Activist Mike Farrell pulls no punches with Air Force Academy speech, gets standing ovation

February 27, 2014 Updated: February 28, 2014 at 10:37 am
photo - Mike Farrell.
Mike Farrell. 

Actor and activist Mike Farrell said he gave his usual, well-honed speech.

He focused on human dignity, derided the death penalty and the Iraq war, and described American tactics against alleged terrorists as "drone murder."

What was different about Farrell's talk was the audience that gave him a standing ovation - Air Force Academy cadets and officers gathered for the school's National Character and Leadership Symposium.

It was a crowd filled with people who will drop bombs and pilot drones.

"That's why I think they need to hear that there are people with another point of view," Farrell said after shaking hands and posing for pictures with individuals, most in uniform, who swarmed him after the speech.

A former Marine, the 75-year-old gained fame as "B.J. Honeycutt" on one of the most popular shows to every hit televisions - M*A*S*H. Since the show ended in 1983, he has leveraged that fame into a career as a world wide activist for human rights with groups that are generally considered left of center.

Farrell also has ties with one of the academy's biggest critics as a advisory board member of Mikey Weinstein's Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

"It was very kind of you to invite me here," Farrell said to the audience. "It was a bit of a surprise."

The symposium drew more than two dozen speakers and students representing 50 colleges to explore the importance of leadership and character.

The speaker's list included the CEO of Boeing, retired Air Force Gen. Norty Schwartz, a cast of academics and other military brass.

The theme was "Character Overcoming Conflict", with a focus on how individuals can change the world.

Farrell's activism fit the theme. He's been honored by the United Nations for his work on the rights of refugees and has gained national attention for his fight to end capital punishment.

He told the crowd a strict upbringing with a stern father left him searching to find himself as he reached adulthood.

After a failed marriage, he spent time at a half-way house where he was taught his mantra: Everyone needs love, respect and attention.

"I grew up hungry," he said. "Hunger, I later learned, for attention, respect and love."

Farrell said he didn't pull punches during his address to an audience that may not agree with his views.

He said America is failing the values of its founding father, becoming a nation of government spies, prisons and drone warfare.

"State killing makes an outlier in the world community," Farrell said.

While Farrell may disagree with the government and the military on many things, he said he holds cadets and troops in the highest regard.

"I think service of any kind is an extensive gift to this country," he said.

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