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.
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 review, by Steven Lendman, was posted to Global Research, July 7, 2009.
Marjorie Cohn is a Distinguished Law Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego where she's taught since 1991 and is the current President of the National Lawyers Guild. She's also been a criminal defense attorney at the trial and appellate levels, is an author, and writes many articles for professional journals, other publications, and numerous popular web sites.
Her record of achievements, distinctions, and awards are many and varied - for her teaching, writing, and her work as a lawyer and activist for peace, social and economic justice, and respect for the rule of law. Cohn's previous books include "Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice" and "Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law."
Her newest book just out, co-authored with Kathleen Gilberd (a recognized expert on military administrative law), is titled "Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent." It explores why US military personnel disobey orders and refuse to participate in two illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also explains that US and international law obligate them to do so.
Cohn and Gilberd write:
"Rules of engagement limit forms of combat, levels of force, and legitimate enemy targets, defining what is legal in warfare and what is not. (They're also) defined by an established body of international (and US) law" that leave no ambiguity.
Nonetheless, in past and current US wars, virtually no "Rules" whatever are followed. Soldiers are trained to fire at "anything that moves," place no value on enemy lives, and often treat civilians no differently from combatants. It results in massive civilian casualties, dismissively called "collateral damage." It also gets growing numbers in the ranks to resist - to challenge so-called "Rules" they believe are illegal and immoral.
"Rules of Disengagement" "discuss(es) the laws and regulations governing military dissent and resistance - the legal rules of disengagement (and offers) practical guidelines (that include) political protest to requesting discharge from the service."
Today, growing Iraq and Afghanistan casualty counts are enormous as well as the disturbing toll on the GIs involved - including long and repeated deployments, often leaving permanent debilitating effects, physical and/or psychological.
US soldiers have a right and duty to dissent and resist, and today it's easier than ever through all the modern ways of communicating, including blogging, sharing stories, photos, videos, and "developing new ways to speak out to fellow soldiers and civilians online and in the media."
"Rules of Disengagement" goes into courtrooms where military personnel "have spoken out, arguing that (today's) wars are illegal (and immoral) under international (and US) law." It's a "practical guide" providing "specific discussion(s) of applicable regulations and laws" for readers "to form their own conclusions and consider their own options." Above all, it's a way for honorable young men and women to dissent, resist, and disengage from two illegal, immoral wars, in hopes many others will follow their example. Resisting Illegal Wars
Every US war since WW II has been illegal. Article 51 of the UN Charter only permits the "right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member....until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain international peace and security."
In addition, Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 (the war powers clause) authorizes only both houses of Congress, not the president, to declare war. Nonetheless, that process was followed only five times in our history and last used on December 8, 1941 after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
Yet many judges won't apply "the law to the wars, and then to service members' refusal to take part" in them. They say it's "not their role, not a matter under their jurisdiction, or not 'relevant.' " In case studies the authors use, court-martial judges, juries, and the public increasingly accept these arguments but also recognize that "men and women of conscience have put their futures on the line for their opinions and actions against illegal wars (and) orders."
It hasn't shown up in court-martial decisions except in more lenient sentences, indicating growing respect for those brave enough to resist on matters of conscience and their opinions regarding the law. Pablo Paredes for one.
The Navy petty officer third class and weapons-control technician refused duty on the USS Bonhomme Richard as it deployed to the Persian Gulf on December 6, 2004 to take part in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was charged with unauthorized absence and willfully missing his ship's deployment. On May 10, 2005, Paredes avoided jail and a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge when the court-martial judge dismissed the former charge, convicted him on the latter one, sentenced him to two months restriction, three months of hard labor without confinement, and reduction in rank from E-4 to E-1.
Lt. Cdr. Robert Klant denied expert testimony on the war's illegality, but let Cohn testify as an expert witness, at the sentencing hearing. At its conclusion, Klant astonished attending spectators by saying:
"I believe the government has successfully demonstrated a reasonable belief for every service member to decide that the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal to fight in." Paredes benefitted from that view. Others have as well, but not often or easily. Modern Conscientious Objectors (COs)
They're persons who refuse to perform military service, and request noncombatant status or discharge on grounds of religious, moral, ethical, or philosophical beliefs with regard to wars and killing. Objecting on the basis of conscience is 'a long and honorable" tradition going back to the beginning of the republic. It was used frequently during the Vietnam war.
Objectors help others by expanding the right to resist and dissent. Under DOD regulations, "the military must grant CO status to any service member who (consciously opposes all) war(s) in any form, whose opposition is founded on religious training and beliefs, and whose position is sincere and deeply held." This position "must have developed or become central to the CO's beliefs after entry into the military," and applicants must provide "clear and convincing evidence that he or she is a CO."
US Army Reserve Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia was the first Iraq War veteran to refuse further involvement on matters of conscience after serving in it earlier from April - October 2003. Following leave, he failed to rejoin his National Guard unit and filed for discharge as a CO on grounds that the invasion and occupation were illegal and immoral. The Army then charged him with desertion to send a strong message to others who resist.
His May 2004 court-martial was a kangaroo-court show trial, widely broadcast to all military personnel worldwide on internal Pentagon television, radio and newspaper outlets. At trial, the military judge disallowed prepared defense testimony under Army Field Manual 27-10, the Constitution, and established international law.
Mejia was found guilty of desertion with intent to avoid hazardous duty. He was sentenced to a year in prison, reduction in rank to E-1, one year's forfeiture of pay, and a bad conduct discharge after which Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience, its highest honor.
After the verdict, international law expert Francis Boyle was allowed to testify during the sentencing phase - but under strict limitations imposed by the judge. He cited relevant domestic, international, and military law, reviewed crimes of war and against humanity under them, and explained the culpability of commanders and government officials to the highest levels for abusing and torturing prisoners.
Mejia served nine months in prison and in August 2007 was elected chairman of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Hundreds of others have filed for CO status while many more go AWOL or refuse deployment to combat zones. The military never makes it easy, yet the illegitimacy of two illegal wars and the immense hardships on young GIs and their families makes growing numbers resist and dissent. Still many others aren't aware that they qualify for CO status.
Current CO stereotypes stem from the Vietnam era when they were viewed as subversives and cowards. Other myths are that wars must be ongoing for those in the military to apply, the process is lengthy, discharges, if granted, won't be honorable, and federal benefits will be lost as well as eligibility for government jobs. "Needless to say, these myths are not true," but exist to discourage applicants and impede the process.
Various civilian organizations provide good information on CO rights, regulations on them, and procedures on how to apply. Also, the "CO process is one of the most legally protected of discharge proceedings - COs have greater rights than those who seek discharge for family hardship or similar reasons." Yet command hostility exists and rights are often denied. "Success rates vary among the services." Some COs are discharged for other reasons. Many applications are rejected. Some go AWOL as a result, and others do or don't succeed through court intervention. Imperial America doesn't make it easy, so applicants have to persist all the harder. Winter Soldier
Iraq and Afghan veterans willing to come forward provide the most compelling evidence of "war crimes beyond imagination." Yet those familiar with Vietnam, WW II, and other US wars have heard it before. John Dower's powerful WW II book, "War Without Mercy," documented how both sides in the Pacific war depersonalized the opposition, abandoned the rules of war, and fought with equal savagery.
Later examples include:
Winter Soldier 1971 - the Vietnam My Lai massacre killing around 500 civilians was a mere skirmish compared to death squad campaigns like Operation Phoenix that contributed to an estimated 80,000 deaths from around 1968 - 1971. Numerous other stories documented mass murder, torture, rape and other atrocities - the same kinds committed earlier and today;
Winter Soldier 2008 - "traumatized" veterans today tell similar horrors stories to ones from past wars, including Vietnam, Korea, and WW II; Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) offer testimonies as ammunition for their three unifying principles:
immediately ending the Iraq and Afghan wars and occupations and withdrawing all troops;
paying reparations to Iraqis; and
providing proper medical care for all US war veterans.
Short of these, all imaginable atrocities will continue, including mass killings, torture, rape, destruction, and much more. Wars are ugly business, and laws or no laws, the worst of abuses happen routinely by a military command teaching rank and file soldiers to commit them with impunity. And they're besides the harm done to GIs, many of whom are never the same from the experience - if they survive. Vietnam destroyed an entire generation of American youths, and today's wars are doing it again.
The rules of engagement are stipulated in various laws of war - the Constitution, Hague and Geneva Conventions; UN Charter; Nuremberg Charter, Judgment and Principles; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Supreme and lower Court decisions; US Army Field Manual 27-10; and the Law of Land Warfare (1956). They state that nations must abide by the laws of war. No exceptions are ever allowed, and failure comply constitutes a crime of war and/or against humanity.
At the Nuremberg Tribunal, chief US prosecutor Robert Jackson cited wars of aggression as the "supreme international crime against peace differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." Yet this standard indicts America on all its wars since WW II.
And young GIs are affected. Winter Soldiers 2008 say "they were subject to amorphous and contradictory rules of engagement - often free-fire zones where they could shoot at anything that moved (including noncombatants). These rules, or lack thereof, led to the commission of atrocities and war crimes," not occasionally but often.
Aside from the 2001 Afghanistan bombings and March 2003 "shock and awe" attack, the worst of them took place in April and November 2004. In retaliation for the killing and mutilation of four Blackwater mercenaries, the first and second Fallujah Battles waged some of the fiercest urban combat since the 1968 Battle of Hue in Vietnam. Several thousand or more were killed, mostly civilians. Major war crimes were committed. Illegal weapons were used. Vast destruction was inflicted. The city was held under siege. Free-fire zone rules applied. A "shoot-to-kill" curfew was imposed, and according to Adam Kokesh: "we changed our rules of engagement more often than we changed our underwear."
Winter Soldiers 2008 speak out publicly over what they saw and did in their tours, including in testimonies to Congress. "So far (none of them) have been prosecuted for their testimony, though some active duty witnesses were harassed by superiors." Dissent and Disengagement
Resistance includes refusing illegal orders, objecting on the basis of conscience, requesting a discharge, demonstrating, picketing, dissenting as the Constitution allows, attending rallies, petitioning Congress, going underground, taking refuge abroad, speaking out publicly, and through the media. It's acting according to one's principles and morality and not backing down when the going gets tough.
Lt. Ehren Watada's case is instructive. In June 2006, he refused to deploy to Iraq and publicly said why - that "as an officer of honor and integrity, (he could not participate in a war that was) manifestly illegal....morally wrong (and) a horrible breach of American law." He became the first US military officer to face court-martial for his action and was charged with:
one specification under UCMJ article 87 - missing movement;
two specifications under article 99 - contempt toward officials (for making public comments about George Bush); and
three specifications under article 133 for conduct unbecoming an officer.
If convicted on all charges, he faced possible dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and seven years in prison. A military equivalent of a grand jury convened on August 17, 2006 to review the charges and rule on their justification. Watada called three expert witnesses in his defense:
former UN Iraq Humanitarian Coordinator (1997 - 1998) Denis Halliday who resigned under protest because he was "instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide (and already) killed well over one million individuals, children and adults;"
US Army Colonel Ann Wright who resigned her commission as a State Department foreign service officer in March 2003 to protest a "war of aggression (in) violat(ion) of international law;" and
Professor Francis Boyle, international law and human rights expert, activist, and author of numerous books, papers, and articles on these topics.
On August 22, the Army reported on the proceeding and recommended all charges be referred to a general court-martial. It began in February 2007 under very constricted rules - denying a First Amendment defense, disallowing one's questioning the legality of the war, and refusing to allow expert testimony, including from Cohn.
However, legal issues couldn't be excluded as they directly related to charges brought, so the prosecution introduced them at trial. In addition, Watada firmly stated before testifying that he refused to deploy because of the war's illegality.
Unable to stop him from saying this, judge John Head declared a mistrial. He'd lost control of the proceeding, knew Watada was on solid ground, and had to prevent his evidence from being introduced to avoid the embarrassing possibility of an acquittal on one or all charges. If it happened, the war's illegality would be exposed and its continuation jeopardized.
Under the Fifth Amendment's "double jeopardy" clause, Watada can't be retried on the same charges. It states no person shall be "subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." Watada's triumph by mistrial was a powerful tribute to his convictions and spirit. It's also an inspiration to civil resisters and all members of the military to follow in his footsteps.
On October 22, 2008, US District Court Judge Benjamin Settle agreed with Watada's double jeopardy claim and dismissed three of the five counts against him. In mid-May, beyond the timeline of Cohn and Gilberd's book, the Department of Justice dropped plans to retry him on two remaining counts, but his legal problems continue as the Army is still weighing further action. Fort Lewis spokesman Joe Piek said the base's leadership is considering "a full range of judicial and administrative options that are available, and those range from court-martial on those two remaining specifications, to nonjudicial punishment, to administrative separation from the Army."
If they can't win one way, they may keep harassing Watada and make him pay by attrition. Millions of war resisting Americans may have other ideas, and organizations like Project Safe Haven, Courage to Resist, Veterans for Peace, and Iraq Veterans Against the War are united with others in demanding an end to Watada's persecution as well as two illegal wars and occupations.
They also support "high-visilbility demonstrations, protests and street theater," along with the right to resist and dissent. The law supports them "to speak out on a broad range of issues" using all means of technology to do it. Military regulations also "can be powerful weapons for service members who choose to dissent."
DOD Directive 1325.6 Guidelines for Handling Dissent and Protest Activities among Members of the Armed Forces describes basic rights for "dissident and protest activities" with guidelines pertaining to:
possession and distribution of printed materials;
off-base locations allowed;
publishing underground newspapers and materials;
off-base demonstrations and protests; and
rules for military personnel participation.
Resisters have the law and regulations on their side if they conform to their provisions therein - "consistent with good order and discipline and the national security." But going up against the Pentagon and Department of Justice is never easy, and even winning exacts a great toll.
But fundamentally, "GIs do in fact have the right to express their opposition to the wars verbally and in writing, share that position with the media, state it on the Internet, distribute it to other GIs in newspapers or leaflets, say it from the microphone at national antiwar rallies, and show it by marching in off-base antiwar demonstrations and picket lines" - as long as they're off-duty, off-base, and out of uniform.
Imperfect as it is and getting worse, it's still America, and growing numbers of GIs, their families and friends are resisting two illegal wars and occupations, demanding they end, and the nation returned peace. Those goals are worth everyone's time to fight for, and it's high time more among us did it.. Challenging Racism
For many decades, young recruits are taught to kill by portraying enemies as subhuman. So the Japanese were called "Japs" and portrayed in cartoons as apes or savage gorillas; North Koreans, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were called "gooks;" and Arabs are called "rag-heads," "camel jockeys" and "sand niggers." As a result, extreme racism is a pervasive problem in the military. But it's a proved effective way to motivate soldiers to fight and kill by viewing Westerners as superior to nonwhite enemies globally.
Many Winter Soldiers (2008) "discussed the pervasiveness of racist behavior," admitted using racial epithets, and "engag(ing) in brutality that dehumanized Iraqis and Afghanis." However Vietnam-era history "shows that organizing and protests by African American, Latino, and other minority GIs (with support from other service members)" offer the best chance of achieving real change. But success depends on ending the Pentagon's proven way to teach young recruits to kill, so getting the top brass to abandon it won't be easy. Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault in the Military
Teaching recruits "sexism and sexual imagery" works the same way as indoctrinating racism. Soldiers are taught to equate "strength and discipline in combat (to) sexual prowess," military violence to the sexual kind, and "disobedience, nonconformity, or weakness as feminine."
Today, sexism is so embedded in military culture that female soldiers pay the price. They're discriminated against in training, assignments, promotion, much else, and are frequent victims of harassment and sexual assault - the former through "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors," and other similar behavior; the latter includes "rape and other forcible or unwanted sexual contact...."
In a male-dominated military, this behavior is embedded, ritualized, and symbolic of male power. The highly-publicized September 1991 Tailhook incident is a prominent example but a rare one that made headlines. It involved a group of Naval aviators sexually assaulting 26 women at one of their annual gatherings. They cornered and surrounded them, passed them down a gauntlet, jeered, taunted, grabbed, fondled, and tried to strip them.
Similar incidents are all too common, and for years top brass knew of and tolerated them. They have documented evidence that half or more of women in all branches have been victims of sexual harassment or assault. It shows a profound contempt many military men (including top brass) have for women in the ranks, at the enlisted and officer levels.
Complaints, studies, hearings and regulations do little to halt these practices. Reports surface often about harassment, assaults, rape and other demeaning behavior in basic training, the service academies, duty assignments of all kinds, and in combat. The military today is no safer for women than it ever was. It never will be unless the Pentagon changes its ideology, how it trains GIs, and if it's willing to impose stiff penalties to offenders. The Medical Side of War
The state of the military's health care system is deplorable. Pressed to fund and fill the ranks for two illegal and unpopular wars, Congress and the Pentagon pay scant attention to the injured, sick, and psychologically damaged. It's further testimony to a nation defiling its principles - ones observed only rhetorically, hardly ever in practice, and not at all once the usefulness of combatants is over.
The Iraq and Afghan wars have produced an epidemic of psychological wounds that for many end up permanent. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is frighteningly common, yet care delivered is minimal, inadequate, and dismissive of a major problem afflicting many tens of thousands of returning vets.
Others from the Vietnam era retained their scars, and it's happening again today. Many couldn't find work then or now, abused their spouses, and too often ended up homeless or committed suicide (before or after coming home). An uncaring nation didn't notice nor does it today. The real crime is that the Pentagon and Congress are well versed on these problems, yet do little to address them. Only unbridled militarism, advancing imperialism, filling the ranks, funding numerous weapons systems and munitions, and enriching war-profiteers matter.
The result for hundreds of thousands returning from past and current wars is untreated medical needs, an uncertain future, and the knowledge that the nation they fought for doesn't care when they're no longer needed. Vietnam vets know it, and so do ones today from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Without a draft, the military needs volunteers to fill the ranks. The result is the stop-loss practice of involuntarily extending enlistment terms and frequent redeployments, even for those with serious physical or psychological injuries.
The Pentagon denied the affects of Agent Orange in Vietnam and the existence of Gulf War Syndrome from the first Iraq war. In 1990 - 91 and now, its likely cause was the widespread use of depleted uranium (DU), the proliferation of other toxic substances, and the illegal use of dangerous vaccines in violation of the Nuremberg Code on medical experimentation. No rules apply in our war fighting, nor does the health and welfare of our recruited men and women matter - enlisted to be used, then discarded when their service ends. It's especially evident in the "medical side of war" when those most in need are largely ignored and forgotten.
How the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) handles disability claims highlights a problem reaching epidemic levels. In early May 2009, the Veterans Benefits Administration and Board of Veterans Appeals at VA had a backlog of 915,000 claims, and their rate is growing so fast it may now be approaching or past one million and climbing.
Things are so bad for returning vets that most face an average six month wait for benefits and up to four years to have their appeals heard when they're denied - which is often. It's in addition to the shameful treatment GIs get for their health needs - many serious and requiring extensive, expensive treatment, often not gotten from an uncaring nation. Discharges
Many GIs become disillusioned when they learn promises made are hollow. Some seek early discharges that can be gotten honorably but not easily most often with the nation at war on two fronts and needing all the troops it can get. Still numerous reasons qualify for an Expiration of Active Obligated Service (EAOS), including CO status, disability and illness.
family hardship or dependency factors;
parenthood for single parents or in cases where husbands and wives are in the military;
pregnancy or childbirth;
inadequate performance or conduct during the first six months of training;
qualification under the "don't ask, don't tell" for gays and lesbians;
specific personality disorders;
other physical or psychological factors that don't qualify for medical discharges;
erroneous enlistments, including contract violations and recruiter fraud;
alien status; especially relevant at a time undocumented Latinos (mainly Mexicans) are recruited with promises (then broken) of a green card for them and their family as well as free education, medical care, and post-service employment;
being a sole surviving family member;
unsatisfactorily performing duties;
"separation from the Delayed Entry Program (DEP)" that entraps "youths still in school or the Delayed Training Program (DTP)" for enlistment in the reserves; and
less than honorable discharges for misconduct, drug abuse, court-martial, and other undesirable factors.
Other administrative discharges are also available, all honorable, including "general" ones under honorable conditions. But recruits get little information during training. Those requesting them are told discharges are impossible, so to get the facts civilian sources must be consulted. It takes time, and following proper procedures is essential. But the payoff is worth the trouble for those willing to do it and counseling is available to help.
A GI Rights Network has a toll-free hotline, and there are other organizations as well. They're in it "for the long haul" to instruct today's military how to exit honorably from two illegal wars and avoid the risk of death or disabling injuries. The Families
America's wars harm families as well as GIs. They must cope with the same problems of long, repeated deployments, possible death or permanent impairment, and the lasting affects of war-related trauma that afflict even those visibly or otherwise unscathed.
Some families go public against the Iraq and Afghan wars, recruiter lies and misconduct that entrap their loved ones, and as civilians they're free to speak publicly with no restrictions on what they may say.
Gold star mothers spoke out against the Vietnam War, and today Cindy Sheehan (whose son Casey was killed in Iraq five days after he arrived) and other parents who lost sons and daughters founded Gold Star Families for Peace. They say honor our lost loved ones by ending these illegal wars and occupations, stop invading other countries, and return the nation to peace.
Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) is the largest organization of its kind against the Iraq war with chapters in 29 states. They support their loved ones, demonstrate, speak out publicly, and lobby Congress the way some of their members did earlier against the Vietnam war. "These courageous families....endure unspeakable suffering....join together to support one another....work to end the war....(and represent) the power of collection action."
They're "a powerful force in the effort to end these wars. They can tell the truth to counter recruiters' deceptions." They can effectively represent their loved ones and help others through a common effort to free us all from the scourge of war. Conclusion
America's Iraq and Afghan wars are illegal and immoral. Every service member is obligated by law to disengage, resist, and refuse any longer to participate. US and international laws support them, and as Ehren Watada stated in his defense: "An order to take part in an illegal war is unlawful in itself. So my obligation is not to follow the order to go to Iraq."
Increasing numbers of others are deployed as part of America's permanent war and occupation agenda - continuing no differently under Obama than George Bush. To know what's planned for Iraq, Afghanistan and future US targets, think Korea. US forces arrived in 1950 and never left. Think Japan as well. They've been there as well since WW II, on the mainland and choicest real estate of the country's southern-most and poorest prefecture - Okinawa.
Further, since the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, America has had no enemies anywhere - except those invented to advance a global imperial agenda at the expense of our nation's youths and their families, other loved ones, and friends at home. Wars guarantee new ones and a permanent cycle of violence, death and destruction, the only winners being profiteers who benefit hugely.
As a result, growing numbers of GIs, veterans, families, and the general public are opting to "disengage" and resist. Together they represent power enough to impact "whether or not the United States is able to carry out these and future wars of aggression."
Most Americans oppose the Iraq war and its continued toll on GIs and their families. It's just a matter of time until opposition to Afghanistan is as great and with luck whatever new conflicts the administration plans. Those sent to fight them and their families end up losers. Their choice is clear and unequivocal - absolutely refuse any longer to participate and with enough sharing that view, they'll end. With overwhelming homeland needs unmet at a time of grave economic crisis, honor and necessity must dictate our future course. It's up to mass public activism to demand it.
These book reviews, by Gerald Nicosia, were published in The San Francisco Chronicle, January 22, 2009
The War Comes Home: Washington's Battle Against America's Veterans, By Aaron Glantz, University of California Press; 254 pages; $24.95
Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations, By Iraq Veterans Against the War and Aaron Glantz, Haymarket Books; 236 pages; $16 paperback
Get ready, America: The Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are starting to make their voices heard. Just as it took decades for us to learn the full extent of the damage wrought by the Vietnam War, we are just now starting to glimpse the hurt and suffering and enduring wounds created by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With "The War Comes Home" and "Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan," independent journalist Aaron Glantz puts himself at the forefront of those who are bringing this new generation of veterans into public view. Not only did Glantz spend several years in Iraq, covering the war and reporting on the lives of Iraqis, but he was deeply affected by the conflict to the point of suffering post-traumatic stress disorder when he returned.
What makes "The War Comes Home" such a powerful plea is that Glantz admits his initial bias against the vets - they were the ones who caused all the misery among the poor Afghans and Iraqis. But his eventual realization that both reporter and soldier are common victims of a government that wages such wars allowed him to identify with the vets and to empathize with their struggles.
Like the Vietnam vets, these vets return to face their own people who wish to put these unproductive wars behind them. One of the most poignant observations comes from Shad Meshad, a Vietnam veteran who spent decades counseling troubled vets. Meshad tells Glantz: "When I go through airports I see soldiers just sitting up against a wall - you may see hundreds of them in a large airport - just by themselves. No one goes up to them, that positive energy toward them is faded ... No one is spitting or shouting, but they're still left with the fact that they're responsible for what they did or didn't do and they're supposed to think about that alone."
Depression, suicide, homelessness, jail, PTSD - the statistics for the veterans are as staggering as they were for Vietnam vets. A 2008 Rand Corporation study claims that "at least 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, while another 320,000 suffer from traumatic brain injury." It also claims that "a majority of the injured are not receiving help from the Pentagon and VA."
The scandal over the horrible conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was the most dramatic manifestation of what is daily reality for most vets seeking treatment: A VA backlog of tens of thousands of claims, interminable waits to see a doctor and general bureaucratic apathy. In one of the more wrenching stories, Glantz relates how the parents of Marine Cpl. Jeffrey Lucey watched helplessly as his mental health deteriorated after his return from Iraq - while the VA refused to treat him for PTSD because of his chronic drunkenness - until one day Lucey's father found him hanging dead from a garden hose tied to a beam in their cellar.
The vets are victims not of some sinister plot, but of a government forced to cut back VA staffing and programs to pay for the very war that is disabling so many of them. Glantz shows that the problem stems ultimately from the way our society uses, then discards, its warriors.
"Nobody really knows how to deprogram a soldier," Glantz quotes former Army instructor Karl Risinger. Even more to the point are the words of a veteran who spent 15 years homeless and in prison: "I needed to learn how to live again." The military, as Glantz points out, teaches well how to kill and how to survive in the most adverse and threatening circumstances, but not at all how to get a job, keep a family together, or live "life on life's terms."
The reader will get a concentrated, almost unbearable dose of soldiers' pain in "Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan," a book that Glantz put together with the help of the organization Iraq Veterans Against the War. The book comprises selections of the testimony given by about 50 veterans at a four-day event staged by IVAW in Silver Spring, Md., in March. IVAW modeled its hearings on the Winter Soldier Investigation held by Vietnam Veterans Against the War in Detroit in 1971, whose goal had been to show that atrocities such as the My Lai massacre had not been freak occurrences perpetrated by a "few bad apples," but the product of official military policy. Similarly, IVAW wanted to show that "high-profile atrocities like the torture of prisoners inside Abu Ghraib and the massacre of twenty-four innocent civilians at Haditha were ... part of a pattern of increasingly bloody occupations."
The vets' words in "Winter Soldier" are at times so shocking that many Americans will not want to believe them. In fact, the public got no chance to assess the truthfulness of the testimony because most of the national media refused to cover the hearings. But all of the vets who testified were checked out ahead of time. Moreover, the terse, understated way that many of the vets related unthinkable horrors testified to the banality of these experiences.
Not all of the stories related in "Winter Soldier" are gruesome, and it may be hard sometimes to tell whether the shelling of a mosque, say, or the tearing apart of an old woman's house in the middle of the night were "atrocities" or simple military necessity. But in a way that is what the "Winter Soldier" hearings set out to show: that in this endless so-called war on terror, the "rules of engagement" eventually loosened to the point where American soldiers were told they could use lethal force against any Iraqi showing "hostile intent."
Like "The War Comes Home," "Winter Soldier" makes us feel the pain and despair endured by those who serve in a military stretched to the breaking point by stop-loss policies, multiple combat tours, and a war where the goals and the enemies keep shifting. But these books also make us admire the unbreakable idealism and hope of those men and women who still believe that by speaking out they can make things better both for themselves and for those who come after them.
"We were all good people," said Army scout Steven Casey. "We were just in a bad situation and we did what we had to do to get through."
This article by Dahr Jamail, was distributed by IPS (Latin America), June 3, 2008
Dozens of veterans from the U.S. occupation of Iraq converged in this west coast city over the weekend to share stories of atrocities being committed daily in Iraq, in a continuation of the 'Winter Soldier' hearings held in Silver Spring, Maryland in March.
At the Seattle Town Hall, some 800 people gathered to hear the testimonies of veterans from Iraq. The event was sponsored by the Northwest Regional Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), and endorsed by dozens of local and regional anti-war groups like Veterans for Peace and Students for a Democratic Society.
'I watched Iraqi Police bring in someone to interrogate,' Seth Manzel, a vehicle commander and machine gunner in the U.S. Army, told the audience. 'There were four men on the prisoner...one was pummeling his kidneys with his fists, another was inserting a bottle up his rectum. It looked like a frat house gang-rape.'
Manzel joined the army after 9/11 for economic reasons -- he'd just been laid off, and his wife had just had a baby. Manzel told another story of military medics he was with in Tal Afar who refused to treat an elderly man in their detention centre. Manzel described the old man as being jaundiced and lying on the ground, writhing in pain.
'The medics said the old man was just being lazy and they were not authorised to treat detainees,' Manzel said.
Jan Critchfield worked as an army journalist while attached to the 1st Cavalry in Baghdad during 2004. 'I was with a unit that shot at a man and wife near a checkpoint,' Critchfield said, 'She had been shot through her shinbone, and that was the first story I covered in Iraq.'
Critchfield told the audience that his unspoken job in Iraq was to 'counter the liberal media bias' about the occupation.
'Our target audience was in the U.S., and the emphasis was reporting on humanitarian aid missions the military conducted,' Critchfield said. 'I don't know how many stories I reported on chicken drops (distributing frozen chickens in a community). I don't know what else you can call that, other than propaganda. I would find the highest ranking person I could get, and quote them verbatim without fact checking anything they said.'
Other veterans told of lax rules of engagement that led to the slaughter of innocent civilians in Iraq.
'We were told we'd be deploying to Iraq and that we needed to get ready to have little kids and women shoot at us,' Sergio Kochergin, a former Marine who served two deployments in Iraq, told the audience. 'It was an attempt to portray Iraqis as animals. We were supposed to do humanitarian work, but all we did was harass people, drive like crazy on the streets, pretending it was our city and we could do whatever we wanted to do.'
As the other veterans on the panel nodded in agreement, Kochergin continued, 'We were constantly told everybody there wants to kill you, everybody wants to get you. In the military, we had racism within every rank and it was ridiculous. It seemed like a joke, but that joke turned into destroying peoples' lives in Iraq.'
'I was in Husaiba with a sniper platoon right on the Syrian border and we would basically go out on the town and search for people to shoot,' Kochergin said. 'The rules of engagement (ROE) got more lenient the longer we were there. So if anyone had a bag and a shovel, we were to shoot them. We were allowed to take our shots at anything that looked suspicious. And at that point in time, everything looked suspicious.'
Kochergin added, 'Later on, we had no ROE at all. If you see something that doesn't seem right, take them out.' He concluded by saying, 'Enough is enough, it's time to get out of there.'
Doug Connor was a first lieutenant in the army and worked as a surgical nurse in Iraq. While there he worked as part of a combat support unit, and said most of the patients he treated were Iraqi civilians.
'There were so many people that needed treatment we couldn't take all of them,' he said. 'When a bombing happened and 45 patients were brought to us, it was always Americans treated first, then Kurds, then the Arabs.'
Connor added quietly, 'It got to the point where we started calling the Iraqi patients 'range balls' because, just like on the driving range (in golf), you don't care about losing them.'
Channan Suarez Diaz was a navy hospital corpsman who returned from Iraq with a purple heart, among other medals. He served in Ramadi from September 2004 to February 2005 with a weapons company. He is now the Seattle Chapter president of IVAW.
'Our commanding officer wanted us to go through a route that another platoon did and was completely wiped out in an ambush,' Diaz explained. 'We refused. They canceled that mission and we didn't go. I don't think these are isolated incidents. I think this is happening every day in Iraq. The military doesn't want you to know about this, because it's kind of like lighting a fire in a prairie.'
The first Winter Soldier event was organised in 1971 by Vietnam Veterans Against the War in response to a growing list of human rights violations occurring in Vietnam.
From Mar. 13-16, 2008, IVAW held a national conference titled 'Winter Solider: Iraq and Afghanistan' outside Washington, DC. The four-day event brought together veterans from across the country to testify about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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.
This article, by Cynthia and Michael Orange, was published in AlterNet, April 18, 2008
Soldiers of the 'War on Terror' Speak Out
If all of America were to hear these voices, the occupation of Iraq would already be over.
We're not bad people; not monsters. We're normal people caught in a horrible situation."
-Statement from Clifton Hicks, a tank gunner with the Army's 1st Cavalry Regiment and testifier at "Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan"
Over four days, we witnessed thirty hours of vetted statements from seventy two veterans, active duty soldiers, experts, and Iraqis who had the great courage to go public with their first-hand experiences as part of "Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations." A common thread emerged of soldiers who struggled with a questionable mission as occupiers of a country in the midst of a civil war, and Iraqi families being torn apart and terrified, terrified by-not grateful for-the presence of American soldiers and private mercenaries. The soldiers and veterans transfixed us with their words and graphic images that exposed the dark underbelly of the Iraq Occupation that the mainstream media have chosen to ignore, just as they ignored these groundbreaking hearings.
The national veterans organization, Iraq Vets Against the War (IVAW), held these hearings near Washington D.C. from March 13 to 16. They patterned them after the 1971 Winter Soldier hearings held in Detroit by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which are now thought to be one of the turning points of that conflict. The title for the hearings comes from Thomas Paine who wrote in 1776, "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of [their] country; but he that stands [by] it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." Unlike the "summer soldiers" who often deserted their duties in Paine's time, "winter soldiers" carry on courageously through the darkness.
We tried to comprehend the enormous scale of the so-called "collateral damage" in Iraq as speakers cited surveys that estimated about a million Iraqi civilians have died since the U.S. invasion, and that over four million Iraqis were forced from their homes. The speakers told of Iraqis, being without power and water, begging for food and fuel, and only wanting foreign troops and the 180,000 private contractors and mercenaries to leave so they can begin to rebuild their devastated country.
The presenters at Winter Soldier went deeper than telling stories that once again confirm what we all should know: war is hell. They addressed the anguished question that naturally arises: How do you explain actions that would be criminal even in a war zone?
The soldiers and veterans explained how trickle-down abuse starts at the top ranks of the military hierarchy with institutionalized racism, sexual harassment, and assault on the lower ranks. They talked about their complete lack of training in Iraqi culture and language and their conditioning before leaving U.S. soil to think of Iraqis as "less than," as "Hajis;" a term once reserved for pilgrims to Mecca, now turned inside out to demean and dehumanize. "Haji" has become to the Iraq occupation what "Gook" became to the Vietnam and Korean wars. When people are dehumanized, it becomes easier to kill them.
We could not listen to the four days of accounts and imagine our country invaded Iraq to export the American dream of freedom and democracy. Even the ultraconservative former Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, declared that "the prime motive for the war in Iraq was oil." It didn't take long for the soldiers and vets who spoke to come to the same conclusion once they experienced the reality on the ground.
As in all wars, if you haven't experienced it, it's hard to grasp the white-hot frustration, anger, and vengeful wrath that results when our soldiers have no reliable way to discern friend from foe and are under extreme duress at virtually all times in a near-country-wide combat zone. As the disillusionment over the injustice and the impossibility of the mission grows, so does the abuse of civilians. When soldiers, deployed two, three, four, and even five times, experience more and more casualties in their units-people with whom they share a bond that can be even stronger than family-their rage understandably erupts and they need to blame someone for their grief. Similar circumstances produced similar results in the jungles of Vietnam.
Kristofer Goldsmith was a good soldier, graduating at the top of his basic training class and receiving a 94.6 percent average in his Warrior Leadership Course. But after four deployments in Iraq and almost shooting a six-year-old boy, he said he became a "broken soldier." He was due to get out of the service when he, like some 80,000 other soldiers, was "stop-lossed" and ordered to redeploy to Iraq for a fifth time. Plagued by mental anguish the day before he was to leave, he tried to kill himself with alcohol and prescription pills. Although finally released, his discharge papers state, "Misconduct: Serious Offense" because of his suicide attempt. He showed the audience a picture of himself in uniform as the proud soldier, then slammed it down on the table saying "This boy is dead."
So many soldiers and veterans spoke of their noble motives for joining the military-especially after 9/11-but then having to face the ignoble inhumanity of this occupation that so compromised their values. Then they returned to a country that anointed them as the heroes they so wished to be. Is it any wonder they are conflicted and disillusioned with the contradictions? Is it any wonder that government statistics report that one in three returning soldiers has mental problems and that CBS News recently described the suicide rate among today's soldiers and vets as "epidemic?" As we continue to see with Vietnam vets, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a normal human response to the inhumanity of war.
We listened to Jason Hurd, a medic with ten years of Army service including tours of duty in Iraq: "But as time went on and the absurdity of war set in, they started taking things too far. Individuals from my unit indiscriminately and unnecessarily opened fire on innocent civilians as they were driving down the road on their own streets." He asked us all to see the war through the eyes of an Iraqi and consider how we might respond if a foreign army invaded our communities and terrorized our families.
The soldiers and vets described the shear mechanics of killing so many people. In story after story, we heard how Rules of Engagement slowly eroded to the point where it was too often left up to these young, very frightened, soldiers to determine for themselves if they "felt" threatened. Jason Lemieux, who served almost five years with the Marines, including the invasion and three tours in Iraq, described the rules he received: "[M]y commander told me that our mission was-and I quote-'to kill those who need to be killed and save those who need to be saved.' And with those words, he pretty much set the tone for the deployment." Too often, the Rules were reduced to "Shoot anything that moves."
Two Marines talked about trashing the country during the invasion. One of them, Brian Casler, served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. As part of the invasion force, he said he and others in their unit defecated and urinated into the containers of food and water they threw at the welcoming children they encountered. To relieve the boredom during his first deployment, they demolished Babylonian ruins and "drove over the rubble for fun." After describing how they ransacked a public building, he said, "We found out later that we had shredded all of the birth certificates for the City of Fallujah."
Several speakers talked about the disrespect of the Iraqi dead. Michael Leduc, for example, told us about "Rotten Randy" and "Tony the Torso," the nicknames his Marine unit gave to the corpses they used for rifle practice.
Soldiers and vets also explained the practice of "reconnaissance by fire," where they'd shoot first into a house or a neighborhood in order to draw return fire. Then, instead of moving on the source of the return fire and incurring more risk to the unit, they'd respond with overwhelming firepower that devastated the entire building or area. Hart Vigas, a mortarman who served with the Army's 82nd Airborne for the invasion of Iraq, painted a word picture of the indiscriminate, "ground-shaking" destruction from C-130 Specter gunships. The students have learned from their teachers. A forward observer and drill instructor with the Army's 101st Airborne Division, Jessie Hamilton stated that the Iraqi forces "showed little or no restraint" when they responded to the slightest attack with such indiscriminate firing that the U.S. troops gave nicknames to their methods: 'spray and pray' and 'death blossom.' "Once the shooting started," he said, "death would blossom all around."
Clifton Hicks described an operation that resulted in an official estimate of 700 to 800 enemy dead. "Judging from what I saw on the ground," he said, "I'm willing to swear under oath in all honesty that while many enemy combatants were in fact killed, the majority of those so-called KIAs were in fact civilians attempting to flee the battlefield.
The gripping presentation and images from Jon Michael Turner, who served in Iraq with the 8th Marines, were, like so many personal stories we've heard, still bleeding with its raw truthfulness. "A lot of the raids and patrols we did were at night around three in the morning . . . . And what we would do is just kick in the doors and terrorize the families." After he described segregating the women, the children, and the men, he said, "If the men of the household were giving us problems, we'd go ahead and take care of them anyway we felt necessary, whether it be choking them or slamming their head against the walls. . . . On my wrist, there's Arabic for 'F you.' I got that put on my wrist just two weeks before we went to Iraq, because that was my choking hand, and any time I felt the need to take out aggression, I would go ahead and use it."
He was one of the first to speak of these things but far from the last. Like so many other speakers, he said this kind of situation was the norm for him and for others, not the exception. With a forced smile that constrained his quivering lips, he closed with an apology to the Iraqi people: "I just want to say that I am sorry for the hate and destruction that I have inflicted on innocent people. . . . until people hear about what is going on with this war, it will continue to happen and people will continue to die. I am sorry for the things that I did. I am no longer the monster that I once was."
Describing the heartache that results from not being able to identify your enemy, Jason Washburn, a Marine who served four years and completed three tours of duty in Iraq, said this: "If the town or the city that we were approaching was a known threat, if the unit that went through the area before we did took a high number of casualties, we were basically allowed to shoot whatever we wanted. . . . I remember one woman was walking by, carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading towards us. So we lit her up with the Mark 19, which is an automatic grenade launcher. And when the dust settled, we realized that the bag was only full of groceries. And, I mean, she had been trying to bring us food, and we blew her to pieces for it."
Soldiers and vets told how superior officers instructed them on the official ways to torment and beat detainees. Andrew Duffy, a medic who served on the trauma team at the Abu Ghraib military prison, put it this way, "You can't spell abuse without 'Abu.'" They were told to use the term "detainee" because, unlike "prisoner of war," there are no laws protecting detainees. While he rocked back and forth in his seat nervously, Mathew Childess, a Marine infantryman who served two tours in Iraq, referred to beating detainees and "breaking fingers." When a particular detainee begged for food and water, he took the man's hat, wiped himself with it, and stuffed it into the man's mouth.
Like Turner, numerous soldiers and veterans stared into the cameras that were recording the hearing for broadcast and pled for forgiveness from the Iraqi people now that they were distanced from the madness in Iraq in an apparent attempt to regain some of what had been lost. For many, their hands trembled as they talked and, along with us witnesses, were moved to tears. At other times, so many only revealed that thousand-yard stare we've seen too many times on the faces of Vietnam vets who carry the scars of that war.
We sat engulfed in the horror, sorrow, and grief of the soldiers' experiences and wondered how we could transform this to help our children and grandchildren reach an understanding so that they can make wise decisions when they have the opportunity to serve their community and country at the local homeless shelter, the voting booth, the peace march, or the armed forces.
Some vets like Jeff Lucey couldn't speak, so his parents spoke in his stead. His father said his grown Marine son came home so haunted by what he had done and witnessed that he drank heavily to anesthetize his pain-a coping strategy mentioned by many of the vets who spoke. His parents said Veterans Affairs (VA) told them they couldn't assess him for PTSD until he was alcohol free. Although he wouldn't talk about the trauma he experienced, Jeff would ask his father to hold him on his lap and rock him so he could feel safe. Jeff's father said the last time he was able to hold his son was when he cut his body down from the rafters at their home where Jeff had hung himself with a hose.
Those who sell the invasion and occupation as a "just war" will deny that these first-hand accounts are part of the whole truth or they will simply dismiss the speakers as liars and traitors, which is already happening. They will continue to entice new advocates and a never-ending stream of recruits, all made possible by a gutless Congress, a compliant media, an apathetic public, and a bottomless military budget, including $4 billion annually for recruiting.
Repeatedly, the speakers stated that they welcomed the opportunity to testify as to the accuracy of their statements in a legal proceeding. Luis Montalvan, a captain with 17 years of service in the Army, stated, "I would like nothing better than to testify under oath to Congress." He then quoted President Theodore Roosevelt: "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
This article, by Robert Koehler, was distributed by Tribune Media Services, March 19, 2008
Where War Meets Peace
“I trained my weapon on him,” Kristopher Goldsmith said. It was a little boy, 6 years old maybe, standing on a roof, menacing the soldiers with a stick. “I was thinking, I hate these Iraqis who throw rocks. I could kill this kid.”
OK, America, let’s look through the sights of Goldsmith’s rifle for a long, long half-minute or so, draw a bead on the boy’s heart, fondle the trigger — what to do? The soldier’s decision is our decision.
This is occupied Iraq: the uncensored version, presented to us with relentless, at times unbearable honesty over four intense days last week in a historic gathering outside Washington, D.C., of returning vets, many of them broken and bitter about what they were forced to do, and what’s been done to them, in sometimes two, three, four tours of duty in the biggest mistake in American history.
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Thomas Paine wrote in 1776. “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.”
The vets who told their stories last week, in an event at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Md., sponsored by Iraq Vets Against the War, are the “winter soldiers” of the war on terror, standing in service to their country by bearing the truth to it, just as Vietnam vets held the first Winter Soldier gathering 37 years ago in Detroit, in the wake of the My Lai massacre revelations, to let the American public know that that massacre wasn’t an aberration but, rather, the logical result of our brutal, official policy there.
Once again, the crisis we are in is the result of an official policy that has dehumanized an entire country, an entire people. Once again, we are waging a war that can only be “won” when the American people themselves demand an end to it. The men and women who spoke last week brought not just the truth but an imperative as urgent as a live grenade:
Unconditional withdrawal of all troops and contractors from Iraq NOW; full benefits for all returning vets; reparations for the Iraqi people, so they can rebuild their country on their own terms.
I was able to attend two days of the Winter Soldier gathering. What I witnessed was a convergence of forces of historical significance, as angry, idealistic warriors, horrified by what they saw and were ordered to do during their time in the military, ashamed of what they sometimes did willingly within the context of racist arrogance that is the occupation of Iraq, reclaimed their humanity by declaring themselves peace warriors. I found myself at the heart of the American conscience: the place where war meets peace.
To experience the full impact of this event, you can listen to the testimony, among other places, at ivaw.org. In this column, I have space for the briefest of summaries, as GIs up to the rank of captain talked about the realities of the occupation of Iraq.
House raids: Over and over again, the speakers gave variations of these words of Jeffrey Smith: “We had everyone in house, including children, zip-tied on the front lawn (when we) realized we were in the wrong house. So we went to another house.” Or these of Matthew Childers: “It seemed like we raided countless residences — 3 a.m., our semiautomatics out, screaming at them in a language they didn’t understand. We rarely found anything.”
Detainees: Common themes were the beatings, the sleep deprivation. Childers again: “They were beaten, humiliated, teased with food and water. These guys were in our custody for a week and I didn’t see them eat the whole time. A Marine wiped his ass with an Iraqi’s hat and tried to feed it to a blindfolded Iraqi — who was desperate for food and tried to eat it.”
Racism and general disrespect: The Iraqis were “hadjis” — the equivalent, of course, of gooks or untermenschen. Speaker after speaker talked about receiving no cultural training in boot camp, but plenty of bayonet training. Matt Howard: “We treated Iraq like our own personal cesspool.” Bryan Casler: “I saw the destruction of the Babylon ruins — people breaking off chunks to bring home; joyriding up walls. There was a complete lack of understanding.”
With all this in mind — with an awareness that as many as a million Iraqis have died since the invasion, that 4 or 5 million have been displaced — let us peer once again at the little boy in the sights of Goldsmith’s rifle.
“I was so close to killing a 6-year-old boy,” he said. “I was put in that position by the occupation of Iraq.” He could have taken the kid out, without consequence, but mastered the impulse, mastered his own drilled-in contempt for Iraqi life, and lowered his rifle.
He completed his tour, saw the horror, felt the death of his own youth, came home a severe alcoholic who got no help from the Army. Shortly before he was due to be discharged, his platoon was locked into an 18-month redeployment (part of the president’s troop surge); instead of going back, he tried to kill himself with pills and vodka. He failed at that, was hospitalized and ultimately received a general discharge from the Army with a “misconduct, serious offense” notation. He lost his college benefits. His life is shattered. He delivers pizza on Wednesdays to get by.
As he finished his testimony, Goldsmith named his commanding officers and announced, “I have a message for you.” He sprang to his feet, held his fingers in a V and cried: “Peace!”
I was waiting for this article to be published, as I had spoken to the author at Winter Soldier and was surprised to see nothing published.
Original article, War Torn Vets Speak Out, by Claudia Feldman was published in the Houston Chronicle, April 18, 2008
Hart Viges walks the streets of Austin in a tunic and carries a sign that reads, "Jesus Against War." It's one of many ways, he says, that he must atone for his actions as an American soldier in Iraq.
Army Sgt. Ronn Cantu says lingering memories of killing a civilian in Iraq led him to start a chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War at his home — Fort Hood.
And in Houston, Chris Hauff, an Iraq War vet who returned from combat two years ago, wrestles with the feeling that his best friend died in a misguided war.
"The idea that American soldiers are there to spread democracy and liberate the people is all smoke and mirrors," Hauff says.
After five years and more than 4,000 American deaths, hundreds of anti-war Iraq veterans and even some active-duty soldiers are speaking out in protest. Though they make up a relatively small percentage of all the soldiers who have served, certainly they speak from experience. They've had their boots on the ground.
Nationally, more than 1,000 have joined Iraq Veterans Against the War, which is calling for an immediate troop pullout. At a recent IVAW conference in suburban Washington, D.C., 60 vets addressed about 400 peers. Collectively, they described American soldiers unraveling under pressure — devolving from fighting for freedom and defending innocents to saving their own lives, protecting their friends and getting revenge.
Viges, tall and reed-slim, spoke as if his entry to heaven were on the line.
"I joined the Army right after September 11th," he began. He ended with, "I don't know how many innocents I've helped kill. ...
"I have blood on my hands."
His story, common among the speakers, began with good intentions and patriotic zeal. Then he realized he couldn't tell friend from enemy, and as he dodged mortar fire and roadside bombs, he feared each new day was going to be his last.
In that atmosphere, Viges and other soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division aimed countless mortar rounds at the town of As Samawah, southeast of Baghdad. They were trying to root out insurgents, but to this day, Viges doesn't know whom or what they hit.
"This wasn't army to army," Viges said. "People live in towns."
The panelists' speeches were vetted ahead of time by two groups of veterans who scoured news accounts, researched documents, videos and photographs where available, and interviewed others who were present at the time.
The testimonials were sobering. They included heart-stopping details. But the vets kept talking. Clearly, it was information they felt compelled to share.
Jason Washburn's testimony is preserved on the Internet. A Marine veteran from Philadelphia, he explained how the rules of engagement kept changing until it seemed there were no rules at all.
"If the town or the city that we were approaching was a known threat, if the unit that went through the area before we did took a high number of casualties, we were allowed to shoot whatever we wanted.
"I remember one woman was walking by, and she was carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading toward us. So we lit her up with the Mark 19, which is an automatic grenade launcher. And when the dust settled, we realized that the bag was only full of groceries. And, I mean, she had been trying to bring us food, and we blew her to pieces for it."
Jon Michael Turner, a Marine veteran from Vermont, described 3 a.m. house raids in which "problem" Iraqi men were subjected to his "choking hand."
It was tattooed in Arabic with an all-too-American epithet.
Turner recalled the first time he shot an Iraqi civilian. He offered no context or explanation except, "We were all congratulated after we had our first kills."
Turner also recalled the blind rage that led him and fellow Marines to start fights, spray bullets indiscriminately and fire on mosques. Eighteen men in his unit were killed by the enemy, he said. After that much bloodshed, the surviving soldiers were damaged mentally, if not physically.
"I just want to say that I'm sorry for the hate and destruction that I've inflicted on innocent people," said Turner, who began his speech by ripping off his service medals. "Until people hear about what is happening in this war, it will continue."
Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, read from a one-paragraph response to the conference:
"(We) always regret the loss of any innocent life in Iraq or anywhere else. The U.S. military takes enormous precautions to prevent civilian deaths and injuries. By contrast the enemy in Iraq takes no such precautions and deliberately targets innocent civilians. When isolated allegations of misconduct have been reported, commanders have conducted comprehensive investigations to determine the facts and held individuals accountable when appropriate."
The vast majority of American soldiers, Ballesteros added, serve honorably in combat.
The veterans who came to Maryland last month called their conference Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a sequel to a tense 1971 gathering in a Howard Johnson motel in Detroit, where more than 100 Vietnam vets braved frigid winter conditions to speak out against their war.
(Organizers of the original chose the title Winter Soldier Investigation to evoke Thomas Paine, who wrote in 1776, "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.")
Navy Lt. John Kerry, the future U.S. senator and presidential candidate, attended that meeting and, a few months later, lambasted the war before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Proud American soldiers were reduced to acts of senseless destruction, Kerry told the senators, "not isolated incidents but crimes ... ."
Many Americans — still recovering from the news of the My Lai massacre — believed Kerry. But lingering resentment from his testimony may have cost him the 2004 presidential election.
During his campaign against President Bush, Vietnam vets still furious with Kerry for somehow staining their service records and their honor struck back. They claimed he wasn't a war hero, that he hadn't earned his multiple medals, that in fact, he'd awarded his medals to himself.
The topic is still red-hot, even today. Pennsylvania veteran Bill Perry, who campaigned for Kerry and attended both Winter Soldier meetings, offered his perspective: "Kerry came from a well-educated, wealthy family, and he could have ducked the whole thing. I respect the person who served."
The comment was aimed at President Bush, who did not fight in Vietnam or any war.
The latest Winter Soldier event coincided with national polls showing two-thirds of Americans disagree with the handling of the war but consider the economy and their own financial logjams more pressing than combat halfway around the world.
Viges, the veteran of the 82nd Airborne, struggled to understand that disconnect.
One of his jobs in Iraq was to stand guard with a .50-caliber machine gun while his buddies searched houses supposedly inhabited by insurgents and enemy combatants. At the conference, searches of that kind were described vividly. Sometimes soldiers kicked in the front doors. Sometimes they upended refrigerators and ripped stoves out of walls. Sometimes they turned drawers upside down and broke furniture.
One day Viges was instructed to search a suspicious house, a hut, really, but he couldn't find pictures of Saddam Hussein, piles of money, AK-47s or roadside bombs.
"The only thing I found was a little .22 pistol," Viges said, " ... but we ended up taking the two young men, regardless."
An older woman, probably the mother of the young men, watched and wailed nearby.
"She was crying in my face, trying to kiss my feet," Viges said. "And, you know, I can't speak Arabic, but I can speak human. She was saying, 'Please, why are you taking my sons? They have done nothing wrong.' "
The testimonials went on for 3 1/2 days. They were interrupted once, when a middle-age man leaped from his seat and ran toward the stage.
"Liars! Liars!" he shouted. "Kerry lied while good men died, and you guys are betraying good men."
Others among the counter-protesters tried for a more even tone.
Chris Eaton, a former Houstonian now living in Dallas, spoke for them when he described himself as an average guy doing his best to support American troops.
"I'm not hateful," he said. "I'm not a warmonger."
He's married and the father of three. For his little girl's seventh birthday, he welded a butterfly made of old car parts, plate steel and rebar.
But Eaton didn't travel halfway across the country to talk about butterflies. He wanted to lend his voice to the counter-protesters. He wanted to remind the anti-war vets that they needed to tell the absolute and precise truth or risk demoralizing their brothers and sisters still fighting overseas.
Eaton also wanted to support his friend, retired Army Col. Harry Riley, who organized the counter-protest and the sponsoring group, Eagles Up.
Riley is a decorated Vietnam vet. He's got a calm, mellifluous voice — until he flashes back to 1971.
"No one stood up for me or millions of others smeared by Kerry," Riley said. "That first Winter Soldier meeting was total bunk, denigration and falsehood. We want to ensure this second one meets our criteria for accuracy."
It is true, Perry said, that a few of the testimonies from '71 contained significant errors and should have been omitted. That's unfortunate, he said, but hardly surprising given the impromptu nature of that meeting. The great majority of the vets, Perry said, spoke the truth.
Did not, said Riley, referring to a government investigation of the most serious charges made in Detroit. Not one of the soldiers' testimonies was substantiated.
Perry noted that the investigation was conducted by Army personnel. In his opinion, the Army's investigation of itself was a joke.
With a wrench, Riley pushed the conversation back into the 21st century. If atrocities or war crimes are taking place in Iraq or Afghanistan, he said, service men and women are duty-bound to report them under oath and through official channels. Failure to do so, he added, means they are potential criminals themselves and subject to prosecution.
"Oh, great," retorted Hauff, the Houstonian. Soldiers aren't going to turn themselves in, and they're not going to report their peers or their superiors, either, he said.
"Nobody wants to be viewed as a snitch or a narc," Hauff said. And who, he asked, volunteers for a dock in pay or a loss of rank or a court-martial or worse?
"You're supposed to do what you're told in the military."
For vets who often feel isolated by their experiences and their memories, old war buddies are their best, most comfortable friends.
Viges greeted old friends joyously between sessions at the Winter Soldier conference. Many of them were vets from the Vietnam era.
"They are my fathers," he said.
After struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, Viges said, he is somewhat better. He still jumps at the sound of fireworks, but he's stopped patrolling the perimeter of his house.
With shoulder-length, brown hair and a goatee, Viges looks very much like a model for velvet Jesus portraits. When he puts on his tunic and takes his anti-war campaign to the streets, he tells anyone who will listen, "Love thine enemy" and "Turn the other cheek."
A devout Christian, Viges finally left combat as a conscientious objector.
Cantu, the Fort Hood soldier, was one of several celebrity Texans at the conference. He says his pro-war sentiments changed 180 degrees the day he killed a civilian in Iraq. His convoy had been hit by an improvised explosive device, and he wanted revenge.
Next thing he knew, a car was coming toward them, and despite the warnings, it didn't stop.
Cantu opened fire. He didn't know until too late the car was filled with multiple members of an Iraqi family.
"I was literally on the verge of quitting (the military) right then and there," said Cantu, a third-generation military man.
Instead, he's spoken out against the war, through the protest chapter he founded and a 60 Minutes interview in 2007.
He occasionally comes to the attention of his superiors, too.
"All I've done is use my First Amendment rights," Cantu said. "I appreciate the Constitution. You can't really love it until you've actually been protected by it."
Cantu is scheduled to return to Iraq for his third tour of duty in early 2009.
"I've cheated death so many times," he said, suddenly somber. "I hope I can do it again."
Hauff, the Houston vet, didn't try to make it to Maryland. He had his hands full, with his job, his wife and his little girl. Besides, he didn't want to talk about the ugly side of war.
His best friend was on patrol, subbing for Hauff, when he was killed.
Hauff paused, keeping the many things he thought about that tragedy to himself. He had his emotions under control, he said, and he's moved on with his life.
His mother-in-law, sipping coffee and listening to him, cocked her head as if she didn't quite agree.
That year in Iraq changed him, Sherry Glover said. He doesn't like to be touched. He can be impatient with the people, even the child he loves the most. It's almost like he's barricaded himself inside an invisible fence that has a sign: "Keep out."
When Hauff finished talking, he frowned at his mother-in-law and walked away. They're sharing the same house, at least until Hauff and his family can afford to move.
Military families are paying for this war, Glover said darkly. She has a friend whose son tried to commit suicide between tours of duty. Army doctors gave him a bunch of prescriptions and deemed him ready to serve.
Glover couldn't go to the conference — she wanted to keep an eye on things at home — and made do by listening to the testimony on the local Pacifica radio station, KPFT-90.1 FM.
She and many other peace activists wondered why only a couple of outlets in the mainstream media covered the event.
The vets also wondered what all the other newspapers, magazines and TV stations were afraid of. The truth?
That's not it, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
The gathering was tiny, Sabato said, in comparison to protests from the Vietnam era. Also, activists on both sides of the war have moved the debate to the presidential campaign.
President Bush has been unequivocal in his support for the war, Sabato said, and those who share that commitment will vote Republican. Those who oppose the war will vote for the Democrat.
It's not that Americans don't have an opinion, he said. They're just waiting for Election Day.
Transcript of National Public Radio report originally broadcast, March 16, 2008>
The war in Afghanistan has contained horrors aplenty, not only for Afghan citizens but for the American and NATO forces deployed there. And in Iraq many U.S. soldiers and Marines have participated in actions that have left them scarred. Veterans of both wars told their stories today at an event near Washington.
It was sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War, and it carried the title Winter Soldier. That's an echo of a similar recounting of war horror stories Vietnam vets told at a controversial gathering back in 1971.
Army Sergeant Jabbar McGruder(ph) served in Iraq in 2005. He told me that the rules of engagement offended his sense of proper military conduct.
Sergeant JABBAR MCGRUDER (U.S. Army): If anybody was to break into our convoy and we didn't feel safe, we were supposed to take them out, and that was the standing order. And that we weren't supposed to fire any warning shots, that it was just supposed to happen.
And so when you do that you understand that you're always in danger. And that never goes away.
LYDEN: But the rules of engagement would say that warning shots would be fired. So what exactly happened on your mission?
Sgt. MCGRUDER: It's not - the rules of engagement change all the time.
LYDEN: Former Specialist Eric Warseski(ph) was 19 years old when he went to serve in Afghanistan in 2002. He says what he saw and did there still haunts him.
Mr. ERIC WARSESKI (Former Specialist): I watched a prisoner and we denied him water and food, and to my understanding he did not have sleep for three days.
LYDEN: At the time did you ever report back and say this is against the Geneva Convention, I'm not going to do it?
Mr. WARSESKI: No, because you don't really think about it because it's being allow. You know, 'cause you're just thinking, well, this is what I'm doing. This man came down from the airfield command center there. And so taking it as a directive order from our coalition forces, I just did as I was told.
LYDEN: When the winter soldiers of the Vietnam War gathered in 1971 their stories angered many fellow veterans who said they felt betrayed. Sergeant McGruder says it's not betrayal when you speak the truth.
Sgt. MCGRUDER: Betrayal is when your government puts you in a situation that you don't need to be in. A betrayal is sitting back and saying nothing when you could see your fellow, you know, brothers and sisters in arms suffering. A betrayal is essentially not doing what is morally right. And this is morally right for us to share our experiences with the American public so they can understand what is actually going on and not get some spin rhetoric and not get, you know, what a general's saying, not get what is coming out the Pentagon brief, but hear from those who have put their boots on ground and have served the nation proudly.
LYDEN: Sergeant Jabbar McGruder and Reservist Eric Warseski appeared today at an event sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War. Sergeant McGruder is co- chairman of the board of the Anti-War Organization.
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.