should abide by its commitment to nuclear disarmament in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It is also time to fully compensate the victims of Agent Orange and fund a total cleanup of the areas in Vietnam that remain contaminated by the toxic chemical. Urge your congressional representative to cosponsor H.R. 2114, the Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2015.

Finally, we must hold our leaders accountable for their crimes in Japan and Vietnam, and ensure that such atrocities never happen again.


Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. A co-coordinator of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign, she is on the national advisory board of Veterans for Peace. Her latest book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.


Photo Atomic cloud over Nagasaki from Koyagi-jima, August 9, 1945 by Hiromichi Matsuda.

Copyright Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

Reclaim Armistice Day and Honor the Real Heroes

by Arnold Oliver

More then a few veterans, Veterans For Peace among them, are troubled by the way Americans observe Veterans Day on November 11th. It was originally called Armistice Day, and established by Congress in 1926 to “perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations, (and later) a day dedicated to the cause of world peace.” For years, many churches rang their bells on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – the time that the guns fell silent on the Western Front by which time sixteen million had died.

To put it bluntly, in 1954 Armistice Day was hijacked by a militaristic congress, and today few Americans understand the original purpose of the occasion, or even remember it. The message of peace seeking has vanished. Now known as Veterans Day, it has devolved into a hyper-nationalistic worship ceremony for war and the putatively valiant warriors who wage it.

Here is a news flash. Most of what goes on during wartime is decidedly unheroic, and heroes in war are few and far between.

I have to tell you that when I was in Vietnam, I was no hero, and I didn’t witness any heroism during the year I spent there, first as a U.S. Army private and then as a sergeant.
Yes, there was heroism in the Vietnam War. On both sides of the conflict there were notable acts of self-sacrifice and bravery. Troops in my unit wondered how the North Vietnamese troops could persevere for years in the face of daunting U.S. firepower. U.S. medical corpsmen performed incredible acts of valor rescuing the wounded under fire.

But I also witnessed a considerable amount of bad behavior, some of it my own. There were widespread incidents of disrespect and abuse of Vietnamese civilians including many war crimes. Further, all units had, and still have, their share of criminals, con artists and thugs. Most unheroic of all were the U.S. military and civilian leaders who planned, orchestrated, and profited greatly from that avoidable war.

The cold truth is that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Vietnam had next to nothing to do with protecting American peace and freedom. On the contrary, the Vietnam War bitterly divided the United States, and was fought it to forestall Vietnamese independence, not defend it.

Unfortunately, Vietnam wasn’t an isolated example. Many American wars — including the 1846 Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War in 1898, and the Iraq War (this list is by no means exhaustive) — were waged under false pretexts against countries that didn’t threaten the United States. It’s hard to see how, if a war is unjust, it can be heroic to wage it.

But if the vast majority of wars are not fought for noble reasons, and few soldiers are heroic, have there been any actual heroes out there defending peace and freedom? And if so, who are they?

Well, there are many, from Jesus down to the present. I’d put Gandhi, Tolstoy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the list along with many Quakers and Mennonites. And don’t forget General Smedley Butler, who wrote that “War is a Racket”, and even Robert McNamara who came around in the end.

In Vietnam, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson stopped the My Lai massacre from being even worse.

Another candidate is former U.S. Army specialist Josh Stieber who sent this message to the people of Iraq: “Our heavy hearts still hold hope that we can restore inside our country the acknowledgment of your humanity, that we were taught to deny.” Ponder a million Iraqi deaths. Chelsea Manning sits behind bars for exposing those and other truths.

The real heroes are those who resist war and militarism, often at great personal cost.
Because militarism has been around for such a long time, at least since Gilgamesh came up with his protection racket in Sumeria going on 5,000 years ago, people argue that it will always be with us.

But many also thought that slavery and the subjugation of women would last forever, and they’re being proven wrong. We understand that while militarism will not disappear overnight, disappear it must if we are to avoid economic as well as moral bankruptcy.

As Civil War General W.T. Sherman said at West Point, “I confess without shame that I am tired and sick of war.” We’re with you, bro.

This year on November 11th, Veterans For Peace will bring back the original Armistice Day traditions. Join them and let those bells ring out.

Arnold “Skip” Oliver is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio. A Vietnam veteran, he belongs to Veterans For Peace, and can be reached at soliver@heidelberg.edu.

Deliberate Dumbing Down of America

In his book “Empire of the Illusion”, Christopher Hedges clearly and convincingly, makes a strong argument that American citizens now live in a society that consistently works at dumbing down America. He illustrates his point by the following statement:

“This culture of illusion thrives by robbing us of the intellectual and linguistic tools to separate illusion from truth. It reduces us to the level of children.”

The author goes on to state:

“Our televisions are turned on for 6 hrs and 47 minutes a day in the average household. The average American watches, daily, more than 4hours of television.”

Our government and our society, in general, encourage this type of behavior for a reason. They want the American public to be distracted in their pursuit of trivia, which in turn, enables our government to freely go about carrying out their agenda. Unfortunately, the government’s agenda, more often than not, turns out to be contrary to the best interests of its citizens. For example more than 40% of all taxes collected are earmarked for activities related to war. This misdirection of funds benefits a few at the expense of the many.

What will be the negative consequences of having a uniformed citizenry? It is already happening. The richest 400 people in the United States have a greater net worth than the bottom one half of the population. Put another way, approximately 150 million people, combined, have less net worth than the 400 richest people in the United States. For me, personally, this is a staggering statistic that I find hard to wrap my mind around and it didn’t happen by accident.

Some young people, with four year degrees, can’t find a job and resort to removing their college education from their résumé in order not to appear overqualified when competing with high school graduates for a low paying entry job. Many people seldom enter into critical thinking and instead spend a great deal of time watching sports and reality shows on television. This almost total lack of intellectual curiosity will result in our liberties being, slowly but surely, taken aware from us. Intelligence and ignorance are not the same. Most people are reasonably intelligent but, at the same time they can be ignorant. Ignorance is a lack of knowledge and apparently no desire to seek knowledge.

We can’t look to our government to watch out for our interests or correct our societal problems. Almost all solutions, by necessity, must be accomplished by the people from the bottom up. As a matter of fact almost all important change happened with the dissent of a few people. Margaret Mead, a renowned anthropologist, had this to say: “Never doubt the effectiveness of a few people dedicated to a cause in making important change. As matter of fact it is the only way that true change has ever occurred”. So let us have heart but do realize that we all have our work cut out for us.

by Jack Doxey
Veterans For Peace, San Diego, Chapter 91

Opinion: Proposal for a revision of VFP’s action strategy

Motivation

In recognition of the need for a focused effort at promoting the mission of the organization, the VFP Board of Directors proposed a National Strategy Plan in August 2012. However, in my opinion, it was so unfocused that it defeated the very purpose it was created to accomplish. More importantly, I claim that the existing action strategy is severely deficient. Here, I first briefly examine the current action strategy, emphasize its deficiency and offer a way to correct it.

Before proceeding I would like to fix a few terms: a mission is the grand goal for which an organization is created; an action strategy is a plan for achieving a mission while tactics are the specific activities carried out by members enabling the strategy.

Current action strategy

Reviewing the range of past and present activities and the National Strategy Plan one may conclude that the existing action strategy condenses to:

    – Exposing the public to the true costs of war and the real motives as to why the Executive branch engages in wars. This is intended to undermine public support for wars in favor of nonviolent means of conflict resolution.
    – Emphasizing to the public the overblown size of “national defense” spending in comparison to the rest of the national priorities. This is intended to galvanize the public to demand a reduction in military funding, thus taming US military capability and limiting the Executive branch’s ability to conduct large scale military offensives abroad.
    – Building a culture of peace on an individual level. This is intended to alter how we think about dealing with international conflicts and ultimately produce a more sensible foreign policy.

This strategy was in place for many years; however, the US Empire remains and the waging of war by our federal government continues, indicating that the strategy is not working well. I claim that the whole strategy is defective because it assumes that the informed public will be able to effectively influence their Congress members or otherwise elect pro-peace candidates needed to keep in check the war-mongering tendencies of the Executive branch.

Genuine representation myth

Someone may claim that members of Congress genuinely represent the public’s views on matters of foreign policy/national security since the public often supports the Executive branch’s decisions for starting wars. The problem with this argument is that when a few years later public opinion swings against a war, Congress does not rush to act to end it. More importantly, members of Congress are elected to represent public interests not the majority opinion. The waning of support for wars over time as war costs begin manifesting while the facts start cracking the facade of propaganda indicates that true public interest does not align with waging occupational wars. However, this realization always comes too late because the manifestations of war costs are always delayed. Here is where a genuinely public representative must rise and present to the constituency the ramifications for a nation to engage in a war proposed by the Executive branch.

Congresspersons are sufficiently familiar with US history to remember that wars lead to displaced federal priorities, economic costs, lots of bloodshed, hatred from people of the occupied nations, and ultimately blowback. Congress members vote annually on the federal budget and know that most of the discretionary funds are spent funding militarism and the maintenance of the Empire at the expense of domestic priorities. Members on Foreign Intelligence Committees have access to intelligence reports to study evidence or lack thereof about potential threats to our national security and ask difficult questions of members of the Administration or to subpoena them if necessary. Moreover, they have the power to authorize (Article I, Section 8) and (de)fund wars. The War Powers Resolution Act of 1973 explicitly spells out the terms for the separation of war powers with Congress having an upper hand. Despite significant powers most members of Congress comply with the judgment of the Executive’s branch on matters of war (while some actively push for wars) against public interest. Why? The majority of congresspersons do not represent the interests of the general public because the general public plays a minor role in electing them to power in the first place as detailed below.

Campaign financing

The success of (re)election increasingly depends on the availability of campaign funds, needed to attack political opponents; therefore raising campaign funds is the first priority of each member of Congress who must allot at least 4 hours/day fundraising. According to the Center for Responsive Politics successful House and Senate candidates in hot races had to raise in excess of $2 and $5 million dollars respectively in the 2012 election cycle. It also found that 67% of contributions in the 2012 election cycle toward federal candidates, parties or PACs came from 0.53% of the adult US population! Below is shown the distributions of sources of funds to congressional campaign committees in the San Diego area:

Brian Bilbray (replaced by Scott Peters in 2012):

Brian Bilbray Campaign Sources
Brian Bilbray Campaign Sources

Susan Davis:

Susan Davis Campaign Sources
Susan Davis Campaign Sources

Darrel Issa:

Darrel Issa Campaign Sources
Darrel Issa Campaign Sources

Duncan Hunter:

Duncan Hunter Campaign Sources
Duncan Hunter Campaign Sources

The above data shows that small individual contributions (less than $200) rarely exceed 5-8% of the total campaign funds, whereas the rest of the funds come from large campaign donors (corporate PACs and wealthy individuals). Therefore members of Congress are easily accessible and attuned toward the demands of major campaign donors and fundraiser organizers (commonly lobbyists). No incumbent member of Congress or candidate wants to upset major campaign donors who thereby implicitly set the political climate and the federal policy. This is very problematic because the interests of the economic elites and the ordinary public are commonly in conflict.

Contradiction of interests

Such a contradiction of interests is vivid on the issue of war. Ordinary Americans overwhelmingly pay human and economic costs at the time of wars whereas executives of “defense” companies and their lobbyists reap huge rewards from government contracts. As war ends, ordinary Americans continue paying economic costs due to displaced government priorities whereas executives of transnational corporations and banks receive favorable access to new markets falling under the control of the American Empire. The described contradiction of interests when multiplied by the differences in the ability to influence Congress (roughly measured by the amount of campaign donations) creates a gross misrepresentation of public interest in Washington D.C. and therefore is a form of government corruption. So, even though the ordinary public constitutes the majority of voters and technically elects candidates to Congress, large campaign donors effectively decide which candidate will be able to sustain the political campaign to end up on the voting ballot. To that extent, the assumption that “the informed public will be able to effectively influence their Congress members or otherwise elect pro-peace candidates …” is flawed because public demands are not matched by campaign contributions vital for the Congressperson’s re-election campaign.

Revised action strategy

Existing misrepresentation in Congress indicates that repairing the current action strategy requires putting ordinary people at the center of the congresspersons’ attention. Moreover, since waging occupational wars contradicts the interests of ordinary people, a genuine representation of those interests in Congress, not corrupted by the influence of large campaign donations, may actually be sufficient to guide the peace-oriented foreign policy. Therefore, an effective action strategy should include a campaign toward putting ordinary people at the center of the congresspersons’ attention.

Campaign finance reform

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There is a reason public approval of Congress consistently polls around 15%. The majority of Americans understand that our Republic is severely ill, but the cause of the illness is far less obvious. Therefore many advocacy groups attempt to treat the symptoms of the illness manifested in unending wars, a militarized budget, income inequality, an absence of accessible health care and higher education, etc. My thesis is that the root cause common to all of the above (and many other) ills is the undue influence of big money in politics and must be addressed by enacting campaign finance reform for congressional elections.

The infamous Supreme Court ruling in 2010 on Citizens United vs. FEC invigorated the public on the broader issue of the influence of big money on our elected officials. Now, the majority of voters across party lines support some form of campaign finance reform. In my opinion, VFP and other peace groups must not only welcome but actively advocate for campaign finance reform in order to create an effective action strategy.

Some believe that only a constitutional amendment declaring that “corporations are not people” and that “money is not a protected speech and can be regulated” is the only way to address the problem. Since constitutional amendments are hard to obtain, a meaningful reform may seem out of reach. However, it appears that substantial reform may be achieved without a constitutional amendment. As of 2013 there are several legislative proposals which would help reduce the influence of big money and increase the influence of ordinary voters on the decision making process in Washington D.C. Undoubtedly, most of them will fail or if enacted would not solve the entire problem. Nevertheless, they are the elements which shift the influence on Congress from the affluent minority with special interests towards the general public in order to create a more perfect union. Until then all we have is the hope that our Presidents will choose to not over-abuse their war power.

Further reading:
Billion-Dollar Democracy: The Unprecedented Role of Money in the 2012 Elections
Democracy 21
United Republic

Sergey Gratiy, Associate Member