Walking for Hugh Thompson


by Larry Johnson • August 26, 2008 • As I write, we’re doing the final organizing for the National Veterans for Peace Convention, happening August 27-31 in the Twin Cities. This group of veterans of all wars is organized around the principle of, “We were there. We know how horrible war is, and we ask all governments everywhere to consider every possible means of peaceful negotiation before even thinking of committing its citizens to violent conflict.”

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Highlights include an address by Scott Ritter, the outspoken former weapons inspector, and Jeremy Scahill, the investigative reporter who has written extensively on Blackwater. It will be an amazing experience, and will permeate the milieu we all live in. Details are at www.vfpnationalconvention.org

The conference ends with a 24 hour fast and Prayer for Peace, beginning at 2 p.m. August 31 at Sacred Heart Church on the east side of St. Paul. Another church, closer to downtown and to the deliberations of the Republican Convention, was asked, but they turned the prayer event down. I guess it was too dangerous, which I tend to agree with. That sort of thing got Jesus crucified.

I’ll be at the prayer meeting Sunday, and then Monday I leave to walk guard duty around Mpls/St. Paul during the Republican National Convention. I know many honest, caring Republicans, but in my opinion, that is not who’s running the country right now. I’m walking guard duty the way I was trained in the military — to walk the perimeter and warn of dangerous elements nearby. Republican conservatives believe in government living within its means, but our current leaders are amassing a crippling debt for all of us, especially our grandchildren. They’re dangerous, and I’m praying and sending a warning to keep them out. Honest conservatives believe in small business free enterprise (something Paul Wellstone was powerful in supporting, and something for all “liberals” to consciously pay more attention to), but our leaders are awarding enormous no-bid contracts and other benefits to gigantic corporate friends. Their policies and practice are too often stifling the growth of honest, small business and real free enterprise. That’s dangerous, and I’m sending the alarm.

Actually, when I first went down this path, my line of thinking was just the way it struck me and the people around me who tend to think similarly. Now I’m finding books like Reclaiming Conservatism by Mickey Edwards, former Congressman and true conservative, saying all the same things. Edwards reiterates everything I’ve thought about this, from his perspective, saying that this current administration is not Conservative (Republican) at all. He even says true Conservatives never rush to war. They realize that sometimes it becomes sadly inevitable, but they do everything possible to work things out peacefully before committing to armed conflict. That’s basically the position of Veterans for Peace, and one the current administration is not particularly thrilled with.

Of course my walk is now sort of in the vein of an annual event. I’ve always walked a lot, starting at least with the time as a four year old when I took off and walked a half mile to show up where my dad was remodeling a house. However, when I walked 61 Miles on my 61st birthday last year (to support the physical and emotional needs of returning soldiers, as well as efforts to create less need for returning soldiers), people asked, “So, are you walking 62 miles next year?”

From the start, the answer was “No”, but I did have the idea to do something special (beyond walking to work or between bus connections to work) about this time each year. Guard Duty is what happened, and if it has anything to do with 62 at all, it’s because I’m walking for Hugh Thompson, who died a few years back at age 62. Thompson was the Vietnam helicopter pilot who stopped the horrendous My Lai Massacre of civilians from becoming even worse, using his military training and his understanding and commitment to the Geneva Convention, which says, “You don’t kill civilians”.

His actions should be a model for our current administration, who have been detaining and torturing prisoners regularly, also in violation of Geneva Convention principles. I’m walking for Hugh Thompson to send a warning to keep these dangerous Geneva Convention violators out.

I’m also walking for Todd Bachman, CEO of Bachman’s, who was killed tragically, at age 62, at the Beijing Olympics. The Bachman family and stores have been very supportive of our efforts to enhance the Peace Garden at Lake Harriet as a natural sanctuary where true conservatives and liberals alike could find strength to solve potential violent conflict peaceably.

Since I’m on a “dedication roll”, I’ve decided I’m walking as well for Tom Brazaitis, former Washington Bureau Chief for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In 1980 he called and asked if he could nominate me for President of the United States because he’d read something I’d written about the OGP (Old Gardening Party), formed to keep the world safe for children, gardening, and storytelling. I told him I’d walk, not run, and he put me in nomination, and every once in a while after that, proclaimed the principles of the OGP to a larger audience. When I was organizing the 61 Mile Hike, I thought I should let Tom know, only to learn he had died of cancer a short time back, at age 64, not 62.

The part that intrigued Tom Brazaitis most about the OGP was our position on taxes — that no one should pay any taxes at all till their income equals or exceeds that of the legislators deciding what to do with the money. That would force legislators of either or any party to get the money really needed from people who had it. The contribution of those living below the tax line would be to have the actual experience to advise government on living within its means — particularly, in this case, people who saved money on health clubs and gasoline by walking to work and/or for recreation.

I still chair the OGP, and I still believe this is a good idea, though it’s far from adopted by either side. Nonetheless, I’m walking Guard Duty to point out the extreme danger of the current administration’s tax and spend policies.

Finally, I’m walking in support of two quotes found on the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C. —

We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.

Unless the peace that follows recognizes that the whole world is one neighborhood and does justice to the whole human race, the germs of another world war will remain a constant threat to mankind.

I pray that all of us, with all of our differences, can keep these from being obscure words on the wall because we’ve made them guiding principles for us all.