An idea was forming in Brian’s head. He called me one day and told me he was thinking about fasting. He had been walking, he told me, when he saw a clear picture in his mind of a flatcar piled high with body bags — the very image of the photo he had shared with me the year before. He said he was in touch with like-minded veterans.
On September 1, 1986, the Veterans’ Fast for Life began. Brian and three other veterans — Congressional Medal of Honor winner Charles Litcky, Vietnam veteran George Mizo and World War II veteran Duncan Murphy — said they were looking for evidence that the American people were willing to make the necessary sacrifices to stop the war now, before it became a full-fledged Vietnam. Because I did not share Brian’s faith, I feared it would be a fast to death.
This day the veterans shared the stage with Sandinista officials, and they were lauded by Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega. It was heady stuff, and when, after the speechmaking, the Sandinistas paraded their military hardware for the world to see, a few Americans around Brian cheered. Brian did not. Only a minute or two passed before he, sickened by the sight of the tanks and the guns and the armored cars, asked to be taken back to the hotel.
On Veteran's Day, the American delegation issued a statement from Managua written by Brian. It said, "We have fought for war, and we are fighting for peace now. We are prepared to stand between our government's bullets and their intended victims. Let us be the last casualties of U.S. wars."
When I flew to Washington more than a month later, it was to say goodbye. I didn’t now that Brian and the three others were even then discussing ending their water-only regimen, in recognition of the outpouring of support from thousands of people across the nation. I didn’t e4xpect, two days after I arrived, to find myself at a party celebrating the end of the fast.
It was a strange affair, with incredible amounts of food — lobster, corn on the cob, meat and beans and vegetables — a somewhat embarrassing display of conspicuous consumption. Television camera crews moved through the crowd, recording the collective gorge. But Brian was the model of decorum. He had only a small pate of beans.
The next day, however, a wave of sinful gluttony took hold, and we spent the day stuffing ourselves with doughnuts, ice cream and hot dogs from street vendors. That night, after another complete dinner at the home of close friends, Brian graciously declined dessert, to the surprise of everyone but me. I felt wonderful. Brian was back among the living.
“We smell, taste and feel another Vietnam, illegal and immoral, born and bred of lies, as is this war.” Brian Willson, wearing his Cardinals cap as usual, was speaking, this time not from the Capitol steps, but to a crowd of 350,000 Nicaraguans on the shore of Lake Managua. He and his fellow fasters had been invited to help commemorate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Sandinista Party, and Brian had invited me to go along.
Wherever the American veterans went in Nicaragua they received a heroes’ welcome. They visited the crash site of the transport plane that carried American mercenary Eugene Hasenfus, who was captured and later released by the Sandinistas.
On ’ Day, the American de
Toward the end our stay, Brian met Holley Rauen, a Marin midwife there to attend a health-care conference. Brian has returned twice to Nicaragua since then, once with Holley and others in the first Veterans Peace Action Team, a concept developed by Brian. This team walked through the war zone, risking ambush, visiting hospitalized children whose legs had been blown off by land mines.
And still the war rolled on. It rolled in a literal way, out of the Concord Naval Weapons Station, in trains that must cross a public highway to move from their bunkers to the ships at the docks. The trains carry demolition bombs, machine-gun ammunition, shrapnel-producing fuse extenders and white-phosphorus rockets. Much of this, say the activists, ends up in Central America, and some of it, they suspect, goes to the contras.
When Brian moved to San Rafael to live with Holley and her fourteen-year-old son Gabriel earlier this year, he and other Bay Area activists founded Nuremberg Actions, a coalition of protest groups that, since June 10, has daily stood vigil at the Concord site. According to a ten-point “Covenant of Nonviolence” agreed to by all the Nuremberg Action participants, “no violence, physical or verbal” will be used; no damage to property will be tolerated; and no one will ‘run, use threatening motions or jump suddenly on or off the tracks or roadways.” The last point of the covenant reads: “We will not evade the consequences of our actions.”