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 by Robert Naimann, to After Downing Street, October 22, 2009
If there were ever a time when the peace movement should be able to have an impact on U.S. foreign policy, that time should be now. If there were ever a time for extraordinary effort to achieve such an impact, that time is now.
The war in Afghanistan is in its ninth year. McChrystal's proposal could continue it for another ten years, at a likely cost of a trillion dollars, and many more lives of U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians. The contradiction between domestic needs and endless war was never more apparent. Congress fights over whether we can "afford" to provide every American with quality health care, but every health care reform proposal on the table will likely cost less than McChrystal's endless war. A recent CNN poll says 6 in 10 Americans oppose sending more troops. Democratic leaders in Congress are deeply skeptical: as far back as June, Rep. Murtha and Rep. Obey voted for Rep. McGovern's amendment demanding an exit strategy, and that was before the Afghan election fiasco, when international forces failed at their key objective of providing security, and before McChrystal demanded a 60% increase in U.S. forces, on top of the 50% increase approved earlier this year. Our troops are "exhausted," Murtha says. Top Administration officials share the skepticism. Vice-President Biden, Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, and Afghan scholar Barnett Rubin, an advisor to Ambassador Holbrooke, have all been arguing against a troop increase: the political people on the grounds that the American people and Congress won't support it; Biden on the grounds that it would be a diversion from Pakistan; Rubin on the grounds that it would be counterproductive to reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Elite opinion is closely divided. This is a jump ball. It could go either way. And a decision by Nobel Laureate Obama to send 40,000 more U.S. troops is likely to severely constrain U.S. policy, abroad and at home, for many years.
Such a time calls for extraordinary efforts to mobilize public opinion to move policy.
National peace advocacy organizations, including Peace Action, Just Foreign Policy, Code Pink, United for Peace and Justice, and Voters for Peace, are launching such an extraordinary effort. At the joint website noescalation.org, we're posting the phone numbers of every Congressional office, and what is known so far about where they stand on the proposal to send 40,000 more U.S. troops. We're asking Americans to call Congressional offices and search the media for information on where each Member of Congress stands. And we're asking for that information to be reported back to the website noescalation.org.
The more Members of Congress take a clear stand against military escalation, the more likely President Obama is to reject McChrystal's request. Some Members of Congress are saying, "we're waiting to see what the President decides." But that nonsense is an obvious dodge. The time to affect the President's decision is obviously before he makes it, not afterwards. Of course some Members of Congress are going to avoid taking a position if they can. Our job is to smoke them out.
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!
Join the War Resisters League in saying “No to War in Afghanistan. No to Torture and Vengeance.”
The War Resisters League is standing with other organizations and communities to mark eight years of war and destruction in Afghanistan, to say no to war and torture, and to call on the Obama administration to listen to the Afghan people, to surge peace and development and justice, not war and troops.
Our National Office is located in lower Manhattan, and we were there on September 11, 2001 when two planes flew into two buildings and resulted in the deaths of 2,603 people in New York City (and a total of 2,974 when deaths in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon are included).
It was a terrifying and terrible day. In the midst of it, the War Resisters League’s David McReynolds put pen to paper and wrote sage and prescient words anchored in the foundations of nonviolence: “To wake on a clear day to find our largest city under siege reminds us that in a violent world, none are safe.”
But in the midst of fear and unknowing, we were able to hold on to what has kept us anchored since 1923-- this bedrock belief that war is never the answer. In a Violent World, None are Safe
The War Resisters League was here on October 7, 2001 as well. Marching through the streets of New York with Nobel Peace Laureates and 10,000 more, holding signs that said “Our grief is not a cry for war,” “Justice, not vengeance,” “No war on Afghanistan.”
We marched even as the air war high above Afghanistan began; as the richest country in the world launched a war against a nation so poor and undeveloped that even Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had to acknowledge it, saying on September 18, 2001 that “Afghanistan is a very poor country… it has a gross domestic product per capita of something like $700, $800, $900 per person a year… There are not great things of value that are easy to deal with.”
As we marched on October 7, 2001, President George W. Bush addressed the American public, saying: "As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering men, women and children of Afghanistan… The United States of America is a friend to the Afghan people."
The War Resisters League knew that was a lie then. And the last eight years has only deepened our commitment to nonviolence and to the social and political change that comes from people working together, struggling together and listening to one another.
What is happening in Afghanistan right now is not peace and development and liberation for the burka-ed women. It is war: it is war begun in vengeance and desperation and continued out of the reprehensible notion that right can come out of wrong. A Few Facts About the War
It is impossible to get an accurate or complete count of the number of deaths caused by U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan, but the estimates run in the tens of thousands, and the security situation continues to be bleak and precarious for the people President Bush promised to stand with eight years ago. This $100 million-a-day fiasco has led to the deaths of 1,103 Afghans—by one conservative estimate—just in the first six months of 2009.
So far, “Operation Enduring Freedom” has cost the United States $223 billion, according to Congressional Research Service. This is a fraction of what the war in Iraq has cost, but analysts are estimating decades more of significant military presence in Afghanistan and ongoing high (and rising) costs. Stephen Biddle with the Council on Foreign Relations says the United States “will need a large combat presence for many years to come and we will probably need a large financial commitment longer than that.” Bing West, who worked in President Ronald Reagan's Pentagon, puts a dollar figure on that “commitment” saying that the United States will need to allocate $4 billion a year for Afghan forces and another $4 billion for development projects far into the future.
As of September 1, 2009, 734 U.S. military personnel have been killed in the Afghanistan theater (including deaths in Pakistan and Uzbekistan) since 2001. August was the deadliest month for U.S. military personnel since the Taliban was ousted in late 2001. Torture is Terror
The war comes back to us. Not just in the deaths of American soldiers and contractors but in the torture and abuse and mistreatment of those so called “enemy combatants” held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, in Guantanamo and at other sites throughout the world. When he took office, President Obama pledged to break with the Bush administration’s illegal and immoral practices. But in the months that followed, he has done nothing to bring justice or reparations (or even criminal charges) to those thousands held, he has not held the architects and perpetrators of torture and terror tactics accountable (the belated decision to appoint a “special prosecutor” seems calculated to placate those critical of his record without changing anything). The United States’ torture and terror tactics do more than just wound and maim and damage the men we torture… our nation is stained and tainted as a result of these practices.
On Monday, October 5th, the War Resisters League will once again stand with the victims of war, the Afghan people, the Pakistani people, those who have been tortured. We will be in Washington, DC to protest President Obama’s continuation of some of the worst of the Bush administration, the war in Afghanistan.
This article, by James Dao, was published in the New York Times, August 28, 2009
A restive antiwar movement, largely dormant since the election of Barack Obama, is preparing a nationwide campaign this fall to challenge the administration’s policies on Afghanistan.
Anticipating a Pentagon request for more troops there, antiwar leaders have engaged in a flurry of meetings to discuss a month of demonstrations, lobbying, teach-ins and memorials in October to publicize the casualty count, raise concerns about the cost of the war and pressure Congress to demand an exit strategy.
But they face a starkly changed political climate from just a year ago, when President George W. Bush provided a lightning rod for protests. The health care battle is consuming the resources of labor unions and other core Democratic groups. American troops are leaving Iraq, defusing antiwar sentiments in some quarters. The recession has hurt fund-raising for peace groups and forced them to slash budgets. And, perhaps most significant, many liberals continue to support Mr. Obama, or at least are hesitant about openly criticizing him.
“People do not want to take on the administration,” said Jon Soltz, chairman of VoteVets.org. “Generating the kind of money that would be required to challenge the president’s policies just isn’t going to happen.”
Tom Andrews, national director for an antiwar coalition, Win Without War, said most liberals “want this guy to succeed.” But he said the antiwar movement would try to convince liberals that a prolonged war would undermine Mr. Obama’s domestic agenda. Afghanistan, he said, “could be a devastating albatross around the president’s neck.”
But there is also a sense among some antiwar advocates that Mr. Obama’s honeymoon with Democrats in general and liberals in particular is ending. As evidence, they point to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showing that 51 percent of Americans now feel the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting, a 10-point increase since March. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
“We’re coming out of a low period,” said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the antiwar group Code Pink. “But as progressives feel more comfortable protesting against the Obama administration and challenging Democrats as well as Republicans in Congress, then we’ll be back on track.”
The Obama administration has opposed legislation requiring an exit strategy, saying it needs time to develop new approaches to the war. “Given his own impatience for progress, the president has demanded benchmarks to track our progress and ensure that we are moving in the right direction,” a White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The October protest schedule is expected to include marches in Washington and elsewhere. But organizers acknowledge that it may be difficult to recruit large numbers of demonstrators. So groups like United for Peace and Justice are also planning smaller events in communities around the country, including teach-ins with veterans and families of deployed troops, lobbying sessions with members of Congress, film screenings and ad hoc memorials featuring the boots of deceased soldiers and Marines.
“There are some that feel betrayed” by Mr. Obama, said Nancy Lessin, a founder of the group Military Families Speak Out. “There are some who feel that powerful forces are pushing the president to stay on this course and that we have to build a more powerful movement to change that course.”
The October actions will be timed not only to the eighth anniversary of the first American airstrikes on Taliban forces and the seventh anniversary of Congressional authorization for invading Iraq, but also an anticipated debate in Congress over sending more troops to Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, is widely expected to request additional troops, beyond the 68,000 projected for the end of the year, after finalizing a policy review in the next few weeks.
The antiwar movement consists of dozens of organizations representing pacifists, veterans, military families, labor unions and religious groups, and they hardly speak with one voice. Some groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War have started shifting their focus toward Afghanistan, passing resolutions demanding an immediate withdrawal of troops from there. Others, like VoteVets.org, support the American military presence in Afghanistan, calling it crucial to fighting terrorism.
And some groups, including Moveon.org, have yet to take a clear position on Afghanistan beyond warning that war drains resources from domestic programs.
“There is not the passion around Afghanistan that we saw around Iraq,” said Ilyse Hogue, Moveon.org’s spokeswoman. “But there are questions.”
There are also signs that some groups that have been relatively quiet on Afghanistan are preparing to become louder. U.S. Labor Against the War, a network of nearly 190 union affiliates that has been focused on Iraq, is “moving more into full opposition to the continuing occupation” of Afghanistan, said Michael Eisenscher, the group’s national coordinator.
“President Obama risks his entire domestic agenda, just as Johnson did in Vietnam, in pursuing this course of action in Afghanistan,” Mr. Eisenscher said.
Handfuls of antiwar protestors can still be seen on Capitol Hill, outside state office buildings and around college campuses. Cindy Sheehan, for instance, has set up her vigil on Martha’s Vineyard while Mr. Obama vacations there. But many advocates say a lower-key approach may be more effective in winning support right now.
An example of that strategy is an Internet film titled “Rethink Afghanistan,” which is being produced and released in segments by the political documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald. In six episodes so far, Mr. Greenwald has used interviews with academics, Afghans and former C.I.A. operatives to raise questions about civilian casualties, women’s rights, the cost of war and whether it has made the United States safer.
The episodes, some as short as two minutes, are circulated via Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and blogs. Antiwar groups are also screening them with members of Congress. Mr. Greenwald, who has produced documentaries about Wal-Mart and war profiteers, said the film represented a “less incendiary” approach influenced by liberal concerns that he not attack Mr. Obama directly.
“We lost funding from liberals who didn’t want to criticize Obama,” he said. “It’s been lonely out there.”
Code Pink is trying to build opposition to the war among women’s groups, some of which argue that women will suffer if the Taliban returns. In September, a group of Code Pink organizers will visit Kabul to encourage Afghan women to speak out against the American military presence there.
And Iraq Veterans Against the War is using the Web to circulate episodes of a documentary, “This Is Where We Take Our Stand,” filmed in 2008 at its Winter Soldier conference, at which veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan testified about civilian casualties, combat stress and other tolls of the wars.
The group’s leaders say they do not expect many people to take to the barricades against the administration any time soon. But that will change, they argue, as the death toll continues to rise.
“In the next year, it will more and more become Obama’s war,” said Perry O’Brien, president of the New York chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War. “He’ll be held responsible for the bloodshed.”