[What can end the war in Iraq? Certainly not some decisive U.S. "victory." And without a miraculous change in the geopolitical landscape, Iraqis will have little reason to tolerate the American occupation for the foreseeable future. The Iraqi Shia majority may have deep wounds left from the Iran-Iraq War of twenty years ago, but if the boots of the infidel are causing even more pain, a Muslim neighbor is a better provisional ally than the latest American puppet. Until the oil gushes (and donkeys fly), the Pentagon will insist upon "staying the course." What can end the war in Iraq? -JAH]
An Assessment Of Military Resistance
© Copyright 2005, From The Wilderness Publications, www.fromthewilderness.com. All Rights Reserved. This story may NOT be posted on any Internet web site without express written permission. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. May be circulated, distributed or transmitted for non-profit purposes only.
March 29, 2005 1200 PST (FTW) This past weekend marked the second anniversary of the Anglo-American ground offensive into Iraq as the first phase of an attempt to re-concentrate the post-Cold War United States military into permanent bases throughout strategic Southwest Asia. On this occasion, the alternative media are crucial - because instead of informing the public about the Iraq War's real purpose, the capitalist media has helped the executive to construct phony alternative stories about democracy-building, intelligence failures, a predominance of "foreign" fighters resisting the occupation, yada yada yada. The corporate media have also eagerly served as amplifiers for every distraction that was needed in the recurring temporal crises of this quagmire: milestones in casualty figures, anniversaries, elections…
It's hard not to note how Terri Schiavo, the permanently and irreparably brain-dead woman who is a victim of medical malpractice, is a resident of Florida, presided over by the brother of George W. Bush… and how Jeb-the-passed-over and now the Republican Congress manage to initiate media-magnet challenges to the Constitution on this unfortunate woman's "behalf" just as the war is about to embarrass George W. Bush, first on the eve of either an election, and again on the second anniversary of the invasion. It's also hard not to notice the latest Michael Jackson trial-shenanigans, or at least notice how this gets about five times the ink of an actual war.
Both these stories are really two-fers: the Schiavo case may have precedential value in future challenges to reproductive freedom and the Jackson trial makes a public spectacle of a mentally ill black man accused of being a sexual predator. Nothing charges up white reaction better than a black male sexual predator, and this case even has an element of homosexual-pedophilia to it. Two stereotypes for the price of one.
We continue to get the media softball stuff on Iraq, too. Wolf Blitzer or whichever news model interviews a military spokesperson.
"General, do you think the military has solved the problem of inadequate armor on the Humvees?"
"Yes, Wolf. Thank you for asking."
"General, is anyone above the rank of Staff Sergeant going to be implicated in war crimes, prisoner abuse, illegal detentions, murder of detainees, rape, etc.?"
"Well, Wolf, we have conducted our own internal investigation of ourselves, and we have been exonerated."
"Heck, General, that's all I need. That pretty much establishes that all of you are innocent, so there's no reason for us to question a single premise here, is there?"
"Mr. Vice President, there are a few ne'er-do-wells who are claiming that this war was planned before 9-11, that you all used it as a pretext, and that it is part of a bigger plan to militarily stitch up the global oil patch."
"Well, Wolf, those people can go fuck themselves… uh, strike that. Saddam had weapons of mass destruction."
"Thank you, Mr. Vice President. No further questions. And please allow me to kiss your ass out of my deep gratitude for this interview. The American people, for whom we both speak, appreciate this very much."
Okay, so I paraphrased a bit…
There were things that happened this last weekend related to the war, significant things. One significant thing was a mammoth anti-war demonstration in Turkey, where even the (formerly) pro-US rightwing military is having issues with continuing advances made toward Kurdish independence in US-occupied Iraq. There were also large demonstrations against the war in major cities around the world. In the United States, there were demonstrations in the usual places, New York, DC, and San Francisco.
But I participated in one that was a bit more off the beaten track.
We were in Fayetteville, North Carolina, adjacent to Fort Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne Division, the army's only full infantry division of paratroops, the army's Special Operations Command, and the army's Special Forces Command and Special Forces school (the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center).
Around 3,500 protesters showed up, making it one of the biggest demonstrations in the nation to mark the second anniversary of the invasion.
Between 50 and 75 counter-demonstrators showed up, the vast majority a weird, reactionary, heavy-on-the-black-leather motorcycle club from Fayetteville called Rolling Thunder. This was one time the counter-demonstrators had more body parts pierced than the protesters. Mixed in with them were a handful of military family members, who were interviewed by the press. The "mainstream" press gave them equal ink with the protesters, the relative numbers be damned, and even fixed the pictures to make it appear more equal. The claim of these two or three military family members, along with the bitter geriatric road warriors of Rolling Thunder (whom the press gave a pass), was that the protesters were there to disrespect the soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg and blame them for the invasion.
The irony - if that's what it is - was that the protesters not only appeared more socially inconspicuous in their overall everyday appearance, but that the crowd was very significantly composed of… military family members. It was also fleshed out with a LOT of veterans, ranging from Vietnam Veterans Against the War to Iraq Veterans Against the War, and even Raleigh's Cyrus King, a World War II veteran with Veterans for Peace.
Of course, this was intentional.
Had it had been reported accurately, which I am trying to do now, it would make horse's asses out of the so-called counter-demonstrators, among whom were also the tiny internet McCarthy-cult called Free Republic, that was boasting to one another before the action that they would turn out 50,000 counter-protestors. Some things cannot be satirized. Anyone who wants some comic relief should check in with this "Freeper" list sometime to read the most hyperventilated rightwing apologetics available anywhere in the world.
In Fayetteville, the speaker lineup was maybe the best I have seen at any anti-war march (and NOT because I was a speaker), with Lou Plummer, Military Families Speak Out, a native of Fayetteville, a veteran and the father of Navy resister Andrew Plummer; Rev Nelson Johnson, a survivor of the Greensboro massacre, still living in Greensboro, and a veteran of the Air Force; Kelly Dougherty, a co-founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War (she is from Colorado), an eight-year veteran of the Colorado National Guard, who was an MP sergeant in Nazariah; Thomas Barton, the tireless producer of GI Special and Traveling Soldier; Jorge Torres, Students Against War, from Seattle; Cindy Sheehan, a co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace, from California. GSFP is composed of people who have lost family members in the war. Cindy's son Casey was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004; Khalilah Sabra represented the Muslim-American Public Affairs Council of North Carolina; Ajamu Dillahunt of Raleigh represented Black Solidarity Against War; Luci Murphy, from the Community Coalition for Justice and Peace in Washington, DC; Nancy Lessin and Charley Richardson, the couple who co-founded Military Families Speak Out, came from Massachusetts; Shawn Cunningham, from Durham, NC, is a voting rights organizer among historically black colleges and universities; Maribel Permuy Lopez, the mother of José Couso, the Spanish TV cameraman killed without provocation by US forces in Baghdad on April 8, 2003 in the attack on the Palestine Hotel; Michael Hoffman, the former Marine who co-founded of Iraq Veterans Against the War, from Pennsylvania; a member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers from Florida; Rann Bar-On, the Israeli anti-occupation activist in Durham was scheduled, but arrested when he refused to submit to the police search at the Rowan Park perimeter; Michael McPhearson, the Executive Director for Veterans for Peace, a Desert Storm vet; Daniel Berg, the father of slain contractor Nick Berg; Lee Zaslofsky, who coordinates the War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada (Lee bailed during the Vietnam invasion after his CO application was rejected); Mendy Knott, an Asheville, NC poet; Kara Hollingsworth, who lives on Fort Bragg and whose husband is in Iraq now; Camillo Mejia, the staff sergeant who became a Conscientious Objector after his first tour in Iraq, and who was recently jailed and given a bad conduct discharge; Kevin and Joyce Lucey, whose son committed suicide after returning from Iraq; Dennis Kyne, a veteran and depleted uranium gadfly; Appalachian musician Emily Waszak, from Bynum, NC; Rev. Ralph Baldwin, a Vietnam veteran from Greensboro, NC, who plays antiwar folk music; Jane Bright, whose son Evan was killed in Iraq; Diedra Cobb, a veteran and Conscientious Objector from Virginia; Hany Khalil, of United for Peace and Justice in New York; Catherine Lutz, formerly of Chapel Hill, NC, and author of a book about Fayetteville (highly recommended - web search "lutz homefront"); Andy Hanson, of Cuntry Kings, a drag-king group from Durham (she is also a former Air Force officer); David Potorti, of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, from Cary, NC, whose brother was killed in the 9-11 attacks; Jibril Hough, of the Islamic Political Party of America, from Charlotte, NC; Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey of California who just introduced a resolution to Congress for immediate unilateral withdrawal of US forces from Iraq; Wade Fulmer, a South Carolina Vietnam veteran and activist; Cynthia Brown, a former Durham city councilwoman and US Senate candidate; Jimmy Massey, an Iraq Marine vet who is writing a book documenting orders received to fire on known civilians; Patricia Roberts, a veterans assistance activist whose son Jamaal was killed in Iraq; and Chuck Fager, the director of Quaker House, in Fayetteville.
I include this list not only to give credit to those who were on the platform, but to give an idea of how military-community-heavy the lineup was. This, combined with the substantial turnout and enfeebled counter-protests, indicates several things.
The most notable in my mind is the failure of the opposition to mobilize any real numbers in the most emblematic military city in the Untied States.
That's important to start with, because it means we are winning in a sense, that we are well in front of our opposition on this. On the other hand, we have to recognize that we are in front in the very early stages of this struggle which has not achieved either the conditions or the maturity it will need to transform this polarization into a full-fledged political crisis, which we should see as the goal.
When the invasion began, the scope of polarization around the issue of invading Iraq shrank. Pro-war people had gotten their way, and a too-ample segment of the war-opponents - never oriented against the imperial agenda that underwrote it in the first place - fell away in a kind of disarray and retreat, the latest reprehensible example of which is the Moveon.org campaign's tacit support of the war.
Over time, however, those who supported the war have been faced with one setback after another - setbacks that were difficult even for the cheerleader media to conceal. Not only were there none of the ballyhooed WMD, the Americans were forced to stage their own Iraqi liberation celebrations (the statue stunt, for example), and Bush gaffed with his victory speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln and the brain-dead remark about "bring 'em on." And not only did the political situation crash like Humpty Dumpty with its serial Quislings and serial US proconsuls, but the military situation degenerated into one where the US quickly lost any semblance of the battlefield initiative. Left with a half-baked doctrine foisted on them by Donald Rumsfeld, a doctrine like its predecessor that was designed to defeat a state, they had created a stateless battlefield milieu that rendered the entire doctrine moot. Cracks were appearing in the official cover faster than they could be repaired, with soldiers speaking out of turn, prison photographs leaking, and a handful of independent journalists who managed to avoid being killed by the American military carrying out stories that made the US occupation look positively Wehrmacht… which it is. Ask Jimmy Massey.
There is a big fraction of people out there who will never be convinced to oppose the war, because:
(1) They sit in their living rooms, where the public can't hear them, and constantly dehumanize everyone who is not white. They use terms like "nigger" and "raghead" and they mean them, because they are rock-ribbed white supremacist bigots who are mostly beyond redemption, and who will only be cured through the eventual failure of their hospital respirators. They don't care whether Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and they would support using nuclear weapons to turn various nations into glassy parking lots. These people are more numerous than we would like to admit. They are not only dumber than dog shit, they revel in their ignorance and are as addicted as crack smokers to their own venom. They weren't born that way, but they will die that way.
(2) There is a huge population that believes this war is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. There is no way to argue with this, because - ditto - they cleave to their own stupidity, in this case because they fear to abandon it would endanger their immortal souls. This will not be resolved except by the long, hard slog through a social revolution, because there is little reason for people to give up hope in the hereafter as long as capitalist patriarchy continues to make secular life such a painful, atomized, deracinated, and meaningless gerbil-wheel.
(3) There is another fraction that just doesn't know how to admit they were wrong. This is also an outgrowth of how society is currently organized, but I won't belabor that here. These folks will continue to defend their original position no matter how untenable, even when it begins to look like a Peewee Herman skit - "is too, is too, is too, infinity!"
On the other hand, there is a sizable number of people out there who supported the war because they didn't get alternative interpretations and often don't know they exist, because they are steeped in the dominant culture with all its unquestioned assumptions (of which they've never been exposed to any critique), and because they are reluctant to stand out where they might be censured. They are generally resistant to change, but could be swayed with the right approach and a lot of patience.
Then there are those who opposed the war before the March 2003 invasion. Lest we get confused, we need to understand that a lot of these people believed that the solution to the Bush crimes was an election - even if it meant electing an equally perfidious and distasteful candidate who supported the war. There were three (that I can identify) lines of thought behind this business:
(1) Kerry was just pretending he supported the war, and he'd change his mind once he was in office. Anyone that thinks I made this up didn't talk to many folks before the election. I heard this bullshit everywhere. This is faith on the same order as that described for the zealots above who see Iraq as the collision of Gog and Magog.
(2) Kerry sucked, but he was marginally better on some issues related to women and other oppressed categories because of whom he might appoint to the Supreme Court. A corollary to this is that what Black political power does exist in the US right now is still dependent for its survival on the Democratic Party. I find this a tougher argument, and my counter to it (too long for this) is not one that I will summarize in a dismissive or disrespectful way.
(3) Kerry sucked, but since there was little difference between the two candidates, at least his election would be a way to politically punish the Bush administration. While I was mildly sympathetic to this argument, I never supported it; it ignored the question of how a left alternative to the Democrats can exercise real political power in terms of producing outcomes. To my mind, the way to do that - still - is to use that swing power to destroy the Democratic Party as a painful (even dangerous) but necessary step toward developing an independent political capacity for leftists, women, queer folk, workers, and oppressed nationalities.
Another section of the pre-invasion anti-war population was just plain Democrat imperialist. They are constantly engaged in the apotheosis of imperialist leaders like FDR, JFK, and Jimmy Carter. They voted for Kerry because they agreed with him. Their objection to the war was not an objection to attacking a sovereign nation, but to doing it in such a way that it jeopardized the international legal architecture built under imperialist power since World War II, commonly referred to as multilateralism… a kind of honor among thieves deal, with the US as a chief thief. These were useful in coalition to mount a resistance to the invasion, but are now thoroughly unreliable.
These folks were included in the bunch that fought with us (meaning Military Families Speak Out and Veterans for Peace) about our campaign slogan of "Bring Them Home Now." They didn't want the word "now." The argument was that if "we" brought the troops home (which automatically implies that we leave the Iraqis in charge of their own futures) unilaterally and immediately, then everything would be a mess, civil war, the works.
Not only does this smack of plain, garden-variety, white-man's-burden chauvinism in a huge way, it became as moot as US military doctrine within a few months, when it became undeniable that the occupation itself was making about as big a mess of things as anyone could possibly imagine. Shias in the South of Iraq who despised Saddam were saying that they had been better off with him than with the Americans.
Another angle on this attempt to isolate the left (That's what it was! Just read some of the screeds that came from liberal organs like Nation magazine that actually red-baited.) was the idea that it was not politically feasible, not "realistic." I have learned over the last few years to be very afraid when I hear this word. Translated, it means subordinate all your efforts to lobbying and kill off the most energetic and militant sectors of your movement. That's what the leaders mean, anyway. The people who follow this reasoning are the sea of people still bewildered enough by the system and ignorant enough of history to believe that majoritarian electoral and legislative strategies change society. They believe this in the face of the absolute absence of a single shred of historical evidence to support it.
Believe it or not, some of those cautioning realism were also saying that the US should stay to rebuild Iraq and pay war reparations. Now if we (the antiwar side) don't have the power yet to even stop the invasion of the imperialists, how does it become realistic that we make reparations a demand but not unilateral withdrawal?
At any rate, those in this column have either accepted the reality that the US has fucked up Iraq about as badly as anyone could imagine (and that the US is losing the war) and joined the "now" group, or they have stood down, or they have become Moveon.org supporters circulating yet another internet petition to rebut the slanders against Hillary Clinton (or whatever it is they do now).
These are, of course, generalizations, and there are people who take positions for reasons other than those described here. I only want to describe trends.
With the overall shrinkage in the mobilized polarization over the war, what remains is a far stronger antiwar base than a pro-war one… even in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
There's another point though. Since the invasion and the US elections have shaken out the chaff, we are seeing an extremely significant portion of that war resistance leadership being developed from out of the military itself in three forms: family members, veterans, and active resistance from those in uniform.
This may be a very appropriate time to take stock of this military resistance and of the antiwar movement, and to conduct an assessment of our current organizing strategies.
The experience of Vietnam is instructive for this assessment if we don't fall into the trap of trying to make Vietnam our analog-strategy.
I'll take up the issue of GI resistance first, and refer to the essay-cum-book-chapter called "GI Resistance During the Vietnam War," by David Cortright, from Give Peace a Chance: Exploring the Vietnam Antiwar Movement, edited by William D. Hoover and Melvin Small (Syracuse University Press 1999).
Cortright's research shows, first of all, that there were two forms of resistance, which he labels dissent and disobedience. Dissent is actual participation in some form of organized, collective, and politically conscious activity against the institution of the military or against the war. Disobedience is just that, people failing to comply with orders, breaking rules, fighting with or attacking superiors, malingering, all those issues called "disciplinary" in the military. These activities do not have conscious political content as a rule, and they are almost always (except in the case of rebellion or mutiny) individual. The interesting thing about Cortright's research and his (and others') conclusions is that in Vietnam, the U.S. military had become an institutionally compromised, ineffective fighting force by 1969 not through organized dissent, but through disobedience.
There were also pervasive acts of cultural resistance by African American soldiers that often fell just short of the legal definition of indiscipline. This ranged from intentionally playing their music loudly in public places, forcing supervisors to give actual directives to lower the volume, testing the limits of uniform policy and hair regulations, self-segregating during breaks and meals, giving up dap (this drove officers crazy!), to pretending not to understand directives.
African Americans were also the most organized and militant segment of the actual dissent resistance inside the military. This was an anomaly in one sense, because looking at white soldiers and at soldiers as an undifferentiated whole, there was a sharp class distinction between dissenters and disobeyers. The draft created a mixed demographic among enlisted people. Young people with high school and often some college (even with degrees) were not unusual, and these soldiers with a greater degree of socioeconomic privilege tended to constitute the majority of dissenters. They often identified with the social movements that were roiling in the society around them, and at some point around one out of four soldiers (mostly from this group, and mostly non-draftees) participated in some form of political activity against the military and the war in Vietnam. Among African Americans, this class distinction was not sharp at all, and the specific movement that captured the imaginations of Black soldiers as the war ground on was the Black Power movement, which had powerful working class appeal for African American youth, especially those who were suffering from discrimination in the military, and who had been confronted with the social and political contradictions of the war in Vietnam. Interestingly, however, the most organized activities were happening on US installations in places like Germany and England.
Combat conditions in Vietnam were not ideal for much political work.
The other interesting aspect of this distinction between dissenters and disobeyers is that military officers and senior NCOs seldom confronted dissent directly, much of which was carried on underground or on the sly. They overwhelmingly reported that the greatest institutional damage to the military as a fighting force (which directly contributed to the US withdrawal) were the disciplinary problems of the poor and working class soldiers.
Before we are tempted to idealize this situation, it needs to be pointed out that one component of this effective but unconscious resistance was drug addiction, which became epidemic toward the end of the war. The institution was broken, but so were many thousands of the troops.
The age demographics, then and today, are an important referent in understanding the "gateway" reasons for dissent. These soldiers seldom embraced a revolutionary politics, and never in the first phase of their resistance. Asked their reasons for dissent in 1971, 58% cited opposition to the war (for a plethora of reasons, mostly articulated by the social movements around them), but 38% initially complained about institutional limitations on their personal freedom and dignity, from harassment by superiors to haircut policies. Given the methodology used to get these numbers, I would speculate that many who now claim antiwar analysis as their reason may have in fact begun their personal journeys to dissent for many of these more personal (and age appropriate) reasons.
It is also important to point out that while most dissenters were not draftees, many would not have volunteered had it not been for draft pressure.
The draft itself during the Vietnam era was not only required to feed the massive escalation of the occupation there, but to ensure adequate troop numbers in the United States, where there was a tangible fear among ruling circles of rebellions in US cities.
Disaffection of soldiers was fed by the general degradation of military capabilities. As the operational tempo went up in Vietnam, and the induction of new soldiers speeded up, a general slippage occurred in the quality of individuals and units, causing more foul-ups and disorganization, lowering the overall quality of life, and creating escalating resentment among troops who were sometimes paying for mistakes with life and limb.
The combination of combat escalation and institutional degradation in Vietnam, and the corresponding generalization of GI resentment led to a new practice of resistance: Fragging. Based on the GI shorthand for fragmentation grenade, "frag," the practice began with the anonymous and untraceable assassination of officers and senior enlisted men who were deemed disrespectful or incompetent or both - sometimes out of revenge, sometimes out of self-preservation. It was not restricted only to frags, however. Non-accidental friendly fire, claymore mines that discharged when a captain was checking a perimeter, and any number of assassination techniques were employed, many about which we will never learn.
In some cases, fixed installation military police were sent into combat against field infantry on stand down whose parties often turned into armed, post-traumatic, opium-fueled bacchanalias.
By 1971, collective rebellions began to break out on US installations. Vietnam came home. In May 1971, sparked by a confrontation between MPs and African American soldiers, Travis Air Force Base in California, a ship-out point for Vietnam, erupted in a full-fledged African American rebellion. Many were hurt, an officers club went up in flames, and 135 (mostly Black) troops were placed under arrest to quell it. By then, almost every base in the US had some version of an underground newspaper that fanned the flames of dissent.
Political sabotage was being practiced, and an aircraft carrier was even sidelined, by a rebel GI who monkey-wrenched it.
The final pullout in 1973 was in many ways a direct reaction to the utter institutional devastation wrought from the inside of the military. This resistance did not become widely apparent until as late as 1968, and didn't result in an institutional crisis for another two years. Most significantly, the resistance erupted in the context of a more wide scale social rebellion in the United States itself.
Turning now to Iraq, the first point that has to be made is that this is not the context within which resistance is now developing in the military. The United States is politically stable, and will probably remain so until some form of economic crisis reaches into the outer ring of the American suburbs, where the popular basis of political support for and legitimation of the current political regime resides.
This time we do not have militant and disobedient social upheavals serving as a sort of historical vanguard (not to be understood in the vanguard-party sense) pulling along a generation of soldiers beset with a baby-boom ennui, sharply polarized and mobilized by a successful struggle against American Apartheid, and subject to massive, class-based conscription.
We have, instead, a state of social disequilibrium and a generalizing sense of economic insecurity that has not yet evolved a generalizable political character. For the time being, that insecurity has been directed outward to real (albeit provoked) and imaginary foreign enemies, but only with partial success. Slowly, anti-imperialism is gaining strength within the anti-war movement, which paradoxically enough is now consolidating around the organized but still orderly resistance coming out of military communities.
This is not to say that the bring-them-home-now organizing is in a vanguard role (again, as a social force), nor to say that it predominates in numbers within the organized (but still strictly legal) resistance to the war. What it has done, however, has provided the basis for a form of mass-line organizing in a key institutional sector that a wide array of left formations and lefty independents can agree to focus on. It has provided us a clear strategic direction for actual political practice, which is a good antidote for the sectarianism that plagues the left when they don't have anything to do but think and talk.
So it becomes extremely important for those on the inside and outside of this strategic concentration to have realizable expectations around which to construct campaigns and tactics.
There are three considerations to take into account regarding GI resistance: The larger social context of the resistance, the institutional and situational pressures to resist, and establishment of political relationships with those outside the military.
In a sense, we want to produce the same result that transpired from the invasion and occupation of Vietnam, but we know we cannot take the same route to get there.
With regard to "social context," I am thinking about the individual GI him or herself. It is a very big, and very risky step to engage in any form of resistance to the military for those who are in it. People who are taking risks, especially risks that will have a profound and probably negative impact on one's prospects, are in need of support. They need to feel validated in their decision, and they will need that revalidation frequently in the face of the negative institutional and peer pressures they will endure. They will experience deep insecurities about their future, and any offer of financial or transitional support with housing, etc., if necessary, reassures them of a soft landing. Having legal assistance is key. And having an actual social network that is available and predictable is often essential. But the single biggest form of validation comes from a visible, active, and aggressive movement. The antiwar movement that has established relations with dissident GIs in this war invites them to every event, asks them to join organizations, and puts their skills to good use. When those who haven't taken the plunge, so to speak, see these former and active military not only gaining negative notoriety from the military, but gaining wide social recognition and the accolades of thousands of people, it encourages them to join the resistance in the face of the negative pressures from the institution itself.
Many young people join the military with vaguely perceived goals of both participating in history and gaining social recognition. We can answer those motivations by building a vibrant and combative movement, and inviting them to become a visible part of it.
The Bush administration, ably assisted by McNamara II Rumsfeld, is already doing a great job of establishing the institutional and situational pressures that will alienate and anger service members. They have overstretched them and overused them, and the dissonance between what they claim to have done in Iraq and the reality faced by soldiers on the ground there are the basis of resistance. What the movement can do is amplify their complaints and concerns, because they are censored. But we need to go one step further. We also have to develop their concerns by providing them with additional information that moves them from consciousness of their individual experience of their problems to consciousness of first the institution, then the system, as the origin of those concerns.
These concerns and complaints are not consistent, but sectoral, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to troops. I am particularly interested in the experience of women in the military right now. While they only constitute 15% of the overall numbers, in an overstretched military any fraction that begins to become a problem for the institution can be decisive in disrupting its war-making capacity. Immigrant soldiers, and Black soldiers, and the soldiers who joined for idealistic reasons, are all potential dissenters, but for different reasons, and the approaches must be as diverse as the experiences of the troops themselves.
This has been one reason that organizing military families, who have similar concerns about the safety of their very diverse loved ones in the military - and therefore are a more homogeneous constituency - has been so effective in reaching out to troops. The organizers are not college students peopling coffee houses and initiating cold-call conversations with GIs. The organizers are the family members. For this reason, the leadership development activities of Military Families Speak Out, and the networking of those family-organizers with supporting legal and veterans' organizations has been so crucial.
It is also one reason that this network was the quickest in the antiwar movement to recover from the electoral malaise of 2004. Their commitment was more than ideological. It was extremely personal.
Organize the families.
The other strength of this organizing has been the predominance of women. Good organizers will tell anyone that the basis of effective organizing is building relationships, attention to detail, and follow-up. Women are socialized with these strengths (and men are often socialized to do the "vision-thing" and take credit).
The addition of veterans to the movement outreach is also essential. GIs need to be able to work with people to whom they can explain themselves in the vernacular and culture to which they have been adapted. Combat veterans need to be able to speak with other combat veterans. There is a lot that gets said and understood that defies reduction into actual words.
I can't overemphasize how important it is to study the forms of resistance that are currently developing within the military.
Let's review, very quickly, what are some of these forms of resistance. And here I want to abandon the clean line of demarcation between disobedience and dissent, partly because it was never clear in the first place (though useful as an analytical category), and partly because it is even less clear now.
In the age of politics as spectacle and the internet, individual acts of disobedience can quickly be amplified and widely disseminated, transforming these acts into a cause celebre for some and a media nightmare for others. The media aspect of our period is particularly significant because the conduct and progress of the war in Iraq itself has become just such a serial embarrassment, requiring a massive full time public relations staff for the administration to put out the spot fires that burst out almost daily.
In a real sense, this mirrors the tactical situation in Iraq, where overstretch is a brutally material category that has driven US troops continuously back behind their concertina wire - coming out only to engage in actions that have unpredictability and atrocity written all over them - and the concomitant need of the administration to fend off assaults on their crafted image of the war here in the US. On March 20th, Rumsfeld, in one of his fits of pique, shot from the lip again, blaming NATO ally Turkey and former CENTCOM commander Tommy Franks for the disastrous state of his war.
One of the most interesting forms of individual disobedience and dissent is plain refusal. Even more interesting is how this has become a form of inside resistance in both the occupying military of the US and the occupying Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), where "refuseniks" has entered the popular lexicon, and these Israeli refusers number around 1,400 now.
Stephen Funk, a Marine reservist who was called up in 2003, started to have second thoughts during bayonet training. This, by the way, is not at all unusual. Bayonet training is consistently the form of training that causes new recruits the most moral discomfort. Funk asked for conscientious objector status, and the Marine Corps rejected his application. So Funk left and refused to report in. Though he never fled, and the military dithered in its response (probably wanting to avoid any controversial publicity), 47 days later he was charged with desertion and jailed. There was an immediate public outcry accompanied by a Free Stephen Funk campaign. The military reduced his charge to AWOL, and he was released from the brig this year. Funk, who also came out as a gay man, communicated as much as the military allowed him with the antiwar movement, and is now a spokesperson for both the anti-imperial movement and the LGBT community.
Private David Bunt of the 82nd Airborne Division told his chain of command, after returning from Afghanistan, that he could no longer in good conscience pull the trigger against another human being. Instead of granting him conscientious objector (CO) status, the Army court martialed him for missing a parachute jump and jailed him in a nearby Marine base. His sentence was 45 days, and he was quietly eased out of the military. The Stephen Funk experience had turned the military gun shy.
The Department of Defense was now faced with a dilemma. They could grant CO status to refusers and open the floodgates - even as the retention crisis created by Iraq was already forcing DoD to implement Stop Loss orders on tens of thousands of troops scheduled for discharge. Or they could prosecute refusers harshly, as a deterrent to potential new refusers - and drive them into the waiting arms of antiwar organizations that would give them a public bullhorn for their critique of the war.
As the DoD struggled with this dilemma, the first wave of Iraq combat veterans began to refuse.
On May 21, 2004, an Army sergeant named Camilo Mejia returned from Iraq on leave. He had witnessed the abuse and murder of Iraqis first hand by occupation forces. This experience led him to both question and study the run-up to the war, which he decided was illegal. He then applied for CO status and refused to return to Iraq. He was sentenced to a year in jail, and released early with a bad conduct discharge on February 15th this year. He was a speaker at Fayetteville this past weekend. In his statement upon release in February, he said:
"When I turned myself in, with all my fears and doubts, it did it not only for myself. I did it for the people of Iraq, even for those who fired upon me - they were just on the other side of a battleground where war itself was the only enemy. I did it for the Iraqi children, who are victims of mines and depleted uranium. I did it for the thousands of unknown civilians killed in war. My time in prison is a small price compared to the price Iraqis and Americans have paid with their lives. Mine is a small price compared to the price Humanity has paid for war."
This is not the message that the Bush administration or its Pentagon wants the public to hear from soldiers returning from Iraq. It is a perfect example of why these refusers' voices, amplified most vigorously by the anti-empire pole of the anitwar movement, are a force magnification of the ideological fight back against the administration. No administration spokesperson will publicly debate Mejia. They have to ignore him, and while they do, this voice from inside the occupation grows and gets disseminated through alternative media and the Wild West Web of the blogosphere.
Along came others. Sergeant First Class Abdullah Webster, who sacrificed his retirement only months before he was eligible. Sergeant Kevin Benderman. Then more veterans who picked up the resistance after they were discharged. Jimmy Massey, a former Marine staff sergeant who may be the most dangerous man in America for this administration, because he has written a book naming names. Marine Lance Corporal Abdul Henderson, who appeared in uniform on Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 to lambaste the administration and the war.
Some soldiers in Iraq, who have access to the internet, have started to blog. While many of these blogs are apologetics for the war, and even right-wing screed machines, there are military dissenters who are serving as the eyes and ears of the movement from the front lines. One called "The Heretic" was a combat sniper sending detailed and graphic descriptions of combat actions that included serial accounts of war crimes. Yet another form of resistance.
Flight is another strategy that has erased the difference between disobedience and dissent.
Army Specialist Jeremy Hinzman, an Afghanistan veteran of the 82nd Airborne, and Brandon Hughey, who fled then 1st Cavalry Division before they shipped, are both in Canada with scores of others, where they have challenged US requests for extradition. Both these men have web sites: Hinzman's is at http://www.jeremyhinzman.net/, and Hughey's is at http://www.brandonhughey.org/.
Canada was signatory to the U.S.-Canadian "Smart Border Declaration" (SBD) that could be interpreted to extradite American military-political refugees, but in December 2004 Prime Minister Paul Martin announced that Canada would not forcibly repatriate American service members who fled the armed service. That assurance turned out to be hollow on March 24th, when the Canadian government ruled that Hinzman would not be granted refugee status after all.
Canadians have launched the War Resisters Support Campaign for these military-political refugees, whose web site is at http://www.resisters.ca/, and which shows yet another way of establishing working international solidarity.
A good list of refusers has been complied at http://www.tomjoad.org/WarHeroes.htm for those who want to read more about them individually.
When Georg-Andreas Pogany, an interrogator assigned to 10th Special Forces Group in Iraq reported severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after viewing the grotesquely mangled corpse of an Iraqi civilian killed by American troops, the Army charged him with cowardice, a potentially capital offense in the military, and shipped him to the United States. Pogany sought out legal assistance, which was available through resistance networks that include the National Lawyers Guild and the GI Rights Hotline. He was instantly plugged into the politics of this network, which transformed his fight for self-preservation into a new front in the struggle against the institution that has taken center stage in the Bush administration's imperial agenda.
Other soldiers and veterans suffering from PTSD quickly rallied to Pogany and themselves became spokespersons against the "chilling effect" that this preposterous charge created for all troops who suffered from PTSD, discouraging them from seeking professional help. In a tragic footnote, on March 16, 2004, another member of 10th Special Forces back from Iraq, 36-year-old William Howell chased his wife around with a handgun, which he then aimed at his own head and fired when confronted by police.
Suicides, which have risen steadily in the military since the Iraq invasion, are a grisly canary-statistic that indicate a more general breakdown of morale, if not yet a breakdown of "good order."
There are no good statistics right now on suicide or self-inflicted wounds, which the military has lumped into the category "non hostile wounds." Before this euphemism took hold, there were already 110 reported self-inflicted wounds in Iraq by October, 2003, indicating a conservative average of over 20 a month. There is no good data either on the number of self-inflicted wounds in the United States to avoid serving in Iraq. Likewise, we cannot know how many troops are deliberately smoking a joint to test positive on their urinalysis as a way to bypass Stop Loss and terminate their service.
These may or may not - on an individual basis - represent some form of political opposition to the war. That many are actions taken out of a sense of psychic fatigue or self-preservation do not change the fact that they contribute to the overall degradation of the military. Remember that the leaders during Vietnam reported that indiscipline was by far a worse problem than organized political resistance. And while I and others do not advocate self-inflicted wounds or drug use, if given a choice, I personally would smoke the joint before I'd shoot myself in the foot. Same result - termination of service - but one gets you a case of the Peanut M&M munchies and another loses your toes. Think about it.
For anyone considering suicide, I would call intentional drug use to gain a discharge a better alternative.
In February, the Army admitted that suicides had increased by 20% since the Iraq invasion.
This is not a very good prognosis for the future of military discipline in Iraq. While there are not yet any cases of fragging reported, most psychological studies of those who commit murder have found that a majority reported having considered suicide at some point before they killed. Having already overcome the cultural killing-taboo during operations, it is only a matter of time before this begins in Iraq, if it hasn't happened already. I have to make a very clear note here that I am not endorsing fragging, but describing it as one violent indicator of a more general institutional breakdown of the military when it is committed to an un-winnable and morally indefensible war.
Obviously, those of us involved in the organizing of military communities are focused in our practice on the recruitment and development of movement leaders and activists among soldiers, military families, and veterans with an agenda that will outlive the war. If breaking the power of whatever administration is there when we see the end of the Anglo-American occupation is the immediate strategic goal - one that centralizes the role of military dissent - then the intermediate strategic goal that follows closely behind it (but which will shift away from the simple question of war), is opposition to American imperial power. So we have to see the military activists of today as part of the anti-empire movement of tomorrow and develop now for their continuity in the movement and the continuity of the movement itself.
One of the other powerful motivations for the Nixon administration's withdrawal from Vietnam, aside from the institutional breakdown of the US military, was the profound economic crisis that was created by that war, which by 1972 - as many youth radicalized by the 60s entered the labor force - resulted in an outbreak of labor struggle: individual, as when disgruntled workers were telling bosses to commit anatomical impossibilities, and collective, as in a spate of wildcat strikes.
If our immediate strategic objective is the withdrawal of occupation forces from Iraq, we have to identify what the next, intermediate objective is in order to gain some clarity about where we go from here. I think that is to break American imperial hegemony as a first step to breaking the actual financial half-nelson of US power.
In order to assure the continuity of our struggle against the malignant power that created this war, and not just its current horrors in Iraq, we have to think now about how to continue to bring people from military communities into the current struggle. With their dedication, their talent, and their unique capacity to take this fight to the administration, they should be cultivated as potential leaders and activists who won't always be center-stage, but whose experience and skills developed now can be incorporated into the next period of struggle against hegemony.
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