by Ross Caputi
The cause I am advocating is grassroots reparations. By grassroots reparations, I mean a kind of solidarity work that combines direct aid with truth-telling — replacing a warrior ethos with a rhetoric of responsibility and reconciliation.
In practice, grassroots reparations means reaching out to the communities that we helped hurt, making good on our moral debt to them by mobilizing resources under their leadership. At the level of discourse, a reparative framework means that we need to bring an awareness of our moral agency and responsibilities to our thinking and speaking. It 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 undermining the privilege of our own voices.
Grassroots reparations won’t replace the need for protest or marches. But I do believe that a reparative framework lends a lot of moral clarity to the veteran relationship with the antiwar movement.
Now let me address some potential objections:
1) Veterans are very often used as war propaganda. So why shouldn’t the antiwar movement highlight the voices of antiwar veterans to subvert these appeals? It’s akin to dismantling the master’s house with the master’s tools.
I think it would be unsatisfactory for white allies to try to support Black Lives Matter in a way that does not also undermine their own privileged position in society. I think the same logic applies with veterans.
2) We need to prioritize ending wars over repairing their damage, so our focus should be on crafting slogans, arguments, and narratives for a domestic audience.
Historically, we haven’t been very successful at preventing or ending wars, and I don’t feel good about asking our war victims to wait for us to achieve our long-term political goals before we start addressing their needs. Fortunately, I don’t think we have to choose only one or the other. I think of grassroots reparations as just another kind of direct action. If we build compelling and informative media campaigns to accompany our reparations projects, this kind of work can have an important domestic impact and supplement the broader antiwar movement.
3) Grassroots reparations work only by mobilizing guilt. We should not let the state off the hook, and we must keep working for state reparations.
I think there’s a big difference between mobilizing guilt and cultivating a culture of responsibility, and I’m trying to do the latter. I think we should be vigilant about how the way we live affects others and do what we can to repair the harm we cause. And I don’t think this lessens the importance of state reparations, or precludes us from working for both.
Ross is the cofounder of the Islah Reparations Project. He is also the director of the documentary film Fear Not the Path of Truth: a veteran’s journey after Fallujah. The full essay, from which this post is excerpted, can be read at VeteranReparations.org.