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 Paul Harris, was published in The Observer, September 27, 2009
At his home in Richmond, Virginia, Larry Syverson spends part of every day worrying there will be an unwanted knock on the door. Syverson's son, Branden, is an American soldier serving in Afghanistan, conducting dangerous patrols in an area infested with Taliban.
"I worry every day that I might hear someone come to the door unexpected. Just last week two of his best friends were killed over there," he said.
That's why Syverson, 60, an environmental engineer, is trying to organise a protest in Richmond against the war in Afghanistan for the second weekend in October, almost eight years after the conflict began.
He is a member of Military Families Speak Out, an anti-war group made up of relatives of military personnel that is preparing to turn its attentions from the conflict in Iraq to the one in Afghanistan. He has three sons in the military who together have served five tours in Iraq as well as Branden's stint in Afghanistan.
"I am extremely proud that they have chosen a military career. I just don't like the way that they are being used to fight these unnecessary wars," said Syverson.
That is a growing sentiment in America. As Barack Obama appears likely to increase America's already greatly enlarged troop commitment to the Afghan war, the war itself is becoming increasingly disliked.
The conflict used to be called America's "forgotten war". No longer. As casualties have spiked, so has hatred for the war: a solid 57% of Americans now oppose it. That has seen the anti-war movement in America prepare to turn its attentions from Iraq to Afghanistan, gearing up for an autumn campaign of marches and civil disobedience.
They hope to emulate the anti-Vietnam war protests, using highly visible public campaigns to force the hand of the White House to pull out of the country, not escalate the conflict.
The first major protest will happen next weekend, when anti-war protesters plan to arrange more than 500 empty pairs of boots on a grassy lawn right outside the White House. Each pair will represent an American soldier killed in the war.
Syverson knows that such a move is symbolic but he hopes its position so close to the centre of power will be effective, just like the old Vietnam war protesters who regularly thronged Washington's Mall in the 1960s.
"If Obama looks out of his window, he is going to see a symbol of over 500 soldiers who died in Afghanistan. He is going to know the public is waking up to this war. The honeymoon with Obama is over and the American people are not going to stand for it much longer." Syverson said.
One person who will be in Washington for the boots protest is Cindy Sheehan, perhaps the most famous single protester to emerge from the demonstrations against the Iraq war. Since her son, Casey, was killed in Iraq, Sheehan has become a bête noir to many conservatives and an outspoken rallying point for the anti-war movement. She was a one-woman force of nature who dominated the headlines when she camped outside the Texas ranch of President George W Bush.
Now she too is concentrating on opposing the war in Afghanistan. She has already kept a vigil outside Obama's summer holiday home on Martha's Vineyard and will be going to Washington next weekend. "It's unfortunate that it has taken eight years for the anti-war movement to focus on Afghanistan," she told the Observer. "We have to start to put a human face on what is happening over there."
Sheehan said that she and her fellow organisers would be gearing up for next year, which will feature midterm elections to Congress. She sees this autumn's events as being a preview of mass actions to come all the way through 2010.
"It is year of the midterm elections. I can't tell you what we are planning but it is going to be brilliant. There will be a lot of protests, a lot of civil disobedience," she said.
A broad coalition of anti-war groups is also already co-ordinating protests and demonstrations for the coming weeks, hoping to emulate the successes of the Vietnam protests in a way that the anti-Iraq war movement never pulled off. There will be vigils, memorials, teach-ins, demonstrations and marches. They will range in scale from a few individuals to events where thousands of people will be expected to turn up.
Groups involved include Military Families Speak Out, Win Without War, Code Pink, United For Peace and Justice and Iraq Veterans Against the War.
"There will be hundreds of events all across the US," said Syverson. Some other groups, like US Labor Against the War, which represents 190 unions, which have been largely silent on Afghanistan compared to Iraq, have also announced they are now planning to start opposing the Afghan war too.
The movement is certainly tapping into a growing public mood of anger and discontent. For years, Afghanistan was seen as the "good war" as opposed to Iraq's "bad war". It had supposedly been won with relatively little loss of life, deposed a reviled government and been justified by the Taliban's open support of al-Qaida.
But now, there are more US casualties each day in Afghanistan than in Iraq, and American troop numbers will have risen dramatically to 68,000 by the end of the year. Indeed, Washington and the White House are consumed by speculation over whether Obama will accept a request from General Stanley McChrystal for yet more troops to be sent to the combat zone.
On American television screens, reports from Iraq have become rare. But news from Afghanistan – nearly all of it bad – has become common. Pictures of the carnage reach into every American living room and are frequently splashed across the front pages.
Now public sentiment has shifted firmly towards wanting American troops to pull out, a reversal of the once common opinion that Afghanistan had been a conflict worth fighting. As recently as April, a majority of Americans supported the war. Now only 43% do.
It has hit Obama's personal ratings too. When it comes to Afghan policy, his approval score has dropped 18 points from 67% to 49%. A handful of soldiers are also refusing to serve in Afghanistan. In Fort Hood, Texas, Iraq war veteran Victor Agosto was sentenced last month to 30 days in jail and his rank reduced to private after refusing to deploy there. He was the second Fort Hood soldier to do so.
But sustaining a meaningful opposition movement to the war in Afghanistan is not going to be easy. Much of the wind was taken out of the anti-war movement by the election of Obama, who, it is safe to say, the majority of protesters supported in the 2008 election.
Even Sheehan admits that taking the anti-war fight to the White House under Obama is not going to be a walk in the park, despite the fact that he is presiding over a massive escalation of the war. "It was super-easy to hate George Bush. It was also easy to embrace Obama. But both emotions are irrational when the policies remain the same. We have to make it about the policy, not the person," Sheehan said.
Yet so far, the Obama administration does not appear to have much fear of the doveish wing of the broad liberal coalition that put Obama into the White House. In America's two-party system of government, the Republican party offers an alternative on Afghanistan that is more hawkish, not less. Indeed Obama, who has championed the already massive increase in US troops there, has been criticised only for seeming to hesitate in agreeing to McChrystal's latest request for yet more troops. The request was included in a confidential assessment of the situation that concluded the entire mission would most likely result in failure without more soldiers.
"This is not the time for Hamlet in the White House," said Mitt Romney, one of the likely candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
Yet that criticism seems unfair. Though Obama is reportedly striving to reshape Afghan policy in the face of the worsening violence there and the fallout from an Afghan election widely regarded as deeply fraudulent, no one seriously expects America's troop commitment to the country to be radically cut. That means the anti-war movement too is gearing up for a long struggle and a war of attrition aiming to chip away at Obama's popularity.
It might work. After only a year in office, Obama's approval ratings have dipped across the board and the war in Afghanistan is increasingly seen as "Obama's war", not just the legacy of Bush and his neoconservative foreign policy. Indeed, Obama fought his election on a campaign promise of shifting the focus to Afghanistan away from Iraq.
"If Obama's decisions are seen as a continuation of Bush's, then Obama will lose the effect of his honeymoon period. You can already see that happening," said Mitch Hall, a history professor at Central Michigan University.
The irony of left wing, anti-war protesters campaigning against Obama is not lost on many of them, including Syverson, who voted for Obama, went to his rallies and campaigned for him.
"I feel really let down," he said. He is unlikely to be alone. But American history has shown repeatedly, especially with Vietnam, that political stripes at home often mean nothing abroad. After all, it was under the liberal Democrat presidents JFK and Lyndon Johnson that US involvement in Vietnam escalated and under conservative Republican Richard Nixon that America finally got out. Some prominent commentators have drawn other parallels with Vietnam, comparing McChrystal's troop increase request with those of General William Westmoreland, who demanded extra troops for the doomed fight in Vietnam. "In Vietnam and Afghanistan, as the situation worsened and public opinion began turning against the war, the commanding generals – Westmoreland and McChrystal – put in requests for thousands of extra troops," wrote San Francisco Chronicle columnist Joel Brinkley. Given that history, it seems perfectly possible that the deepening quagmire in Afghanistan might last for every year of Obama's time in office, even if he serves two terms.
For Syverson, though, Obama's policy on Afghanistan has already been enough to make him angrily tear off the Obama bumper sticker he had put on his car. "Hell, if I'd ever vote for him again," he said. As the anti-war protests unfold, Obama's presidency may end up being defined by how many Americans can be persuaded to take a similar view.
This announcement was posted to the Veterans for Peace website, October 1, 2009
October 7 marks the 8th year of the war on Afghanistan. Join Veterans For Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Military Families Speak Out as we continue to resist this ongoing war and occupation. Because of his increase of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, this is becoming President Obama's war and we must hold him accountable, however we must never forget that citizen money and citizen silence allows the war in Afghanistan to continue. Veterans For Peace encourages each chapter to hold local events to actively resist this war and occupation. VFP has been on the leading edge of those pressuring Obama to end this war - HELP US KEEP UP THE PRESSURE!
This article was posted to the Military Families Speak Out website, September 1, 2009
On the heels of a very successful National Assembly we have more exciting news to share with you! Last Friday, August 21, 2009, a delegation from Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) was invited to the White House for what we hope will be the very important first step to a deepening relationship with the Obama Administration and the opportunity to share our voices as Military Families and to bring our families’ realities of these wars to light.
The delegation of MFSO members met with Tina Tchen, Director of the Office of Public Engagement, and two other officials from that office. The meeting, in the West Wing of the White House, had been swiftly pulled together by MFSO member and chapter leader Paula Rogovin, working with her Congressman Steve Rothman (NJ)
At the hour-long session, representatives of MFSO were able to share their personal stories and the unique history of the organization. Paula Rogovin, from Bergen County New Jersey, spoke of her son a Marine who has been deployed twice to Iraq. Gilda Carbonaro, from Bethesda, Maryland, spoke of the horror of witnessing the death of her only child, her son, who died from burns suffered in Iraq. Emiko Ortega, from Baltimore, Maryland, talked about her son who has served one deployment to Iraq. Celeste Zappala and her son Dante both of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, spoke about the death of her son and Dante’s brother during a mission searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after it had been determined by inspectors that there weren’t any. Charley Richardson, co-founder of MFSO, talked about his son who served in Iraq as a member of the military and in Afghanistan as a contractor. Charley also outlined the mission and work of MFSO.
The group highlighted the very serious problems facing troops and veterans and their families, physical and mental health, legal issues, and other problems that will impact us all as well as our country for many decades to come. The request for an opportunity to meet with President Obama and/or First Lady Michelle Obama in the near future was made to share our urgency in ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan NOW.
They brought MFSO’s message to the White House that the only way to prevent the deaths and injuries, the suffering from health and mental health trauma caused by these wars and from repeated deployments is to BRING THE TROOPS HOME NOW!
Many thanks to Paula Rogovin for getting MFSO’s “foot in the door” to the White House. We look forward to follow up visits and having a seat at the table where our members can share first hand the knowledge we have gained from our experiences, with the hope that our inside view can deepen President Obama’s understanding and move his policies toward an immediate end to these wars.
We have much work ahead of us and many exiting projects to pursue. If you would like to volunteer your talents, or have strategic ideas or suggestions, we want to hear from you!
Your participation and involvement is vital to our efforts!
This press reslease was posted, by Military Fmilies Speak Out, June 2, 2009
For Immediate Release – June 2, 2009
Contact: Military Families Speak Out, 617-983-0710, [email protected]
As Wars’ Death Toll Passes 5,000, Military Families Urge President Obama to Bring All Our Troops Home Now
Nationwide – As the nation awaits confirmation from the Pentagon of the 5,000th death of a U.S. service member in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, members of Military Families Speak Out are mourning the dead and calling on President Obama to honor the sacrifices of these service members and their families and honor all of those who serve by acting swiftly to end both wars.
Warren Henthorn of Choctaw, OK, the father of Army Spc. Jeffrey Henthorn who died in Iraq on Feb 8, 2005, says:
“Way too many have died on all sides of these wars. If I remember correctly, President Obama won the Democratic nomination based on the promise to end the war in Iraq. But, between Iraq and Afghanistan, at the end of this year we will actually have more troops in harm’s way then we did at the height of the ‘surge.’ That’s just as bad as we had it under President Bush. These wars now belong to President Obama. The blood is on his hands.”
Henthorn is a member of Gold Star Families Speak Out, a national chapter of Military Families Speak Out whose loved ones died a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jane Bright of West Hills, CA, the mother of Sgt. Evan Aschraft who was killed at the perimeter of an oil refinery in Iraq on July 24, 2003, is also a member of Gold Star Families Speak Out. She says:
"My son was the 249th U.S. service member killed in Iraq – it’s hard to believe that 5,000 of our troops have already died in Iraq and Afghanistan. How many more? We need to bring all our troops home from these wars and we need to take care of our veterans when they return home, giving them the medical and psychological care and treatment they need and deserve.”
Maggie Pondolfino, a member of Military Families Speak Out from Portland, OR has been nervously watching the death toll in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rise as her son awaits a deployment to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army:
“It’s been over a year since my only son returned from a 14 month deployment to Iraq. Over a year since I was immobilized with dread at every unexpected knock on my door and every unfamiliar van parked in front of my house. Daily, I obsessively checked the Department of Defense casualty list. Too many times the names were close to home…someone from our state, or even someone from his platoon,” says Pondolfino. “I imagined the other mothers’ grief and wondered would I be able to endure it? Then I had a year of relative calm. I even celebrated a new administration and momentarily experienced the hope that seemed to engulf the country. “Now as the nation braces for the news of the confirmation of the 5,000th death of a U.S. service member in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the administration that briefly gave me new hope prepares to send my son to another war with no clear mission and no exit strategy. And how do I prepare? How do I prepare for another year of going through the motions of living, while wondering if he will come home? If he does will he have to fight a war within himself? If he does not come home, my darling boy with his loving heart and keen intellect will have died for nothing. I know that no good will come from continuing the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, just more heartbreak, sorrow, and tragedy. When will we ever learn?”
Members of Military Families Speak Out and Gold Star Families Speak Out are available for interview.
Military Families Speak Out is a national organization of over 4,000 military families working to bring all U.S. troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan and secure the care that our troops, Veterans, and military families need to recover from the impact of those wars on our lives and the lives of our loved ones. Gold Star Families Speak Out is a national chapter of Military Families Speak Out with over 150 families whose loved ones died a result of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.
An Open Letter to the Peace/Anti-War Movement from Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, and Veterans For Peace
After six years of war and the historic election of a new President, we as veterans, military and Gold Star families felt an urgent need to reach out to the larger peace/anti-war movements to make our position on Iraq clear during this time of political and economic uncertainty. Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out and Veterans For Peace continue to stand together in our demand to Bring the Troops Home Now! We ask all those who have stood with us in the past to stay faithful to the cause.
President Obama has announced a plan to gradually reduce troop levels in Iraq. Many in the peace/anti-war movements are breathing a sigh of relief, and suggesting that it is time for us to scale back our efforts to bring an end to the occupation of Iraq. But for our troops on the ground, their families and the Iraqi people, the nightmare continues. They need all of us to stay in the struggle. IVAW, MFSO and VFP have been long united in our call for an immediate and complete end to the occupation of Iraq and will not shift our stance under any circumstances.
President Obama's plan will result in more casualties and suffering for U.S. troops, their families and Iraqis. To the American public facing hard times here at home, two and a half more years of occupation may not sound like that long -- but for our troops and their families it means two and a half more years of fear, pain, and separation in a war and occupation based on lies.
Hundreds of the troops deployed in the next two and a half years will not come home alive. Many more will return forever scarred by deep wounds to their bodies, minds, and spirits. Well over a million Iraqis have died as a result of this war -- many more will be killed as the occupation continues.
We cannot afford the cost of empire. Today we are in the midst of the worst economic crisis most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Yet our government continues to allow the occupation to drain $10 billion a month from our nation's coffers. Meanwhile, veterans and military families struggle to put food on the table and get decent housing and adequate medical care. Women and men who risked their lives for this country are often forced to fight tooth and nail to get health care from an underfunded and overburdened Veterans Administration. Hundreds of thousands of veterans are homeless.
The occupation of Iraq is the source of the violence not the solution. Living under occupation the people of Iraq are held back from taking control of their own lives to determine their destiny. The continued U.S. military presence there is a cause of the violence they face, not its solution. U.S. continued interference contradicts the principles of democracy and self-determination our country was founded on.
IVAW, MFSO and VFP will continue to keep pressure on Congress and the President to bring all our troops home from Iraq NOW, ensure that veterans receive the care they need and deserve, and that the U.S. provides resources to rebuild a country we destroyed. But we cannot do that alone. We need your help to reach out to the vast majority of the American people who are completely isolated from the realities of this war. Please don't abandon this struggle or shift your position before the occupation is over and our veterans and the Iraqi people are on the path to healing.
Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) was founded by Iraq war veterans in July 2004 at the annual convention of Veterans for Peace (VFP) in Boston to give a voice to the large number of active duty service people and veterans who are against this war, but are under various pressures to remain silent. From its inception, IVAW has called for: Immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces in Iraq; reparations for the human and structural damages Iraq has suffered, and stopping the corporate pillaging of Iraq so that their people can control their own lives and future; and dull benefits, adequate healthcare (including mental health), and other supports for returning servicemen and women. IVAW's membership includes recent veterans and active duty servicemen and women from all branches of military service, National Guard members, and reservists who have served in the United States military since September 11, 2001.
Military Families Speak Out is an organization of people opposed to the war in Iraq who have relatives or loved ones who are currently in the military or who have served in the military since the buildup to the Iraq war in the fall of 2002. Formed by two families in November of 2002, MFSO now has over 4,000 member families. MFSO's national chapter, Gold Star Families Speak Out includes families whose loved ones have died as a result of the war in Iraq.
Founded in 1985, Veterans for Peace is a national organization of men and women veterans of all eras and duty stations spanning the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), World War II, the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf and current Iraq wars as well as other conflicts cold or hot. It has chapters in nearly every state in the union and is headquartered in St. Louis, MO. Our collective experience tells us wars are easy to start and hard to stop and that those hurt are often the innocent. Thus, other means of problem solving are necessary. Veterans For Peace is an official Non- Governmental Organization (NGO) represented at the U.N.