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Gettysburg: Bernie Listens to Veterans About the “True Costs of War,” Outlines Clear Foreign Policy Strategy

Bernie Sanders Tulsi Gabbard Gettysburd Veterans Military Tyson Manker

PENNSYLVANIA (VFB) — Yesterday at a Town Hall event in Gettysburg, PA, Bernie Sanders spoke at length about Veterans issues, while articulating a clear military strategy contrary to the destructive interventionist policies of the past decades.

In describing the strength of diplomacy over militarism, Sanders defended President Obama from criticism for his attempts to bring American troops home after a decade of war.  He also explained when he thought the use of military force was justified.

Before the event, both Sanders and Gabbard met privately with military Veterans to hear about their experiences in combat and the “True Costs of War.”

Included in the discussion was the all-important topic of discharge upgrades for Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress, which Sanders spoke in favor of.

Many people are unaware that a shocking number of combat Veterans cannot access VA healthcare because they received less-than-honorable discharges, too often given for minor incidents of misconduct brought on by combat PTS.

“If elected President, this is an issue that will be very high up on our list of priorities,” Sanders said.

1 in 10 Marines since 2001 have been kicked out of the service with “Other Than Honorable” discharges despite having PTS.

Sanders also heard from Gold-Star mothers like Celeste Zappala, who gave him a picture and spoke fondly of her son Sherwood Baker. Baker was killed in 2004 while searching for nonexistent WMDs.

After the lengthy meeting with Veterans and their families, Bernie spoke to a capacity crowd of nearly 1,500 about the relevance of Lincoln’s famous address over 150 years after it was given.

In an illuminating conversation that included questions from the audience, for over an hour Sanders and Gabbard discussed a number of domestic and foreign policy issues, including a lengthy explanation against interventionism and in support of those who serve and fight.

“Peace is something that is appreciated by Veterans who have experienced war firsthand,” remarked Gabbard, an Army National Guard Major, before reading a portion of Sanders’ 2002 iconic floor speech in opposition to the Iraq invasion.

The Hawaii Rep. then asked about his views on foreign policy, and “when you believe it may be time for war, and other times you believe we must choose peace.”

Sanders replied:

“Thank you for that very important question, and it is a question that we do not discuss enough as a nation.”

“And the reason for that is, it is very easy for politicians to give a passionate speech talking about the ugliness of a dictator.”

“Saddam Hussein, make no mistake about it was a brutal thug who killed and tortured God knows how many people in Iraq. Gaddafi of Libya, equally vulgar dictator. Assad in Syria today used chemical weapons against his own people, I mean, what could be worse than that.”

“But the issue of foreign policy is not simply saying that this ‘dictator is a terrible person.’

“It is thinking it through and asking a very simple question:  What happens the day after that dictator is gone? And are there other ways of bringing decency or democracy to those countries rather than military intervention?

In regards to his stand against the Iraq invasion, “I listened very carefully to what President Bush and VP Cheney and that whole administration as saying.”

“I concluded two things.  One, that they were not telling the truth,  And two, that going to war would likely end up causing significant problems above and beyond Saddam Hussein in terms of bringing massive instability to that region, which of course is exactly what happened.”

There are times when you have to respond militarilyBut in my view the use of military force should be the last response, not the first response. – Bernie Sanders

“If you check out American foreign policy from way back, whether it is in Latin America, whether it was in Iran, whether it was in Iraq, whether it was in Chile, very easy for the United States military, the strongest military in the world, very easy for our CIA and intelligence agencies to overthrow governments.”

“That’s not the hard part.”

“The hard part is to think about what happens in the future, and it turns out that regime change more often than not ends up causing instability and unintended consequences that people haven’t thought through.”

“Does that mean we never use military force?  Of course that does not mean that.  There are times when you have to respond militarily. When our freedom is in danger. When our national interests are in danger. When those of our allies are in danger.”

But in my view the use of military force should be the last response, not the first response.

“This get back to politics, it gets back to media and everything else.  It was very easy for George Bush to show how tough he was. Boy he was a tough guy. But the consequences of that war have been obviously terrible.”

“And I get upset that President Obama, who has tried not to get us involved, tried to get our troops home, gets criticized because he is quote-unquote “weak.”  That is nonsense.

“Diplomacy and doing everything we can to avoid a war is not a weakness. It is intelligence. It is strength.  It is making sure we do not see unnecessary death.”

Later, Sanders responded to a question about proposed cuts to the GI Bill, “I am opposed to cutting the housing benefits of defendants of Veterans who are using the GI Bill.”  He also spoke in favor of expanding the essential caregivers program, but said “it should not be paid for by reducing other benefits Veterans have earned.”

After the rally, Sanders stopped by the Gettysburg National Cemetery to pay his respects to fallen soldiers of that era, and the ideals they fought and died for.

In a rare moment, Bernie asked for his picture to be taken next to memorial honoring Vermont Civil War soldiers. Like the countless hours he has listened to us Veterans tell our stories, it was clearly a time that he, the potential next President, always wanted to remember.

Tyson Manker is a former combat marine, attorney, college professor. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.