Sponsored by Veterans For Peace
Santa Fe Plaza
Craig S. Barnes
I am Craig Barnes, 1st Lt., US Army, infantry, retired, formerly of the 3rd Armored Division, stationed at the Fulda Gap in Germany from 1963-65.
We have come here to this place today, to this historic 400-year-old Plaza, to the heart of our town, to honor those more than 1500 of our brothers and sisters who have fallen in Iraq, who lie in the ground, forever asleep, no longer able to march with us, no longer able to love or to learn, to cry out for their children, no longer able to dream or to weep.
We are here today because the federal government has denied to us the right to express our feelings in the National Cemetery, and so we will express those feelings here in this historic place and then we will process peacefully and reverently on our own to that National Cemetery and there lay down yellow roses as symbol of our intention to not ever forget what has been done for us and to carry on for them as they might have done, had they come home.
Most of us here today were once under arms ourselves and, as all these 1500 of our brothers and sisters have gone silent, it has fallen upon us, those who are not yet silent, to notice them, notice that they were farmers, mechanics, wood cutters and carpenters, that they were from among us, stood fully bedecked on the parade ground beside us, crawled through the mud of the darkest woods only a whisper away from us, mustered arms with us in the middle of the night, and these men and women of America do not deserve to be ignored, do not deserve to be, must not be, any longer passed over, cannot be left out in the silence by order of any government on earth, and will not be so left out, so long as we here remain able to walk and to speak.
We know that the silence is forced upon us by an ever-more united, combined, determinedly mute media, a media owned by six or seven of those companies which enjoy perpetual corporate existence. Those men and women who now lie throughout this land, brought home in body bags from Iraq and Afghanistan, did not have perpetual existence and if there are none in board rooms from Rome to London to New York to Los Angeles who recognize what it is to not be perpetual, we who have carried the weapons and slept in the mud, we do know. The silence of the Viacoms, the Disneys, and the News Corporation, the silence of General Electric and General Motors will not any longer be our silence. When a man in uniform is riding in an armored personnel carrier, or a woman under orders is driving a truck from Mosul to Baghdad, there is no Viacom or Fox News manning the radio or checking the ammunition or looking out for explosives beside the road. There are only human beings in there. And every human being who has ever been there, or ever been in uniform, has earned the right today to speak to his brothers and sisters who have now fallen, those who were there for us when we were there and for whom we will now be there, because we said we would be.
Those who have fallen in this war and those who lie beneath the white crosses in that great cemetery to which we will walk this afternoon were not from red states or blue states; those who fell in Baghdad or at Normandy, whether they fell at the Ardennes, or in Fallujah, were more, and less, than republicans or democrats, were simply from among us, went to church and temple with us, took their kids to soccer with our kids, and lay down for the last time trying to defend us. We therefore honor them today not for some partisan purpose, nor for some political agenda, but to make our promise, openly, and commit ourselves here in public for all to see, that we will not forget what it is—we will not forget that great democratic ideal—for which they have made the final sacrifice.
We will not forget that they have made that sacrifice to help bring about on this earth a nation of laws, and not of men. We will not forget that the most treasured inheritance of Americans is not some treasure at all but that we have for some 800 years—since the Magna Carta in 1215—nurtured, extended, protected and founded a country upon the principle the king is not above the law, that fairness, habeas corpus, due process, are all above the king. We did not start this, we veterans who have fought over the centuries, because of an election in 2000; we started this as the basis for a civilization, and we will not ever halt this process because of one random election or another. We joined then, and we join now, with a force of history and in so doing we join the destiny of peoples all over the world who no longer believe in kings.
We will not forget, either, we veterans who are gathered here today, that this nation was founded upon the principle that any man’s duty to defend this country was always to be limited to times of crisis, for the public defense, and not ever for the cause of empire.
We do not forget that empire is not America’s business, to contain empire today means to go beyond the king to those great corporations who currently meet and govern in secret, beyond our reach, beyond the reach of the Congress or the courts and we pledge to honor those who have fallen in all our wars by reviving and making new the old idea that government is for the people, that power is only from the people, and that only humans are people, and that paper charters issued in Delaware or the Cayman islands do not create anything like people.
We do not forget that those who have fallen in these our wars have died to insure decency and civility between human beings, honor and integrity in government and that torture and unlimited detention and humiliation and secret assassinations are of another tradition, not the American tradition, of another spirit, not of our spirit, and are not the reason for which we fight, or have ever fought.
We do not forget that those who have gone silent for the last time did not give their all to honor what is brutal so much as to give birth to what is one day going to be a new dignity for the human being. We do not forget that that was always our promise. That was what we set out to do over 200 years ago and that is the dream today, the dream which gives our republic meaning and without a dream of civility and fair play and honor among nations our wars have no purpose and no meaning.
We do not forget that it is only dignity that begets dignity and that when the attempt is made to teach democracy at the end of a gun the lesson learned is more apt to be about the gun than about democracy. We will therefore, and this is our pledge today, be about the true work of democracy, the humility, the dignity, the civility, the integrity, the legality, and be about this work in honor of the fallen, forever, without ceasing.
Finally, my friends, we march to the cemetery today to show that we shall not forget that government of, by, and for, the people, is as yet a fragile and immature experiment in the history of nations, and that we have work to do to reign in the instincts of men who are inside government and outside, who even now are attempting to accumulate unlimited power. We will therefore never forget that there is something of the tyrant in every man— as Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John while he sat at the constitutional convention 250 years ago—and that the need to restrain tyranny is therefore never over, never done, and not done now.
While, therefore, those who have fallen have done their part, we who in our times also rode through the fire but came out alive have not yet done our full part. Even as they gave the last full measure of devotion, we here pledge to give the last full measure of our time, our treasure, our love and our attention, so that government built upon dreams and ideals, upon hopes and compassion, upon the best that is in us rather than the worst that is in us, shall experience on this planet a rebirth, a new chance, a new following, and become again a flame to light the way of nations.
Now let us go lay our roses in the cemetery as if what has happened to the 1500 matters, as if history matters, as if all that we wore the uniform for still matters, and as if we intend to carry on.