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 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.
This article, by Kirsten Scharnberg, was originally published in the Chicago Tribune, June 22, 2007
Veterans defend their right to question the war
Chicago:The young combat veteran stared at the letter in disbelief when it arrived in his mailbox a few months ago.
The Marine Corps was recommending him for "other than honorable discharge." The letter alleged he had violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice by wearing part of his uniform during an anti-war rally. Furthermore, the letter accused him of being "disloyal," a word hard to swallow for a man who had risked his life to serve his nation.
"All this because I have publicly opposed the war in Iraq since I came back from it," said former Marine Sgt. Liam Madden, 22.
Madden is not alone.
At least two other combat veterans who have returned from tours in Iraq and become well-known anti-war advocates have seen the military recommend them for less-than-honorable discharges. One of them is a young man 80 percent disabled from two tours who was threatened with losing his veteran's disability benefits if he continued to protest in uniform.
Critics - including some groups that have been the most supportive of the war - say the crackdown on these men constitutes a blatant attempt to quiet dissension in the ranks at the very time more and more members of the armed forces are publicly questioning the war they are being sent to fight.
"I may disagree with their message, but I will always defend their right to say it," said Gary Kurpius, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in a scathing statement he released this month under the headline, "VFW to Corps: Don't Stifle Freedom of Speech."
"Trying to punish fellow Americans for exercising the same democratic rights we're trying to instill in Iraq is not what we're about," Kurpis concluded.
The military has been quick to defend its decision to punish the men, stating that its policies regarding acceptable forms of protest are quite clear. Military guidelines state that troops may attend demonstrations only in the United States, only when they are off base and off duty, and, most critically, only when they are out of uniform.
"We don't restrict free speech," Maj. Anne Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman, said. "It's the uniform that gets people in trouble. When you wear the uniform, you are representing the armed service behind that uniform, and it is against the military code of justice to protest in uniform."
Madden and the two other Marines were clearly documented wearing at least part of their uniforms at public protests. (Though all three had completed their active duty service, they remained reservists; the military argued that the Pentagon's conduct codes still applied to them, an assertion that seems likely to make its way to federal court.)
The military, with its hierarchal rank structure and absolute adherence to following orders, has never been an institution that takes kindly to debate from within. But today, as an increasingly unpopular war drags on and troops are being sent on second, third or fourth combat tours, the volume of criticism from veterans and even those on active duty is reaching a fevered pitch.
Perhaps the most telling part of such criticism is how open disgruntled troops are becoming despite the risk to their careers - signing their names to furious letters printed in military-owned newspapers; speaking on the record to reporters in Iraq about how badly the mission is going; writing members of Congress. And then there are the protests in uniform, a throwback to the Vietnam War era, when veterans such as Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., denounced the war in weathered fatigues, throwing away their medals.
Many of the protests involving vets in uniform are all-out street theater, such as one in Washington last spring where protesters staged a mock patrol, manhandling people at simulated gunpoint in order to illustrate how they say Iraqis are treated by American troops. Just last week in Chicago, a similar protest took place. The intended subtext of the uniformed protests is apparent: that protesters have additional credibility because they are denouncing a war they have witnessed firsthand, that the very uniforms now being used in protest have walked the real-life battlefield.
"Guys like us - veterans who served but then came to believe the war is not only wrong but illegal - are not who the military wants speaking on a national stage," Madden said.
If Madden and the other Marines initially feared their high-profile discharge cases would serve to silence protest, the opposite seems to be slowly and quietly happening. The men's cases have spurred dissenting troops to find creative ways to voice their disapproval of the war while remaining well within military guidelines.
Take, for example, DOD Directive 7050.6. It expressly provides the right of service members to complain and to request redress of their grievances, including to members of Congress. In recent months some 2,000 active-duty and reserve troops have used the protection of that directive to sign "An Appeal for Redress," an initiative that sends troops' demand for an end of the war directly to Congress.
The wording of the appeal is intended to at once be patriotic and respectful while also unequivocally anti-war: It begins, "As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform." It ends: "Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home."
Of the three Marines caught protesting in uniform, the case of former Cpl. Cloy Richards has garnered the least public attention-but the most within military circles. The 23-year-old from Missouri has been deemed 80 percent disabled from two tours in Iraq; he agreed this month before a military discharge review board that he would no longer protest in uniform in order to keep his honorable discharge and his veterans benefits that come to some $1,300 per month.
But that hasn't silenced Richards' protest. He now attends anti-war demonstrations in civilian clothes; his mother attends as well, wearing his old uniform for him.
Others are also creative. A young infantryman based at Ft. Drum, in Watertown, N.Y., home to the 10th Mountain Division, well knows the fine balancing act it is to be a uniformed member of the military and a committed anti-war activist. Phillip Aliff - he asked that his rank not be used, saying that would be against regulation - is the president of the Ft. Drum chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Once a week, Aliff and the other IVAW members finish their duty day in uniform, change into civilian clothes and drive off base to meet at the Different Drummer, a cafe in downtown Watertown that is modeled on the anti-war coffeehouses of the Vietnam War era.
"I'm definitely walking the line," Aliff said, admitting that none of his direct commanders know of his anti-war activities. "But we who protest have a collective experience. We took part in it - we did the midnight raids and patrols, we caused the fear in the Iraqi people - so when even we say it's wrong, that carries some real credibility."
The Ft. Drum group has grown from two members when it was launched two months ago to 12 members today. Aliff said the members encourage each other to speak out despite the fear of reprisal that comes with doing so.
"None of us wants to get in trouble," Aliff said. "None of us wants to lose our jobs or our GI bills or our benefits. But we also feel we have to be willing to do what's right."
By meeting off base and out of uniform, the Iraq Veterans Against the War members stay just inside the line of legality for military code. They don't distribute literature on base or openly recruit new members at work.
"There are so many ways to stay within military law," Aliff said. "We know we have something to say so we are finding legal ways in which to say it."
A Zogby poll last year showed that war critics like Aliff may not be entirely on the fringes of the mainstream military. The poll of 944 U.S. military personnel in Iraq, conducted by Zogby International and Le Moyne College, found that 72 percent of those polled believed the U.S. should pull out within one year.
"The unrest has been churning below the surface for a while," said Madden, who still is waiting to see what will become of his less-tha