Here is the talk given by Gerry Condon, on Saturday, March 9, 2024, at CINEMA ARTS CENTRE in Huntington, NY, following the showing of the documentary ALL OUR NOs about the 650,000 Italian Military Internees Soldiers Captured Who Refused to Fight Alongside Nazis during WWII.

Gerry Condon is a Vietnam-era veteran and war resister.  He is a former president of Veterans For Peace and Co-coordinator of the historic Golden Rule anti-nuclear sailboat.

I was a soldier too.  In the US Army during the war in Vietnam.  I trained as a Special Forces medic. The training was violent, of course, and racist.  We would run with our weapons, yelling “Kill the Gooks, Kill the Gooks.” Soldier friends returning from Vietnam told me stories about how US troops were killing innocent peasants and mutilating dead Vietnamese bodies.

I didn’t like the idea of war, to begin with, and these stories told me I could not be part of the Vietnam War. I began to speak out against the war and to refuse all orders. So the Army ordered me to Vietnam. I said “No.” The Army court-martialed me and sentenced me to 10 years in prison. But I had escaped from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and made my way to Canada. From there I went to Germany – where there were lots of US military bases – and I traveled around Europe, including to Italy. Eventually, I found a safe haven in Sweden, which granted “humanitarian asylum” to young US men who were fleeing from the military or resisting military conscription.

When I first said “No,” I felt that I was all alone.  I considered myself a Conscientious Objector who was acting on his own.  Soon, however, I realized I was not alone at all.  800 US deserters and draft resisters came to Sweden. In Canada, there were between 60,000 and 100,000 of us – 30,000 of whom became Canadian citizens.

Living in Sweden was a big education for me. I met Portuguese deserters who were fleeing from Portugal’s colonial wars in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau. I met refugees from all around the world.  I met Palestinians who were resisting Israeli occupation. I joined the American Deserters Committee and began organizing against the US war in Vietnam. The Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam had an office in Stockholm, so we had friendly meetings with the Vietnamese whom we were supposed to hate and kill.

I visited US deserters living in Paris, who were receiving support from Jane Fonda and many progressive French people. At international peace conferences in Stockholm and Paris, I met activists from Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, and Greece. Some of these longtime activists had been resisting fascism during World War II and ever since.  As you know, fascism remains a looming threat in Europe, in the US, and around the world.

For the last few decades, I have been working with Veterans For Peace, an organization of ex-soldiers who are dedicated to educating the public, especially the youth, about the true costs of war. We are committed to “restraining our government from intervening, overtly or covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations.”  So you can imagine just how busy we are. As Martin Luther King said, the U.S. government “is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

When I joined Veterans For Peace I wondered whether I would fit in okay with former combat soldiers.  How would they view someone who had avoided going to the war that they had had to endure?  But I quickly learned that many of these former soldiers had resisted the war, in one way or another, even while they were in Vietnam. They painted peace signs on their helmets. They went on “search and avoid” missions, intentionally avoiding contact with the enemy. They spoke out against the war in GI newspapers that had sprung up at many US bases. Army officers were killed by their own soldiers. Some units just refused en mass to fight. This was a key reason why the US finally pulled its troops out of Vietnam in 1972-3. They no longer had a fighting army.

This is a profound truth, and still not widely known or understood.

Many soldiers have also resisted more recent US wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.  Recently, as you know, a young US soldier, Aaron Bushnell, burned himself alive in front of Israel’s embassy in Washington, DC.  He said he would not be complicit with genocide.  His ultimate sacrifice has been widely honored with many vigils throughout the US and around the world, even in Yemen. He was not mentally ill. He was not suicidal.  He was challenging all of us to do more to stop the genocide. Former soldiers in Veterans For Peace and in About Face – Veterans Against the War are calling on the Biden Administration to stop sending weapons to Israel that are being used to slaughter Palestinian children.

Veterans For Peace is also concerned about the tens of thousands of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers who are being slaughtered in a tragic war of attrition in Ukraine. We are calling on the US government to stop sending weapons and to support a ceasefire and negotiations to end this terrible war. In the meantime, we support all the soldiers who say NO.

We know that war and preparations for war are also very destructive to human health and the environment, and add greatly to global climate crisis.

Conscientious Objection – when one soldier says NO based on what their deeply held beliefs – that is a strong example.  But when there is mass resistance by thousands of soldiers, that is so much stronger.  If soldiers are willing to risk their lives in war, then why not dedicate their lives to peace, even when the consequences may be quite severe.

On behalf of Veterans For Peace, I thank the veterans of A.N.E.I. – the National Association of Former Italian Internees – for reaching out to us, and for sharing this profoundly important history of their resistance to war and fascism. We are honored, and we are humbled. Thank you for your great sacrifices, and thank you for keeping this history alive. We join with you in the existential struggle against nuclear weapons, against war, against fascism. And also against the “fake news” and lies that force poor men to fight rich men’s wars. Our job is to tell the world what we have learned through bitter experience.

Our job is to teach the young people. If they will be brave, then they can resist war and fascism. That is a more noble fight – to build a world that is peaceful and sustainable, with equal rights for all. This is why we support soldiers who say NO.