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 was posted to the IVAW website, August 2009
Washington, DC – On Thursday, August 6 IVAW held a demonstration at the U.S. State Department concerning negotiations between the Iraqi government and international oil companies and related labor rights issues.
Several days prior, IVAW Board Member T.J. Buonomo spoke with an official representing the Iraq Office of the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs regarding the U.S. government's position on foreign investment in Iraq's energy industry. Mr. Buonomo introduced himself as a former U.S. Army Intelligence Officer, upon which the official stated that the issue could not be discussed over an unsecured phone line. After Mr. Buonomo reiterated his civilian status, the official stated that the U.S. government has no involvement in the negotiations but continues to advise caution on investment in the Kurdistan region due to current legal ambiguities, citing a State Department Inspector General Report released last March.
Numerous attempts to contact the State Department's Office of International Labor and Corporate Social Responsibility by phone and email have not been responded to.
IVAW calls on U.S. diplomatic officials to discourage foreign investment in Iraq's energy industry without the establishment of a legal framework and accompanying oversight mechanisms, which are critical to long term political stability in the country. IVAW also presses U.S. officials to publicly champion labor rights in Iraq, which the State Department reported this year as contrasting sharply with International Labour Organization standards.
After the fall of Baghdad in 2003, U.S. officials transformed Iraq's legal system in order to open the country to virtually unregulated foreign investment- an act in contravention of international law. One of the Iraqi laws kept in place by the Coalition Provisional Authority, however, was a Saddam Hussein-era prohibition on free association and collective bargaining in the public sector. This legal measure has been used to suppress popular dissent against ongoing negotiations over the role of foreign companies in Iraq’s energy industry. These highly controversial negotiations have in turn contributed to political instability throughout the country, undermining the transition to full Iraqi sovereignty.
IVAW recognizes that Iraq's control over its natural resource development is a prerequisite to long term political stability there and will continue to press the State Department to formulate and implement U.S. policy accordingly.
This article, by Forrrest Wilder, was published by the Texas Observer, August 17 2009.
In March, Michael Kern, 22, returned to Fort Hood after a year and a day in Iraq.
Shaken by his experience and disgusted with the war, Kern, a native of Riverside, Calif., tried to readjust by getting as hammered as possible. “Put it this way: For the first month, I was drunk at work, I was drunk 24/7.”
In Iraq the violence had been fast and furious. “We were going through all sorts of bad shit: mortars, IEDs, indirect fire. Anything you can think of we experienced the first day.”
On his second mission, Kern drew the short straw to drive the lead vehicle—a “mine resistant ambush protected” vehicle—in a convoy looking for a weapons cache near Baghdad. An IED exploded next to his vehicle, damaging his door. The platoon pulled back to base. The next day, April 7, on an identical mission, insurgents came after his unit with AK-47s, machine guns and IEDs. During the nine-hour firefight, a sniper killed Kern’s buddy, Sgt. Richard A. Vaughn. Two others, including Kern’s lieutenant, were seriously injured.
Kern tells me his story over two days in July at Under the Hood Café, a new GI coffeehouse and soldier-outreach center that opened in February. Since mid-May, when a drunken Kern first dropped in, Under the Hood has become his second home. While awaiting a medical discharge for PTSD and traumatic brain injury, he’s here almost every day, working out what happened to him in Iraq, planning anti-war events and helping other soldiers come to terms with their combat experiences. The coffeehouse provides a support network, friends who’ve helped him quit drinking, people he can call on day or night, and provides what Kern appreciated most about the military: a sense of camaraderie.
“If it wasn’t for this place, it’s sad to say, I feel like I would be dead. I feel like I would have killed myself,” Kern says.
Under the Hood is a rifle shot from the east gates of Fort Hood in a grim commercial zone of tattoo parlors, pawnshops, car lots, payday lenders, bars, strip clubs, and a place advertising “gold grillz” for teeth—establishments eager to drain young soldiers of their earnings. In this garrison town, the café has become a gathering place for dissident GIs, peace activists, veterans and active-duty soldiers who need help.
Inside, the walls are decorated with peace propaganda, including a map of the world pinpointing U.S. military interventions and a poster that reads, “You Can’t Be All that You Can Be if You’re Dead.” A bookcase is stocked with anti-war literature. For entertainment, there’s a dartboard, a foosball table and a big-screen TV with PlayStation. No alcohol is allowed, but there’s no shortage of cigarette smoke.
I came here to suss out efforts to build an anti-war movement within the Army. Fort Hood, the largest military installation in the country, has produced a smattering of war resisters in recent years. I met some of them at the coffeehouse, including Victor Agosto, an Iraq War veteran who refuses to deploy to Afghanistan, and Casey Porter, a mechanic who did two tours in Iraq. Porter, preparing to attend film school in Florida, recorded local life in Iraq, posting interviews with military personnel, battle footage and unvarnished street scenes.
Over the past four years, I’ve come into contact with scores of military personnel through my involvement with the Austin GI Rights Hotline, a group of volunteers trained to counsel service members about their rights.
Once a week, I sit on my couch and talk on the phone to soldiers, Marines and airmen who call with a dizzying array of issues, from the mundane to the impossibly complex. Many are stationed at Fort Hood. We get AWOL cases, people with untreated PTSD, 18-year-old enlistees who’ve found out their recruiter lied to them, middle-aged soldiers who’ve been stop-lossed, moms and dads calling on behalf of their kids, gay officers who’ve been outed—you name it. Some have made poor decisions; others are victims of a sometimes capricious, even cruel military system.
I got into it through my girlfriend. Katherine was in the news some years ago for being the first female conscientious objector to emerge from the war in Afghanistan. The military refused to recognize her as a conscientious objector, and after a long and painful process she was court-martialed and sentenced to 120 days in the brig. She ate lunch every day with Lynndie England, the young West Virginia woman best known for holding the leash in the infamous Abu Ghraib photos.
Joeie Michaels, Michael Kern’s roommate and an Under the Hood regular, used to dance at Babes, a Killeen strip club popular with GIs. Performing there, she made sure the troops left with a flier for the coffeehouse.
Under the Hood’s signal event was a Memorial Day peace march in the streets of Killeen, the city’s first since Vietnam. The Killeen newspaper reported about 70 participants. Cindy Thomas, the military spouse who manages the coffeehouse and plays den mother to the young, often-raucous soldiers, estimates about 10 to 15 were locals, including veterans and active-duty soldiers.
“It’s like a mother with a child,” Thomas says. “It’s unconditional love, and we help them any way we can.”
The building housing Under the Hood’s local antecedent, the Killeen coffeehouse Oleo Strut, is a few blocks away; it now houses an office complex. The Oleo Strut had a four-year run from 1968 to 1972, according to a history on Under the Hood’s Web site. Run by civilians and veterans, the Oleo Strut plugged Fort Hood soldiers into the Vietnam anti-war movement and spread their ideas in the barracks. An underground newspaper circulated from the coffeehouse, and the crowd there organized demonstrations and teach-ins. Musicians passed through, purportedly including a young Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“The tinder was very dry,” says Tom Cleaver, an Oleo Strut alum, Vietnam veteran and Hollywood screenwriter who helped raise money to start Under the Hood. “They ended up in ’69 and ’70 having big demonstrations there, a thousand guys marching in Killeen against the war.”
Fort Hood at that time was a holding station for soldiers returning from Vietnam with less than six months left on their enlistments. Before being discharged, many were deployed to suppress domestic riots and protests, including those at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
“Here they come back to America, and what does the Army want them to do?” Cleaver asks. “Fight a war in America. That radicalized a lot of guys. They came back with bad feelings about the war, and now they were supposed to go defend the war.”
There’s no draft now, nor is there a broader social counterculture, to tap into. Given that, Thomas says, one of Under the Hood’s primary functions is giving soldiers a place to speak openly.
“The military, they don’t want you to think for yourself,” Thomas says. “They don’t want you to be informed; they don’t want you to know that you have support because they function by fear and intimidation over these soldiers. So when you have a space where you can talk freely and find out what your rights are, you have that support, you have that kindness. It is a threat to them.”
One coffeehouse regular, Spc. Ben Fugate, told me that after his commander spotted his name in a Killeen Daily Herald article about the Memorial Day peace march, his unit was lectured for two hours on the dangers of protesting.
Fugate, who describes himself as “very conservative,” had been quoted in the paper saying, “I lost three buddies in my platoon in Iraq, and for what? Why lose more when we don’t have to?”
Kern, seated on a couch in a cozy back room at Under the Hood, explains how he became a coffeehouse fixture. It’s a Thursday in July, and he’s wearing a T-shirt that asks, “Got Rights?” He’s pale and swallowing tranquilizers to suppress panic attacks.
“I’m fucked up,” he says. “I know it.” Later, he says, “You know how they say a teenage boy thinks about sex every eight seconds. Every eight seconds I think about Iraq.”
Kern, a tanker, says his unit averaged about two and a half missions per day.
At first, Kern says, he was gung ho: “I was an excellent soldier. I took joy out of killing people in Iraq. It was such an adrenaline rush. I craved it.”
Over time, bravado faded into depression, guilt and a strong feeling that the war was wrong. When Kern deployed to Iraq he took a small handheld digital video camera and a laptop with editing software. He fixed the camera to his vehicle’s turret and captured hours of patrol footage.
Some of that raw video has been distilled to a 10-minute film called Fire Mission that’s available online.
In the film’s last minutes, Spc. Steven Pesicka, a soldier in Kern’s unit, narrates what he calls a “mortar mission for shock and awe” near an Iraqi village. The first mortar lands near a house, and the forward observer calls for the next one to be targeted 200 meters farther from the village. The mortar team thought that was too far away, Pesicka says. The film shows the second mortar hitting the town. “Oh fuck,” the forward observer is heard to say. “They did not drop 200 [meters], over. They hit the town.”
Minutes after the explosion, the soldier describes dead bodies being loaded into the back of trucks.
Such experiences led Kern to a radical form of empathy.
“If you just take a step back and you think, I mean, I’d be doing the same thing if Iraqis were in the United States,” Kern, dressed in battle fatigues, says in Fire Mission. “I’d be the dude trying to plant a bomb under the road. I’d be trying to kill them. Oh, hell yeah, get the fuck out of my country.”
Beginning in May or June, Kern started having nightmares, sometimes while he was awake. On several occasions he hallucinated an Iraqi child with half his skull missing, as real to him as the desert heat. His psychiatrist says the child might represent guilt, but all Kern knows is that it scared the shit out of him. In January, on his birthday, while his unit was on patrol, he told a commander—in confidence—that he was going to see a mental health specialist. The doctor prescribed Zoloft and sent him on his way. Back with his platoon, Kern discovered that the commander had ratted him out to his platoon sergeant.
“I was called out in front of the entire platoon, was made an example of, saying why are you going to mental health. This isn’t a war. This isn’t bad.” The next day, on a mission, Kern talked openly of suicide. “Still to this day, my buddy doesn’t know he talked me down, but I really wanted to kill myself on that mission. I had three loaded weapons sitting right next to me. I could have done it real easy.”
Back home, Kern avoided his demons, drowning them in drink. Thomas and Michaels encouraged Kern to open up.
“They’d be like, ‘How was Iraq?’ I’d say ‘Oh, it was just Iraq.’ I kept brushing it aside and stuff. They kept telling me, ‘You’re gonna break, you’re gonna break. You need to get help.’ ” Kern relented.
Michaels found a psychiatrist in Austin whom Kern has been seeing twice a week for free. In May he visited Fort Hood’s mental health services office, but was told he’d have to wait six weeks to see a doctor.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi child had followed Kern back to Texas. On the first of June, Kern was in the bathroom at Under the Hood when the child made an appearance. Afterward, Thomas and Michaels found Kern sitting outside under a tree. “The look on his face was just empty. His eyes were hollow,” Thomas says. Kern entered the 12-bed psychiatric ward at Fort Hood’s military hospital. He spent the next week there, emerging with a diagnosis of PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Doctors put him on five medications, including tranquilizers, antidepressants and antipsychotics, which he carries in a small orange pillbox.
A week after being released, Kern started a blog, “Expendable Soldier.” In his first post he wrote, “I still hate myself and everything I do. No matter what I am doing any day of the week I some how am still reminded of the things I did while I was in Iraq, and sometimes it gets so bad that I believe I am still in Iraq. ... Sometimes I wish I never came back.”
Still, Kern reports for duty at the coffeehouse every day. He’s working on restarting an Iraq Veterans Against the War chapter in Killeen and talking to other soldiers about the coffeehouse. Does he feel like he’s become part of an anti-war movement? “I am part of an anti-war movement,” he says. “There’s no ‘feeling’ about it.”
This article, by Carol Smith, was originally published in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, August 6, 208
A group of local veterans hopes to launch a coffeehouse near Fort Lewis where soldiers – both active-duty and out of the military – could brew both good java and good company.
The coffeehouse would be a safe place, off base, where GIs and their families could go for support, information about their rights and a chance to express what's going on in their lives, said Mateo Rebecchi, 24, a student at Seattle Central Community College and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, one of the coffeehouse backers.
"We're trying to reach out to soldiers who feel they have nowhere to go," he said.
The coffeehouse would be the third such effort around the country, said Molly Gibbs, a community organizer who has worked with Veterans for Peace and other Seattle advocacy groups.
Rising concerns about the effect of longer deployments, the increase in post-deployment suicide rates, sexual assaults in the military, PTSD and employment have created a need for a place where people can go to share experiences and find resources to cope, she said.
These kinds of coffeehouses have a time-honored tradition in the post-Vietnam era, said Gibbs, whose first job in the mental health field was with Vietnam vets, every one of whom came back "indelibly shaped" by that experience. Something one of them told her has stayed with her and kept her motivated to help veterans connect.
"I had a friend who was a medic in Vietnam," she said. "He told me, 'I left who I was over there – I never came back.' "
The coffeehouse, which has yet to be named, is still in the fundraising stages, said Rebecchi, who estimated $30,000 is needed to launch and operate the first year. The group is hoping to nab space in an abandoned coin-operated laundry near the base. The cafe also would serve up music, movies, poetry slams, lectures and access to legal help.
Rebecchi said one of the main goals of the coffeehouse is to inform soldiers and veterans of their rights and to encourage them to speak their minds, even if they don't agree with official military policy.
One of the best things the community can do for soldiers, and soldiers can do for each other, is to listen to each other's stories, Gibbs said. Time and again, she's heard from veterans and active-duty military that what they needed most when they got back from a deployment was a chance to share what happened to them and have it be heard in a nonjudgmental way.
Rebecchi hopes the climate of the coffeehouse will encourage more military members – both active duty and not – to consider ways to end the war in Iraq.
Rebecchi served a four-year tour in the Persian Gulf with the Coast Guard before being honorably discharged. He said he began questioning the war effort while he was deployed.
"Ultimately, what's going to stop it is the GIs standing up and saying, 'We're not going to fight anymore,' " he said.
The coffeehouse effort, which also has been endorsed by Seattle Veterans for Peace, Citizen Soldier, Sound Nonviolent Opponents of War, Fellowship of Reconciliation and Physicians for Social Responsibility, is holding a fundraiser at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle on Aug. 25 from 7 to 9 p.m., featuring Tod Ensign, director of Citizen Soldier and co-founder of the Different Drummer Internet Cafe near Fort Drum in upstate New York.
This article, by Michelle York was reprinted in the Spring 2008 Citizen Soldier
Peace marchers in Mexico, N.Y., on their way to Fort Drum, where they plan to rally on Saturday, which is Armed Forces Day. Mary Buttolph for The New York Times
CENTRAL SQUARE, N.Y. - On Wednesday, Charlie Price was smoking a cigarette and sitting outside his restaurant, Charlie's Place, on a two-lane stretch of highway on the outskirts of town.
He watched as a small group protesting the war in Iraq marched toward him, carrying peace signs and waving at the cars and tractor-trailers whizzing by. 'I don't think it's going to do any good,' Mr. Price said of their efforts. 'I want to get out of there, too, but I don't think this is the way.'
Yet once the protesters, headed for Fort Drum, more than 50 miles away, reached him, Mr. Price eagerly offered them water and a place to rest - a more pleasant welcome than they had received from many others along the way.
Carmen Viviano-Crafts, 23, of Syracuse, who was carrying a small cardboard sign that read, 'Bring home my boyfriend,' said that some people 'gave us the finger and stuff like that.'
Since the war in Iraq began five years ago, the Second Brigade at Fort Drum has put in four tours.
For the past week, opponents of the war have taken several routes through the conservative and largely rural reaches of upstate New York - small communities that have sent many of their young men and women into the military right after high school and have paid a disproportionate price.
On Saturday, which is Armed Forces Day, protesters ranging from peace activists to Iraq Veterans Against the War will hold a daylong rally outside Fort Drum. What they lack in numbers - there were only about 40 on the road on Wednesday - they have made up for in passion, having walked about 80 miles so far.
The marchers started from several places, including Rochester, Ithaca and Utica, and merged on Wednesday, signifying the beginning of their final trek toward Fort Drum, just north of Watertown, near the Canadian border.
Planners say they have a dual message: to protest both the war and what they see as poor treatment of veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
On Wednesday, marchers passed through the town of Mexico, home to Joseph C. Godfrey, 54, a business owner whose three children - a daughter and two sons - all chose to join the military.
One son, Joseph, returned from a tour in Iraq in October 2004, developed a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder and was medically discharged. While his family was trying to get him counseling, Joseph began drinking heavily. He was robbed and murdered four months after his discharge as he walked home from a bar.
'We felt right from the beginning that if he'd been at a veterans' hospital, he wouldn't have been at the bar,' Mr. Godfrey said.
Mr. Godfrey's other son, Justin, 24, has already served one tour in Afghanistan and another in Iraq. In August, he will again depart for Iraq.
When Mr. Godfrey - who joined the antiwar group 'Military Families Speak Out' after Joseph's death - learned that marchers were coming through his town, he arranged for them to sleep overnight at the First United Methodist Church in Mexico, about 10 miles from here, even though he feared that the pastor might be criticized by parishioners.
'We're pointing out some of the injustices,' Mr. Godfrey said. 'It's everybody's responsibility to try and do what they can. And for most of us, it's not a lot, it's the little things. The march is one of them.'
The marchers are an eclectic group. Some are die-hard protesters. Some are soldiers' relatives who spontaneously joined after seeing the small parade pass through their towns.
Many of them are veterans, including an 89-year-old man who fought in World War II. He rides in a car along the marchers' route, and meets the group each evening when they stop to rest. At each town, they try to engage the community in conversation.
'We're really not here to argue with people,' said Vicki Ryder, 66, who is driving along with her dog, Harry, who sits in the back seat, wearing a shirt that reads, 'Bones Not Bombs.' Along the way, several people have screamed at them, the organizers said, but a far greater percentage of people have expressed support.
'Many may have believed in the principle of the war at the start, but now they're saying that they want the soldiers to come back,' said Kathleen Castania, 59, an organizer who lives in Rochester. Whatever the reaction they draw, the organizers say they are making headway, both emotionally and physically.
'There is some apprehension' in the towns, said Tod Ensign, the director of Different Drummer Café, a veterans'-support organization in Watertown. 'But I don't believe this has ever been done before anywhere in the country. This is a first step.'
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 19, 2008 Because of an editing error, an article on Thursday about a string of weeklong antiwar marches in upstate New York, culminating at Fort Drum on Saturday, misstated, in some copies, the number of years since the war in Iraq began. It started five years ago, in March 2003, not six years ago.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2008 Citizen Soldier
One of the bedrock principles of our criminal justice system is the presumption of innocence. This means that when someone is accused of a crime he or she has the right to try to prove their innocence by challenging the prosecutor's evidence and offering their own witnesses and/or evidence to rebut the charges before a jury of their peers.
Commanding General Michael Oates has undermined this fundamental right by publishing the photographs and identities of Ft Drum soldiers who've been arrested for drunk driving in the four most recent issues of the base newspaper, "The Blizzard." The paper has carried photos and news notes about each Drum soldier who's been arrested for drinking while driving. Oates has told reporters that he is doing this to combat a growing tendency among soldiers to drink and drive. He apparently believes that by humiliating those accused of drunk driving others will be deterred from this behaviour. He also hasn't stated whether the newspaper will publish retractions or apologies for those soldiers who are eventually acquitted of DWI charges or have their convictions overturned on appeal. Clearly, the stigma of having one's photo and description of one's alleged crime can have serious repercussions for soldiers who are rated for their personal conduct as well as their job performance.
In an interview with the New York Times (3/8/08) Oates stated; "I'm aware that there are people who aren't happy with this, but I felt compelled to do something. When you drink and drive you place everyone around you at risk." He stated that his goal wasn't so much to humiliate those charged as it was to deter others from driving drunk.
Members of the Iraq Veterans Against War (IVAW) at Ft Drum noted that many of the 48 soldiers who had their photos printed in the first Blizzard story, had returned from Iraq combat last November with the Second Brigade. "When you return to the base after a month or so of leave, that's when PTSD often starts to kick in," commented Sp/4 Eli Wright.
As far as is known, no other US military base newspaper currently publishes such photographs. A few local branches of government, particularly in New Mexico also follow this practice of printing photos and news about those accused of DWI.
Citizen Soldier attorneys have been researching the possiblity of a federal lawsuit to challenge Oates' policy as an unconstitutional abridgment of due process rights. They are also discussing the problem with the New York State Civil Liberties Union, based in Syracuse.
"While the incidence of drunk driving may have increased around Ft Drum since 10th Mountain troops have been forced to endure multiple deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, wouldn't it make more sense to expand the mental health services available to combat-stressed soldiers rather than simply ridiculing those who self-medicate with alcohol?" asked Tod Ensign, Citizen Soldier's director.
Iraq and Afghanistan Soldiers Testify at "Winter Soldier 2008", Day One
Posted, by Elaine Brower, to Op Ed News, March 13, 2008
In 1971 Viet Nam Veterans’ Against the War (VVAW) conducted a testimonial based on the atrocities and horrors they participated in during their time “In Country.” They called it Winter Soldier, inspired by Revolutionary War hero Thomas Paine’s call for patriots to act for their country in times of crisis.
Some of us remember the days when revolution was in the air, when we had a civil rights movement, women “burning” their bras, a sexual revolution, and a very powerful anti-war movement. Events such as the assassinations of prominently outspoken Americans, as well as students being shot at during Kent State protests, moved the masses of people into a state of upheveal.
Veterans returning from the war in “Nam” were joining in the loud voices to end the war. They did it by forming a strong organization, using their anger and throwing their medals over
Then came Detroit when they converged to speak about the horrors of the war. The testimonials were graphic, real and heartwrenching, but it went almost unnoticed. The pro-war right called them liars and cowards, and succeeded in almost destroying the validity of the statements made by returning vets.
Now, 37 years later, Iraq Veteran’s Against the war (IVAW) has decided to recreate in a style that is all their own, new and hip, a Winter Soldier II shining a light once again on the horrors and atrocities of war.
Today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., 6 veterans spoke to a room packed with cameras and reporters from every outlet, politically left to right. The announcement was to kick-off the next 3 days of testimonials from over 200 veterans and GI’s from around the country who will be recounting a particularly personal misery that they witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The media was gentle on the panel, considering what the next few days would uncover. One particular reporter asked about IVAW’s connection with CodePink and A.N.S.W.E.R. and if those particular organizations had sponsored the work of IVAW. Kelly Doherty, former MP in Iraq, and Executive Director of IVAW, stood up at the microphone with her serious stare, calm demeanor and beautiful porcelin skin and green eyes, and eloquently told the reporter that from the inception of the organization, VFP had helped support them in their fledging moments in 2004. She, along with 3 other Veterans, had stood on a stage in Boston, denouncing the war. Some members did protest alongside anti-war groups such as those mentioned, and many others, but their closest affiliation and allies were groups such as Veterans for Peace, Military Families and VVAW.
In the evening, live broadcasting took place and a panel discussion with some of the “oldies but goodies” took place. Barry Romo, original founder of VVAW and union organizer for the last 39 years, David Cortwright, author and historian of the GI resistance in Viet Nam, Tod Ensign, longtime veteran’s rights activist and Gerald Nicosia, friend of Ron Kovic, author of “Born on the 4th of July” and wounded in Viet Nam.
Ron Kovic’s statement was read to the crowd and his passion for supporting this new group of resister’s was overwhelming. He said that by stepping forward “they were not just saving lives, they were saving the life of our nation.” Kovic expressed his disbelief that he is now seeing all over again what happened back when he was fighting an illegal and immoral war, and that the empire must be broken with this new generation of resistance fighters.
David Cortwright author of “Soldiers in Revolt,” agreed that only with resistance from within the military who “listen to their conscience” would end this war, as this resistance ultimately did that in Viet Nam.
Tod Ensign, Director of Citizen Soldier, author and supporter of the Different Drummer Café (www.differentdrummer.com) in upstate New York formed to replicate the coffee houses of the 60’s, passionately spoke of the young breed of soldiers he is meeting who eerily remind him of the past. He spoke of the similiarities between the anti-war candidate Richard Nixon, and his “secret plan” to end the war and those 2 democratic candidates who also have a plan to end the occupation of Iraq, but he says “who the hell knows what that is!”
Of course Barry Romo, being a labor organizer for 35 years, was much less eloquent in his speech, but had the audience riveted in the stories of the past. He witnessed the war in “Nam”, testified in the first Winter Soldier, and can only be described as a great colorful character. One story he recounted was the patch that signifies the VVAW, an upside-down rifle with a helmet on top, on red fabric. He remembered when they created that patch and had them made in East Asian countries such as Japan and the Philippines. The patches were “churned out by the thousands” and were worn by soldiers “in country.” He mentioned that in 1968 the North Vietnamese issued a statement, which is little know today, that “if any NV soldier sees an upside-down rifle patch on any soldier’s uniform, they will not shoot them.”
What Winter Soldier could mean to the current political situation in this Country is a complete unknown. All the testimonials will be broadcast live, and also streaming on the internet (see schedule at www.IVAW.org/wintersoldier). The members of IVAW are prepared for having their stories attacked, belittled and turned against them, as happened in 1971. However, these next few days could represent a turning point that we have all been waiting for.
It is up to those of us in the anti-war movement, and there are millions of us who are against this occupation of Iraq, and escalating rhetoric of war with Iran, to promote the events of the next few days in a way that we have never done before. Word must get out to the impenetrable wall of the corporate media, to those on the street who don’t even know what IVAW is, and to the young men and women in this country who are on the verge of walking up to that recruiter and signing on the dotted line.
We are ready for Day 2, the full testimonials.