Category Archives: Our Work

MLK’s Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence

Relevance to U.S. Wars and Militarism Today

50 years ago, on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church, in NYC, Martin Luther King delivered his powerful and most controversial speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”. No longer willing to keep silent about the immorality of the Vietnam War, knowing the intense criticism he would receive for speaking out, he nevertheless was compelled to speak, “I am here tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice”.

King spoke against war and its crippling effects on social progress. He denounced the death and destruction in Vietnam and the waste of billions on an immoral war. All this at the expense of the poor and those serving in the military. The destruction done to the Vietnamese is the same destruction we are doing to the Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, Somalis, Libyans, Pakistanis, and others today.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

King connected the inherit racism of killing the Vietnamese people with the killing of black people in America through dehumanization and contempt for “other” people.

King was greatly concerned that the war in Vietnam was destroying the soul of America. He called for an end to the war, detailing how a foreign policy based on violence and domination abroad, relates to the violence and problems we are afflicted with at home. He asked us to reassess our values to avoid future mistakes that could destroy our nation.

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

King’s message was not heeded, and our problems have multiplied.

Since 1991 the U.S. has been at war in the Middle East, destabilizing the whole region. In 2016 the U.S. dropped bombs in seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan & Somalia.

The U.S. is the world’s #1 exporter of arms. We have more than 800 bases in over 70 countries. U.S. Special Forces have been deployed in over 105 countries.   We have launched thousands of drone strikes.

Our Congressional representatives are cowards. They are willing to send ground troops into the war in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria, while refusing to debate and vote on the use of military force. Instead they shamefully forego their constitutional duty, to avoid being held accountable to their constituents.

Congress has voted to spend our taxpayers’ dollars on endless wars at the expense of everything else. Total defense spending costs our country approximately $900 billion (that’s almost $1 trillion) each year. This $900 billion pays for cost of war, 800 bases, nuclear weapons, intelligence agencies, homeland security, and veterans benefits. Economist Jeffrey Sachs stated “The U.S. is incurring massive public debt and cutting back on urgent public investments at home in order to sustain a dysfunctional, militarized, and costly foreign policy.”

The Cost of War project at Brown University reports that war costs since 2001 will run to nearly $5 trillion. “Yet the cost seems invisible to politicians and the public alike. The reason is that almost all of the spending has been financed through borrowing – selling US Treasury Bonds around the world – leaving our children to pick up the tab. Consequently, the wars have had little impact on our pocketbooks.” “As long as the cost of the war remains hidden from public view, there is no pressure to reexamine our military strategy.” (Linda Bilmes)

And now we have Trump’s budget proposal. He is asking for an additional $54 billion to the budget busting $596 million the Pentagon is already allocated. The Pentagon’s budget is larger than the budgets of the next 7 countries combined. That proposed increase alone is almost as large as Russia’s entire military budget. Trump proposes to finance his expanded war budget by making drastic cuts to the EPA, Dept. of Education, State Dept., the UN and its humanitarian aid, and social services.

These cuts will have devastating effects on the environment, our children’s education, the ability to prevent war through diplomacy with cruel cuts to social services for the poor, sick and elderly.  

We have a choice about how this country spends our taxpayer dollars. We can remain silent allowing billions to be spent funding endless, futile wars or we can speak out, demanding our tax dollars fund healthcare for all Americans, support climate change initiatives, invest in solar and renewable energy, improve our educational system providing free college, rebuild our infrastructure and end extreme poverty in this country.

We can no longer remain silent. We must challenge American militarism.

MLK’s Challenge to Us

“Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

“We still have a choice today, nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice throughout the developing world a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

“Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter – but beautiful – struggle for a new world. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.”

Support MFSO with a Tax Exempt Donation

As we approach the end of the Obama administration and prepare for the many inevitable challenges we will face under the new president’s administration, we wish to remind you that Military Families Speak Out is focused and prepared to do everything we can to stop the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen and call for the immediately withdrawal of our troops. We are studying and preparing our position statements on potential cabinet appointments because we understand how these choices can deeply affect what happens to our troops and their families.

After 15 years of military intervention, which has resulted in the needless loss of lives and trillions spent on endless wars, we find ourselves no closer to peace and so during this season of giving and hope, we are asking you, our friend and ally, to help us continue the important work of Military Families Speak Out.

Military Families Speak Out is in a unique position to demonstrate the futility of continuing our military presence in the Middle East. We must end our military presence in these countries and stop the bombing and destruction. We must demand our leaders use diplomacy and address the root causes of these wars.  There is no military solution to our problems in the Middle East and surrounding areas.  We need to stop sending our troops to wars that are unending and unwinnable.  We need to stop multiple deployments which hurt our troops and their families.  We need to focus on caring for our troops, our military families and all the civilians who have suffered from these many wars.

We invite you to help us by making a donation to MFSO this year. Since 2002, Military Families Speak Out has been on the front lines organizing and publicly speaking out.  Our commitment to be heard is unstoppable, but we need your help.

Over the years your generosity has helped us become strong and we are listened to by many in our neighborhoods and around the globe. Your support, especially this year, will help us broaden our membership to younger military families who are affected by recent deployments. It will help us keep watch over the new administration’s appointments and policies.  MFSO members work around the clock preparing members to speak to the media, and are there to help them and be by their side when they find the courage to speak out and share their stories of separation and loss. Our leadership is there to make sure their stories are spread on social and printed media.

This past year, your donations helped us to send members such as Tim Kahlor, ever-vigilant Army dad, and Marcia Westbrook, Gold Star mom, to national events so they could tell their compelling stories in New York   and Washington DC. This year we will be present at the Women’s March on Washington and any other events where we are needed. Our current campaign for letters of condolences to families, who have had a military member die by suicide stateside, will need a new push under the new administration.

A donation of any amount will help us continue the work we already do and also help us continue our coordinated actions and monthly strategy meetings with executive directors from Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace. Support is greatly needed to keep up with the regular demands we receive at our donated office in California, that come from military families around the country who ask and receive emotional support, referrals for care when their loved ones return from deployments and guidance on how to stay in touch with their loved ones while deployed.

Please consider a donation to Military Families Speak Out at this time. After 15 years of war, we stand ready to meet the challenges ahead with renewed vigor and hope that you will know that any donation is an investment in finally ending these wars. Every day these unjust wars continue is another day our loved ones and many innocent civilians will suffer. This is why your donation and participation is vital to us.

Please consider becoming a sustaining member, receive monthly newsletters and a gift of thanks from our governing board.

MAKE A TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATION HERE TODAY ormail your donation to MFSO, 1716 Clark Ave PMB 122, Long Beach, CA. 90815.

PLEASE ACCEPT OUR GRATITUDE IN ADVANCE FOR JOINING US IN OUR STRUGGLE TO END THESE UNJUST WARS AND BRING OUR LOVED ONES HOME TO REUNITE WITH THEIR FAMILIES AND BEGIN THE HEALING PROCESS. 

Thank you and please let us hear from you throughout the year.  Please keep in touch with us via our websitewww.mfso.org  and Facebook page.

National Coordinator Pat Alviso and Steering Committee Members; Marlene Alvarado, Tina Lopez, Macgregor Eddy, Lorna Farnum, Barry Saks, Bill Scheurer, Mary Hladky, Paula Rogovin, Jeff Merrick, Marcia Westbrook, Rosssana Cambron, Casey Stinemetz and Corla Coles

Stop Stigma. Send the condolence letter to SFC Tyler Westbook’s family!

On August 27, 2015, members of MFSO, Veterans For Peace, and Iraq Veterans Against the War had met with the Office of Public Engagement and Joining Forces regarding our strong opposition to military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, our call for diplomacy, and our concerns about care for our veterans and military families. Two members of our delegation, Joyce and Kevin Lucey, spoke at the meeting about their son, CPL Jeffrey Lucey, who died by suicide after he was denied care by the VA. We spoke at the meeting about our recommendations for changes to prevent suicide.

On August 28, 2015, SFC Tyler Westbrook, the son of a Military Families Speak Out member, died by suicide at his base in Colorado. SFC Westbrook was an active duty soldier. Upon hearing about SFC Westbrook’s death by suicide, the Office of Public Engagement asked for the address of SFC Westbrook’s family so the White House could send a letter of condolence. Just before the funeral, OEP called, apologized, and told MFSO that the Department of Defense (DOD) does not allow letters of condolence to be sent from the White House because SFC Westbrook’s suicide was state-side rather than while during a deployment!

This is a despicable and disgraceful policy which shows absolutely NO empathy, and NO understanding for our troops, veterans, or military families. It only reinforces the stigma already rampant in the military, the stigma attached to our troops and veterans reaching out for and receiving help for the moral injuries and/or traumas from their military service. We know that alcohol abuse and steroid use was rampant at Ft. Carson where SFC Westbrook was based. We know that SFC Westbrook was a victim of alcohol abuse, and we know there were numerous other red flags which were overlooked by the military. SFC Westbrook was a highly accomplished soldier, and was a member of the Special Forces when he died. SFC Westbrook left behind a wife and a 2-year-old son. His two brothers are also members of the military. Both of his grandparents were WW II veterans.

For over one year we have waited for the DOD policy to be reversed. No more! We call on elected officials, the public, and members of the military to demand that the Department of Defense to change its policy on condolence letters. We demand that a condolence letter be sent immediately to the Westbrook family.

Write to Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter and send copies to MFSO@MFSO.org.

Tell him: Stop Stigma. Send the condolence letter to SFC Tyler Westbook’s family!

Ash Carter, Secretary of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Or Comment on Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s Facebook page

 

Open Letter to President Obama from Military Families

Dear President Barack Obama,

Recently when a candidate for President of the United States disrespected Gold Star Parents, Military Families Speak Out sent this statement to the press.

“Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) members are outraged by the recent attack by Presidential candidate Donald Trump on Gold Star parents Ghazala and Khizr Khan whose son, Captain Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq. MFSO is an organization of family members whose loved ones have served or are currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Some of our members have loved ones who were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan or have died by suicide.  While MFSO members oppose military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, we love and support our troops. We honor our soldiers and Marines. Mr. Khan bravely talked about the need for the Commander in Chief to have respect, understanding and empathy for the sacrifices and suffering of our troops and their families.  Donald Trump has clearly shown by his disrespectful and despicable attack on a Gold Star family that he does not possess the key qualities we believe are necessary to be this country’s Commander in Chief of our armed forces.”

 MFSO members find ourselves in a position similar to that of the Khan family. We are being disrespected by the Department of Defense policy regarding loved ones in the military who have died by suicide. On August 27, 2015, members of MFSO, Veterans For Peace, and Iraq Veterans Against the War met with the Office of Public Engagement and Joining Forces regarding our opposition to military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, our call for diplomacy, and our concerns about care for our veterans and military families. Two members of our delegation, Joyce and Kevin Lucey, spoke at the meeting about their son, CPL Jeffrey Lucey, who died by suicide after he was denied care by the VA. We spoke at the meeting about our recommendations for changes to prevent suicide.

This was the third meeting of Military Families Speak Out with the Office of Public Engagement. Each time we had requested to meet directly with you. In 2009, we were told that you really should meet with us because you and White House staff are “in a bubble,” but that you were too busy. We understand that you are very busy, but such a meeting is long overdue.

On August 28, Marcia Westbrook, a member of the Steering Committee of MFSO, called in distress to tell us that her son, SFC Tyler Westbrook died by suicide. When we called to tell people from the White House meeting the day before, they were very sympathetic. We were asked to get the address of the Westbrook family so that you, Mr. President, could send a letter of condolence. We did provide that information.

As one of our MFSO members left to go to Williamstown, West Virginia for the funeral several days later, she received a call from the Office of Public Engagement that Department of Defense policy would not allow a letter of condolence to be sent because SFC Westbrook died by suicide while stationed in the United States. If he had died by suicide while deployed abroad, a letter could be sent. We were outraged. How could we tell that to the family?

It is a despicable policy which shows absolutely NO empathy, and NO understanding for our troops, veterans, or military families. It only reinforces the stigma already rampant in the military, the stigma attached to our troops and veterans reaching out for and receiving help for the moral injuries and/or traumas from their military service. We know that alcohol abuse and steroid use was rampant at Ft. Carson where SFC Westbrook was based. We know that SFC Westbrook was a victim of alcohol abuse, and we know there were numerous other red flags which were overlooked by the military. SFC Westbrook was an highly accomplished soldier, and was a member of the Special Forces when he died. SFC Westbrook left behind a wife and a 2-year-old son. His two brothers are also members of the military. Both of his grandparents were WW II veterans.

For nearly one year we have waited patiently for the DOD policy to be reversed.  We expected that the Department of Defense policy would have been be reversed by now since August 28th is the first anniversary of SFC Tyler Westbrook’s death. We expect the Westbrook family will receive the letter of condolence from you soon.

Sincerely,

Pat Alviso, Military Families Speak Out National Coordinator 
Paula Rogovin, Military Families Speak Out, coordinator of White House delegation of August 27, 2015
Marcia Westbrook, mother of SFC Tyler Westbrook, Steering Committee, Military Families Speak Out