Some veterans want a cease-fire in Gaza
Updated November 13, 2023 at 1:45 PM ET
Saturday marks Veterans Day in the United States. And while corporations shell out discounts and lawmakers offer their thanks for veterans' service, some veterans say the day is a painful reminder of their own service, especially as war rages in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.
"As I reflect on what's going on today in the Middle East in particular, you know, my goal is to be able to celebrate Veterans Day and not add more to Memorial Day," said Dennis Fritz, a retired command chief master sergeant in the Air Force.
Fritz now serves as director of the Eisenhower Media Network – an organization of national security experts, including former military and intelligence personnel, that are critical of "the undue influence that the military-industrial-congressional complex." Eisenhower's experts have also argued that NATO's expansion provoked Russia's attack on Ukraine and have called for an end to U.S. military backing for Kiev. The group's primary funder is Ben & Jerry's co-founder and former CEO Ben Cohen.
"I've unfortunately had to send troops off to war, and some of them never came back," Fritz said.
He, like others NPR interviewed, is critical of the Biden administration and Congress' response to the ongoing bloodshed in Gaza.
Since last month — when Hamas stormed into Israel and killed some 1,200 people and captured about 240 hostages — Israel has launched a devastating bombing campaign on Gaza that has killed more than 11,000 people. Nearly 1.5 million more have been displaced.
President Biden has repeatedly affirmed his support for Israel's right to exist and defend itself against attacks. But he has also called for Israel to pare back on civilian casualties and allow for some humanitarian aid into Gaza.
These pleas, however, have come short of the cease-fire that many, including some veterans, have demanded.
"I'm disappointed in our response in that we have not tried to pull Israel back in their response," Fritz said, noting the billions of dollars the United States sends in military aid to Israel each year.
"That's escalating the conflict. And I don't think us sending additional weapons systems out there is helping the matter," he said.
Ralph Lide, a fellow Air Force veteran, expressed similar concerns.
"One of the things that does concern me is when I see billions of dollars being relegated to foreign countries. And at the same time, we have homeless veterans, and we have veterans walking on the street who need medical care and they are not able to get it."
On a given night, there are more than 33,000 veterans experiencing homelessness, according to a 2022 report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Lide also said that he is concerned that as the war wages on, the United States might be compelled to get further involved militarily — something he does not support.
Washington has said it has no plans to have U.S. troops directly involved in the conflict.
"I think war should always be the last resort," Lide said. "And I think there are a lot of people in Congress who've never worn a uniform. They've never had anyone to put their lives on the line for this country. And they should not just cavalierly enter our troops into combat."
As some veterans have called for a cease-fire in the war, they have met heavy resistance from many lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
On Thursday, the White House announced that Israel would allow a four-hour-a-day pause in fighting in order for civilians trapped in northern Gaza to move further south. The daily pause, billed by Israel as a "humanitarian corridor," falls short of the cease-fire that some have sought.
Also on Thursday, protesters with the group About Face: Veterans Against the War were arrested at the Capitol calling for a cease-fire.
"Veterans Day weekend is often difficult, oftentimes because it's just filled with platitudes where there is a ritualized, almost religious-type obligation to thank veterans for their service in this country without really inquiring into what that service entailed," said Matthew Hoh, a retired Marine Corps captain and State Department officer who is associate director of Eisenhower Media Network.
Hoh participated in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — a role he says he regrets. Watching the violence unfold in Gaza, he said, reminds him of those wars.
"Whether it's the checkpoints, the harassment of people, the humiliation of people by a foreign occupying power, whether it's the kicking in doors, terrorizing families, whether it's the killings of people shot dead by foreign occupation forces, the parallels there between what we did in Iraq and Afghanistan and what the Israelis are doing was clear to me," Hoh said.
Hoh is now a member of Veterans for Peace and has participated in a half-dozen demonstrations against the war in Gaza.
He said the only way forward in the conflict is an immediate cease-fire with the goal of reaching a political, not military, resolution.
"This type of warfare, this type of violence, is only going to be repaid in spades."
NPR National Desk Correspondent Laurel Wamsley contributed to this story.
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