Living and Dying for Peace
LAST JULY, Charles Liteky, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in combat, publicly renounced his medal as a protest against U.S. support of the Nicaraguan contras.
Liteky served as a U.S. Army chaplain in Vietnam, and he won his medal for personally rescuing 20 of his comrades in a fire-fight while rallying his out-numbered men to fend off the enemy.
When he renounced the medal, he said he was ashamed that his country would ignore international law and "universally accepted norms of morality" to purposefully destroy Nicaraguan society.
His protest did not end there. Believing that wider public involvement and protest is necessary to halt the U.S. policy, Liteky began a water-only fast on September 1, to dramatize the issue. He said he would not eat until "some significant signal of protest" is made by the public condemning the U.S. policy or if the government takes steps toward withdrawing support of the contras. He has been joined by three other vets and they have entitled their effort, "The Veterans Fast for Life."
As a Vietnam veteran, Liteky is one of the few Americans who has seen the bitter realities that accompany foreign policies like the one that our nation is carrying out in Nicaragua. Whether by neglect or intent, the American people don't see the human cost of our activities, and make no effort to influence the policy decisions made by our strategists.
Behind the news stories and the televised rhetoric about the military and economic assistance, people are living or dying, eating or starving because of decisions made in air-conditioned offices in Washington, D.C. The Vietnam veterans saw the costs of U.S. policies in the most extremely vivid tabulation possible--in blood and lives.
The fasters' main argument is simple. They state that eliminating the potential threat of an unfriendly government in Nicaragua, and the cost of removing a possibly repressive regime is not worth Nicaraguan and American lives.
The fast, then, is to save lives. It is an attempt to bring the consciousness of suffering to this country. It is an enormous burden for the fasters to carry. And it is a gamble.
HAS THE GAMBLE worked? To some degree it has been successful in rallying veterans to the fasters' cause. Veterans' groups around the country have responded to the fast with vigils, fasts and fund-raisers, including a veterans' vigil on the Boston Common that culminated with a rally last week.
On the whole, the fast has not garnered much media coverage, and failing coverage, it is doubtful the American people will rise up in protest and sympathy. Governmental action is not forthcoming.
The fasters hold on to their hope and seem determined to continue until they die or sink into comas. They recognize that the fast may fail, is failing. But they say it is worth it if their fast or even their deaths could bring a change in the public or the policy of our country.
As combat veteran George Mizo, now in his 34th day of fasting, said, "We've put our lives on the line for war, and if I'm not willing to put my life on the line for peace, I'm just kidding myself."