Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Krystalline Kraus, was posted to rabble.ca, October 29, 2009
With the war in Iraq still ongoing and the conflict in Afghanistan going from bad to worse, who is paying the price? Can success be measured by piling the dead up against a wall – ours and theirs? How high does the ladder to freedom and democracy have to be?
One hundred and thirty-two Canadians soldiers dead (also, one diplomat and two aid workers) since the 2002 invasion began. Twenty-six dead as of October 28, 2009.
As of July 7, the United Nations recorded over 1,000 deaths in the first six months of 2009 -- 24 per cent more than during the same period last year. Total number of estimated civilian deaths -- direct and indirect deaths from Coalition-led military operations since 2001 -- are 8,436 - 28,028.
As another heavy November 11 approaches, how should we as a society reflect on the horror of war and its horrible consequences?
As the America government hides its military’s dead and abandoning its wounded, is Canada’s treatment of its dead and wounded soldiers any more honourable? Sure, we sometimes allow news broadcasts of ramp ceremonies and we do have public displays like the Highway of Heroes, but how are we as a society really honouring our heroes? Shouting “Support Our Troops!” during recruitment drives and yet not supporting them when they return home -- dead or alive -- is dishonourable, unpatriotic and a disgrace to any society.
Is a two minute pause one a year enough, if people even pause at all on November 11? Lest we forget?
Just yesterday, yet another Canadian forces member -- Lt. Justin Garrett Boyes, 26, of 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, who was only 10 days into his second tour in Afghanistan -- lost his life in Afghanistan, and two more were injured. Did anyone pause when they heard this news?
For Canadian civilians the concepts of honour, duty and sacrifice act as a shield keeping people from recognizing that active duty, reserve and retired soldiers are also casualties of war. For the anti-war community, it’s a hatred of the whole military complex that clouds the eye. Either way, it’s the dead and walking wounded who suffer.
The formula the military uses to dehumanize the enemy blows back on its own recruits, and the first people really dehumanized are the soldiers themselves. If they don’t come home in a box, they often come home broken. How the anti-war movement treats these men and women is a direct reflection on our ability to show concern for the ‘other’ who – for whatever reason -- chose to go to war.
The sooner we acknowledge and understand the true cost of war, the sooner we can take responsibility for our soldiers’ actions and our soldiers themselves.
Our peaceful Canadian society frankly does not want to truly acknowledge the impact and blow back combat has on all involved. Civilians and warriors alike. But this is the only way we as a society can truly heal from these scars and give peace to the victims of combat. Innocent and enlisted alike. Hiding the dead
For all its love of military and patriotism, the United States is quick to hide its dead. There are no American Valkyries to gloriously carry dead soldiers to an anglo-Valhalla. Bodies are instead buried and forgotten under the dirt of censorship, with a state imposed silence like mist that hangs over the public and media.
Last month, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates had stern words for the Associated Press (AP) for publishing a photograph of a dying Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard, who was killed in southern Afghanistan from wounds received from a rocket-propelled grenade in a Taliban ambush on August 14, 2009.
In defending its decision to circulate the photograph -- an image of fellow Marines helping Bernard after he suffered severe leg injuries -- Santiago Lyon, the Director of Photography for the Associated Press, said, "AP journalists document world events every day. Afghanistan is no exception. We feel it is our journalistic duty to show the reality of the war there, however unpleasant and brutal that sometimes is."
Writing for Common Dreams, Dave Lindorff chastized the U.S. government for its censorship. “Enough with the censorship! If we are going to be a warlike nation, if we are going to have a public that cheers everytime the government ships off men and women to fight and kill overseas in countries that most Americans cannot even locate on a globe, then let's make sure that everyone at least gets to see the blood and gore in full, including our own, and of course, also the civilian casualties of our military.”
The Bush administration has an equally ugly legacy regarding how it treats its wounded. During the last presidential election, the Bush adminitration took a hit regarding the substandard care wounded soldiers were receiving at the Walter Reed Medical Centre. The scandal resulted in the resignation of Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey and a call for a bipartisan commission to investigate.
Apparently, when an injured soldier salutes or an injured marine shouts “Semper Fi!,” the military doesn’t return the honour. The army marches on, leaving them behind. The wounded warrior project http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/ describes the feeling in simple painful terms: “The Greatest Casualty is Being Forgotten.” Honour and horror in Afghanistan
The situation isn’t looking much brighter for soldiers serving in Afghanistan. While foreign involvement in Afghanistan had been overshadowed by the war in Iraq, it is back now under the media’s glare.
Grievances concerning the current North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) mission keep rising to the surface. Most recently, Senator Colin Kenny stated he believes the war is doomed to fail unless NATO changes its tactics towards a more diplomatic and political angle. He also noted a Strategic Counsel poll taken July 13-16, 2009 showing that 56 per cent of Canadians opposed sending troops to Afghanistan.
Senator Kenny’s doubt concerning the Afghanistan mission mirrors concerns raised recently in the United States by the top U.S. and NATO commander, General McChrystal, who according to a 66-page document obtained by the Washington Post, which stated that situation is Afghanistan is grim and that without more boots on the ground, the mission, “will likely end in failure.”
Unfortunately, redacting an occupying army into a diplomatic mission is as impossible as magically turning a knife into a spoon. Casualties of shame and censorship
Canadians, while always quick to criticize the U.S. government, have nothing to be proud of in regards to how we treat our casualties of war.
In his recently published autobiography, Former Chief of Defense, General Rick Hillier, outs the current Harper government for its own shameful, unpatriotic handling of Captain Nicola Goddard’s repatriation ceremony. Goddard died from wounds received from a rocket propelled grenade on May 17, 2009 in the dusty Panjwaii district of Afghanistan.
Hillier had intended on a hero’s welcome for Goddard -- the first Canadian female combat death since WW2 and the first woman to die in front line combat in Afghanistan. (Lest we forget the Major Michelle Mendes, who committed suicide in April 2009 while stationed in Kandahar; she should also be considered a casualty of war.)
But in his autobiography, Hillier leveled harsh charges against former Defense Minister, Gordon O’Connor (himself a former military commander, thus adding insult to injury) and the Harper government of disgracing Goddard by attempting to hide her repatriation ceremony from the media and public -- at which the government had some success. This lead to a very public battle that pitted her grieving father against the governments’ recently enacted policy a month earlier of shielding the flag-draped coffins from public view by keeping journalists outside the fenced airfield at CFB Trenton.
He has gone on record, stating: “Officials in the Prime Minister's Office ordered the military to hide the return to Canada of the first female soldier killed in combat because they didn't want her flag-draped coffin seen on the news.”
This alert, was posted to the Let Them Stay Campaign Facebook page, August 6, 2009
Iraq war resister Rodney Watson has been ORDERED to LEAVE CANADA by AUGUST 10, 2009.
Full Story: A U.S. Iraq War veteran and war resister who has been living in Vancouver since 2007 has been told to leave Canada by August 10 or face removal.
RICHMOND BC DEMO TODAY: 9:00 a.m. PDT Unit 360, 5951 No. 3 Road Richmond, BCTORONTO DEMO TOMORROW: On Friday, August 7, 4:30 p.m., northwest corner of University Avenue and Queen Street West.
Rodney Watson is a veteran of the Iraq War. After seeing the way Iraqi civilians were being treated by the US, he refused a second deployment, choosing to come to Canada instead. Watson now has a Canadian-born son, and seeks only to live in peace in his new home.
In June 2009, the Immigration Critics from all three opposition parties wrote to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney, calling on him to honour the will of Parliament and “not to use the Parliamentary recess to disregard the expressed will of the House of Commons with respect to the fair treatment of Iraq War resisters in Canada”. A majority of Members of Parliament voted twice to allow U.S. war resisters to remain in Canada, first in June 2008, then again in March 2009.
Despite this very clear mandate, Minister Kenney and the Harper Government continue to deport Iraq War resisters. Several war resisters already have been deported to the U.S., where two have been court martialed and imprisoned. In addition to Watson, several other war resisters in Canada live under threat of deportation, including Kimberly Rivera, Jeremy Hinzman and Patrick Hart. All are parents of young children.
In January, Minister Kenney publicly denounced U.S. war resisters as “bogus refugee claimants,” revealing the government’s blanket opposition to what is supposed to be an impartial process. The Minister’s blatantly prejudicial comments were promptly denounced by Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Council for Refugees.
The following profiles, by Maggie Gilmour, were posted to Toronto Life, July 2009
To avoid serving in Iraq, 300 American soldiers have left their homes and families and fled to Canada, 75 of them to Toronto. Many assumed they’d get a visa, settle down and live a normal life. But the federal government has rejected their refugee claims and ordered them deported. Some go into hiding; others wait for appeals and judicial reviews of their cases. In the meantime, they’ve put down roots, taking temp jobs and raising children, nostalgic for a time when Canada was a haven for conscientious objectors.
PHIL MCDOWELL, 29
HOMETOWN: Warwick, Rhode Island
ARRIVED: October 14, 2006
STATUS: Refugee application denied, appealing to the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration for protected person status
I went to a small college in Poughkeepsie, New York. After 9/11, I wanted to do something useful to defend my country. I graduated with a degree in IT and joined the army a month later. I believed, we all believed, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. I went to Iraq in February 2004, and when we first drove into Baghdad you could taste burning tires and garbage in the air. My job was to set up communications networks at bases. One day I saw Donald Rumsfeld on TV saying that we were no longer looking for weapons of mass destruction. I thought, Then what the hell are we doing here? My commanding officer told us we were spreading democracy and freedom. I got suspicious and ordered books off Amazon: Bush at War by Bob Woodward, The 9/11 Commission Report, American Soldier by Tommy Franks. We had been lied to, and we did so many things wrong in Iraq. When we held detainees at our base, they’d be put out in the sun for hours at a time, hands zip-cuffed, hoods on their heads.
My tour ended in February 2005. I got home and spent time with my girlfriend, Jamine. By June 2006, I’d fulfilled my four-year contract, and I was done. I was so happy to be out, and I started a five‑month hike on the Appalachian Trail. When I was in New Hampshire, I got the call that I’d been stop-lossed and had to report back to base to deploy for another 15 months. I told my commanding officer I didn’t support the war and asked if there was something else I could do in the army to avoid going back to Iraq. He said no. I called my congressman and my senator’s office; I called a civilian military officer and a lawyer. They all said, “There is nothing you can do. You have to report back.” I couldn’t continue to serve in a war that I was morally opposed to, so I picked up clothes from my parents’ house and drove north.
At first I lived with a Toronto family who belong to a group of war resisters; then I got my own apartment at Broadview and Danforth. Jamine joined me in November 2006, after we got married. Jamine plays lacrosse, and she’s coaching at U of T. I have a work permit and install solar thermal heating systems. If things work out and I get a visa, I’d like to keep working in my field; the new Ontario Green Energy Act has created a lot of interest. One day when we met officials about our refugee application, there were people from Zimbabwe in the waiting room who had probably fled their own wars. We showed up in our Ralph Lauren shirts—people laughed at us.
PATRICK HART, 35
HOMETOWN: New Bedford, Massachusetts
ARRIVED: August 20, 2005
STATUS: Refugee application denied, deportation order postponed
I decided to join the army in 1992, after graduating from high school by the skin of my teeth. I served for three years in Germany as a warehouse guy, operating a forklift. I left at the end of that tour, thinking that with my military record I’d be able to get a job. I made tacos, did construction work and got laid off from a job at a steel factory. I married my wife, Jill, in March 2000 and rejoined the army that year because I needed an income to start a family. For the first three years, I worked in the motor pool at my base in Fort Riley, Kansas, and it was nine-to-five, pretty relaxed. My son, Rian, was born in 2002, and a year later I was sent to Kuwait to do maintenance on all the trucks and machines. There was a lot of just sitting around, shooting the shit. When we found out there were no weapons of mass destruction, I felt like I was putting my life on the line for nothing. I returned to the U.S. in March 2004 and told Jill that I wanted to leave the army, but she convinced me to stay for the health care, since our son has epilepsy. We argued about it a lot, but I couldn’t convince her, and I decided to leave without telling her. I knew that if I’d told her I was deserting, she would have turned me in and I would have gone to jail.
I left for Canada in August 2005; my parents drove me over the border. We told the border guard we were going to the CNE. When the army found out I had left, they sent military police to look for me at our home on the base. They ransacked the place in the middle of the night, looking for signs I was still living there. They went into Rian’s room and turned the light on and dumped all the dresser drawers out on the floor. They scared Jill pretty badly. I think she realized then that they were the bad guys, and she and Rian joined me in Canada a month later. We moved into a co-op near the lake. When I first arrived, I worked for a while at Lula Lounge running food and helping out at the bar, but my work permit ended. I keep busy by playing in a Misfits tribute band; we sometimes perform at the Bovine and the Rivoli.
When you apply for refugee status, you have to meet with a border services agent who asks if you’ll leave if you’re ordered deported. My lawyer told me that if you waver, if it seems like you are lying, or if you’re dumb enough to say no, they take you into custody at that moment and keep you in a hotel room near the office. So I said yes. My mother and father always say, “We’d rather visit you in Canada than at the cemetery.” My wife once asked my commanding officer what happens to soldiers who go AWOL. He said, “We put them on guard duty in Iraq with no ammo in their weapon, no plates in their bulletproof jacket, and just see what happens.”
CHUCK WILEY, 37
HOMETOWN: Frankfort, Kentucky
ARRIVED: February 11, 2007
STATUS: Refugee application denied, applied for consideration on compassionate grounds to the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration
The military is a big deal in my family. Of my father’s eight siblings, seven went into the military. My dad was immensely proud of me when I started basic training after Grade 11. I went in first as a classified communications electronics technician, which is a fancy name for someone who fixes radios. I did that in Louisville for three years, then signed on for full-time active duty in the navy; I maintained and operated nuclear reactors on ships. In 2004, I was assigned to serve on the USS Enterprise, where the planes rest between bombing missions. We were situated near the Persian Gulf, in the Strait of Hormuz. The summer of 2006, I asked one of my buddies in weapons why our F‑18s were returning covered in bullet holes, and he told me how the army was surrounding areas with suspected insurgents at dawn and flying F-18s right over the heads of the villagers to create as much chaos and fear as possible. Whoever fled was deemed a “person of interest” and rounded up. The fourth Geneva Convention details the treatment of civilians. It says you need to protect them from conflict, and you can’t treat all civilians as if they are the enemy—but that’s what we were doing. When I complained about it, I was told to just follow orders and not ask questions.
In mid-October 2006, we turned around and headed home to Norfolk, Virginia. I asked to be put on a ship going to any mission other than the Middle East. Instead, I was ordered to serve on the George Washington, which was headed for Iraq in four months. I spoke to a lawyer, who told me I had to report for duty or go to jail. Instead, I left for Canada.
I now live in a basement apartment at Donlands and Danforth and have a job maintaining the heating and cooling systems at a private school near Yonge and St. Clair. After nuclear reactors, it’s pretty easy. I’ve been giving anti-war talks at Ryerson, Queen’s and the University of Waterloo. I had never experienced cultural diversity until I moved here. Most Americans in small towns have never met a Muslim. Here, I have a Muslim colleague who works in IT. When you’ve met Muslims, worked with them, got into serious conversations with them, it’s a hell of a lot harder to follow orders to kill them.
DEAN WALCOTT, 27
HOMETOWN: Saratoga, New York
ARRIVED: December 6, 2006
STATUS: Refugee application denied, waiting to be granted a judicial review of his deportation order
I joined the marines in 2000 to put some discipline in me. My parents didn’t like it, but they weren’t too worried: 9/11 hadn’t happened, so no one thought I’d go to war. At basic training, they beat the shit out of you, fist in the face, kick you in the gut, throw you up against walls. My first posting was in Okinawa, Japan. I repaired electronics, sang karaoke, and drank a lot of Habu sake, a crazy drink made with snake venom.
In 2003, they sent me to Iraq to be a gunner. We’d travel in convoys down the road, from one base to another. I sat in the turret of a Humvee with a machine gun, looking out for the enemy. In a border town called Safwan, we saw some kids who had been beaten up by British and American soldiers. They had slogans written on their foreheads in black permanent marker: “terrorist in training” and “camel jockey.” A year after my tour in Iraq, I was sent to an army hospital in Stuttgart, where I processed paperwork for injured soldiers. Some of them were missing all of their limbs; some had survived being set on fire but were a red and black mass that looked nothing like a human being, families standing around their beds screaming and crying. We did whatever we could for the soldiers—got them a pizza or an Adam Sandler movie, whatever they asked for. I was sent back to Iraq again and stayed there until March 2006. When I returned to the U.S., I couldn’t sleep because of my nightmares. When I’d talk to the guys in my unit, they would just say, ”Shut up, you’re a wimp, stop whining.” I became a recluse and spent all my time chatting with my rabbit, Lunchbox, who I’d bought at a mall.
One night, I typed “war” and “get out” into Google and found a war resisters Web site. I dropped Lunchbox off with a friend, got on a Greyhound bus and came north. Now I live in Parkdale with two other resisters and have a temporary work permit for my job at Reboot, a non-profit that repairs donated used computers and gives them to low-income families. I go to Galaxy Donuts for coffee and have beer with my friends at the Cadillac Lounge. I like it here; there is an attitude of live-and-let-live. I’m still in touch with my parents through e‑mail, and they’re proud of my decision.
KIMBERLY RIVERA, 27
HOMETOWN: Mesquite, Texas
ARRIVED: February 18, 2007
STATUS: Refugee application denied, judicial review of her deportation order is scheduled for July
Army recruiters called my house 20 times when I was in high school, and I knew that the only way I’d be able to afford an education was if I joined. My sign-up bonus would be $8,000, and my college and health care would be covered. I was 17 when I joined the reserves. Five months into my training, I discovered I was pregnant. They gave me an honourable discharge, and I moved in with my boyfriend, Mario. We had our first child, Christian, then our second, Rebecca. We had no health insurance, and the stress made me a terrible person: I threw shoes at my husband, threw the TV off the balcony. In January 2006, I rejoined the army. Mario and I got married that same month.
That October, my unit left for Iraq, and I spent three months patting down civilians as a gate guard. Most of my fellow soldiers treated me like a sister, but not all of them. Some of them would hound me: “You look so fine, I want to get with you.” It was the most attention I’d had in my whole life. When I got back to Mesquite from Iraq, I realized how much I missed Mario and how badly I wanted out of the army—it was too hard on our relationship. We left Texas in January 2007 and drove north. By the time we got to Kansas City, I was having second thoughts. I wrote out a pros and cons list. If I left, I’d lose my furniture, which was at the base in Fort Carson, Colorado Springs, and my salary—$1,200 every two weeks. If I went back to Iraq, my marriage wouldn’t survive, and I’d lose my peace of mind.
We crossed at the Rainbow Bridge, said we were going shopping, and the guards waved us through. For three months, we lived with a family in Oakville who had volunteered to house resisters. That April, we moved to a one-bedroom apartment at King and Jameson. For nine months, I worked at Cobs Bread in Kensington; then I had my third kid, Katie. Mario took a course to operate a forklift, but neither of us has a work permit. We sit around waiting for the government to decide what to do with us—they put a stay on my deportation order this past March. When we first arrived in Canada, I still felt paranoid and unhappy—like I was back in Iraq. Now it’s our home.