Anthony Douglas -
We love comfort. Do we love peace?
That’s the question Ed Flaherty poses. You’ll have seen Flaherty at the downtown Friday Peace Rally, which has been happening nearly weekly for 14 years, recognizable by his shock of white hair, engaging, gregarious manner, and fierce sense of conviction.
With other members of Veterans for Peace, Flaherty is working to wake people up to the insanity of war.
He points to the ever-expanding military budget as one sign of what’s wrong. In 2018 the military budget was $700 billion. “This is running up the national debt, even while we’re cutting things like education and funding for Amtrak. Apart from the amorality of it, that amount of money should be offensive.”
The U.S. spent $2 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan, with little good effect, he points out.
Every administration has pushed this agenda, justifying their wars through lies (think Iraq). “Obama expanded wars in Afghanistan and worldwide, putting drone warfare on steroids.”
And the warlike behavior continues. In Yemen, where perhaps the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world is unfolding, the U.S. provides refueling, intelligence and weapons to the Saudis. In Israel and Palestine, “we’re aiding the total inhumanity,” Flaherty says. And Congress pushes for the new ultra-expensive F-35 plane, which even the Pentagon says we don’t need.
Just as dismaying is the fact that violence deeply affects the people who perpetrate it. As a country, we’re doing violence to ourselves.
Flaherty was born in Minnesota, and in 1966, at the age of 20, he volunteered for the draft, was sent to Germany and spent over a year there. “I never believed the Vietnam War made sense. In May ’68, it made even less sense.”
1968 was a pivotal year. He married his wife, Mary, and attended the Veterans’ March in Washington, D.C. He and Mary became active in politics and peace.
In his work life, he taught elementary school and later worked as a banker, mostly with farmers, until his retirement in 2009.
When the first Gulf War happened, in ’91, he says he realized nothing had changed. “Vietnam was not an anomaly — it revealed a deep defect in our civilization.”
Veterans for Peace formed in 1985, responding to the craziness of U.S. policies in Central America. A chapter formed in Iowa in 2010; there are now three chapters here. VFP works to increase awareness of the costs of war; to restrain the government from interfering in other nations; to end the arms race and reduce nuclear weapons; seek justice for veterans and victims of war and abolish war as an instrument of national policy.
“Whether you were in combat or not, being a veteran brings a familiarity with the military culture. There’s a credibility a vet has when speaking against military actions. We feel a greater responsibility. We bought into the idea of the U.S. as greatest military power in the world, that it was right to use force.”
Flaherty admits frustration at the lack of impact the peace movement is currently having. What, he wonders, could be easier to organize around than Trump’s craziness?
“We do get noticed, and we do make an impact. And there are wonderful people in VFP. But we need a different mindset and approach.”
He believes people are less outraged now because there’s no draft and wars don’t impact us at home. Plus, the media is silent about our wars.
What keeps Flaherty going? “To quote John Prine, ‘Jesus Don’t Like Killin’.’ It’s about respect for life and humanity. I’m not against flag-waving, but only if you envision the possibility of peace, and want the country to change in a positive direction.”
Flaherty and VFP will be striking up conversations with RAGBRAI riders when they pass through town in a few weeks.
Writers Group member Andy Douglas is author of "The Curve of the World: Into the Spiritual Heart of Yoga."