Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army as a colonel and moved to the diplomatic service, where she worked for 16 years as a diplomat in US embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned in March 2003 to protest President Bush’s war against Iraq and has been a peace activist ever since. She took an active part in this year’s protest week Stop Air Base Ramstein in Germany, where we had the opportunity to have the following interview with her.
Ann, nice to have you here! Why did you come this long way to Ramstein?
I have come all the way from Hawaii to be here at Ramstein because I think it is so important, what the people of Germany are doing; to say no to the US military base at Ramstein because of its involvement in the assassin drone program that is killing people all over the world.
It is really important that we, as American citizens, come here to support you all in Germany, where this American base is located. It is your land and yet the US is using it to kill other people around the world.
What do you think is actually the relationship or the involvement of the German government? Why is this cooperation still so strong?
Well, I think the German government is still allowing the Ramstein base to be used for killing in other lands because of the long standing cooperation on many levels between the German government and the American government.
The fact that Germany still has so many US military bases on it, 70 years after World War II, that the German government did not tell the US to take back these bases shows that there is a long-standing cooperation between Germany and the United States.
The issue of what goes on in Ramstein, being a coordinating center for the assassination of peoples in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Niger, Yemen,… all coming through Germany, should make the German Government think. I know that the peace activists here in Germany have been very, very strong on trying to mobilise the Parliament, the Bundestag, to say: ‘Wait, we didn’t sign up for this’ but unfortunately you have not been able to get your own parliament to say no.
And that is why it is so important that the German people go each year to Ramstein as a public demonstration saying to the German government ‘kicked these Americans out’, because they are killing people using our bases, our land.
It seems that since Trump has been in power relations between Germany and the US have suffered, with Europe generally, in different ambits, but when it is about military spending and military cooperation, I cannot see any change. Why is that?
No matter who is in power in the United States and no matter how outrageous some of the statements and some of the actions president Trump is doing, some of the things he says on the international level, some of the things that he is tweeting about leaders in Europe, the fact that he is really taking on the Allies of the United States, the traditional allies, and risking alienating all of them on trade policies, on a variety of issues and yet that the military cooperation still stands is very remarkable.
That is the one thing.
Another thing; Trump is chastising European countries for not paying their share of the NATO budget.
It is very odd, that Trump will put very high tariffs on steel, aluminum and other things and yet nobody is talking about the military budget and the military operations.
So it must mean that the countries and NATO still value very much the fact that the United States is a key part of that and does put in so many people and so much money into it.
Which I disagree with. I’m totally for the US stopping all of this war mongering here, in Europe.
How do you see the relations towards Russia? I mean, Germany has a very special relation towards Russia due to WW II. Russia has paid the biggest price for the liberation of the Nazi-Regime.
On the other hand there is a very strong media propaganda, painting a very bad image of Russia, in particular of Putin. Do you think there is a certain strategy about moving forward Germany into confrontation with Russia?
Well, I’m directly concerned about what the United States is doing first. And it started with the Obama administration. The Obama administration, in my opinion, helped to orchestrate the coup in Ukraine which precipitated the people in Crimea having a referendum where they voted to go with Russia rather than with Ukraine. Once that happened, the G20’s, the G7’s, G-everybody kicked Russia out of all of those. Particularly the Obama administration was very strong on the sanctions on Russia and Crimea and supported the new government that the US installed in there. That and the propaganda in the United States of a real anti-Russian propaganda based on that.
I was part of a group that went to Crimea and then into Russia in 2015/2016. We did an 18 day trip through Russia to talk with Russians. We asked them: “What is going on here? Do you think the US is a threat? Why is the US calling you all an enemy?”
The general answer was “we don’t know, we are stunned about all of this”. And, now compounding what Obama had done, the election in 2016 with Clinton and Trump, the allegations of the Russians having some interference/support in social media for Trump, this whole thing has just blown up out of proportion. I think the Russian people are going ‘how did all of this happen?’
We know that the Russian government is reducing its military budget, even though it has military exercises along the border with Europe, in my opinion, to counter the increasing military war games that NATO is having on that border.
The Russians are responding, I don’t think they are initiating anything. But when we see the big increase in the military budget for the Unites States, over 10 % under Trump this year, and yet a reduction in Russia. It should give people pause. I don’t think Russia is trying to invade or occupy any territory.
Now, Trump has said that he is going to meet with Putin on the 16th of July in Helsinki. The turmoil now that is going on in Washington about how could he meet with him, he is paying off Putin for getting him elected… stories in Washington are just unbelievable and of course all the Democrats are saying he cannot meet with him because the Russians were a part of getting him elected.
And yet, for me I want him to talk to him. I want the leaders of those two countries to lessen the tensions because it is very dangerous. Just as I was finally glad that Trump met with Kim Jong-Un of North Korea.
It also produced an outrage by the Democrats. Didn’t it?
If Obama would have met with Kim Jong-un, the Republicans would have been outraged and the Republicans are outraged because of the nuclear agreement with Iran that Obama did. If Trump would start meeting with the Iranians to come up with another agreement, that is HIS agreement with them, I would not be surprised if that might have happened at some stage because it is ALL about Trump.
American Policies are in a real mess. Trump, on domestic issues, is horrific, is terrible; on environment, on civil rights, on human right, on immigrations,… you name it. Domestically it is horrible, and the destruction of the governmental institutions is really horrific. But on the international side there are some positive things. Not all of them, but a few that you can say well ‘That is good.’ But overwhelming, the majorities of policies are terrible.
Well, please let’s name the positive things too.
I already named them, only two: meeting with North Korea, and hopefully coming to good agreements that will lessen the tensions on the Korean Peninsula to acknowledge hopefully the diplomatic relations with the North-Koreans. To stop the military exercises, which are suspended now. When Trump suspended them pretty unilaterally, without even talking to his own advisors, the US military was as shocked as everyone else, when Trump said ‘We are going to stop them, they are too provocative, too expensive’.
I wrote those things in articles, that I have written about why these games need to be stopped. I was thinking ‘ah, Trump must have read my article’ (laughing).
They are a few positive things, but we have to be very cautious in terms of the relationships, about what he has done in terms of alienating countries in Europe by very rude comments about national leaders, about various things in these countries, much less towards the rest of the world. He is destroying what little good will that may have been for the United States.
To produce some change, I think there must be much more public pressure. What can be done to coordinate and to reinforce this pressure towards the different governments?
Certainly, our national efforts, either it is you, citizens in Germany putting pressure on the German government, or us in the US putting pressure on our own government. The movement of back and forth of activists from each country plays also a key role. For example, I’m coming here in Germany to participate with you all in a German action against US bases. And we, we do send invitations and invite people of other countries to come to the US and observe what is going on. But you have to be careful because our immigration people are very mean and if you get too close to our demonstrations, you might be put out of the country, but it doesn’t need to be dissemination of information. For example just this last weekend in the US 10 different major demonstrations on the issue of immigration, the travel bans, etc. have taken place.
Making sure that other organizations know, what is going on in each one of our countries is a major challenge and to create international websites so that everyone can contribute into them, so that we can look what happens in the Netherlands, in Mexico, in Canada, in Germany, in the US,… So that we are well aware that people around the world are rising up, maybe not in the numbers that we need in all the countries.
Look at South Korea; they changed their government through the candlelight vigils. They got a president (a sitting president!) impeached, thrown out and put in prison where she sits today. That is citizen activism at the best, when you can get that much change, when you can get a million people to come into the capital week after week after week and it results in changes like that. The South Korean model is a very good model.
It shows we can do something. We are not completely impotent. We just need the number and to go to the street.
And to have the courage to keep going. For example a year and a half ago, we had over a million people, mostly women, for the women’s march in Washington.
And there were marches all over the world on that day. The organisation was continued but they didn’t continue, like in Washington, every week. Mainly because Washington DC is a very small city. It is 500 thousand people versus Seoul that has 20 million people just in that city. Finding the pivot point, the point of pressure and using that point of pressure to our best benefit is one of the great challenges.
You mentioned the women marches. There are all around the world; in Spain, in Latin America, in Poland,… Don’t get me wrong, I’m the happiest person that this thing happens. But why it is not going on with the peace movement too? It seems to me that peace isn’t ‘sexy’ enough.
It is a real challenge. Preceding the war in Iraq, that is when there were the big marches and they went on 2,3,4 years into that war. In the US we could still have 500 thousand people out in Washington or New York. As these wars continue on, people become normalised. They just got to forget about them.
For 2,3,4 years they have been coming to these marches and they get tired. That is one of the big challenges; that the people are war-weary and we are almost having the weight for the next generations.
The next generation who may be the ones that have to go to the war. All of us, that are getting older, we have been out there, we have done this, but getting the younger people to say ‘peace is really what we need in order to all of us to have wonderful life’ is not easy. It makes perfect sense but as you say, it is not that sexy.
So let’s hope, that we will very soon have a hashtag #PeaceToo (laughing).
Yes, peace too. We do need that, that the people really believe it.
Actually you have been US military, what, from a personal point of view, happened to you to become from a colonel, a peace activist.
Not only was I a colonel in the military with 29 years in the US military but I also was a US diplomat for 16 years. I actually resigned from being a diplomat. I had already retired as a military. So I was a diplomat when I resigned in opposition to the war in Iraq.
It wasn’t that during the many years that I was in the US government that I agreed with everything the US government was doing. Like most people, I didn’t agree with everything, but I didn’t resigned. There were always ways you could get away from the policies you didn’t agree with and didn’t want to work on. There is always some other thing you can work on.
I wanted to make sure to have a retirement, in that sense very bad, that you guide your life by trying to find a job where you can get a retirement, when you are like me, 70 years old now. But that is really what I had in mind and working for the US government was the way I chose to do it.
Many of my friends now in the peace movement say ‘I never would have worked for the US government to start with’. And they wouldn’t but I did. Not agreeing with everything but particularly on this war on Iraq, I just felt it was so wrong and I would just not have anything to do with it and so I was only one of three people in the US government that resigned over the war on Iraq. We don’t have in the US government a tradition of resignation on principle, so very few people ever resigne.
I made that decision and I’m so glad that I did because I met wonderful people all over the world because of it. I didn’t know anyone in the peace movement in the United States. I knew more people that were part of the resistance movement in other countries than in my own country.
So it has been really a remarkable, wonderful education for me to get to know so many people in my own country that have been challenging the government on the issues of war, on the issues of social justice and getting to know them and hopefully being able to contribute to pushing our government to do things that should have been done along.
I personally believe life puts a person on one side of things or another. A person finds oneself in a situation not so much intentionally but through education, family, circumstances. And then to admit that it is not OK, needs a lot of courage. I think you are a great example of courage.
Thank you. I do get great support from people in the peace movement and behind the scenes, people that are still working in the US government will tell me ‘I’m so glad you did what you did, it was important but I couldn’t resign because I have kids in college, I have got a mortgage on my house but I don’t believe in these things that are happening now’. I thank you very much for your kind comments and we all have to work together to make our world a better, safer and nicer place.
Thanks a lot for your time.
The interview was conducted by Reto Thumiger and Gaëlle Smedts.