Interview with Leah Bolger, President of Veterans for Peace
— Leah Bolger: “Veterans For Peace wants to extend a hand of friendship to the Iranian people…. We understand that the people of Iran are not our enemies, and we really want to convey that message. We want to convey the message that our foreign policy does not represent American people; it’s the government.”
Interviewed by C. Goodman, U.S. Peace Council
CG: Thank you for giving us the time to have this talk with you. We just came out of a great Veterans For Peace Convention. Would you mind telling us what important decisions were made at the Convention regarding the international situation and the politics in the United States?
LB: For some time, Veterans For Peace has been on record for standing in solidarity with peoples of all nations and their right for self-determination, and in solidarity with people who are working for peace and justice. We are appalled by the actions of our government, the United States, and the actions of one of our strongest political and military allies, Israel, who are making very threatening gestures towards Iran and talking about interfering in Syria. We know that the words coming out of the mouths of our government officials are provocative, confrontational and not peaceful. We are quite alarmed by their bellicosity. We are quite alarmed by how threatening and provocative they are.
Veterans For Peace put out a letter to President Obama some time ago, asking him to state unequivocally, that the United States would not support Israel in an attack on Iran. I am afraid that silence is complicity in this case. If the United States Government does not say it will oppose a military action against Iran, then the government of Israel will interpret that as acquiescence. So, we implore our government to think about the harm they are doing right now and what the United States has done by imposing economic sanctions on the people and government of Iran. This is hurting the people of Iran and we don’t want to see another situation like what happened in Iraq, where the United States imposed economic sanctions and half a million children died as a result of that. So far in Iran we haven’t seen half a million deaths, but we don’t want to have any deaths. We don’t want to have any bread lines; we don’t want to have any people suffering as a result of our foreign policy.
So, what happened in this convention was really a re-affirmation of our solidarity with the peoples around the world and of our opposition to U.S. imperialism and militarism. We are trying to lift our voices as veterans to say that we know the horrors of war and that we want to stop it anywhere it is happening. We feel responsible as Americans that our government, our tax dollars, are being used to harm peoples and countries all over the world.
CG: Was there any action planned by VFP with regard to issues relating to Iran and the threats of war and sanctions, given the serious situation that we are in now?
LB: We have issued position statements and we have distributed them out widely through the press, although, because our media is controlled by giant corporations, which are also owned by military-defense contractors, our statements are not widely publicized through the regular corporate media. Independent media, international media, has picked up on our positions: Press TV in Iran, Aljazeera. We are heard by others who see the harm that our government is doing. They understand it and the want to see our voices heard. The problem is that our government is so intertwined — the government, the media, the Congress, and the corporations — that it is difficult to take your message out.
We made a very strong, powerful statement about opposing intervention in Syria, just as we opposed intervention in Libya, which was also touted as a sort of “humanitarian” act. We know that there is no such thing as humanitarian war — that’s an oxymoron. We would like to extend a hand of friendship to peoples around the world to let them know that we support them; we are human beings and humanity comes before politics.
As far as actions planned, many members of Veterans For Peace have signed a pledge of resistance to act in opposition to our government’s policies. We have pledged to risk arrest, to risk our freedom and liberty, to decry our nation’s policies against governments that have done nothing to harm us and are not in violation of any sort of international laws, as the United States is. And this is what is so ironic about it. The United States has violated all kinds in international law. By invading Afghanistan and Iraq we have waged wars of aggression, which are considered to be the most reprehensible form of crime. We are guilty every day of war crimes by occupying countries. We are responsible for deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
So, Veterans For Peace does everything we can think of. Our people have been jailed in opposition. Many members of Veterans For Peace have risked their lives for the wars of our government. We have people who risk their lives for peace. We have people that would go stand in harms way to say: “No, you can’t do this.” I wish I could convey how strongly people feel about this. They don’t want to see another child killed by a drone. They don’t want to see another death. It is reprehensible.
CG: There is speculation, and I am sure there was talks at the convention, that there may be heightened threat of an attack between now and the elections and afterwards. Would you like to comment on that? How urgent is this
LB: It is very urgent. Back in the spring, when Netanyahu was in the United States, there was a lot of tension and we felt quite alarmed that war might be imminent at that time. Since then, the talks of the war and attack, and the rhetoric of beating the drums, died down a little bit for a few months because the American public is completely wrapped up in the elections. This brings me to the point of why I am concerned — we are all concerned — because American presidential elections are coming up and because our presidential candidates are so tied, and all of our government is so tied, to AIPAC and the Israeli lobby that works for the Israeli interests.
What we are really concerned about now, in anticipation of the November elections, is if Governor Romney appears to be in the lead. Governor Romney has come out very candidly and said that he would support an attack on Iran if Israel attacks. I think if President Obama feels like he might not win the elections, then the Israeli government would feel like they could act with impunity and might choose to attack Iran before the presidential elections so that President Obama feels he has no political choice but to support Israel in this war of choice. So, it is very political. If you look at the American news, all you see is 24-hour coverage of politics and presidential elections, as if nothing else is going on in the world.
So, I think between now and the election time is an especially vulnerable time, particularly worrisome, considering the political situation in the United States.
CG: Veterans For Peace has been very firm in terms of its opposition to sanctions and war. But we know that the Iranian internal situation is very complicated and a struggle is going on in that country. Veterans For Peace has also declared many times its solidarity with the people of different countries. Here, the complication with Iran is that this solidarity may be pushed into the shadow because of the threat of war. What fine position does Veterans For Peace have on this issue to balance both concerns?
LB: Veterans For Peace has a five-point Statement of Purpose and the second point is to prevent our government from interfering, overtly or covertly, in the affairs of other nations. We are not opposing or supporting, or advocating support or opposition of, the government of any country. We are saying that we are opposing the actions of our own country, the United States and its ally Israel that we give billions of dollars to. We are saying that we oppose our country’s actions in threats of war and the propensity to go to war. There is a long history of American imperialism and wars of choice, wars of aggression. On the other hand, Iran does not have any such history whatsoever. So, we are not about saying that a government is good or a government is bad. What we say is that we feel responsible as Americans to oppose the policies of our own government and to try to prevent, through everything we can, war on other countries, which harms innocent people.
CG: Do you have a message for the Iranian people?
LB: First of all, I would like to express my sincere condolences and concern for the victims of the recent earthquakes in northern Iran. It is especially important that in times of natural disaster we treat each other with compassion and humanity. It is particularly distressing to think that the economic sanctions might be restricting the flow of humanitarian aid to the victims of these earthquakes.
Veterans For Peace wants to extend a hand of friendship to the Iranian people. I would love to come to Iran, to meet the Iranian people. I would love to share and learn more about the culture of Iran, which has a very long and extraordinary history. We understand that the people of countries don’t want war; it’s the governments that cause the war. We understand that the people of Iran are not our enemies, and we really want to convey that message. We want to convey the message that our foreign policy does not represent American people; it’s the government. And I hope that Iranian people can understand that we are trying our best to influence our own government, and as individuals we support human beings, no matter where they live.
CG: Thank you very much.
LB: Thank you.