Veterans Today, an online-only publication, features writing by veterans, for veterans. The site focuses on a whole range of topics, from disability benefits to veteran suicide rates, but lately the editors at Veterans Today have been posting frequently in support of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Jim W. Dean, one of the managing editors at Veterans Today, says the economic disparities that these protests focus on are of particular importance to vets. “We veterans need to take a more public stance,” says Dean. “Our position is, if all we’re ever doing is scrambling for vet benefits and staying quiet on everything else, than nothing is going to change.”
With veterans outpacing the rest of the population in terms of unemployment, depression, homelessness, and a host of lingering medical problems and disabilities, the Occupy movement has become a hot issue for current and former members of the military. And when former US Marine Scott Olsen suffered a fractured skull at an Occupy Oakland protest, outrage skyrocketed. Approximately 100 uniformed veterans took to the streets of Manhattan last Wednesday in support of Occupy Wall Street and Olsen. Most recently, senior editor Gordon Duff wrote about this weekend’s alleged attack on former Army Ranger Kavyan Sabeghi:
This is now two episodes of use of lethal force against military veterans by Oakland police. The last incident may indicate a pattern of targeting of military personnel or veterans by police.
It’s not just that these vets personally identify with Olsen and Sabeghi. Some said that, according to their knowledge of police procedure, what the cops have been doing in Oakland is illegal. On the blog Ranger Against War, Jim Hruska writes mainly opinionated posts about current events and military issues. Hruska was a training specialist for the Department of Defense’s terrorism counteraction unit before retiring from the military in 1989. He says that, ironically, using tear gas is illegal on the battlefield, but not in civilian riot control. However, he says the way tear gas was used in Oakland could be illegal, since police are supposed to use minimum force. “That’s not protecting and serving,” says Hruska. “It’s a potentially fatal weapon to be using on the streets of America.”
If U.S. police have used CS or CN (tear gas) against citizens in Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests, they are violating current Chemical Weapons Conventions which ban the use of these chemicals on the battlefield. But of course, citizens are not accorded the rights given combatants.
He goes on to decry what he sees as a blatant hypocrisy:
Strange days when the U.S. traipses halfway ‘round the world to create ripe environments in which democracy might take root, while bashing those fruits at home.
Similar opinions have been expressed on Veterans Today, and Dean says that, to his knowledge, using these “non-lethal” weapons is illegal: “Under standard crowd control laws, using rubber bullets or tear gas can only be done when someone has committed felony acts.” Dean said he’s been going down to the Occupy protests near him in Atlanta and asking police, “What are your procedures for crowd control? And what training do you give the officers?”
Not all veterans are in agreement. Jonn Lilyeah blogged about Scott Olsen on his This Ain’t Hell page:
Now, the hippies get to hide behind Olsen’s broken body and make a martyr of him someone they would have spit on a few weeks ago and called a baby-killer. Scott, if you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas.
Lilyea says he “feels bad that Olsen was injured,” but is ambivalent about who was responsible for his injury: “He was standing between people throwing rocks and the cops.” But the real issue is that Olsen is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace. “Those groups represent the opposite of what I believe in,” says Lilyea, “The focus of my blog is to try and give people a better view of what veterans are, rather than people like Scott Olsen.”
Joseph Carter, an intern and spokesperson with Iraq Veterans Against the War, has also been covering OWS. He says that he has mostly been posting information and photos to IVAW’s Facebook and Twitter feed, so that their followers can stay updated. After the uniformed march in Manhattan last week, he and several vets spent that evening in a friend’s kitchen, uploading information from the march, and later uploading pictures and video from their fellow vets in Oakland. “We are trying to do this in as real-time as we can,” says Carter.
He says he’s seen veterans get charged up about OWS because these issues really hit home for the soldiers returning from duty, “These economic issues effect veterans disproportionately,” he says. “We shoulder a lot of these poor policy decisions.”
Carter says many veterans he knows were on the fence when these movements initially swept the country. But when news of Olsen started spreading, things changed. “They saw the love that Scott Olsen was getting, and they started to seeing themselves and their problems reflected in this movement, “says Carter. “I’m seeing vets who have never been involved in political stuff before who are starting to feel connected to this.”