Tuesday, October 20, 2009
duty to know
I am currently reading a book that my sister, one of the most dedicated peace activists I know, encouraged me to read, Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations. This is a book compiled by Iraq Veterans Against the War and is comprised of the testimony of dozens of young, bright, and once idealistic U.S. military service members. In the tradition of the Vietnam War Winter Soldier Investigation in 1971, a group of recently active duty military gathered to talk about how their service to our country was abused, and how they found themselves engaged in highly questionable activities in the name of the "War on Terror." They reached deep into the personal reserves of bravery that they had only recently relied upon to face the harsh realities of foreign warfare, but now they used it to speak out about the atrocities they witnessed and committed in the name of the U.S. government and the optimistically but falsely named Operation Iraqi Freedom. I am forever changed by the gut-wrenching tales of their noble intention to serve our country and to improve another part of the world, nations they believed were in need of the assistance of a powerful country like the U.S., and how their intentions were subverted to the extreme by the offensive dehumanizing practices of our nation's military branches, egged on by the political leaders that we have put into office.
Story after story, these previously dedicated soldiers explain how their humanity was devastated by what was expected of them in these war zones. Rampant murder of innocent Iraqi civilians fueled by absurdly lax Rules of Engagement (the laws that are supposed to govern modern warfare to make it safer for civilians and non-combatants) is a commonplace, daily event in Iraq. Disgraceful treatment of human remains and devastation of families' homes, personal property, and tools of their livelihood take place with no forethought and no consequences. And this is only a mere mention of the atrocities committed against the Iraqi people.
Our military servants, those for whom supposedly patriotic Americans display yellow ribbons in a useless show of support, are being fucked, to put it bluntly. They are being lied to. They are told that they are being sent to countries who want and need our help to free them from their oppressive governments, but when they arrive on the scene, they find that the local populations have already been terrorized by previous troops, who were only acting as they were instructed, and now the local population live in fear and rage against Americans. Thus, our service members are being attacked by the very people they thought they were there to serve, and the hidden Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that greet them with a spray of hellfire at every turn reduce them to reactionary animals, desperate to stay alive as they see their brothers and sisters fall, and then all Iraqi natives become the enemy to dispatch for the sake of their own safety. The situation in these urban, highly-populated, war zones becomes a vicious, cyclical, "us-or-them" face-off, in which it is believed that only those who shoot first will survive.
Our deployed military members are being subjected to unendurable fear and are surrounded by death and threats on every side, then are forced to make split-second decisions about dire, ethical dilemmas at every turn. They find themselves acting callously, cruelly, inhumanely, then later look back on their own actions and recognize that they made critical mistakes. Normal, caring, conscientious people find themselves posing for "trophy" pictures with dead Iraqi citizens and blown up cars, pose in destroyed, ancient holy sites with their hands recently stained by the blood of the people who call that land their home. Then they come to find that their acts are futile, that their sacrifice and service is not guaranteeing safety for anyone, not for the American people, not for the Iraqi people, for no one. Our country's continued participation in this war is consuming human lives and human sanctity with an insatiable voracity, and we are duty bound to listen to those who have made the greatest sacrifice. Our fellow citizens, those on the front lines in this immoral war, are asking us as to listen their stories and to take action to prevent any more unnecessary suffering or loss.
As one National Guard member stated in the Winter Soldier hearings, "I remember a man running toward me carrying a very young seventeen- or eighteen-year old Iraqi guy, very thin, and very pale. The guy was missing parts of his arm; his arm and his forearm were only held on by a small flap of skin. The bones were protruding and he was bleeding profusely. He had shrapnel wounds all over his torso and his entire left butt cheek was missing and it was bleeding profusely, and it was pooling blood. To this day I have that image burned into my mind's eye. Every couple of days I get a flash of red color in my mind's eye and it won't have any shape, no form, just a flash of red and every time I associate it with that instance. Not only are we disrupting the lives of Iraqi civilians, we are disrupting the lives of our veterans." (p. 40-41, from the book title listed above, emphasis mine). If you believe that America is on a righteous mission in Iraq, you are mistaken. The very men and women who are fighting this war are pleading with us to listen to their stories and to stop this war that is killing American and Iraqi sons and daughters, American and Iraqi brothers and sisters, American and Iraqi mothers and fathers. I believe most people I am likely to reach through my writing are already opposed to the war, but I ask of you to share this information with others, and I ask you to ask yourself, are you doing enough to stop the war? Do you really know just how bad it is?
I believe that, though it is awful, terrible information to learn, that we have a duty to know what is going on in this war. It is so easy for us to sit back in our safe homes and be opposed to the war without ever having to really see, hear, or feel the horror being done in our name. While I count my blessings every, single, gracious day of my life that my sons and I have never had to know the wicked ills of war, I think it is an unfair privilege. We have a duty to know the pain we are being spared, and we have a duty to do everything we can to prevent more soldiers and civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan from living this fate. These stories will propel you to action. Please, visit the Iraq Veterans Against the War website and purchase the book and read it and share it with others. Donate to their organization and tune in to know that there are ongoing Winter Soldier events and writing workshops happening around the country. The first Winter Soldier event was not an isolated gathering of a few disgruntled rebels. There are more and more traumatized veterans returning home every day wondering what the hell we as a country are doing about ending this war in which they had to make untold personal sacrifices. We have a duty to know their stories. We have a duty to know the trauma they have endured, and we have a duty to know that many of them, those who survived, will never be the same again.
This brief audio clip shares just a few of the voices of veterans and active duty military speaking out against the war. Take a few minutes and listen, please. Every single one of us who plans to sleep safely in our beds tonight, without the threat of mortar attacks or our homes being raided, without the fear of loved ones dying all around us, and without the pain of recurring nightmares and ugly images forever emblazoned on our minds has a duty to know that we are very fortunate. And we have a duty to cry out for a world in which everyone can live in that same safety.