Correspondence from Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Anti-Imperialist

Thousands Confront the School of the Assassins

Revolutionary Worker #1082, December 10, 2000, posted at

The School of the Americas (SOA), operated by the U.S. Army, trains troops from U.S.-backed regimes in Latin America in counter-insurgency, including assassinations and torture. Every year, in November, protesters gather at Fort Benning in Georgia, the current site of the SOA, to demand the closing of what many people call the School of Assassins. This year, the protests were on November 18-19. The following are excerpts from a correspondence we received from the Vietnam Veterans Against the War Anti-Imperialist (VVAW AI).

Members of Vietnam Veterans Against The War Anti Imperialist traveled to Columbus, GA to join with 10,000 to12,000 others in the 10th annual protest against the School of the Assassins at Fort Benning. In the midst of our campaign to end the sanctions on Iraq--and with the prospect of gearing up against U.S. intervention in Columbia--we definitely wanted to be in the house this year.

Military veterans were very much in evidence with dozens of members of Veterans for Peace. Through the course of the weekend much became clearer. The SOA is a facility for training soldiers in dealing with "internal" enemies--not external ones. Thousands of us protesting this School of Assassins could very well be the targets of the SOA graduates in the countries from South America. The SOA doesn't train soldiers to defend their country from foreign threats (like the U.S.!)--but from domestic opposition. Thus, the "victims" of the graduates of the SOA are the conscious targets of its training. The soldiers trained at the SOA have a basic role of defending the existing power/class structures of the countries they come from. It's no wonder that this year saw the "merging" of anti-globalization youth with religious activists in this struggle. Some veterans of the anti-WTO protests were promoting that the SOA is the military hand of the IMF.

The very structures that the SOA graduates support are right in line with U.S. interests in those countries/regions. Soldiers from countries or forces that oppose U.S. interests would never be invited/allowed to receive training at SOA.

It was a grand weekend. All but one from our contingent joined the 3,600 who crossed the lines into the military base. Saturday and Sunday were rainy and very cold. Everyone was adorned in plastic--garbage bags, ponchos etc. As the names of SOA victims were read from the stage, thousands chanted "presente" and began filing onto the base. 3,600 crossed in a solemn funeral march. The crowd was stark: older folks--nuns, priests, 50 to 80-year-old religious activists--and thousands of college students in their late teens and early 20s. Huge contingents of students were organized from colleges like Oberlin and from Jesuit and religious schools. Father Roy Bourgeois --a fellow Vietnam veteran--was the first arrested. Actor Martin Sheen was arrested. Some protesters were carried off in "stretchers" as they went limp while the protesters from Art & Revolution were cuffed and dragged face down.

What was new this year was the more "active" civil disobedience as well as the "high risk" march by supporters of Art & Revolution. As this demonstration entered the base, youth from the first demonstration began running up the hill to join the more raucous protest. Some even made it!

An affinity group from Missouri performed an individual act of civil disobedience by entering Ft. Benning from a nearby city park. Made of up about five "SOA paramilitary forces" equipped with cardboard machine guns, they herded some 20 "Latino peasants" into a circle, just inside the gates of Ft. Benning. The "SOA grads" fired their cardboard machine guns shouting "ratatatatata" into the crowd of peasants. Screaming with agony, the "peasants" fell into a tangled heap of bodies, streaked with red paint. As the cold pelting rain fell on the bodies the paint bled more and more, pooling beside the victims--creating a macabre and brutal scene.

Simultaneously with this "SOA massacre of peasants," a group of six "nuns"--each carrying swaddled baby dolls--speed-walked past the melee for about 100 yards. There they dropped to the rain-sodden grass and began wailing in grief for the "dead babies" they held in their arms.

Three local Black youth were singled out, kidnapped, interrogated and threatened by the Columbus police during the second wave of the School of the Americas Funeral Procession. The three young men are residents of the apartments located directly outside the gates of the Ft. Benning base. Drawn by the massive numbers, music and festivities outside their home, the three youth came out onto the street to check out the scene. They soon joined the puppeteers and proceeded to lead the parade across the line. As they chose to walk out of the base with hundreds of others--they were cuffed and arrested. Their actions show the kind of support the SOA activities have won from local residents.

In all 2,148 people were arrested and processed. Others were either put on busses or dropped off at nearby parks or given the choice to walk off the base. About 200 people walked backwards off the base, facing their enemy and singing songs.

The mood of those that crossed was of proud defiance. Many--including a well-known peace activist on federal parole--defied threats of jail to cross. And some, including our friend on federal parole--found the way to slip through the hands of the military--while in their clutches! Right on brother!

A brother veteran (and one of the Presidio 27) who traveled with us spent his time working with the Independent Media Center and interviewed dozens of activists. He reported the following: Many in the crowd were motivated by moral duty, others see the privilege that we in this country have and felt it necessary to act. Still others, primarily youth, reported that they felt an "obligation" to act on behalf of others of the world who are targets of the very system in which these activists live. A higher level of internationalism prevailed and signaled some very good prospects and directions for the future. And, as we mentioned, the anti-globalization movement forged through the WTO, A16, the RNC and DNC protests had a huge impact on the crowd and had a profound effect on the youth.

In all we at VVAW AI handed out 1,500 leaflets on Colombia (see our just published issue #41 of Stormwarning!, the VVAW AI newsletter) to people eager to understand the current escalation of the U.S. military in Colombia. More members of the Colombia military are currently at the SOA than any other peoples. We also distributed close to 1000 issues of Stormwarning! and 800 copies of our Veterans' statement against Iraq sanctions.

We urge people to support this just struggle against the SOA and to step up opposition to the U.S. intervention in Colombia. And we call on all those anti-globalization activists to merge with these movements in a fist of strength.

The RW interviewed Roy Bourgeois, leader of the group School of the Americas Watch, in 1999. The interview is available online at

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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