Ann Wright: a True Voice of Conscience

From the March/April-2019-pnl-865

by Ron VanNorstrand

 


Top: Ann Wright at a Veterans For Peace march.                           Ann Wright protesting drones piloted from Syracuse at the
Bottom: Ann Wright on a Gaza Freedom Flotilla.                           Federal Building in downtown Syracuse. Photo: Carol Baum

 

 

Those who attended Ann Wright’s presentation “Insights on Peace and War from Recent Trips to Pakistan, Turkey, Thailand, Spain, Ireland and Germany” at ArtRage Gallery on November 27, 2018 are aware of Ann’s distinguished and extensive military and diplomatic careers. Those who attended the next evening's opening of Robert Shetterly’s “Americans Who Tell the Truth” exhibit at Syracuse University are aware of Ann’s resignation from the epartment of State in protest of the Iraq War and her subsequent distinguished and extensive efforts on behalf of peace and justice worldwide. While Ann was in town, Julia Ganson and I had an opportunity to meet with her to discuss her multiple careers and the values that drove the choices she has made. What follows are notes from our discussion.

Growing Up and Getting Out

Ann grew up in lily-white Bentonville, Arkansas, the home of Walmart! Many of her classmates who took entry level jobs with the company instead of attending college are now executives. Her mom was a teacher, and her dad was a banker. Her one sister grew up to be a right-wing Republican. After completing undergraduate studies at the University of Arkansas, she decided she needed to get out and see the world, in particular Europe, so she entered the Army as a second lieutenant. Her first year was at the Presidio in San Francisco, and then she spent two years with the NATO command in the Netherlands. Having completed her active duty hitch and achieving her goal of getting to Europe, she transferred to the Army Reserves and spent the next three years exploring Europe.

 


Ann Wright at the People’s Summit 2012. Photo: Debra Sweet,
via Flickr Creative Commons.

 

Civil Affairs—Organizing to Help Refugees

Upon her return to the States she joined the Civil Affairs unit of the Army Reserves, which proved to be a perfect fit for the “organizer” in Ann. During this period, in the mid-70s, the US treated immigrants far differently than today. Three hundred thousand refugees from Indochina were “resettled” in the US in one year. Essentially the government couldn’t “camouflage” the fact, as they do today, that our imperial war directly resulted in the refugee surge. Currently, our military and intelligence services, with the active support of the mass media, obscure and deny our history of overt and covert actions in Central America, resulting in the mass migration on our southern border. To help address this resettlement need, Ann returned to active duty at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. She played a key role in the logistics challenge of resettling thousands—a role she enjoyed immensely because it was a positive use of military resources. One day, the commander called her into the office and tasked her with obtaining clothing for the thousands of families being brought to Fort Chaffee, and directed her to prepare a price list by the end of the following day. After unsuccessful attempts to obtain this incredibly large order of clothing from retail stores such as Sears and JC Penney, Ann was able to procure the clothing for thousands through the Armed Forces PX
Headquarters in Dallas Texas, and in a timely fashion.

Teaching the Application of the Geneva onvention to Soldiers

Ann eventually returned to the Army Reserves and obtained her law degree. She returned to active duty as an instructor at the Special Operations Division at Fort Bragg, NC. When no one else showed an interest, Ann  volunteered to teach the critical course on the requisite application of the Geneva Convention. The importance and relevance of the course became glaringly evident during the US occupation of Grenada. The military command expressed concern that the troops were not in compliance with the Geneva Convention, so Ann was sent to enlighten them.

US Department of State Diplomat Abroad

In 1981, Ann left the military and joined the State Department Diplomatic Corps. For 16 years she served in the US embassies in Grenada, Nicaragua, Uzbekistan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. In December 2001, Ann was part of the diplomatic contingent that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan after being closed for 12 years. Flying through a snowstorm in a C-130 transport plane from Islamabad, Pakistan to Basra Air Base outside of Kabul, the team arrived to find the embassy covered with layers of dust and cobwebs. They knew they only had a small window of opportunity to establish a positive relationship with the newly-formed Afghan government, and there was an immense need for funding for education and health facilities and for infrastructure projects. As Ann recounts, it was very frustrating and disheartening that their appeals to Washington generated very little response.

Responding to the Invasion of Iraq

In April 2002, Ann moved to the embassy in Mongolia as Deputy Ambassador, where she began to formulate a clearer picture of what was going on in US foreign policy and practice. It became clear that the US military buildup in Kuwait and Qatar was not intended for Afghanistan; it was headed to Iraq. Ann began to seriously question what her country was doing. For nearly a year she recorded her questions and concerns in her nightly journal. She, as well as many embassy personnel, knew that the US military had already inflicted devastation upon Iraq. It was known that, for ten years, the US had maintained a quarantine around and an air cover over Iraq. Approximately
440,000 flights had been conducted over the country, bombing military installations, power plants, bridges and numerous civil infrastructures. The US knew what went in and out of Iraq and that no weapons of mass destruction had been found. For many agonizing weeks, Ann reflected on whether she could, in good conscience, continue to serve her country under the Bush administration. The final straw for her came with the invasion of Iraq.

After thirty years of service to her country, Ann submitted her resignation. She explained, in what is reputed to be the longest letter of resignation ever submitted, that her decision was based on her disagreement with the Bush Administration’s foreign policies. She disagreed with its policies on Iraq, its lack of effort in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its lack of policy on North Korea and its unnecessary curtailment of rights at home. The curt response from the administration was: “Where do we send your stuff ?” Ann’s strong disagreement and objections made her believe she must speak out. Her only option was to resign. Without a real plan, and to the surprise of many of her colleagues, she determined that she could not go silently into the night.


Ann Wright at a press conference protesting drones in Syracuse.
Photo: Carol Baum

Finding Her Peeps: In Solidarity with Veterans for Peace and Anti-war Activists

Ann realized that she actually knew more foreign nationals around the world involved in peace and social justice issues than she did US citizens doing the same back home. However, the first enthusiastic response to her resignation came from a US Veterans for Peace (VFP) member she met on a beach in Santa Barbara. While visiting friends she went to the beach to view the VFP installation of crosses for all the people, military and civilian, killed in Iraq. When Ann explained her recent resignation, the VFP member exclaimed, “You are one of us!” Ann attended the VFP convention later that fall where she received numerous speaking invitations and made many contacts; and this helped to define her latest career as a peace activist.

Ann has become a leading anti-war activist. She travels and lectures on foreign policy issues, but she also “walks the walk.” She worked with Cindy Sheehan to organize Camp Casey and appeared in the documentary “Uncovered: The Truth about the Iraq War.” She has traveled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen to talk with families whose members have been killed by US assassin drones. She was a delegate on the 2015 Women Cross the DMZ, which featured peace conferences in both North and South Korea. In 2015 she traveled to El Salvador and Chile with School of the Americas Watch to ask their governments to stop sending their militaries to the US Army School of the Americas where their soldiers were trained and then returned home to participate in killing their fellow citizens. In 2016 she was at Standing Rock, ND in solidarity with the water protectors attempting to stop the Dakota Access pipeline.

Locally, she was one of the initial 38 activists arrested for resisting the drone operation at Hancock Air Base. On the international scene, she has played a key role in bringing international attention to the horror being inflicted upon the people of Gaza. In 2009 she traveled to Gaza numerous times following the Israel attack on Gaza that killed 1,440 and wounded 5,000. She was an organizer for the 2009 Gaza Freedom March that brought 1,350 persons from 44 countries to Cairo, Egypt in solidarity with the people of Gaza. In 2010 Ann was on the Gaza Flotilla attacked by the Israeli military, was an organizer of the 2011 US Boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope, and was a boat leader for the 2015 Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

The Gaza Freedom Flotilla and Its 2019 North American Educational Campaign

Ann’s commitment to ending the blockade of Gaza was a prominent issue in our discussion with her here in Syracuse. She is helping to organize a North American flotilla for Gaza as an educational vehicle in the summer of 2019, to support the 2020 Gaza Freedom Flotilla. The US Boats to Gaza and the Canadian Boats to Gaza groups are planning to have a “flotilla” in Turtle Island/North American waters to educate people in both countries about the illegal Israeli blockade on Gaza and its horrific effects on the people there. The goal is to persuade more North Americans that support for Palestine is an important cause deserving of their personal involvement and political will. The
educational “flotilla,” joined by others in the community, will sail into the major cities of the Great Lakes and then into Central New York waterways, down the Hudson River, stopping in communities along the way to New York City. Local Palestinian support groups and their allies will be asked to host the boat while she is in port and arrange educational speaking events and fundraisers for the 2020 Gaza Freedom Flotilla. This ambitious endeavor is now being planned; anyone interested in working on this campaign may contact me at ron@vannorstrandlaw.com or Julia at juliag@whistleblower.org.

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