I have a degree in Peace. This has been a source of amusement over the years from many corners, especially after I took up karate and found I enjoyed kicking things! Given the current context of violence, division and outright hatred in the U.S., I can understand why a degree in peace seems laughable...but the struggle for justice and peace has never been more important.
So you can imagine my delight on September 1st to be able to witness Nicaragua honoring a Peace Hero. On the 33rd anniversary of his protest to stop trains carrying weapons bound for the Contras, the Nicaraguan National Assembly bestowed on Brian Willson its greatest honor, the Order of General Jose Dolores Estrada, Battle of San Jacinto, Great Cross Level.
At 27 years old Brian was drafted into the Vietnam War. When he was sent to villages that had been napalmed and carpet-bombed, Brian came to see that the Vietnamese peasants weren't the enemy. "I realized that I was on the wrong side, and that was very difficult for me," he said in his speech at the ceremony. When Brian returned the U.S., he became an activist, joining Veterans for Peace, and traveling many times to Nicaragua to support the fledgling Sandinista Revolution. "Vietnam taught me that we needed a revolution, Nicaragua taught me how a revolution is made." In 1986 Brian and three others carried out a 47-day Veterans Fast For Life on the steps of the US Capitol, which unbeknownst to them, led to the four to be placed on a domestic "terrorist" watch list by the FBI. In 1987, Brian and two other veterans planned an action outside Concord, CA to physically block the tracks to stop trains shipping weapons destined to kill peasants in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
The three expected to be arrested that day. But instead of stopping, as was protocol, the train accelerated to more than three times its 5 MPH legal speed limit. Brian later discovered that the train crew that day had been ordered NOT to stop due to the FBI's investigation of them as "domestic terrorist suspects." Although the other two veterans managed to jump to safety, Brian did not. The train plowed into him, only stopping 500 feet down the tracks.
"I spent one month in the hospital recovering from my injuries – double leg amputations below the knee, fractured skull with destruction of right frontal lobe, two broken elbows, broken right wrist, many cracked ribs, broken right shoulder blade, damaged right kidney, and many skin abrasions, including 100 stitches inside my mouth. I needed facial reconstruction including re-attaching my severed outer left ear. I left the hospital with two prosthetic legs and a walker." See Brian's full account of that event here.
Others continued what Brian had started - for years afterward, anti-war protesters maintained a 24-hour-a-day vigil at the weapons
depot, which shipped between 60,000 and 120,000 tons of munitions each
year. Brian has continued his activism, and now lives in Nicaragua.
It was a joy for me to take Orla (nearly 13 year-old daughter) and Abril (18 year-old goddaughter) to accompany Brian and a group of friends to the National Assembly for the ceremony. Orla and I also joined a group later at the National Autonomous University where Brian received an honorary degree. Because he is a hero for peace, Brian took advantage of the moment to speak directly to the Nicaraguan people about the recently exposed plan by the U.S. to interfere in upcoming 2021 elections and to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, called RAIN.
"I hope that all Nicaraguans are in solidarity with preserving your sovereignty, protecting your country from the United States, because the United States is going to try to destroy everything you have. I stand with the Nicaraguan people, and I am going to oppose all forms of North American aggression, and I hope to do it together with all of you."
In a climate of fear and anxiety, we should all be honoring our Heroes for Peace. - Becca