Michael McPhearson, Vets for Peace, at BCCC
By: Christina Sheleheda
Beaver County Times
April 24, 2017, MONACA — For national peace activist Kevin Martin, the current state of our country can be best described with one word: Resolute.
Martin, along with Michael McPhearson, national executive director of Veterans for Peace; and Nancy O’Leary, president of the Beaver County Peace Links, hosted Prospects of War, the Need for Peace, Saturday at the Community College of Beaver County’s Health Sciences Center.
Presenting to a group of about 50 people, Martin, who currently serves as the national president for Peace Action, kicked off the event, which was hosted by the Beaver County Peace Links. He asked the audience to say how they felt regarding the current administration.
Having devoted over 30 years to peace activism, Martin believes the election simply drove a deeper wedge into an already divided country.
“We were divided before the election,” Martin said. “The contradictions of election are fascinating to me.”
Martin explained that three “evils” that have been discussed for decades – racism, militarism and economic exploitation – were first cited in Dr. Martin Luther King’s April 4, 1967 speech.
“My assertion,” Martin said, “is that militarism is the one that’s the worst of our society.”
Militarism is defined as “the belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests.”
“Progressives often link all struggles together. They list every progressive struggle, but won’t list peace and anti-war discernment, and I have a real problem with that,” Martin said. “We are not going to win if we don’t overcome militarism. That’s where all of our money goes. Not to economic or social justice issues, and certainly not to the environment,” Martin said.
Martin, who grew up in Lancaster, Pa., had both his father and uncle serve in the United States Air Force. He does not believe opposing militarism correlates with being anti-American.
“If you understand militarism as a problem, weapons, nuclear bombs, etc., that is separate from members of our military. [Militarism] has nothing to do with individuals in the military; their service is incredible. I believe that forced patriotism is coercive,” Martin said.
Lack of transparency and funding are the largest issues with militarism, Martin continued. “There was a survey conducted last year to Americans on how many nuclear weapons our country has. These are hugely paid for by our tax dollars. The survey came back that most Americans think the U.S. has 200-300 nuclear weapons when, in fact, we have 6,800 nuclear weapons.”
Militarism is an issue that spans both major political parties in the United States, Martin said, and something that should concern all people.
“$1 trillion dollars [will fund] the so-called nuclear modernization program. [Former President] Obama, who people thought was a peace maker and he even erroneously received the Nobel Peace Prize, started this program. A trillion-dollar program over 30 years – and it will certainly be more than that – to completely upgrade, overhaul and even add new warheads and new capacities to our nuclear weapons complex.
"What does that mean? That means our tax dollars are going to start a new arms race that makes all of us less safe; that makes the whole world less safe,” Martin said.
For McPhearson, a former field artillery officer in the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division during the Gulf War, meeting Martin was fate.
“The peace and justice community is small. Kevin was working to bring me home during the first Gulf War, and we didn’t even know each other,” McPhearson said. “Something to remember with the anti-war movement; a lot of those involved with it have gone on to support other movements and make those movements stronger.”
Although Martin and McPhearson agree that militarism is an issue that effects the entire world, a term that best describes the three “evils” that were listed above, is intersectionality.
“None of the three are more important than the other,” McPhearson said. “That’s the whole meaning of intersectionality. Dr. King and Fred Hampton were working on the Poor People’s Campaign when Dr. King was assassinated. That is the most dangerous thing to the system … to bring the people who are most disenfranchised together. Globally, not just here in the U.S.”
McPhearson presented his piece to the crowd, which was titled, “Overcoming, Resistance and Triumph.” Focusing on social injustices and how the public can become more involved, McPhearson shared his thoughts after the most recent presidential election.
“I decided to write this piece because, immediately following the November 2016 election results, in the world of activism, the looming reality that Donald Trump would be president made people ask what they would do.
"Before 45 (referring to President Trump) I began to formulate how I would respond to his presidency. A few months before the election, I told my wife we may need to begin to prepare for the worst. While I was not surprised by his win, I was extremely angry and disappointed in my country.”
McPhearson said he saw rebellion from both political parties.
“The rebellion sentiment on both sides continues to serve as a powerful force on the local spectrum. A force that demands change.”
McPhearson believes we have the tools needed to fight and bring about the change that we want to see, but that movement can only be built by leading with values instead of political affiliations.
“Resistance can take many forms. We must help people see a peaceful world. The most effective way to shift our culture is to be prophets of peace,” McPhearson said.
Beaver County Peace Links president Nancy O’Leary encourages those who want to see change to join the local chapter of the organization, which is the local association of Peace Action.
“It’s an honor to serve as president for this organization,” O’Leary said. “Some of the best people I’ve ever met are from Beaver County.”