A Statement for Veterans Day

By the DSA Veterans Working Group

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns fell silent in what writer H.G. Wells had called “the war to end all war.” The day is commemorated as Armistice Day in much of the world, and Veterans Day here in the United States. An end to war it was; an end to war it should be.

Veterans of socialist, communist, and various adjacent ideologies have served throughout American history and their stories are often forgotten or erased. Smedley Butler, Evans Carlson, August Willich, Howard Zinn, Utah Phillips, Wesley Everest, Salaria Kea, and many other notable veterans have rejected America’s imperialist and capitalist orientations and made contributions in the struggle to bring about a better world with the benefit of radical analyses and praxes.

On this day we recall the horrors of war not only for those of us who have fought in them, but for the people whose only misfortune was to live on land disputed by imperialist powers. In particular we remember the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, victims of the Forever War that the United States has now waged for 16 years. Martin Luther King Jr. rightly challenged the contradictions of US imperialism in Vietnam, as the American war machine was guilty of “taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.”

The great American socialist leader Eugene Debs said in his famous Canton Speech in 1918:

The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose — especially their lives.

They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people.

And here let me emphasize the fact — and it cannot be repeated too often — that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace.

While it is true that the US government has failed in its promise to care for the veterans of the ill-advised, pointless, and bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in undeclared conflicts across the globe, it is equally true that the government has committed graver sins against the people of those nations. Iraqi and Afghan civilians committed no crimes but to be living in nations targeted by the US for regime change. We condemn the atrocities committed against them in the name of “democracy” and “freedom.”

Furthermore, we applaud journalists, politicians, activists, and veterans who stood strong against imperialist aggression, such as the only member of Congress to oppose the War on Terror, Barbara Lee, as well as whistleblower, activist, and Army veteran Chelsea Manning, in fighting oppression.

The bloated US military budget of almost $700 billion dollars for the year ahead of us saps our nation of resources needed to serve the needs of the masses. Comprising more than half of the discretionary budget of the nation, the billions spent on war and bloodshed could more than cover the costs of healthcare, housing, and services for our citizens. To continue to spend half our budget to terrorize other nations in imperialist wars helps neither the United States nor the rest of the world, with whom we must stand in solidarity.

In the final analysis, this vile capitalist system and its profit motive we live under will forever reproduce war in all of its facets. Only through socialism do we stand a chance to end imperialist war once and for all. On this Veterans Day, we therefore call for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a withdrawal of U.S. forces from all nations, and the eradication of the military industrial complex. Smedley Butler’s words echo through the decades: “You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.”