This interview was originally published in Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements. The editor interviewed Greg Payton, an African American veteran of the Vietnam war, turned international peace activist with Vietnam Veterans against War, Veterans for Peace, War Resisters’ League, and Black Veterans for Social Justice. He talked to us about how race and racism have played out in his experience of this activism.
Can you tell us what got you involved in your activism?
I'm a Vietnam veteran. I got drafted, conscripted to Vietnam. And I really wasn't not into politics, I only went because I didn't want to get locked up, I didn't want to go to jail. That was the number one reason I went to Vietnam. The military wasn't difficult for me, I was pretty physically active so it was OK. But when I went to Vietnam, I began to understand what the war was really about. I realised we were being used for the benefit of others. When I spoke about white soldiers and black soldiers and the problems of racism in the military, I became a target. I got attacked several times by American soldiers. It lead to a lot of conflict. I had to leave the army, I left without permission and went to stay with a Vietnamese family. It gave me tremendous insight on the war. I got shot at a couple of times by American soldiers.
"We need them Because they were willing to love, they dressed up, all they wanted was to be happy as in fairy tales and they were unaware that many times they end like horror stories. Because they loved their neighbour - a neighbour - more than themselves. They obeyed the mandate to endure, to hope for love to change him, they abided solemnly "until death do us part".
The bright smile. Contagious laughter. Her sunshine drew others to her, to debate and argue, to learn and ponder. Energetic resolution, a passion for justice, for constant giving define Kayla Mueller; not her capture by ISIS, her torture and tragic death at age 26.
Every year - on 1st December - War Resisters' International and its members mark Prisoners for Peace Day, when we publicise the names and stories of those imprisoned for actions for peace. Many are conscientious objectors, in jail for refusing to join the military. Others have taken nonviolent actions to disrupt preparation for war. Supporters send cards and letters in solidarity.