Ivan's Place
In honor of the greatest moralist who never lived
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Becker

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Veterans Fast for Life for Peace in Central America

On September 1st, 1986, four veterans began a water-only "fast for life" on the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C. They wanted to to draw attention to, and to protest, President Reagan's illegal and extraordinarily vicious wars against the poor of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

The veterans were George Mizo, U.S. Army, 1963-1970,Vietnam;
Brian Willson, U.S. Air Force, 1966-1970, Vietnam;
Duncan Murphy, U.S. Army, 1942-1945, ambulance driver, WWII;
Charles Litkey[sic], U.S. Army, 1966-1971, Vietnam, 2 tours;
(Veterans' identification taken from Brian Willson's own announcement of the fast, September 1, 1986.)

Charles Liteky was a Catholic chaplain who won the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of over 20 of his comrades who had come under heavy fire. On July, 29, 1986, he renounced his Medal of Honor in protest of U.S. foreign policy, laying it at the Vietnam Veteran's Wall. A Google search on "Charles Liteky" will turn up any number of sites with far more information than I can provide here. A good place to start is Liteky's An Open Letter to the U.S. Military, sent from Baghdad, May 7, 2003.

(Exactly a year later, on September 1, 1987, Brian Willson and Duncan Murphy began another fast, this time on the railroad tracks of the Concord Naval Weapons Station in California. It was cut short. As the train carrying weapons bound for the Contras in Nicaragua and the Salvadoran "killing machine" approached, Willson could not believe that it was not going to stop. He waited too long to jump away, and lost both of his legs as the train ran over him. Visit Willson's account of near-death at Concord at http://www.brianwillson.com/evracnwstest.html.)

I was privileged to meet Brian Willson in Los Angeles before the fast began, and I met Charlie Liteky at a house meeting in the San Fernando Valley during the fast itself. He had come west to participate in a Los Angeles area protest. At the house meeting, sponsored by the Santa Monica-based peace group Office of the Americas (OOA), Liteky and Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, each spoke about their personal journeys from being ardent supporters of U.S. foreign policy to committed opponents. OOA also managed the administrative functions of the fast in Washington.

Like several of our Los Angeles area friends, my friend Bonnie Norwood and I decided to go to Washington to show support for the vets. We arrived at the Capitol steps on October 7th, the 37th day of the fast. My thanks to Brian for the introductory photo and its accompanying text; other important information he supplied; his eagle eye for typos; and just for being who he is.

All photos shown except the first are mine. I have tried to capture the spirit of the vets' protest, and the moral support given them by their compatriots also opposed to president Reagan's policies. I apologize for a certain redundancy of photos, but I just liked them all. Commentary appears below each picture.


Photo: Rick Reinhard.     Decorated Vietnam veteran George Mizo (lower left), sits on the east steps of U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., October 3, 1986, on the 33rd day of a water-only, open-ended hunger strike, the "Veterans Fast For Life" (VFFL), explaining the fast (protesting Reagan's illegal aid[1] to fund Contra paramilitary activities seeking to overthrow the sovereign Sandinista government in Nicaragua) to U.S. Democratic senators. Onlookers include (from left) fellow faster Vietnam veteran S. Brian Willson (wearing baseball hat), John Kerry Mass.), Donald Riegle (Mich.), Christopher Dodd (Conn.) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (N.Y.). [Office Of The Americas Executive Director Theresa Bonpane stands next to Senator Moynihan — B.B.] Vietnam veteran Charlie Liteky, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and World War II veteran Duncan Murphy were the other two participating fasters not shown in this photo.

The veterans believed that the President's explicit policy of directing the contra terrorists in Nicaragua to commit wanton murder and destruction, enabled by appropriations passed by a majority of members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, amounted to grotesque, unconscionable violent behavior in violation of both U.S. Constitutional and international law, and the egregious breach of the human rights of virtually all Nicaraguan citizens. The veterans believed that the President was clearly vulnerable to Constitutional impeachment, and that all members of the Senate and House of Representatives should have been subjected to criminal prosecution under international law as well, whether they were re-elected or not.

[1]The International Court of Justice (ICJ/World Court) formally judged on June 27,1986 that the United States had intervened by "training, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against" the Republic of Nicaragua, had used "force" by "certain attacks on Nicaraguan territory," and violated "sovereignty" by "authorizing overflights of Nicaraguan territory" while interrupting "peaceful maritime commerce." The Court judged that the United States was "under a duty immediately to cease and refrain from all such acts" (of what were in substance grotesque acts of terrorism) and "to make reparation to the Republic of Nicaragua for all injury caused to Nicaragua by the breaches of obligations under customary international law enumerated" herein. SEE Military and Paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America), Merits, Judgment 27 June 1986 (I.C.J. Reports 1986, p. 14).

NOTE: President Truman ratified the Charter of the United Nations and the Statute of the International Court of Justice on August 8,1945, two days after dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and one day before dropping a similar one on Nagasaki. President Reagan quickly dismissed with contempt the judgment of the ICJ in the Nicaragua case. The contra terrorist activities continued for 4 more years. No reparations were ever granted to Nicaragua. The fast ended at 47 days after thousands of people, through letters, phone calls, and personal visits, shared hundreds of concurrent solidarity actions protesting U.S. terrorist policies in Central America. Later the four fasters were shocked to learn the FBI had placed them on the domestic terrorist suspect list, citing numerous protest actions as part of a "conspiracy" to "coerce" alteration of U.S. policies. One Senator, Rudman (R-NH), compared the fasting veterans to Middle Eastern terrorists.

s6f25.jpg A typical view from the street. Day 38 of the fast.

s6f20.jpg From left to right: George Mizo, Brian Willson, Duncan Murphy, and Charles Liteky. Here Duncan Murphy holds the mike. Judging by the hints of smiles from the other vets, he must be saying something funny.

s6f18.jpg The crowd agrees. Who says that peace activists don't have a sense of humor.

vfl030.jpg One of the hundreds of the vets' supporters takes notes.

s6f24.jpg The victim being bayonetted here, "in our name," by a U.S. surrogate is certainly a poor campesino who dared to try to organize for better wages and better living conditions. These poor Central Americans were of course labeled "communists," which justified all manner of atrocities committed against them.

(A nice touch would have been to invite major administration players to autograph the poster: the Contras' main handler, Lt. Col. Oliver North; North's good friend, the seriously deranged Contra héfe Enrique Bermudez; and Elliot Abrams, Under Secretary of State for Reminding Everyone of a Small Nocturnal Rodent, as comedian Dave Barry so accurately pegged him. As I write this, Abrams is reminding many Middle Easterners of a small nocturnal rodent as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East and North African Affairs.)

s6f22.jpg Another WWII veteran, wearing a Veterans for Peace cap.

s6f17.jpg Moms start their babies off on the right foot toward becoming peace advocates.

s7f01.jpg Bonnie speaks with another protester; upper left, behind the man in the checked shirt. I don't remember what the young man with the microphone was saying.

vfl040.jpg Yours truly holds the banner. It was probably on this day that I noticed House speaker Tip O'Neill exit a limousine that had pulled up alongside the left wall of the steps. O'Neill went directly to an entrance not visible to us without so much as a glance at the vets on the steps. This irritated me greatly.

The next evening, as we walked to the metro, Bonnie and I approached a tall man and a woman from the rear. Even from a distance I recognized our very own Congressman, Anthony Beilenson. (I had met Beilenson several times before, and like most of his constituents, I considered him a virtually perfect example of the honest and competent legislator.) I hailed him, and he introduced his wife. I then told him about O'Neill's ignoring the vets, adding that I was sure this was probably O'Neill's usual behavior. I also said that it wasn't very courageous of O'Neill not to show them support. Beilenson listened respectfully, and said "I'll talk to Tip in the morning."

I think it was the next day that O'Neill invited the four veterans to meet with him in his office. The result of that meeting is unknown, but it is just possible that after coming face-to-face with the vets' moral courage, O'Neill's support for hearings on the burgeoning Iran-Contra scandal was strenghtened.

vetonsteps.jpg This veteran says it all without saying a word.

vfl050.jpg Evening vigil.

vfl060.jpg Duncan Murphy.

s5f13.jpg October 7th. The vets wait through introductory remarks by a series of Congressmen and other officials at a press conference. While I was taking the pictures shown below, Bonnie had a nice conversation with Senator John Kerry.

s5f02.jpg Senator Charles Mathias, R-MD. Mathias did not run for reelection in 1986.

s5f03.jpg Caliborne Pell, D-Rhode Island.

s5f04.jpg Representative William Donlon (Don) Edwards, D-San Jose, CA. As a former special agent for the FBI, Edwards became particularly interested in why the FBI designated the fasters as domestic terrorists. Brian Willson learned of this designation in 1987, after he was maimed by the weapons train at the Concord Naval Weapons Station. Perhaps the FBI had been influenced by Republican Senator Warren Rudman's infamous comparison of the protesting veterans to Middle Eastern terrorists. (RUDMAN LIKENS FASTING VETERANS TO TERRORISTS, Boston Globe, October 11, 1986)

s5f05.jpg Senator Ted Kennedy, D-MA. Kennedy still represents Massachusetts in the Senate.

s5f06.jpg Representative Leon Panetta, D-Monterey, CA.

s5f07.jpg Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. In 1970 Harkin was a congressional aide who helped expose the infamous "tiger cages," tiny cubicles used to hold, entire Vietnamese families suspected of being Viet Cong sympathizers. Harkin still represents Iowa in the Senate.

s5f09.jpg Senator Daniel Inouye speaks. Inouye is a Japanese-American WWII veteran who lost an arm after being wounded while leading an assault on a heavily-defended ridge near Terenzo called Colle Musatello.

vfl120.jpg Senator John Kerry, D-MA. The flash on this camera seems to have worked poorly here. My black and white photo of the Senator is perfectly exposed, but he blinked. Many liberals and progressives think that he blinked too often in his contest with President Bush during the 2004 election. Kerry still represents Massachusetts in the Senate.

On October 10, 2002, Brian Willson posted An Open Letter to Senator John Kerry on Iraq.

s5f12.jpg Representative David Bonior, D-Detroit, MI

s5f14.jpg Representative Lane Evans. Democrat Evans still represents the 17th Congressional District, Illinois.

s5f15.jpg Senator Patrick Leahy. Democrat Leahy still represents the state of Vermont.

s5f18.jpg Charlie Liteky

s5f19.jpg George Mizo

s5f20.jpg Duncan Murphy

s5f21.jpg Brian Willson

s5f23.jpg Leon Panetta concludes the press conference. Note the similarity between Senator Kerry's demeanor here and the scowls and body language shown by all the Senators in the introductory photo. Guilty consciences, perhaps?

vfl080.jpg October 9. Press conference at the Lincoln Memorial. From here, the vets will walk to the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall, where they will lay their medals. The woman in gray at the right will accompany them. She is Barbara Graves, at the time a Berkeley psychotherapist and Quaker. Graves received a Bronze Star as a WWII Red Cross worker setting up convalescent homes in France and England. She was the first civilian to receive a Bronze Star, awarded by citation signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (Thanks to Brian Willson for this information.)


vfl100.jpg Buddhists also showed their support for the veterans. The two men on the right may have been on the International March for Peace in Central America earlier in 1986, but I can't be sure. The flag seems to be the same one carried by the Buddhists on la marcha.



vfpvet.jpg The man in the Vets for Peace cap is Stephen Fournier, a founder of Veterans for Peace.




The veterans ended their fast on October 18, 1986.


Brian Willson informs me that as of this writing, Duncan Murphy lives in Santa Cruz, CA, and Charles Liteky is writing his memoirs at his cabin in the woods of northern California.

The following is compiled from information I received from Brian, and a bit of my own research:

George Mizo died in March 2002 at age 56 or 57, in his German home with his German wife, Rosemarie Höhn-Mizo, and their son Michael at his bedside. Following the Fast George went to Vietnam to pursue a dream for a peace village, and with Rosi founded the Vietnam Friendship Village Project near Hanoi for Vietnamese victims of the US War against Vietnam, mostly Agent Orange victims, including the birth-deformed offspring of chemically effected parents. (Also: Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA)

Visit Darrell Moen's website for a transcript of a 50-minute film in which George explains his journey from militant patriot to pacifist patriot.

I can think of no more appropriate ending for this page than the words of George Mizo himself:

An Important Lesson

You, my parents, taught me that it was wrong to kill . . . except in war.
You, my church, taught me that it was wrong to kill . . . except in war.
You, my teachers, taught me that it was wrong to kill . . . except in war.
You, my government, taught me that it was wrong to kill . . . except in war.

Then you sent me to war
And when I had no choice . . . except to kill,
Then you told me I was wrong!

And now I will tell you . . . my parents.
. . . my church.
. . . my teachers.
. . . my government.
It is not wrong to kill . . . except in war.
It is wrong to kill period!

And this you have to learn . . .
Just as I had to!

—by George Mizo

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