Now, I’m just a farmer from Arkansas.
There’s a lot of things I don’t understand,
Like why we send farmers to kill farmers
Now I did what I was told
For my love of this land,
And I come home a shattered man
With blood on my hands.
And now I can’t have a relationship,
I can’t hold down a job.
Oh, while some may say I’m broken,
I call it a soldier’s heart.
Because every time I go outside,
I’ve got to look her in the eyes,
Oh, and knowing that she broke my heart,
And it turned around and lied.
Oh, I said red, white and blue,
I trusted in you,
And you never even told me why.
– Jacob George, Soldiers Heart
The Kairos Center and the Poverty Initiative mourn the passing of veteran leader and peace activist Jacob George. George was a three tour veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) turned peace activist. He served as a paratrooper in the United States Army Special Operation Command (USASOC) between 2001-2004, and was honorably discharged as sergeant. George co-founded the Afghan Veterans Against the War Committee, part of Iraq Veterans Against the War and was a musician who biked around the country playing music for peace, a campaign he called “A Ride Till the End.” The ride began on May 1, 2010 and covered over 8,000 miles in the U.S. Jacob returned to Afghanistan in the summer of 2011 with Voices For Creative Nonviolence to work with and hear stories of Afghans struggling for peace. He shared those stories through music and poetry while riding his bicycle across the country to explore the overall impact of war on Afghans, U.S. soldiers, U.S. citizens and our “enemies.” In 2012, at the NATO summit in Chicago, George was among the veterans who hurled their military medals toward the summit gates in an act of protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. George spoke openly about his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and with getting Veterans Affairs counselors to understand what he saw as a “moral injury” from his time in Afghanistan. In November 2013, George joined us for the launch of the Kairos Center, sharing his reflections on a panel on the role of rights and religions in our global struggles.
Below, Poor People’s Campaign Program Coordinator Charon Hribar reflects below on Jacob‘s commitment to building a nonviolent global movement for transformation, equality, and peace.
“A lot of us veterans feel we entered into a relationship with our nation through our service: a sacred contract of protection signed with the soul. … This contract isn’t for the interest of international corporations or greedy people. Its fulfillment hinged on the needs of the people. Through the misuse of this contract, many of us feel betrayed, deceived, cheated on, and abused emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually.”
– Jacob George, Soldier’s Heart
If you ever met Jacob, you know you were forever changed. Jacob was a special soul. Often introducing himself as a hillbilly from Arkansas, Jacob was both a simple and profound human being.
As I reflect on the words Jacob used in introducing his album Soldier’s Heart, I am reminded of the chilling truth he illuminated through the stories and songs that he so vulnerably shared. After serving three tours in Afghanistan, Jacob refused to comprehend the devastation that is committed in war. Calling out the moral injury caused by war, he spent his life searching for healing, for himself, for his country, and for the world.
I first met Jacob at an Iraq Veterans Against the War Convention in Baltimore, MD. Sharing a love of music, we first shared the stage at an open mic, singing an old gospel hymn “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down.” As movement builders normally do, we changed up the words a bit, getting the crowd to join in – calling out Wall Street, Monsantos, Black Water… The energy Jacob brought into the space permeated the room. We must have gone on for over 20 minutes with that one simple song. In that moment the space shifted, it moved from a performance to an assembly – people around the room joined in shouting out perpetrators of injustice. His music spoke to people’s souls and expressed an urgent desire to connect.
It was Jacob’s willingness to bare his soul and to touch the souls of others that made Jacob an invaluable leader. Throughout his struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Jacob continually challenged society to reframe our understanding of PTSD. He argued that “there isn’t anything disorderly about being gravely affected by war, to NOT be affected would be the true sign of disorder.” This wisdom reminded me that we should not accept what is. Jacob was outraged by the injustice of war, greed, and oppression in our society. He reminds us that it is right and just to be outraged. The injustices of war and poverty are attacks on our humanity. Believing that every human being contained a spark of the divine, Jacob’s antiwar work was committed to transforming the world.
Dr. King, reflecting on the injustice of the war in Vietnam once wrote, “Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”
I believe this is the vision that Jacob lived by – to build a world wide neighborhood. You could hear it as he sang, asking folks in the audience to holler out an “amen brother,” or a “hallelujah brother.” Jacob was a prophetic voice in a world that is much too silent about the suffering experienced by the women and men who serve in the U.S. military, by the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, and by people around the world who suffer the injustices of poverty and war. Jacob recognized the need for the cross fertilization of our movements and that this need is a reflection of something larger happening in the world today.
More testimony about the life and leadership of Jacob George:
- A powerful reflection by IVAW member Brock McIntosh
- A tribute on Democracy Now
- Jacob George’s “Truthdigger of the Week” award from Truthdig
You can contribute to a fund for the celebration of Jacob George’s life here.