For Veterans Day, AWTT highlights those in the portrait gallery who served in the U. S. armed forces. We honor them for their military service to the country, as well as for their perspectives on warfare and institutional corruption. As veterans, they bring valuable insights to the realities of war. And they have all been courageous enough to stand up to the powerful institutions that wage war, when those institutions have failed to fulfill their moral obligations.
Most notable is Dwight Eisenhower, the Allied Commander of the integrated land, sea and air forces that planned and executed the D-Day invasion of France, leading, ultimately, to the liberation of Europe from Nazi domination. Then, in 1950, President Truman appointed Eisenhower to be Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the world’s first peacetime command of a multinational force. While serving in his first year as U.S. President, Eisenhower ended the Korean War. His administration promoted the Atoms for Peace program. In 1954, he changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In his presidential farewell address to the nation in January 1961, he cautioned: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”
Several lesser-known portrait subjects also learned, through their war-time experiences, that peace-making was their real calling. Ann Wright, Howard Zinn, Major General Smedley Butler, Bruce Gagnon, William Sloan Coffin, and Charlie Clements represent the many thousands of veterans throughout history whose first-hand experience of war deepened their dedication to peace advocacy.
AWTT also recognizes those veterans who, believing that the government was violating its responsibilities, became whistleblowers. Former U.S. Army and CIA intelligence analyst Ray McGovern has called out several administrations for “dovetailing” intelligence to fit its military goals. After saving the lives of Vietnamese villagers at My Lai, Chief Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, Jr. exposed that now-infamous slaughter of civilians by U.S. troops. Chelsea Manning, and, more recently, Daniel Hale – at great personal cost – leaked intelligence about secret government actions that they believed the world needed to know. Camilo Mejia, Nicaraguan-born peace activist and Iraqi war defector, made this observation, “Many have called me a coward, others have called me a hero. I believe I can be found somewhere in the middle. To those who have called me a hero, I say that I don’t believe in heroes, but I believe that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”
Before Harriet became a popular movie in 2019, many Americans didn’t know that abolitionist and Underground Railroad “conductor” Harriet Tubman was also a veteran of the Civil War. She served as a scout, spy, guerrilla soldier, and nurse for the Union Army.
This diverse gallery of American veterans lived in different eras, arising from dramatically different backgrounds. Their commonality is the experience of military service – experiences that propelled them onto unexpected trajectories, following the truths they discovered along the way. By following those truths, they became ordinary people doing extraordinary things.