On a day as dreary as the subject she was about to discuss, Medea Benjamin, author and co-founder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace, asked audience members in Mayser Gym to raise their hand, if they were under 10 years old when terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
Up went a large number of hands from students who filled the bleachers. “You have grown up with war as a natural state of affairs,” Benjamin said.
An anti-war advocate and protestor, Benjamin spoke at Franklin & Marshall College’s April 19 Common Hour, a community discussion conducted each Thursday classes are session.
At the last Common Hour of this academic year, Benjamin explained how the American government no longer imposes a draft, as it did during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and ’70s. The armed forces are filled with volunteers today, and the volunteer soldiers’ motives range from wanting to serve their country to the promise of a free college education.
During the Vietnam War, almost everyone knew someone in the military, “but now it’s a very small sliver of the population that is in the military,” she said.
Benjamin asked the audience if there was anyone still in the military. One hand went up. “Raise your hand if you have a brother or sister in the military,” she requested. Three people raised their hands.
“We have a real disconnect between the people who are fighting the wars and the wars that are going on,” Benjamin said. “Ever since 9/11 now, we’ve been involved in many wars and they are wars without end, and so for many of you young people, it’s just kind of a natural state of affairs.”
“But,” she said, “it shouldn’t be a natural state of affairs. Our government shouldn’t be involved constantly in war. In fact, we want to never be involved in war, if we can help it.”
Benjamin described the ineffectiveness of America’s war against terrorism in Afghanistan, 16 years and still going; and the U.S. government’s 2003 invasion of Iraq on the false pretense that Iraq was involved in Sept. 11. Yet, terrorism continues in those countries. She cited billions of dollars in arms given or sold to Israel and other Middle East countries that use them in their own wars.
“Who benefits from all these wars we’re in?” Benjamin asked. “It’s certainly not the American military.”
She quoted the 1961 speech of outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the leading allied general in World War II, who warned the nation about the “military industrial complex,” the weapons makers who profit handsomely from wars, and the politicians who support them.
“I would say the biggest racket today is the weapons industry itself,” Benjamin said.
CODEPINK, which started in late 2002, a few months before the invasion of Iraq, is about peaceful, nonviolent protests to raise awareness among the public and the nation’s leaders about the waste of war.
The group appears at congressional hearings, presidential speeches, in former war zones, at political conventions, and outside military facilities to demand the end of war and to make its case for peace. It has launched a new campaign, Divest from the War Machine, to urge companies and investors not to put investments in the manufacturing of weapons.
Benjamin ended with a quote from musician Michael Franti, “We can bomb the world to pieces, but we can’t bomb it into peace.”