The Veterans Reparations Project is a collaborative effort between the Islah Reparations Project and Veterans for Peace. Our goal is to bring veterans together from all over the world and organize grassroots reparations work, in which veterans assist in repairing the war zones where they once fought.
We as veterans affirm our pledge to give grassroots reparations, because we recognize how our status as veterans implicates us in a history of imperial violence, and we commit ourselves to repairing, to whatever extent possible, the harm that we caused during our time in the military.
By “grassroots reparations” we mean a kind of solidarity work that combines aid with truth telling. Grassroots reparations not only seek to shine a light on the root causes of harm, it seeks to address those root causes—this is what distinguishes reparations from charity.
So, first, paying reparations begins with bearing witness and truth telling. In general, for all of us citizens of empire, this means examining our own personal histories, our individual and communal relationships with power, and the ways we have contributed to harm, and then communicating all of this to our communities. For veterans, this means not only interrogating our individual roles in military violence, but also dismantling the mythologies and secrecies that have obscured the real impact of our actions, either by concealing or valorizing them. This means providing our victims with a platform to speak, while tearing down the elevated platform that our status as veterans has afforded us to speak on military and political topics. This means renouncing the authority, privilege, and esteem that is granted to us in our societies.
Second, grassroots reparations is not about “helping,” volunteering, or giving to the needy. Reparations is a duty, a moral responsibility; reparations is paying a debt to people that we have harmed. As veterans, we have a unique responsibility for the consequences of US foreign policy, and that is where we focus our efforts.
Third, reparations embraces the moral ambiguity of our status as victims and perpetrators. In a world more globally connected then ever, in which consumer choices on one side of the planet can have life and death consequences on the other, in which one’s civic duty means another’s death, in which providing for one’s family can produce toxic pollution that harms a stranger’s family, we are all perpetrators and victims, just of different sorts. An American soldier suffers differently from an Iraqi or Afghani, but the fact that we all suffer ought not confuse what we have done to them and what we owe them.
Our focus is on action. It is not to nurture a sense of victimhood, but to build a culture of moral responsibility. Our goal is not to better the position of veterans in the US or to lobby for our benefits, but to better understand what we as veterans participated in, what the consequences were, and what sorts of responsibilities we have towards those who suffer as a result of our actions.
And finally, grassroots reparations is ongoing and work without absolution. These last two principles are closely related, because there is no foreseeable endpoint at which one can disassociate his or herself from power and its harmful impacts through reparations work. We do not seek to absolve ourselves of our sins through the process of repair. And as therapeutic as it may feel, as much as it may also repair something broken inside of us, it is not our healing that is the object of grassroots reparations, but the healing of our victims and their communities.
Grassroots reparations is simply a way of living ethically in a globally connected world of inequalities and consequences. It is a moral response to living in a world of global capitalism, militarism, and environmental plunder.
In practice this may involve the material transfer of goods or skilled labor, or it may involve a less tangible exchange of ideas. As veterans we try to engaging in a process of repair with the people we hurt on their terms, and we are committing to seeing that process through to its fullest realization, while acknowledging that often what has been broken, altered, or killed can never fully be restored.
We do not seek absolution for our past, nor are we looking to pay a penance and then move on. Through reparations we are seeking to live differently, more aware of the many ways in which we are all implicated in power and how connected our communities are to the harms of global capitalism and war. Participating in grassroots reparations is a way of refusing any longer to be complicit, of resisting power structures and their ideologies, of carrying the past with us as we rebuild for a new, more ethical, more sustainable future.