The anti-war report from Left Forum 2015 in New York

A strong contingent of anti-war groups gathered in New York at the annual Left Forum conference.

Left Forum 2015

HUNDREDS of participants turned out to converge on John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan last weekend for the annual Left Forum 2015 conference.

Each spring in New York City, activists and intellectuals from around the world and from a broad range of social movements come together for three days of discussion and events.

This year, 1,600 participants and 420 panels at the conference gathered around one theme: No Justice, No Peace: The question of confronting a crisis of capitalism and democracy. Of these panels, workshops and events, there was a strong contingent of organisers from anti-war groups like World Can’t Wait, World Beyond War, Roots Action and more.

No peace, no earth

In a morning session organised by World Beyond War, entitled War Normalized or War Abolished, speakers discussed drones, nuclear weapons and the abolition of war.

Drones activist Nick Mottern from Know Drones explained the US is building an international network of drone bases. He called for an international ban to stop all weaponised drones.

As we approach the seventieth anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this August, we must face the fact that drones will not just go away. They are “thoroughgoing and advancing like nuclear weapons.”

The panel also highlighted the attempts by the legal profession to put a human rights face on drone strikes. New York University law student Amanda Bass discussed recent student action at NYU School of Law.

Students issued a statement of no confidence condemning the law school’s decision to hire former State Department legal advisor Harold Koh as professor of human rights law.

The statement documents Koh’s role in shaping and defending the legality of US targeted killings. Koh was a key legal architect of the Obama administration’s targeted killing program between 2009 and 2013.

Koh facilitated the extrajudicial and unconstitutional assassination of Anwar al-Aulaqui, an American citizen killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Students are demanding the school get rid of Koh and hire a professor who cares about constitutional rights, human rights and about human life.

In Jack Gilroy’s play about drones, a young woman from a military family opts for a peace studies course in Syracuse, New York near Hancock Air Force base. Joined by her drone pilot mother, a fictional senator and an activist, the women debate about drones and civilian deaths. Actors remained in character for audience questions.

In the afternoon, activists, scholars and journalists gathered to discuss how the anti-war movement should respond to US wars of aggression, imperialism, and counter-revolution and conflict in the Middle East, when any US intervention is no solution and not in the interest of the people of the Middle East.

While discussions leaned toward US policy and militarism, David Swanson from World Beyond War offered a different spin: To imagine a world beyond war is to imagine a planet without climate crisis. The largest percentage of fossil fuel is consumed by the war industry and there is a US agenda to control fossil fuel resources.

When we are living in a world where whoever is in control of the source of oil, thereby controls the planet, our social and political movements should be linking the war on terror, climate justice and environment. Although some Latin American countries have long held stake in this necessary cohesion between climate justice and anti-war movements, a global campaign is taking longer to form.

Mottern even suggested a new conference theme: “no peace, no earth” rather than ‘no justice, no peace’.

Warriors turned anti-warriors

Left Forum 2015

A high point of the conference was the Military Families Speak Out round table, with award-winning documentarian and television host, Phil Donahue, as moderator. Panelists discussed the physical and invisible wounds of war: death by suicide, long-term caretaking, moral injury, and Post Traumatic Stress.

Former US Marine, Matthew Hoh (Iraq Veterans Against the War), resigned from his post in the State Department in opposition to the government’s failed policy on Afghanistan. Hoh explained the difference between post-traumatic stress and moral injury. Traumatic stress is a fear-based affliction that happens after trauma. Moral injury, however, is not fear. It is when an act you either performed or witnessed goes against who you are. Left untreated, moral injury leads to suicide.

Kevin and Joyce Lucey, Vrnda Noel and Cathy Smith (Military Families Speak Out) told of their sons’ moral injury and in Lucey’s case, suicide. The crisis we’re in now, Smith pointed out, is that more veterans are dying from suicide than US soldiers died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Smith’s son, Tomas Young, was one of the first veterans to come out publicly against the war in Iraq. In Iraq, in 2004, Young was left severely disabled. After returning from Iraq, he became an anti-war activist, protesting against illegal wars and accusing Bush and Cheney of war crimes. Donahue, who co-directed a film about Young called Body of War, described the ex-soldier as “a warrior turned anti-warrior.”

Vrnda Noel’s son is a conscientious objector and is coping with moral injury as a result of his experience as a combat medic in Iraq. She introduced the audience to the case of Robert Weilbacher, an army medic who in 2014, was granted conscientious objector status by the Army Conscientious Objector Review Board. However, in February 2015, Francine C. Blackmon, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, countermanded the Review Board’s decision, making Weilbacher’s CO status not effective. Weilbacher is now in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Confronting a world at war

The illustrious Ray McGovern (Veterans for Peace), a former US army intelligence officer and retired CIA analyst turned activist, testified in 2005 at an unofficial hearing on the Downing Street Memo, that the US went to war in Iraq for oil. On Saturday, McGovern spoke about his arrest in 2011 for standing silently with his back turned to Hillary Clinton.

Left Forum 2015

For McGovern and Hoh, policy in Iraq and Afghanistan was doomed to fail from the outset. But Hoh sees a building movement against unjust wars. “We get down on ourselves, but we did have success.” He reminded the room how public outrage at the prospect of war in Syria. It was a grassroots, anti-war movement that stopped the US and UK in 2013. “We have had successes and we need to continue to build on it.”

McGovern added: “We had a lot of help from the English.” Referring to the 2013 Syria vote in British parliament, he said: “Even the British can help us out,” noting the significance of the Syria vote as the first time in two hundred years the UK voted against war.

Hoh and McGovern show us how a decade of global movements stemming from February 15th 2003 will not been hindered. It rolls on, building strength and successes along the way.

Yet, the West's growing aggression has not waned, and we are seeing the further amplification of assaults on Muslim communities and on civil liberties. How should the anti-war movement respond?

At an international conference in London on Saturday June 6th, Medea Benjamin from Codepink and a wide range of participants from around the world will lead discussions and debate. See a full programme and list of speakers.

Source: Stop the War Coalition