Thursday, March 13, 2008

Support the Truth/not the Troops

by Malcolm Shore 3-13-08

Here’s a story about Robin Long, a young American whose father, aunts and uncles, and cousins are all military veterans. When Bush, Cheney, Rice, Powell and the gang told him they needed to invade Iraq in order to destroy weapons of mass destruction and prevent further al-Qaeda attacks, it seemed to him only natural to answer their call; Long joined up in June of 2003. “I felt great about it,” Long would tell a radio interviewer years later. “I was finally doing something with my life. I was serving my country.”

But when Long began his basic training, he was shocked by what he saw and heard. Officers sang cadences about blood, death and destruction, and referred to the Iraqi people over and over again as “ragheads.” When Long raised objections to using these slurs, his superiors encouraged other soldiers to ostracize him. Eventually, he was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and soon began hearing reports from soldiers coming back from Iraq on temporary leave. These soldiers proudly displayed photos of civilians they had run over with a truck, showed him pictures of the head of the first person they killed, and told war stories of watching human beings explode.

And then, one day, Long was given orders to report to Iraq on his 21st birthday. By that point, his opposition to the war had mounted steadily, but he knew there would be some steep consequences if he followed through on that opposition. “If I don’t go,” Long remembered thinking in that same interview with Courage to Resist, “my family’s going to disown me. I’m probably going to get a dishonorable discharge and have a hard time even getting a job at McDonald’s.”

Still, when the time came for Long to leave for Fort Carson, Colorado (where he was to briefly train before going to Iraq), he knew refusal was the only moral option. Long fled to Canada in June of 2005, where he has lived ever since. But now, the Canadian government is trying to deport Long, and if they are successful, he faces jail time and potentially a long separation from his Canadian-born son. The Courage to Resist interviewer asked Long if he had any regrets about his decision.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Long said. “I made the best decision, I know that. And regardless of what hardships I go through, I could have easily put a family or someone else in that country into way more hardship.”

(Hear Robin Long’s interview here:

Is this the first time you are hearing the story of Robin Long? If so, why do you suppose that is?

“Support the troops, not the war.” By now, this phrase has been repeated so often inside the anti-war movement that it is the stuff of cliché. There are many reasons this slogan is misguided, and worse. One of the most immediately obvious of these reasons is that this position—regardless of the intent of the person advocating it—ultimately takes the suffering of the Iraqi and Afghani people out of the equation. A recent article in Revolution newspaper —“The Battle of Berkeley: This War Must Stop”—captured this point very well: “How can you ‘deeply respect and support the men and women in our armed forces?’ the article asked, “and at the same time support the Iraqi or Afghani people they are killing? This makes about as much sense as saying you ‘support the rapist and not the rape.’”

But there is another related, yet often-overlooked fundamental problem with the “support the troops” argument: the motto utterly discounts the many troops who do not support the war. Depending on who is articulating the refrain, it either inadvertently ignores or deliberately masks the reality that while all U.S. soldiers are brainwashed at the beginning of their service, they don’t all stay that way. Robin Long is not alone. Rather, he is part of a buried legacy of men and women who came face-to-face with the unspeakable atrocities the American government asked them to carry out, and said: “NO FUCKING WAY.”

The film “Winter Soldier” chronicles a January 1971 gathering in Detroit of more than 100 Vietnam Veterans whose conscience demanded not only that they personally refuse to commit war crimes, but that they expose these crimes to the world to in order to bring them to a halt. Yet, like Robin Long, when these soldiers first entered the military, they did so because they believed in their country strongly enough to die for it. “I was the average middle-class American,” said the last soldier pictured in the film. “It was just the thing to do.”

“I wanted to go into the service,” explained another, earlier in the film, “because I really believed the war was right and I think one of the main things was I wanted to see for myself if I was really a man or not.”

But then, much like Robin Long, these and many other soldiers were confronted quickly and brutally with the truth of their mission, and with the gap between that truth and the lies they had been told going into their service: Young women raped in front of their entire villages. Soldiers trading decapitated ears of Vietnamese civilians for beers from their commanding officers. Prisoners thrown out of helicopters to their deaths. Entire villages burned to the ground.

The film ends with the words of a soldier who describes reaching a threshold past which participation or complicity in these horrors was simply no longer an option. “All of the sudden I realized, ‘No, there is no justification, man’” he says. “What I have done is wrong. I have to face it, I have to admit what I’ve done is wrong, and now I have to try and tell other people before they make the same mistakes I made.”

Fast-forward more than thirty years, to horrific wars in Afghanistan and Iraq based on utterly-transparent bullshit the subservient major media nonetheless refused to look through. U.S. soldiers who enter the military steadfastly believing in the good of their country and the evil of the enemy again are given a quick dose of reality, which compels them to speak out and to resist. In July of 2007, the Nation published “Iraq Vets Bear Witness,” an article by Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian in which more than fifty Iraq veterans spoke about witnessing and executing routine slaughter of Iraqi men, women, and children; and about terrorizing the people they were supposedly liberating through home raids. In the article, Sergeant John Bruns described a typical raid.

“You go up the stairs. You grab the man of the house. You rip him out of bed in front of his wife,” Bruhns said. “ You put him up against the wall. You have junior-level troops, PFCs [privates first class], specialists will run into the other rooms and grab the family, and you'll group them all together. Then you go into a room and you tear the room to shreds and you make sure there's no weapons or anything that they can use to attack us.”

Bruhns went on to say that these raids frequently uncovered nothing in the way of weapons or even anti-American literature. “So you’ve just humiliated this man in front of his entire family, and terrorized his family and you’ve destroyed his home,” Bruhns said. “And then you go right next door and do the same thing in a hundred homes.”

Another veteran interviewed in the article, Spc. Michael Harmon, described very vividly the moment at which he fully realized the horrors he was taking part in. “I’ll tell you the point where I really turned,” Harmon said, going on to describe witnessing a 2-year-old child with “cute pudgy legs” who had been shot by fellow U.S. soldiers. “And this baby looked at me, wasn’t crying, wasn’t anything, it just looked at me, like – I know she can’t speak.” Harmon continued. “It might sound crazy, but she was like asking me why. You know, why do I have a bullet in my leg? I was just like, this is – this is it. This is ridiculous.”

Soldiers who, like Michael Harmon, have witnessed up close the complete immorality of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan —and who have further embraced their responsibility to actively resist them—have formed organizations like Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). According to the IVAW Web site, ( the organization has more than 800 members nationally and more than 40 chapters. From March 13-16, IVAW will draw on the inspiration of Vietnam Veterans’ groundbreaking testimony from 1971 and hold new Winter Soldier hearings, with soldiers testifying about the crimes against humanity they witnessed and carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Groups like IVAW, soldiers like Robin Long, and veterans like those who spoke out against the Vietnam War in 1971, expose the crippling lie that military servicemen “don’t have a choice”—either to fight wars in the first place, or to carry out the orders once they arrive in the country their military is invading. Indeed, when confronted with the sadistic carnage of unjust war, every soldier—every human being—has a basic moral choice about whether or not to take part. And many more people than the media and government would like us to know about have made the right choice.

Of course, there is a reason the “support the troops” line persists so strongly. In an era when the architects and defenders of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars have not been successful at molding majority opinion into supporting these wars outright, they instead have done their best to take the wind out of the opposition. Most recently, of course, we have seen powerful expression of this in the right-wing response to the courageous stand taken by the city council and citizens—particularly the youth—of Berkeley, and in the city council’s subsequent abandonment of language classifying military recruiters as “unwelcome intruders.”

As the aforementioned article in Revolution newspaper pointed out, the council explained its retreat by saying they “strongly opposed the war and the continued recruitment of young people into this war,” but also said they “deeply respect and support the men and women in our armed forces.”

The initial resolution, which also awarded a parking space in front of the recruiting station to Code Pink, touched off howls of outrage from those who are intent on seeing the American military follow through at any cost in its quest for empire, and who are therefore determined to declare true resistance to this quest off the table. It also generated an outpouring of hundreds of Berkeley high-school students who refused to be intimidated into silence.

But it is worth noting the terms on which the Berkeley City Council and anti-war protestors were attacked: even the most zealous right-wingers did not mainly blast the protestors for dissenting against the war per se—not openly, anyway . These right-wingers are, unfortunately, not that stupid, fully cognizant that even many within the American mainstream would not have their backs. Instead, they slapped the council and the protestors with the label of betraying U.S. soldiers, fully cognizant that even many within the progressive community would have their backs, or at least would be too fearful of being labeled “traitors” to speak out.

Michelle Malkin’s February 6 piece on begins: “The troop-bashers in Berkeley are at it once more.” Or consider the January 30 press release condemning the actions of the Berkeley City Council issued by Move America Forward, the thuggish organization who physically attacked teenage anti-war protestors in the name of “free speech” for recruiters (hmm…) While there is a reference to “hundreds of military men and women serving honorably overseas to protect our freedoms,” the release— tellingly-titled “Marines Attacked In Berkeley, CA” (not “War Attacked In Berkeley, CA) offers no specific refutation of criticisms against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In fact, the words “Iraq” and “Afghanistan” do not even appear in the release.

Ditto for Move America Forward’s petition against the Berkeley City Council:

Debra Saunders, in her February 5 editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle, even sought to appeal to the anti-war faction: “I know many Berkeley residents oppose the war,” Saunders wrote, “and still are embarrassed that Berzerkeley has once again gone over the top.”

Those not cursed with a short memory will remember the neocons and their Democratic buddies in Congress employed the very same strategy during their vicious censoring—errr, censuring— of’s “General Petraeus or General Betray Us” ad in the New York Times. And it is the need to “not abandon our troops” that a Democratic Congress repeatedly cites in justifying sending billions of dollars to a war it supposedly opposes.

Enter the critical role of those who actually do oppose the wars. As long as anti-war activists insist on “supporting the troops”—as if there is no difference between soldiers who commit war crimes and those who resist them—they are playing into the hands of those who want to continue the wars. Why? Because of the fact, well-established by history, that both resistance and complicity feed on themselves.

Every day, more and more American soldiers are exposed to the vicious realities of the duties they have been assigned, and face a basic moral choice as a result: To resist or to comply. Sending these soldiers the message that they will be supported no matter what guarantees an increase in those who choose the latter option. On the other hand, putting forth a bold and uncompromising demand for everyone—including soldiers—to resist crimes against humanity will inspire many more to do just that.

As just one small example, consider one final interview from the Winter Soldier film. One of the veterans is asked why he decided to testify. He replies that he probably wouldn’t have come forward had it not been for the fact that a fellow Lieutenant was speaking out; this soldier felt compelled to back up the Lieutenant’s testimony.

So a good question to ask when somebody says they support the troops is “which ones?” The soldiers who refuse to carry out heinous and despicable orders , or those who continue to do so? And “support them how?” By struggling with them to see the atrocities of what they are doing, saving them from committing further atrocities, and urging them to help others do the same?

Or by patting them on the back and telling them the 2-year-old child with a bullet in his leg or the girl raped in front of her parents isn’t their fault because they were just following orders?

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