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Waging Peace

Local vets want to "stop the war machine"


Dwight Scarbrough, with his familiar sticker-covered truck, has quickly become perhaps Boise's most visible anti-war figure. An entomologist with the Forest Service by day, he spends what seems to be the rest of his time "waging peace" wherever and whenever anyone will listen to his stridently anti-war message.

Scarbrough has only been in Boise since 2003--arriving in town for a new job--but he's carved out a niche in that short time. Having been a member of Veterans for Peace (VFP) chapters in other areas of the country, when Scarbrough saw that Boise didn't have a chapter, he started one up. VFP Chapter 117 has been a recognized chapter since October of 2004 and not surprisingly, Scarbrough is its president.

Dwight Scarborough of Veterans for Peace Chapter 117. - PHOTO BY LEILA RAMELLA

Veterans for Peace is a national organization of combat and peacetime veterans, founded in 1985 and based in St. Louis, drawing on members' "personal experiences and perspectives gained as veterans to raise public awareness of the true costs and consequences of militarism and war and to seek peaceful, effective alternatives." VFP membership has grown nationwide in recent years and the groups numerous issues of involvement include putting an end to the war in Iraq, working for veterans' rights, ensuring civil liberties, countering military recruitment in schools, advocating for victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam, promoting reconciliation and friendship between the United States and both Vietnam and Korea, ending U.S. military shelling on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, sending delegations to Columbia to investigate human rights abuses and observing elections in Central American countries like Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Bush-antagonist and war mother Cindy Sheehan launched her effort at the 2005 VFP national conference and 50 members subsequently accompanied her to camp out in Crawford, Texas. In addition, VFP is an official Non-Governmental Organization represented at the United Nations.

The local chapter of VFP currently has about 20 official members and some 130 people on their mailing list. VFP Chapter 117's main focus, according to Scarbrough, is to educate the public about the cost of war, not just in "real terms"--monetary, as well as the wounded and dead--but in those costs people perhaps don't consider: returning vets, who are both physically and mentally damaged, and their coping families, friends and communities. "That's part of the hidden costs of war," says Scarbrough. "George W. won't help you with that--they don't give a hoot about that stuff. And that's true of most government."

Scarbrough doesn't necessarily fit the anti-war profile: he's neither an idealistic kid nor a battle-scarred combat vet. At 51 years old, Scarbrough spent five years in the Navy during the Cold War, four of them aboard a "fast attack" nuclear submarine patrolling Cold War hot spots in the Pacific. He says he didn't have the combat experience of being surrounded by horrific acts and being asked to commit them, but he did have an epiphany of sorts while he was serving. He realized that he didn't want to be part of anything where he could push a button and blow up the world, either by accident or under orders. Of this realization Scarbrough says, "I'm sure it wasn't as strong for me as a guy who saw his friend's head blown off," but it was enough.

The Boise chapter of VFP works to give people, particularly young people, that "epiphany" before they get that first-hand battle experience. One way to keep young people from becoming combat veterans is to educate them about conscientious objector (CO) status. According to Scarbrough, conducting awareness campaigns for kids and their parents and educating them as to the CO process is part of "hobbling the system wherever we can through legal means--and peacefully."

Scarbrough is also the committee chair for the Idaho Peace Coalition's "Truth in Recruiting" group. He and other VFP members don't just want to help vets get out of the military; they wants to keep kids from joining up in the first place. Armed forces recruiters go into high school classrooms, he says, and ask kids who aren't even considered citizens yet to make serious long-term decisions about their lives. VFP and the "Truth in Recruiting" effort seek to counter what they consider the harmful effect of recruitment in schools.

Besides educating youth and their parents about CO status and recruitment practices, Scarbrough and VFP do a lot of what he calls "tabling"--attending and sponsoring various anti-war events and handing out informational books and pamphlets, as well as just talking with people about their views. VFP works with Boise State's Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) to spread the word about the CO process, and after a recent September engagement with the PSA, says Scarbrough, a campus minister invited him to come back to conduct a CO workshop, which will take place Thursday, November 17. Other upcoming VFP events include at Veteran's Day "Circle of Peace," their regular monthly meeting--open to all--and a tabling event on about December 6 at the Boise Student Union.

In addition, Scarbrough is working on building relations with the Veteran's Administration. In this potential relationship between two very different veteran's organizations, VFP's vision becomes clear. VFP respects and honors other veterans, but feels the only way to do so is through striving to end war. "War monuments show the respect and honor the fallen deserve, but they also show that we haven't learned anything," Scarbrough says. Society glorifies war, he explains, but he wants to make people realize the reality of combat is very different. Some people go to war and have epiphanies, and some realize that they enjoy killing--"it can work both ways"--but either way, people come back changed. "I wish we could never build another monument," he says. "My goal would be to have a veteran-less world."