PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus

Cindy Sheehan: Darkness Before Dawn by peaceprobe
June 4, 2007, 10:29 am
Filed under: Getting on the Way to Peacemaking, Peacemaker spirit

Last week Cindy Sheehan shocked some of her coworkers and supporters by resigning from the peace movement. Her letter reminded us of the pain of loss of her son in the war, the very real problem of money for personal survival and, loss of hope, and egotism and divisions in the peace movement. I read the responses to her letter. Some praised her work and others were tart and dismissive, “Goodbye, Glad to see you go, ” and I remembered some of my own journey in the same territory. The lines sounded familiar.

In 1967 I resigned my work in Viet Nam and threw myself, with little concern for my own needs, into an all out effort to end the war. In the coming two years I traveled across the US, Australia, and New Zealand to tell the story of the war. I was a civilian volunteer who went to Viet Nam in 1963 believing development and education would bring hope and peace. I loved Viet Nam and believed in the Vietnamese people. I believed that my Christian pacifist background of generations had prepared me for a work like this. But eventually as the war expanded and the red blood of death touched friends, colleagues, Vietnamese and Americans I realized that something else had to be done. Someone had to stop the killing. I believed if enough of us could speak the truth the war would stop. 

After my resignation from work in Viet Nam I was on the road for months at a time speaking and doing interviews, sometimes four and five times a day. Occasionally I was chastised and belittled in the press as well meaning but naive. At other times the fractured peace movement expected me and my colleagues from Viet Nam to deliver leadership, harsh words, or distorted reports to support the anti-Viet Nam war ideology. When expectations contradicted my experience I could not deliver. Everywhere I went, the culture of revolution and someone else’s agenda pressed at me.

At night I found myself sleeping less and less. Often my sleep was interrupted by a recurring dream. I was in the jungle of Viet Nam. The jungle seemed to go on and on into confused but tangled limitless space. Somewhere in the jungle was Ho Chi Minh and President Lyndon Johnson. In the recurring dream I tried and tried to get them together to end the war. In distance I could hear the guns. The thickets in the jungle were dense but I believed I could find a way through. Night after night I tried to get them together. Night after night I was awakened in sweat with no success. Eventually the dream became more dangerous as war planes flew overhead and shelling could be heard in the distance. Strangely I was not afraid but I was also not successful in getting the two leaders together. And I was tired so tired I lost hope that I would ever get out of the jungle. Eventually I just slept less and less so that I would not have to deal with the nightmare.

Finally after two years of this I could not face another audience. I didn’t have the courage to write a letter of resignation like Cindy Sheehan. I just said no to any more speaking, interviews and organizing. The nightmare and sleeplessness stopped when I stopped speaking and working on the war.

Now I don’t know if this dream and my experience has anything to do with Cindy Sheehan but I do know that these are the eyes through which I read about her resignation. In late 2005 I visitedCrawford, Texas where she started the vigil that put her on the map. I spoke to a group of peace people there. Crawford, population 789, is where President Bush goes to rest. On August 6, 2005 Cindy began a makeshift camp in a ditch by the side of the road about three miles from George W. Bush’s Prairie Chapel Ranch near Crawford. She had come to Crawford to talk to President Bush who began a five week vacation at the same time. Her site came to be called Casey as media and people visited her by the hundreds. Her son Casey had been killed while serving in Iraq April 4, 2004. Following Camp Casey, Cindy became a leading spokesperson questioning the war and at one point did get a meeting with the President.

There are a couple things I have in common with Cindy. Our lives were changed forever by war. We lost companions because of the war. We poured everything we had into stopping it and after years of work the only result we saw at the time was more troops and more killing. This is devastating. Eventually I gave up trying to get Lyndon Johnson and Ho Chi Minh together in the jungle. I decided that the country’s war policies wouldn’t change, that maybe this wickedness would go on forever. Yes I thought that. All my work seemed to make little difference. And of course I was wrong about that too, and over the years I was able to sort out realistic goals and time lines.

It’s the feeling of hopelessness that is so hard to deal with. Listen to Cindy.

“The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried ever since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most.”

Failure, hopelessness and even guilt over not doing enough all intermingle here in the voice of resignation which I see as the darkness, complete absence of light which sometimes appears just before the dawn. And when you have known the darkness, the light of hope is very precious. I still can’t figure out where in the mystery of this, hope comes from. If I knew a repeatable formula I would get it to the Cindy Sheehans of the world. I don’t know a formula. But, I do know that for me, hope had to rise from the ashes of disappointment in my country and disappointment about all the man-made sacred movements. Hope for me came to rest on the confidence that Spirit works in its time. And, thankfully the Spirit doesn’t put all the weight on my shoulders alone.


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