Over the course of the day, despite cold, cloudy weather, a record crowd of up to 200 people attended the seventh annual Pigstock retreat, sponsored by Red Wing Veterans for Peace, Chapter 115. Pigstock was held at the beautiful farm of Paul and Trudi Schaefer in Hager City.
Speaker Michael McPhearson, executive director of the national Veterans for Peace organization based in St. Louis and a Gulf War veteran, stressed the importance of peace groups joining together in order to be an effective political force. He has become a co-leader of the large New York City based organization, United for Peace and Justice.
Wes Davey, leader of Minnesota Iraq Veterans Against the War and recently named temporary national board chairman of IVAW, observed the recent loss of several Minnesota National Guard soldiers in Iraq.
Davey, who served as a career army soldier ending up as a staff sergeant in Iraq and whose son is now on active duty, has become a leading crusader against war and for better treatment of the ordinary soldier, consistent with the VFP motto, "Support the Troops, Bring Them Home."
Probably the biggest attraction was Pulitzer Prize-winning author and war correspondent Chris Hedges, whose front-line reporting and hard-hitting opinion pieces have been a major source of information for the anti-war movement and those deeply concerned about the direction of U.S. foreign policy.
Hedges says that his new book, "Empire of Illusion," is about our government which has been taken over by corporations which have created an illusionary world where Americans can now longer discern reality versus illusion which is leading us toward despotism. Hedges, also a theologian, spoke passionately for about an hour about the urgency of putting an end to the indiscriminate destruction and killing of modern warfare as the inevitable outcome of a world dominated by corporate capitalism.
A panel discussion followed with Coleen Rowley, former FBI official; Nigel Parry, writer, war correspondent and musician; and Jeff Nygaard, author of the blog Nygaard Notes.
The second major activity was a joint presentation on women in the military by Helen Benedict, journalism professor at Columbia University and recent author of "The Lonely Soldier," a series of interviews of American women who served in the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, with Chante Wolf of the Twin Cities VFP Chapter 27, veteran of the Gulf War and photographer.
Evidence was presented that fully 80 percent of American women soldiers today suffer sexual harassment and up to 30 percent are raped during active duty in Iraq by their fellow soldiers. Women in our military are getting post-traumatic stress syndrome just from these abuses while serving our country and they are afraid to talk about it.
These startling figures are reinforced by Hedges' analysis of the brutalizing effects of combat in his earlier book, "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning."
Despite the grimness of continuing war and the difficulty of finding solutions to these serious problems, the weekend was also celebrated with music and singing, good food, and new and renewed friendships.
Pigstock has become one of the biggest annual gatherings of peace and justice organizations in the region, and we look forward to next year's event, and, even more so, to helping to turn the tide of public opinion toward a world of nonviolence and justice.
Bill Habedank and David Harris are members of Red Wing Veterans for Peace. Habedank is the executive director.