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Harcourt writes: "In the shadow of the NATO summit, under the watchful eyes of a phalanx of full-black-clad riot police, dozens of former servicemen and women in uniform, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, threw away their medals, with apologies."

Iraq and Afghan War veterans flash the peace sign before throwing their medals towards the site of the NATO Summit in Chicago, 05/20/12. (photo: Reuters)
Iraq and Afghan War veterans flash the peace sign before throwing their medals towards the site of the NATO Summit in Chicago, 05/20/12. (photo: Reuters)

US War Veterans Tossing Medals Back at NATO Was Heroic

By Bernard Harcourt, Guardian UK

21 May 12


Occupy Wall Street: Take the Bull by the Horns

NATO summit leaders should have been forced to watch the moving protest of the former troops chucking their medals away.

"No amount of medals, ribbons, or flags can cover the amount of human suffering caused by this war."

"I have only one word, and it is shame."

"This is for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan."

"Mostly, I'm sorry. I'm sorry to all of you. I am sorry ..."

n the shadow of the NATO summit, under the watchful eyes of a phalanx of full-black-clad riot police, dozens of former servicemen and women in uniform, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, threw away their medals, with apologies. It was one of the most moving experiences many of us had witnessed in our lives. It is hard to describe in words. I couldn't get the lump out of my throat. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a woman next to me crying. Their words, their voices, crackling under the emotion of their courageous act, breaking under the weight of the pain, the trauma, their anger, sadness, and hope - theirs was a heroic and beautiful act, a moving ceremony. It was a privilege to be there with these women and men who served in our wars.

Operation Iraqi Freedom medal. Tossed. Global War on Terror medal. Thrown. National Defense medal. Pitched. Marine Corps Good Conduct medal. Flung. Navy and Marine Corps medal. Chucked.

Most of the reporting of the demonstrations that met the summit will focus on the minor violence, on the few clashes between protesters and police, on the blood, on everything that happened after the peaceful march was over. In our sad world of spectacle, the pushing and shoving will be all that gets our attention. It is a pity.

Because what was truly remarkable today was the American servicewomen and men tossing their medals back at NATO. In a mixture of sadness, shame, anger, and pride, of trauma, sorrow, and pain, some looking back at their time in Iraq and Afghanistan, some healing from PTSD, others chanting Occupy slogans, these men and women showed a type of courage that the NATO leaders should have been forced to watch. Tragically, our leaders were busy posing for photo ops. They should have been forced to listen to these courageous men and women, to their veterans. It is their loss, ultimately.

Many of these men and women urged us to do something to set straight the havoc that we have wreaked in these various occupations. Some mentioned a memorial for the tens of thousands of civilians killed in Afghanistan or more than 100,000 civilians killed in Iraq. Others offered their apologies. Still others shared their pain, their torments, their nightmares. All of them spoke truth. Perhaps that was their greatest gift of peace.

If only the NATO leaders had listened.

These courageous women and men, these veterans brought to a close a remarkably peaceful anti-NATO march with more than 10,000 protesters - supported by so many more who chanted with them along the route.

"I am returning my medal today because I want to live by my conscience, rather than be a prisoner of it."

"I apologize to the Iraqi and Afghani people for destroying your countries."

"I don't want these anymore."

"No NATO, No War":
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+34 # TurboKitty 2012-05-21 23:11
How do I say I'm sorry for all the people that died needlessly for nothing ...
+17 # John Locke 2012-05-22 05:22
TurboKitty: By never allowing it to happen again!
+33 # AMLLLLL 2012-05-21 23:18
I am so very humbled to be shown what peace looks like from the very people we trained to fight in war. God bless these brave young people.
+17 # Rita Walpole Ague 2012-05-22 05:54
"God bless these brave young people." May I please second that, and add our OWS chant:

+18 # pres 2012-05-21 23:35
It would be great if the police & military also did that with their guns!
+32 # giraffee2012 2012-05-21 23:43
My father fought in WWI - German air force. When the Germans came to him in preparation for WWII - he left his family, inheritance, friends, everything because he had seen so much death and destruction he refused to fight in another war. My father knew exactly what our service people felt as they threw their medals back to Nato. And knowing the pain my dad felt all his life - from those horrible war years - I know our brave men/women who have served will have much to overcome to move on and live a full life. Through my father's ordeals and successes after fighting in war - I say to you brave men/women "you will prevail" and you will find happiness in your life/family - believe in yourselves. Governments, not those fighting, are the culprits and you may reward yourselves for your bravery and survival. Thank you for your service and may your pain be absorbed in your soul as you move on.

Occupiers must "stand your ground" and continue to occupy for that is the "freedom" we are granted in this world as humans. At age 72, I will occupy selectively because if I got knocked down (with my brittle bones) I might not be able to get up -- but I'll bring you water and food when I feel it safe to do so.
+17 # John Locke 2012-05-22 05:26
Every citizen must do some part to make this struggle for our democracy to be restored, and then we must insure that the Banks don't take control of our government ever again!
+21 # walter firth 2012-05-21 23:43
This didn't make it's way onto our televisions in Sydney.Pity.The politicians of both our countries are the ones that should be apologizing to these troops for the pain and stress and sorrow they have caused them.Unfortunat ely their consciences have long since atrophied,
+26 # vitobonespur 2012-05-22 00:13
I remember just before the invasion of Iraq, listening to all the saber-rattling, lies, and doomsday talk coming from the Bush administration. I remember thinking to myself how frightening it must have been to be an innocent Iraqi citizen, simply trying to live my life, and hearing that the best-equipped military in the world was threatening to drop bombs on and otherwise devastate me, my family, my friends, and my homeland. How frightening, indeed...

I also remember wanting, but not knowing how, to tell the people in the Mid-East that not all of us Americans agreed with the rhetorical nonsense and outright lies that were coming out of Washington.

I wanted to tell the Iraqi and Afghan people, especially the women and children, that they had nothing to fear from me or the reasonable people with whom I associate. And this is my chance to tell them that I am sorry for what our military men and women were forced to do.
+19 # osully188 2012-05-22 01:13
Hey, TurboKitty,you have answered your own question.You are elequent when you declare how sorry you are for the people who died for nothing.Now we must continue to make sure these types of travesties never again can get such a choke hold on our country.We need to educate the people as to what proroganda constitutes and how it has been allowed to power a fearful,fundame ntal,refusal of our government to meet or even consider the needs of middle class and poorer class citizens.

I commend all the Vetrans who threw away their medals and took the power away from those who give them in combat to keep buffalo- ing young kids with these medels of,yet even models of what is valued by soldiers so much;and not so much by the Architects of the war who really don`t much care about casualties--jus t so many throw away people who are expendebale,and will not be missed by the Architects.If we keep supplying the soldiers with the truth about the medals,that they were a propoganda tool to keep up morale.It`s sad that these evil tools worked so well and we all had gut feelings to the contrary.It will be a prime responsibleity for us to expose this deceit.Hopefull y we will do it fearlessly and with utmost vigor.Fascism will again die a messy violent death.Not what I would like to see,but a positive sign that propaganda can be neutralized
+13 # RMDC 2012-05-22 04:31
Yes, indeed, this is a heroic moment. It takes courage for ex-soldiers to face the military they once served and tell it that its wars are wrong and they will stand from now on against them.

For every one ex-soldier who returned his or her medals, there are probably thousands more who have turned against these wars.

People are slowly freeing themselves from the brainwashing that began massively after 9-11. The truth about the Global War on Terror is now understood by almost everyone. Only a minority of Americans and a very tiny minority in the rest of the world still support the GWOT. NATO's campaign to brutalize the world in pursuit of natural resources is seen for what it is -- vicious colonialism, murder, and terror.

This is a good overview of US/NATO terror campaigns since WW II.
+10 # Peacedragon 2012-05-22 06:58
I saw a woman with her parked car loaded with pece symbols.
Me: I am of that persuasion. We are supposed to help each other, not kill each other.
She: That's why we're here.
+5 # Bev 2012-05-22 07:48
There was JFK's attempt at peace by establishing the Peace Corps, his plans to abolish the illegal Federal Reserve and the illegal IRS & more, all of which ended in his murder. When will we wake up?
+6 # Bodiotoo 2012-05-22 07:58
Vote and demonstrate and occupy peacfully. Mass numbers will win out. The people must be heard and that voice needs to be represented.
+10 # colvictoria 2012-05-22 08:08
These Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have more courage than the 60 leaders who came to Chicago for the NATO summit.
Obama and his minions should be ashamed of themselves for not having even an ounce of courage to stop these insane wars.
The US is the biggest bully of all and shame on those leaders who ally themselves with such a monster. They have sold their souls, their countries and their people to the US Empire.
+2 # Penelope Jencks 2012-05-22 15:35
Was this very moving ceremony shown on TV or written up in the news papers? I did not see it anywhere...
+4 # seniorcitizen 2012-05-22 15:56
It needs to be shown everywhere!
+3 # seniorcitizen 2012-05-22 15:42
The veterans who marched and gave speeches and threw away their medals gave me a sense of pride at what America really is and what most Americans want it to represent. I hope we see more veterans against these wars speak their minds and demonstrate in every city. It is vital that we hear their stories and listen to their pleas for peace. We, as a country should show our Congress and President that we are tired of war, and will not support the useless killing and the continued presence of American troops in foreign countries. I will use a
phrase like the one Reagan used, when referring to the Berlin wall, he said,"Mr. Khruschev, tear down this wall!", Mr President, bring home our troops! It is time to say we were wrong to start a war based on false rumors in Iraq and then continue another one that has taken it's toll in lives, money and the destruction of a country. What exactly are we gaining in fighting these wars in the middle east? Are we freeing a people who want us there? The answer is NO. Are we gaining in the war on terror? The answer is NO. Is America safer? The answer is NO. There is some merit in finding and killing Osama Bin Laden, but did it have to include the lives of thousands of civilian men, women and children? The answer is NO. Must we risk the lives of American men and women by sending them off to blow people up and shoot Taliban fighters who will never give up their fanatical belief system? I believe the answer to that is also NO. Find a better way.
+1 # haole guy 2012-05-23 04:20
If those vets would've thrown the medals away, in private, there would've been no affect. The public act was symbolic, just as protest is symbolic. So, we're throwing
symbols at concrete enemes. We are not going to talk the Zionists out of their 3000 year old mission of destruction. Talmudic Legality is replacing Morality. Judge Forrest better watch her back.

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