Should another generation of youth living here be sucked into war for empire, the way two million+ have sacrificed their humanity and lives in the so-called “war on terror?” We say no, and are actively working to present what the recruiters for the U.S. armed forces won’t ever say. Should another generation of youth in this country be unaware of what is being carried out around the world in their names? We say no, and are determined to build anti-war consciousness and activism. It is neither in the interests of this generation of young people nor those of the people of the world for them to enlist in the military – while, on the other hand, becoming part of a movement opposing these wars is.
This year has been consequential for our project, our country and our world. While the grave dangers of the U.S. imperial military have existed throughout the period of the existence of the We Are Not Your Soldiers project, the existential threats to humanity and our planet (including threats to use nukes, dropping of the “mother of all bombs,” increase in targeted killing, abuse of 65 million immigrants…) has all been ratcheted up to an even more alarming extent under a fascist leadership moving to consolidate power.
So, in many ways, We Are Not Your Soldiers had quite a year (its 12th)! For the second year in a row, our visits stayed in NY, this time not only in NYC but in NYS as well.
- We went to four colleges in NYC – three in the CUNY system and one private – visiting each of them twice, once in the fall semester and once in the spring semester.
- We went to seven public high schools in NYC – from very traditional to very non-traditional – visiting two of them four times each and another one twice.
- We visited a very progressive public middle school where the students engaged in discussion at a high-school-worthy level. This was our third time speaking with this age grouping and our second visit to this school. We only do this after extensive contact with the teachers and assurance the students are well prepared.
- And, something completely new to us, we spent an evening in a church social action program in upstate NY whose members are primarily immigrant youth.
As a result of these visits, we spoke to students in:
- 17 college classes
- 41 high school classes (including one JROTC class)
- Four middle school classes
- One church youth group
That averages out to We Are Not Your Soldiers engaging in deep discussion with approximately 1600-1700 students this academic year.
WHAT DO WE DO IN THESE CLASSES?
We began the year with a visit to two college philosophy classes with a presentation/dialog by Bruce Dancis, a Vietnam resister who spent 19 months in federal prison, and Joe Urgo, a Vietnam veteran who had been in the Air Force. We then did a very full week of visits with spoken word artist Miles Megaciph who told the story of his time in the Marines via hip-hop (see video above). Lyle Rubin, who had served as a Marine lieutenant in Afghanistan, did another entire week of touring schools. John Burns, an Army veteran, carried out the final week of touring. In addition, we did several shorter spans of visits when three of the veterans were able to fit in a day or two here or there making a total of four very dense weeks. In a couple of other instances on the college level, we did joint presentations by Joe and either Lyle or John comparing and contrasting the two war experiences.
Most of the students whose classes we visit, despite having lived in a state of war for all or most of their lives, do not know about the seven wars currently being carried on in their names nor the realities of the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Often, we show students the version of “Collateral Murder” narrated by veteran Ethan McCord. (If you would like to have a copy of Collateral Murder, in several versions including the McCord narration, send us your request and a donation and we will mail you out a DVD). Sometimes we show excerpts from “Unmanned,” a feature film about a drone pilot stationed in the United States. Always, the veterans directly tell the stories of their time in the military – of what they experienced, did and witnessed. The students are encouraged to ask whatever questions they have and to engage in dialog expressing their opinions. A core idea we always ask the students to consider during all our presentations is the meaning of morality, of knowing the difference between right and wrong and what to do when you know that something is wrong.
Visits are designed in close consultation with participating teachers to make presentations fit in with their curricula and be as relevant as possible to the needs of their students.
SUPPORT TO KEEP WE ARE NOT YOUR SOLDIERS GOING
In March we went to the heart-rending historic traveling My Lai Memorial Exhibit which was on view in NYC. We were so pleased to see a panel in the display devoted to our We Are Not Your Soldiers project. This is very helpful in getting word out about our work as well as honoring us by including us in the exhibit.
To continue the We Are Not Your Soldiers project and bring more of that desired education – which, in our evaluation questionnaire that follows our visits, a student pointed out is not the typical information available in schools – we need your help so we can provide stipends to the veterans who take time off from their jobs to spend days at a time going from school to school. Funds also cover the transportation needs of the veterans who come to NYC where we have such demand for them to speak although they live in other parts of the state or country.
It is not at all easy to speak out as these veterans do – which is why only a few are willing and able to do it. We are so very grateful to these speakers who share their experiences and their lives – we understand how difficult it is to do that. They struggle to do this in order to help others avoid the trauma they have suffered and to avoid the horrific violence being aimed at so many others around the world. These veterans need your support to get to the places to which they are invited and share information with young people to which those students will not otherwise be exposed. Please take out your checkbook or your credit card and help us with this outreach today.
And, of course, as was done by the My Lai Memorial Exhibit mentioned above, please spread the word of what we are doing. If you know educators, students, parents – please let them know what we are doing and suggest they invite us to their schools.
An end-of-the-year teacher comment just received:
Thanks to you and Lyle and all at We Are Not Your Soldiers and World Cant Wait for this work and for bringing the program to our school. We hope to continue partnering in the future and look forward to a future where this work is no longer necessary!
And most recent student comments:
I liked how Lyle was real with us and didn’t try to hide information. He could speak about his experience of violence but stay very calm while talking about it.
I mostly knew what he spoke about but I wasn’t aware of the terrifying dehumanization and depersonalizaton process recruits go through.
I liked how open he was with us about his opinions and experience and how it was interactive.
I was aware of the conditions that the presenter spoke about but I never had a clear visualization from someone who was there.
My views of the military definitely did change. Now I want my uncle to stop serving.