The Occupy Wall Street movement opens itself up to the possibility that in their statist worship of the military that one of their celebrated veterans might not be whom they claim to be. And indeed, it has happened with the military record of an occupier in question in Buffalo, N.Y.:
The claims of a dedicated member of the Occupy Buffalo movement that he saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are not supported by Army records.
Christopher M. Simmance has told several media outlets, including The Buffalo News, that he served as many as three tours of duty in those war zones and that he was severely injured in Afghanistan.
Service records obtained from the Army, however, show he was stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., for three years and he left the active-duty Army in January 2001 — before the 9/11 terror attacks.
I understand the incentive for the occupiers and the veterans among them to broadcast current or former military affiliation. Whether occupiers would like it or not, America has a strong love affair with its military stretches that all the way back to its very beginnings when it chose as its first president a military general. Somehow, the fact that the “1 percent” of us that served in the military took up arms for the benefit of the state apparatus and its interests is noteworthy to the general public.
Why else, for example, would Ron Paul supporters boast about the good doctor’s popularity with active-duty personnel? Why else did Sgt. Shamar Thomas’s rant go viral? What else made Sgt. Scott Olsen’s injuries at the hands of the Oakland Police Department more offensive than Brandon Watts’ equally horrific injuries?
But really, why are we treating veterans differently?
Others have pointed out, most notably Glenn Greenwald, the corporate media’s fixation on power and its reverence for the powerful within the military establishment. Most of America is guilty of glorifying people for doing what is arguably inherently immoral: participating in an unnecessary war that caused the deaths of over a million people. One only has to look at Veterans Day, which had transformed from a somber remembrance of cessation of hostilities into a sickening celebration of endless warfare, to see this glorification in full display. It is my hope that in occupations all over the country, occupiers resist this mindless adulation of veterans and the horrific violence the American military represents.
That is not to say that veterans do not belong in the movement; in fact, they have been disproportionately affected by the failed policies of this country’s elites. They are that bottom “1 percent” sent to die in wars started by the top “1 percent.” They are that bottom “1 percent” that make up 20 percent of suicides in this country. They are also disproportionately affected by the recession, making up 15 percent of the homeless population. Additionally, they suffer 24 percent unemployment rate or more than double the national average. Given these troubling and utterly depressing statistics, veterans have more than a right to be a part of these protests; they have an obligation to agitate.
However, leaderless movements do not remain leaderless when their members willingly allow others to represent them and there is a great risk of that in occupiers’ elevation of veterans. Injuries sustained by Sgt. Olsen are abhorrent not because he was a Marine, but because he was a person exercising his inalienable rights to peacefully assemble and to free speech. Sgt. Thomas’ agitation was admirable, not because he was a Marine, but because he was a person righteous in his indignation and anger at the violence displayed by the police against his brothers and sisters.
Occupiers everywhere need to understand that no one group of people can legitimately speak on the behalf of the 99 percent. Elevating one group at the expense of others is detrimental to the inclusive message OWS purports to have and will inherently lead to same class stratification that the movement is protesting against.
It is very admirable that many occupations have adopted the principles of non-violence and have strongly adhered to it. But why is it that they take the easy road and celebrate the past violence of some of its members? This might sound harsh, but that is the reality of elevating any of us veterans above others in the OWS movement. Our contributions to the dialog is valuable, but not the only dialog. Much in the same way that in the peace movement it is not just Veterans for Peace or IAVA that can speak legitimately against the wars, but every conscientious person who can articulate an ethical reason against the war machine and agitate on the behalf of this country’s powerless foreign victims.
The OWS movement presents an opportunity for occupiers and veterans alike to wean this country from the blind military worship that cripples our national discussion. All that must be done is to dissent from partaking in it.
Blessed are the war makers? For the sake of every occupier, I should hope not.