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!
Disclaimer: In accordance with title 17 u.s.c. section 107, this material is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.
The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
You are now watching: Episode Five - This is Not Human Nature
For the first time in history, women have combat and other front-line roles in the U.S. military, yet the military today is rife with sexual harassment, as Wendy Barranco reveals. Is this progress? Is it inevitable? Human nature? Or perhaps it's the sign of a deeper malignancy. For Wendy, her treatment was "the last thing I would have imagined from my own peers and comrades."
This open letter, from David Zeiger, was distributed August 18, 2009
As I write this, we are getting ready to post the fourth episode of This is Where We Take Our Stand, our six-part web series about last year’s Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan event. You can find the series at http://www.thisiswherewetakeourstand.com, and of course on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.
It’s been a huge struggle, but this series is finally here–and I hope we created something that will bring the truth you revealed at Winter Soldier to thousands, even millions. We strove to make each episode a revelation and a punch in the gut, featuring some of the most important and powerful testimony from Winter Soldier along with the battles so many of you fought to make it happen. Boots Riley of The Coup wrote a killer theme song, Sound Off, that can also be downloaded from the site.
Winter Soldier happened in the last year of the Bush administration, and it was the most powerful condemnation of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan that I have seen. Your testimony laid bare the insane, relentless brutality of those wars and the hypocrisy of Bush’s claims that you were there to bring “freedom and democracy” to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. You made it clear that it was the policy of the government and military that was criminal. And you brought into the open the courageous, profound opposition to the wars that exists within the military and veterans’ community.
But what about now? Millions of people expected the Obama administration to change those policies and end the occupations. Well, where is that change? In Iraq, where we have been promised there might be a withdrawal by 2011 leaving 50,000 troops there to insure an “America friendly” government? Or how about Afghanistan, where a thoroughly corrupt, Bush-installed government is now being propped up with the additional 20,000 troops that were withdrawn from Iraq? What has changed?
What’s most horrifying for me is seeing the slaughter continue today with hardly a peep from those who would have loudly objected when Bush was in charge. So, perhaps ironically, Winter Soldier is today more relevant and urgent than ever. This is not about the past, as Obama has often said, but about what is happening right now.
It is your voices that must be heard in this darkness. And it’s in that spirit that we have made this series. It belongs to you, and we hope you will not only watch and show it to others, but use it to spread the impact of Winter Soldier and build your movement. We welcome your thoughts and comments, and urge you to add your own testimonials to the web site. Along with posting the final three episodes through September, we will make the whole series available on a DVD for you to use.
With love and solidarity,
This article, by Linda Milazzo, was originally published in the Atlantic Free Press, Mar. 20, 2008
Even when reporting the invasion of Iraq, corporate media mitigates or inflames the story to advance its selfish goals. Were presenting the truth and enlightening the populace the intent of corporate media, the March 13th through March 16th Winter Soldier Tribunal would have been televised. Instead, it was ignored. Were it not for independent media like Free Speech TV and Pacifica Radio (which broadcast the original Winter Soldier tribunal in 1971), and internet streaming via the Iraq Veterans Against the War website (ivaw.org), there would have been a total blackout of the live testimonials of the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
If corporate media had employed the professionalism and integrity of New Media, it would have broadcast Winter Soldier, whereby a larger audience would have witnessed revelatory testimony by over 100 impassioned heroes. Prior to this weekend's Winter Soldier, local and national media were informed the tribunal was taking place. However, none supported the troops enough to be present to broadcast their stories. Had Winter Soldier been televised, viewers would have seen the anguish of young Americans who saw and committed acts that torment them every day. The public would have heard stories of returning veterans abandoned by their government and by their V.A. (Veterans' Administration). The public would have seen the agony of parents whose 23 year old son hung himself in their closet due to untreated PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) . If Winter Soldier had been televised, The People could no longer accept the deceptions of those who had altered the facts.
The People would have received the knowledge they need to motivate them to act to stop the atrocities to end the war NOW! Indeed, had Winter Soldier been televised, the public would have heard the stories corporate media probably buried. Stories their cozily embedded reporters have known but couldn't report. Stories of soldiers and marines torturing and murdering innocent Iraqi men, women and children. Stories of waving decapitated heads as trophies. Stories of invading and destroying the wrong homes. Stories of shooting dogs for fun. Story after story of the horrors of occupation that have long been denied by the Bush administration and the military, or treated as aberrations on the rare occasions they were revealed. For over five years even before the March 20, 2003 invasion of Iraq there has been a blight on truth in corporate media. Rather than being an honest purveyor of the occupation, conglomerate media manipulates reality to align with the White House, and to increase its profits from its military subsidiaries. Corporate media's collusion with the Bush administration to orchestrate this illegal and immoral invasion has been documented again and again through highly praised books, like Amy and David Goodman's "The Exception To The Rulers," and in the films "Weapons of Mass Deception" by Danny Schechter and "War Made Easy" by Norman Solomon, along with several others.
Americans who comprehend corporate media's complicity in cheerleading the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq lament media's refusal to atone for its ills. Just like the Bush administration won't admit lying the nation into Iraq, corporate media downplays its role in manufacturing consent for the invasion. With the exception of progressive internet sites and print outlets like Mother Jones and The Nation, broadcasters Link TV, Free Speech TV, PBS' Bill Moyers, Pacifica Radio, and MSNBC's pre-invasion hero, Phil Donahue, American media couldn't wait to broadcast George W. Bush's sadistically dubbed "Shock and Awe."
For months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, to this time five years later, Americans have been fed a lethal diet of lies. Lies from the highest levels of the military and the highest levels of government. Lies from conservative talk radio and from corporate television's anchors. At every outlet with corporate ties, be it NBC, ABC or CBS, CNN, MSNBC or Fox, there are corporate sold lies. If the public doesn't seek alternative outlets for truth, it subsists on fabrication. Thus the job of New Media as an oracle of truth is to rescue Americans from delusion. To perform that job, independent media, was the only source to broadcast Winter Soldier live. Americans NEED the truth. Americans CAN handle the truth. To re-coin an old, but appropriate adage, 'In truth there is knowledge. In knowledge there is power.' A democracy can't survive if its people have no knowledge! A democracy can't exist if its people have no power!
Americans NEED both!
The Winter Soldier tribunal in 1971 led to an invitation to the veterans to testify before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 1973, then chaired by Senator J. William Fulbright. The testimony before the Fulbright Committee was so powerful that it helped to expedite the end of the Vietnam War. A similar invitation to testify before the current Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, chaired by Joe Biden, should be extended to today's Winter Soldiers. Should that happen, as it should, C-SPAN would hopefully televise the event, which would increase the audience significantly.
A great many of the posts featured here, were published over the last month. I have decided to reprint them because I have been tied up for much of the last month on another project and they deserve to be included in the blog.
“I can’t go back in time and take back what I’ve done… At one point I was a monster, and I created hate and destruction amongst many people. I am sorry for doing so and I will never turn back into the monster I once was.” These were the closing remarks of Jon Turner, former Marine returned from Iraq, testifying in early March with three other former members of the armed forces, to students at the University of Vermont. His Marine dress uniform jacket, with seven shiny medals lined up across his chest contrasted sharply with the bandanna tied around his head, the soft beard that has grown in since his discharge from the service, and the palpable sadness in his countenance as he spoke, an unbearably painful ordeal of confession and revelation.
Turner, former Marine Matt Howard, and Army veterans Drew Cameron and Adrienne Kinne all spoke about their personal experiences in the military during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, they are determined that their fellow Vermonters, be they students or neighbors, are fully aware of the criminal nature of the war policies of Bush/Cheney.
While the two hundred students who attended that evening may have been irrevocably changed by what they heard, those outside the room were destined to remain unaware, because no one from the press was there to cover the event. Indeed, the press release promised “testimonies from U.S. veterans who have served in the global war on terror. Find out what is really happening on the ground”, and referencing the Winter Soldier testimony from the Vietnam era that “exposed the criminal nature of the Vietnam War…today vets from the current occupations assume the same responsibilities as their predecessors.” but neither the U.V.M student paper, curiously named the Vermont Cynic, nor the Gannet owned Burlington Free Press sent a reporter to listen. Nor did the Vermont Cynic respond to several queries requesting comment; and Patrick Garrity, Metro editor for the Free Press explained that “tough decisions are made every day on what to cover or not.” As to this particular event, he said, “What led to our particular reason why we didn’t cover it – I couldn’t say.” After being apprised of what they may have missed, he responded “Just because we didn’t pick up a story on one day doesn’t mean that we won’t go back to cover it.”
As to this event's newsworthiness, the testimony speaks for itself, morphing from the bad to the truly horrific. Drew Cameron, who served as an army artilleryman, told disturbing if not surprising stories about his duties in gathering and destroying captured munitions. When tank munitions fell off the back of his truck, he was ordered to leave them be, even though there would be children playing among them the next day. When a convoy truck crashed into an Iraqi civilian car, severely wounding several members of a family, he was again ordered to leave them to their fate without any medical help from the troops who caused them harm. And when the captured munitions reached the destination for destruction, they were exploded in open pits in close proximity to villages and agricultural lands, which were then covered with the fallout from the blasts.
Adrienne Kinne, a ten-year army veteran and Arab linguist who worked in military intelligence, testified to the different intelligence rules of conduct that she experienced pre and post 9/11. From 1994 to 1998, she worked under rules that made sure that no American would be the subject of any of the military intelligence intercepts. She cited one instance where an American diplomat was referenced in an intercepted phone call. The intelligence officials destroyed the tape even though he was referenced only in passing, honoring the principle that the government does not spy on Americans.
When called back to active duty from 2001-2001, she discovered that the pragmatic methods, if not the written rules governing them, had changed. She told of routinely monitoring phone transmissions of humanitarian organizations, NGOs and journalists. She listened in to journalists at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad reassuring each other that they were safe from American missile or artillery strikes. Then when she learned that this hotel was considered fair game as a target, she saw a chance for some good to come out of the illegal spying and acted. “I told my superiors that the journalists there thought they were safe. [I asked] should we warn them? My concerns were ignored.”
It was when she participated in translating a fax provided by the Iraqi National Congress, an unreliable faction headed by Ahmad Chalabi, which made claims of WMD in Iraq that she crossed her personal Rubicon. The fax, which made unsubstantiated claims dovetailing with the desires of the Bush/Cheney administration, was given top priority and was rushed directly to the White House after translation, a procedure that was completely at odds with normal protocol. When she considered the source of the information – Chalabi was a known liar and fugitive from justice for bank fraud in Jordan. She approached her superiors and asked whether they shouldn’t have take this into consideration before giving it to the White House as conclusive evidence, but was told to mind her own business, and her patriotism was questioned. “I knew that this war was based on lies" Kinne concluded, "and that I had helped spread these lies. I wish that I had taken my concerns to someone outside of the military.”
Matt Howard’s testimony told about the use of internationally banned cluster bombs, illegal declarations of “weapons free” zones, Marines shooting civilians for sport and the reprehensible devastation of Nasariah by a division of Marines seeking revenge for fallen comrades. He could not remain silent about what he saw. “I raised concerns with my chain of command. I wrote an extensive letter outlining all that I had been told by those in the tank commands when I was delivering to them…. Because of my letter, they had to conduct a war crime investigation, but they found no cause for charges. I was taken aside by the officer in charge of the investigation and he told me off the record that as a father he shared my concerns. But as a marine, he would never implicate his fellow marines and jeopardize their careers.” This officer also told Matt that if he mentioned any of these charges again, he would face a court martial.
None of this testimony could have prepared the audience for what they were to hear next. The first words spoken by Jon Turner, veteran of the third Battalion, Eighth Marines set the tone. “On April 18, 2006 I murdered an innocent man with no weapons. He was walking back to his house.” For this act, Turner was commended by his chain of command including personal congratulations from his captain.
He showed a short video in which his Lieutenant is saying, “I just shot half the fucking population of fucking Ramada, fuck the red tape.” He explained that rules of engagement were completely dropped. “Collateral damage was not an issue for us, most was covered up and stayed at the lowest post level. Our sergeant said shoot first and worry about it later.” He added, “When we were bored, we would take out people.”
He also explained that marines routinely took out their aggressions on civilians whose houses were routinely raided in the middle of the night. “During the 3A.M. raids, we would take the man into a separate room from his wife and children. If we decided that we didn’t like him, we would choke him or beat his head against the wall. If we decided to detain him, we would destroy all the contents of the house. Or if he really pissed us off, we would burn it down with incendiary grenades.”
He showed other video footage of machine gun and tank fire being directed at a minaret of a mosque – not because of any shooting coming from the mosque, but because his fellow soldiers were in a position of power and wanted to let off steam. He recounted how one day two fellow soldiers had killed a couple of civilians, and knowing that John had not yet had a kill for the day, told him that they had saved him one. They pointed out a man riding a bicycle and he calmly shot him dead.
To provide cover for these crimes, his unit kept a supply of “drop weapons”, AK47s and other weapons that might be used by Iraqi insurgents. These were placed on or near the murder victim to provide an alibi of self-defense.
Turner detailed the use of white phosphorous gas by his unit, explaining, “It completely destroys everything. You can’t put out the fire.” While the Pentagon claims that white phosphorous is used only to illuminate a battlefield at night an unknown number of Iraqis have joined the ranks of collateral damage and perished by burning to death.
In conclusion Matt Howard emphasized to the students that these crimes that he and his fellow veterans were describing were not simply the work of a few bad apples. “This is policy,” he flatly stated, adding, “1.2 million individuals have cycled through Iraq and part of something much bigger.” He also told the audience that they should not think of Afghanistan as the “good” war compared with Iraq. He said that
everything that they heard about atrocities in Iraq was true for Afghanistan as well. He explained that the most revered military minds agree that “Without strategy war is mindless. Mindless killing can only be criminal.” He pointed out that the shifting rationales for invasion and occupation provided by the that they have had no strategy from the beginning. Recent Pentagon studies also confirm this fact.
These veterans decided to speak out as victims of an administration’s gross negligence and deceit. Their testimony places some of them at grave risk being charged with war crimes or ignoring security restrictions. If they had chosen to remain silent, they could have been protected by a wall of denial and suppression provided by the military that they served. By deciding to clear their consciences and to try to do what they can do repair the damage they have helped the American military to cause, the have unalterably changed the trajectory of their futures. Whether they alone will bear the awful cost of what they witnessed, as well as the possible costs of speaking out - depends on what those who hear their stories decide to do. If their audiences decide that their own silence would make them complicit, and if the press decides that war crimes being committed today, in our names are front page news, then these veterans will at least have taken a first step beyond their own personal redemption.
The Bush/Cheney administration has established a new paradigm of criminal and immoral actions as public policy. Congress has countenanced these actions, and the courts have failed to check them. It remains to be can match these veterans' courage to stand tall and say "not now and never again."
This article, IVAW and What I Won't Do, by Jonn Lilyea was originally published on his blog This Ain't Hell, April 18 2008
As most of my regular readers know, I went to the Winter Soldier theater and live-blogged from the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland on March 15th. It was a pretty tough gig, pressure-wise, and I didn’t like being around a bunch of people who’d rather see me dead than there.I watched them tackle 61-year-old Gerry Kiley and drag him from the room, and it was probably as atrocious as anything the witnesses were testifying to on the stage. Through the hours I was there, I wondered when it was going to be my turn to be tackled and dragged from the room by the Labor thugs providing security at the event.
Halfway through the proceedings, Thus Spake Ortner and I had to give up up the URLs of our blogs because Geoff Millard wanted to play commissar of information (for the record, other members of the IVAW already had our URLs, but Millard wanted us to know that he was personally monitoring us). I imagined that what I felt was what many journalists from the West felt when they wrote from inside the Soviet Union. But it lent an air of authenticity to what we were doing. Millard, quite by accident, I’m sure, gave us additional credibility.
I hate the IVAW, I hate what they stand for, I hate what they’re doing to this country and I hate that most of them are doing what they do for very selfish and petty reasons. That being said, I found the limits of my hate this morning.
Apparently, someone on my own side thought I would lie for our cause. Someone who shall remain nameless tried to tell an Army investigator what I heard and witnessed inside Winter Soldier - something this person couldn’t know mainly because the incident I was asked about never happened.
This whole blog is about the Left and their inability to recognize the truth when it hits them between the eyes. I take video and pictures of the Left with little comment and I’ve never asked for a pose because I feel that the Left does enough damage to itself that they don’t need me to point it out or shape it - I just need to be there to record it.
I don’t belong to any of the organizations involved in the discussion because I at least want to keep an air of credibility and I want to continue to enjoy access to all of the sides of the discussion.
I will not, under any circumstances, violate my readers’ trust in me to provide them the unvarnished truth here. I don’t have a journalist’s code of ethics that I need to follow, just my own code. I put my real name on this blog because I’m not afraid of telling the truth and after this blog is gone, I still have to live with the name and the reputation I build here.
I will not sell this blog and it’s readers down the river for a couple of cheap shots at the IVAW. Lord knows, they do enough to damage their reputation without me having to testify to things that never happened.
Anyone else out there who thinks they have a brainstorm plan to undermine IVAW, please keep your lips off my name. Anything I know about illegal activities inside the IVAW, the authorities already know.
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.
Winter Soldier: US Army Medic Perry O'Brien on Civilian Cadavers in Afghanistan
Posted, by Aaron Glantz, to Op-ed News, March 2, 2008
Former US Army Medic Perry O'Brienserved a tour in Afghanistan before returning home and filing to be discharged as a conscientious objector. He describes how the corpses of dead civilians were used as medical teaching tools in Afghanistan without the consent of the dead. He says this shows how war is inherently dehumanizing and hopes Winter Soldierwill change the conversation in America about the morality of war and the orders that soldiers are asked to follow.
In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote: "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
Iraq Veterans Against the War argues that well-publicised incidents of U.S. brutality like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the massacre of an entire family of Iraqis in the town of Haditha are not the isolated incidents perpetrated by "a few bad apples", as many politicians and military leaders have claimed. They are part of a pattern, the group says, of "an increasingly bloody occupation."
From March 14th to 16th, Pacifica Radio will suspend regular programming to broadcast the historic Winter Soldier gathering in Washington, DC.
Posted by Gregg Gordon , to OpEd News, March 10 2008
This week, at hundreds of events across the country, tens of thousands of people will mark the fifth anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq and demand an end to the occupation and the withdrawal of all US troops. They will march, vigil, sit-in, teach-in, write letters, call their Congressman, block recruiting offices, sing songs, wear orange, call in sick, buy Citgo (Venezuelan) gas, all in an effort to get the nation's political leadership to take notice of the 70% of the American people who think this war has destroyed too many lives, done too much damage to our own country as well as Iraq, cost far too much, and gone on way too long.
Washington, D.C., will be the focus of much of the activity. A "Stop-Loss Congress" campaign starting March 10 is delivering stop-loss notices to Congressional offices, cancelling their planned March 15 vacation until all US troops are brought home from Iraq. March 13 will see the beginning of four days of "Winter Soldier" hearings sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War, focusing on the horrific toll the war is taking on even the soldiers lucky enough to return from their tours of duty alive and uninjured. March 19, the actual anniversary of the invasion, will be a day of nonviolent civil resistance in all 435 Congressional districts, although perhaps tellingly, events in the Capitol will focus on the offices of war profiteers rather than vacationing Congressmen. Organizers apparently don't expect the "stop-loss" campaign to succeed.
I encourage everyone who opposes the war to participate in these events. I'll be at every one I can get to, as I have for the last five years. It's good for my soul. But frankly, I don't expect these events to be any more successful than those earlier ones were, and it seems our numbers dwindle even as the percentage of people against the war grows. Indeed, before the war began, millions of people around the world hit the streets in protest. The reaction -- "a focus group," President Bush said.
I remember back in 1981 attending a huge "Solidarity Day" march in Washington, when every significant labor union and activist groups from the NAACP to Greenpeace to the Democratic Socialists of America -- some 250,000 people, far larger than Martin Luther King's March on Washington or anything from the Vietnam era -- converged to protest the direction the Reagan administration was taking America. The result -- seven more years of union-busting, poor-bashing, environment-trashing, and dirty wars around the world.
Marches and other, highly-visible forms of civil disobedience have their place. They lift our spirits and let us know we're not alone. They can bring attention to an issue. And, if persistent enough, they may eventually convince the powers-that-be that their misguided, destructive policies simply aren't worth the hassle, and they should find other ways to make money. But a march requires truly impressive numbers to get much attention, and the trends haven't been going in our favor. And $4 gas isn't going to make it any easier -- maybe that was part of the plan. In any case, scattered, sporadic, one-shot efforts have little chance to make an impact. They know that soon we'll all have to go home and get back to our lives, and they can easily wait us out.
But there is an approach that asks of people something so easy, effortless, and free of personal risk that you just might get the participation of the millions necessary to really end this war. And at the same time, it speaks in the language that power understands, and in a way it can't ignore.
Remember 9/11? Lines to give blood wrapped around the block, and the entire country stood at the ready for marching orders, practically pleading for meaningful ways to sacrifice for the common good. And how did our president respond? "Go shopping."
Well, times have changed -- boy, have they. So if Bush's way of having us help him fight his war was to go shopping, I say the way to end it is just as simple -- stop shopping.
or all the talk about how the United States has been transformed into a corporatocracy, we make a mistake when we view it monolithically. It's true that Halliburton and Exxon/Mobil have made mind-boggling amounts of money off this war. But every dollar you spend putting a tiger in your tank is a dollar you can't spend at the mall, so Sears, Roebuck -- not so much. But you're not likely to hear them speak out. It might cause problems at the club. It might scotch an invitation to join a corporate board, those interlocking mutual admiration societies devoted mainly to padding each other's bank accounts at shareholders' expense -- the easiest money imaginable. After all, if a moral compass or nonconformity was part of their DNA, they would have chosen a different career path. Just look at how they dress. They need our encouragement. They need our help. They need to feel our pain.
So I propose an economic boycott to stop the war and bring the troops home. Not a boycott of any particular war profiteer -- a boycott of everything. One Day to End the War. On the last day of the month (just because that would be easy to remember), if you want the war to end, you don't spend a dime on anything, nothing, nada, zero, zilch. And you keep doing that every month until it's enacted into law -- veto overriden if necessary -- that every last soldier be out of Iraq within one year.
If every one of the 70% of the American public -- more than 200 million people -- that opposes the war were to simply remove their participation from the economy for even a day, do you think that would not have an impact? If every Home Depot and Starbucks, every fast food joint, department store, gas station, and movie theater in the country were to see their sales drop by 70% one day, do you think you would not be heard?
Of course, that's not going to happen. To reach that level of participation would require a massive public education campaign. Liberal blogs and talk radio could surely be brought on board, but those of us involved in those things tend to overestimate their reach (ask Ron Paul). And you could expect no help from free media -- their advertisers would scream. So you probably need paid media (and even then, paid media might be denied too on the grounds of "controversial advertising." Not spending money to end an illegal war -- controversial. Buying gym shoes made by slave laborers in Asia -- not controversial). But assuming you could do paid media, I have no clue what that would cost, but . . . well, it ain't me, babe (although if you know George Soros, you might send him this link).
But if you could get even half of war opponents to participate -- participate in non-participation -- or even 30%, that would translate into a 20% drop in consumer activity at the low end, and that's enough to be noticed. These are people to whom a few percentage points of market share -- even tenths of a percentage point -- mean millions of dollars. "Pennies per pound," Kris Kristofferson says in the movie, Fast Food Nation. "Pennies per pound." Comfortable lives for heirs yet unborn are at stake. They care.
To some extent, this action would be symbolic. Most economic activity would simply be transferred to the day before or the day after the event, but not all. You're not going to eat at McDonalds today just because you didn't yesterday, and the retailers don't want to pay their "associates" to stand around all day, even if they might be a little busier tomorrow. And symbolic actions can matter. Gandhi's Salt March was largely symbolic, and the British Empire began to crack.
The beauty of the idea is that, unlike a march, it requires so little effort to participate, and also so little risk. You can't get arrested for it. You can't get fired for it. Indeed, it requires more effort to not participate. At most, you have to break a few habits like the ritual morning Starbucks stop, and think ahead if you're going to need gas or groceries. But you still have the heightened awareness of taking action. (The biggest problem would be getting people to not go out for lunch. I know people who would consider that an almost inconceivable sacrifice, the obesity epidemic and the example of Ramadan notwithstanding.) And the kinds of locally-initiated protests that are already occurring could and should continue -- friendly reminder pickets at shopping centers would be helpful -- but tying them into a boycott would provide them with a common focus nationwide, rather than the disparate, isolated events they now are.
And heck, with Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz now putting the long-term cost of the war at $3 trillion -- and every last penny of it on your credit card -- setting aside one day a month to not spend money strikes me as just a minimally prudent savings plan. You can hardly afford not to do it It will be easy for me. For me, SARS stands for "Shopping Avoidance Reflex Syndrome." I hold up a silver cross at the very sight of a mall. For more normal people, the first month may be tough, but the second will be easier, and by the third, as you realize 24 hours without shopping does not lead to physical withdrawal, you might start to find it liberating, and you might begin to find all kinds of occasions to not shop. That's what would terrify them. That's what threatens the whole basis of their economy, society, existence. That's the chance they can't afford to take.
So this week, by all means, march, vigil, write your Congressman, wear orange, call in sick, make as big a pain-in-the-butt of yourself as you can. Raise hell!
But if, after March 19, you then go back to business as usual, it will all be for naught. We'll be back to cursing the spinelessness and duplicity of Democrats and bemoaning our own powerlessness.
US/IRAQ: "We Reacted Out of Fear, and With Total Destruction"
By Dahr Jamal, March 14, 2008
SILVER SPRING, Maryland, Mar 14 (IPS) - Hart Viges joined the U.S. Army the day after Sep. 11, 2001, in the belief that he could help make the world a safer place.
He ended up stationed in Fallujah, and then Baghdad. "We were the only authority and took full advantage of that," he told an audience of roughly 300 people here gathered for three days of testimony by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan about abuses of civilians. "Everything was haji...haji house, haji smokes, haji burger."
The term "haji" is used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq to degrade and dehumanise the Iraqi people.
Viges, like others who spoke, said that U.S. troops routinely detained innocent people during home raids.
"We never went on the right raid where we got the right house, much less the right person -- not once," he said.
He also said it was common practice for troops to take photographs as "war trophies".
"We were driving in Baghdad one day and found a dead body on the side of the road," Viges said. "We pulled over to secure the area and my friends jumped off and started taking pictures with it, smiling. They asked me if I wanted to join them and I said no, but not because it was unethical, but because it wasn't my kill. Because you shouldn't take trophies with those you didn't kill. I wasn't upset this man was dead, but just that they shouldn't be taking credit for something they didn't do. But that's war."
The event, which has drawn international media attention, was organised by Iraq Veterans Against the War. Its goal is to give U.S. service members a chance to talk about their experiences during the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and to show that their stories of wrongdoing in both countries were not isolated incidents limited to a few "bad apples", as the Pentagon claims, but were everyday occurrences.
Adam Kokesh served in Fallujah beginning in February 2004 for roughly one year. Speaking on a panel about the Rules of Engagement (ROE), he held up the ROE card soldiers are issued in Iraq and said, "This card says, 'Nothing on this card prevents you from using deadly force to defend yourself'."
Kokesh pointed out that "reasonable certainty" was the condition for using deadly force under the ROE, and this led to rampant civilian deaths. He discussed taking part in the April 2004 siege of Fallujah. During that attack, doctors at Fallujah General Hospital told IPS there were 736 deaths, over 60 percent of which were civilians.
"We changed the ROE more often than we changed our underwear," Kokesh said. "At one point, we imposed a curfew on the city, and were told to fire at anything that moved in the dark. I don't think soldiers should be put in the position to choose between their morals and their instinct for survival."
Kokesh also testified that during two cease-fires in the midst of the siege, the military decided to let out as many women and children from the embattled city as possible, but this did not include most men.
"For males, they had to be under 14 years of age," he said. "So I had to go over there and turn men back, who had just been separated from their women and children. We thought we were being gracious."
The Mar. 13-16 event has been named "Winter Soldier" to honour a similar gathering 30 years ago of veterans of the Vietnam War. Winter soldiers, according to U.S. founding father Thomas Paine, are the people who stand up for the soul of their country, even in its darkest hours.
Iraq Veterans Against the War was founded in 2004 to give those who have served in the military since Sep. 11, 2001 a way to come together and speak out against what they say is an unjust, illegal and unwinnable war. Today, IVAW has over 800 members in 49 states, Washington, D.C. and Canada and on military bases overseas.
Steve Casey served in Iraq for over a year, from mid-2003.
"We were scheduled to go home in April 2004 but due to rising violence, we stayed in with Operation Blackjack," Casey told the audience. "I watched soldiers firing into the radiators and windows of oncoming vehicles. Those who didn't turn around were unfortunately neutralised one way or another -- well over 20 times I personally witnessed this. There was a lot of collateral damage."
Jason Hurd served in central Baghdad from November 2004 until November 2005. He told of how, after his unit took "stray rounds" from a nearby firefight, a machine gunner responded by firing over 200 rounds into a nearby building.
"We fired indiscriminately at this building," he said. "Things like that happened every day in Iraq. We reacted out of fear for our lives, and we reacted with total destruction."
Hurd said the situation deteriorated rapidly while he was in Iraq. "Over time, as the absurdity of war set in, individuals from my unit indiscriminately opened fire at vehicles driving down the wrong side of the road. People in my unit would later brag about it. I remember thinking how appalled I was that we were laughing at this, but that was the reality."
Hurd expressed what the over 200 veterans in the room appeared to agree with.
"We're disrupting the lives of our veterans with this occupation, not only the lives of Iraqis. If a foreign occupying force came here to the U.S., do you not think that every person that has a shotgun would not come out of the hills and fight for their right for self-determination?"
To rousing applause, Hurd ended his testimony with, "Ladies and gentlemen, that country is suffering from our occupation, and ending that suffering begins with the total and immediate withdrawal of all of our troops."
Video and photographic evidence will also be presented at the event, and the testimony and panels can be viewed live on Satellite TV and over streaming video on ivaw.org.