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Our spirits were lifted by information about the advent of vehicles and home energy systems that run on hydrogen, and emit water. These are already on the market. Europe is far ahead of the US in this area, with fleets of hydrogen buses ready to hit the streets in 2003.

by Ellen Barfield
It is an uncomfortable fact that a time of war benefits anti-war organizations. A year ago national Veterans for Peace was languishing with a barely functioning, irregularly-staffed office and about 650 paid-up members. VFP just held this year’s very successful national convention, titled “What is Real Patriotism?,” in Duluth, MN, with 200 attendees, and reported a paid membership of over 1800.

Plenary speakers at the convention were inspiring, amusing, moving examples of real patriotism. Robert Bowman, the former head of High Frontier, the Star Wars predecessor under Ford and Carter, now heads the Institute for Space and Security Studies. He departed from his usual reasoned critique of the perennial missile defense boondoggle to give a funny and very apt rendition of an imagined conversation with George Bush. At one point Bowman, in an approximate quote, said, “Oh, I get it, Georgie boy, the “Patriot” Act is to protect you from us!”

This feminist had her heart warmed when former Viet Nam nurse Diane Carlson Evans told the inspiring tale of her 10-year struggle to get the Viet Nam Women’s Memorial statue installed on the Mall in Washington, DC. Ms Evans also repeated a presentation she had recently given for a large group of current military medical personnel, relating the horrors of Viet Nam and the impossibility of fixing soldiers torn in half or children taking anguished days to die from phosphorus burns. This talk, and a video of another Viet Nam nurse’s story with footage and music from that era, was very moving to an organization which is about half Viet Nam vets.

Amber Amundson, the inspiring September 11th widow who has launched the Peaceful Tomorrows victims’ families anti-war group, is apparently being criticized by her family and community and declined to appear. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer filled in beautifully with his discussion “Is Real Patriotism Possible?” Nelson-Pallmeyer is a Justice and Peace Studies professor at the University of St Thomas in Minnesota, and he used multiple examples to arrive at the conclusion that the popular idea of patriotism is too narrow to ever embrace critics who want their country to behave better, so we just have to be proud rabble rousers.

Another fine plenary presentation provided hope for ending the oil addiction which leads the US to violently manipulate the Middle East. Barry Hanson, Mike Mageau, and Cree Holtz updated us on how close we are to achieving a hydrogen economy. They showed slides of vehicles and home energy systems which run on hydrogen, and emit water, and which are on the market today or nearly so. Europe is of course far ahead of the US in this area, and there are fleets of hydrogen buses ready to hit the streets in 2003. This information probably lifted our spirits more than any other, since it showed us a real way out of the quagmire. It would be hard to corner the hydrogen market, since it is so ubiquitous.

I was able to see many old friends who presented some of the workshops. Bonny Urfer and John LaForge from Nukewatch related the latest nuclear cycle horrors, such as the Yucca Mountain dump coming closer to opening and irradiated foods. We shared our ongoing grieving over the loss of our dear friend and colleague Sam Day.

Mike Miles with Voices in the Wilderness actually drove the Voices peace bus to shuttle conventioneers to and from the Minneapolis-St Paul airport and the Duluth harbor, where we had an opening night cruise brightened by both ends of a Lake Superior rainbow. Mike of course also presented a workshop on Iraq. Mario Hardy, whom I knew on the War Resisters League National Committee, gave a great counter-recruiting talk from his work with the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. He debunked the typical recruiter misrepresentations and gave us tools to educate young people of recruiting age.

A display of 30 large black and white photos by VFP member and professional photographer Alan Pogue showed the suffering people of Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq. Mr. Pogue has accompanied the VFP Iraq Water Project in its work rebuilding Iraqi water plants, and has visited Afghanistan to research possible future VFP reconstruction delegations there. A VFP Palestine delegation is forming up now, and Mr. Pogue’s experience there will prove invaluable too.

The business plenary passed 13 resolutions, taking stances including opposition to the looming war on Iraq, the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the ongoing practice bombing on Vieques, Puerto Rico, calling for investigation of the attack on the USS Liberty and Korean War atrocities, and establishing a fund to help Veterans for Peace members who become prisoners of conscience in resistance to war and militarism. In a resolution decrying US belligerence, VFP called for an end to endless wars, insisted that assaults upon our Constitutional rights be rescinded, and urged our government to stop functioning unilaterally and to become a responsible member of the community of nations.

An exciting project in late September will see VFP vets join School of the Americas Watch organizers for several days of lobbying on Capitol Hill. Some of you have probably seen the new SOA Watch video “The New Patriots” and its accompanying booklet “From Warriors to Resisters,” which feature the stories of veterans and their journeys of understanding to recognize US contributions to the threat of terrorism. On September 24th and 25th VFP members and other vets will gather in Washington, DC, to deliver the video and booklet to members of Congress and participate in a press conference to get out the word that many former warriors now decry the horror and futility of war.

I understand there was an official VFP chapter in Baltimore in the early ’90s when the FIRST war on Iraq stirred anti-war activism. If anyone out there knows anything about that, or who might have belonged, please get in touch. I would really like to get another VFP chapter going in Baltimore.

To join VFP or for info about the September lobbying event, please contact me through the Chronicle/Sentinel at

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This story was published on September 4, 2002.
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