Thursday, March 5, 2015

Iraq Veterans Against the War, ten years in

Great story from Radio Boston:

listen here

The New Antiwar Soldiers And The Movement They Built

This photo provided by the Medill News Service shows members of Iraq Veterans Against the War marching from Walter Reed Army Medical Center to the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, in this photo taken Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010. (AP)
This photo provided by the Medill News Service shows members of Iraq Veterans Against the War marching from Walter Reed Army Medical Center to the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, in this photo taken Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010. (AP)
In the summer of 2004, Boston hosted the Democratic National Convention. In the TD Bank Center, there were big speeches, big promises of change, and big expressions of support for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Across town, there was a gathering of a very different sort — even if, it too, was focused on the war. Five marines, two soldiers and one airman became the country’s most unlikely anti-war activists. They had volunteered to serve, but after they were sent to fight in Iraq, they returned home feeling angry and betrayed. So on that summer day, they mounted the stage at historic Faneuil Hall, and announced the launch of the group, Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Guests

Nan Levinson, teaches fiction writing and journalism at Tufts University,  and author of the new book: It’s called War Is Not A Game — The New Antiwar Soldiers And The Movement They Built. Levinson will be discussing her book tomorrow evening at the main branch of the Somerville Library.
Liam Madden, a veteran of the Iraq War and a member of Iraq Veterans Against The War.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Critical thinking about "American Sniper"

An important perspective, as published on the blog site, Waging Nonviolence:

As a veteran, I see ‘American Sniper’ as dangerous, but not for the reasons you’d think

Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in "American Sniper." (Warner Brothers)
Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in “American Sniper.” (Warner Brothers)
After watching the movie “American Sniper,” I called a friend named Garett Reppenhagen who was an American sniper in Iraq. He deployed with a cavalry scout unit from 2004 to 2005 and was stationed near FOB Warhorse. I asked him if he thought this movie really mattered. “Every portrayal of a historical event should be historically accurate,” he explained. ”A movie like this is a cultural symbol that influences the way people remember history and feel about war.”
Garett and I met through our antiwar and veteran support work, which he’s been involved with for almost a decade. He served in Iraq. I served in Afghanistan. But both of us know how powerful mass media and mass culture are. They shaped how we thought of the wars when we joined, so we felt it was important to tell our stories when we came home and spoke out.
I commend Chris Kyle for telling his story in his book “American Sniper.” The scariest thing I did while in the military was come home and tell my story to the public — the good, the bad and the ugly. I feel that veterans owe it to society to tell their stories, and civilians owe it to veterans to actively listen. Dr. Ed Tick, a psychotherapist who has specialized in veteran care for four decades, explains, “In all traditional and classical societies, returned warriors served many important psychosocial functions. They were keepers of dark wisdom for their cultures, witnesses to war’s horrors from personal experience who protected and discouraged, rather than encouraged, its outbreak again.”
Chris Kyle didn’t view Iraq like me and Garett, but neither of us have attacked him for it. He’s not the problem. We don’t care about the lies that Chris Kyle may or may not have told. They don’t matter. We care about the lies that Chris Kyle believed. The lie that Iraq was culpable for September 11. The lie that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The lie that people do evil things because they are evil.
The film “American Sniper” is also rife with lies. This was not Chris Kyle’s story. And Bradley Cooper was not Chris Kyle. It was Jason Hall’s story, a one-time actor in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and screenwriter for “American Sniper,” who called his film a “character study.” Don’t believe him. His movie is as fictional as Buffy Summers.
In the movie’s first scene, Cooper faces a moral dilemma that never happened in real life. Cooper suspects a boy is preparing to send an improvised explosive device, or IED, toward a convoy of approaching Marines on the streets of Fallujah. Either he kills a child or the child kills Marines. A soldier next to Cooper warns, “They’ll send your ass to Leavenworth if you’re wrong.” In writing this line, Hall implies that killing civilians is a war crime and U.S. military members are sent to prison for it. If U.S. soldiers, including Kyle, don’t seem to be getting punished for killing civilians, then they must not be killing civilians.
Garett and I agreed that even if that boy was a civilian, nothing would have happened to Cooper for shooting him. Both of us were trained to take detailed notes with the understanding that if something went wrong, it would be corrected in the report. Americans were responsible for thousands of Iraqi deaths and almost none were held accountable.
During one incident in Iraq, Garett was involved in a firefight that left six to seven civilians dead. He received his orders from an intelligence officer who got his intelligence wrong. He led Garett and a small convoy to an Iraqi deputy governor’s compound, which was supposedly under attack. As the convoy approached, the soldiers spotted a cluster of trucks with armed Iraqis. The armed Iraqis saw the American convoy inching closer, but they didn’t fire. It seemed obvious to Garett that these Iraqis were not who the intelligence officer was looking for. Then the officer screamed, “Fire!” Confused, no one in the convoy pulled their triggers. “I said fire goddamn it!” Someone fired, and all hell broke loose. In the ensuing chaos, one of the Iraqi trucks struck a civilian seeking cover on the sidewalk. As it turned out, those armed Iraqis were the deputy governor’s own security detail. The officer didn’t go to Leavenworth.
In Hall and Cooper’s Fallujah, it’s as if the Americans just found a city that was already laid to waste. The movie leaves out America’s bombardment of Fallujah. An officer explains that the city has been evacuated, so any military-aged male remaining must be an insurgent. Conveniently, every Iraqi that Cooper kills happens to be carrying a rifle or burying an IED, even though the real Chris Kyle wrote that he was told to shoot anymilitary-aged male. Obviously, every non-insurgent did not evacuate Fallujah.
“Many Iraqis didn’t have cars or other transportation,” Garett explained. “To get to the nearest town, you’d have to walk across very hot desert, and you wouldn’t be able to carry much. So a lot of residents just decided to stay indoors and wait it out. It’d be like telling people in San Antonio that they have to walk to El Paso; then they come back home and their city is bombed and contaminated with depleted uranium.”
So what brought Bradley Cooper’s character to Iraq? Early in the film, Hall sets the stage for the moral theme of the movie. When Cooper was a child he sat at a kitchen table with his father, who explained that there are only three types of people in the world: sheep who believe “evil doesn’t exist,” wolves who prey on the sheep, and sheepdogs who are “blessed with aggression” and protect the sheep. In this world, when Cooper watches the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings on television, there is only one explanation: just evil wolves being evil. So he joins the military. When Cooper watches September 11 on television, there is one explanation: just evil wolves being evil. So he goes to war with them.
Amazingly, Hall and Cooper’s war seems to have absolutely nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. It’s about al-Qaida, which in real life followed the United States into Iraq after we invaded. Cooper’s war also seems to have nothing to do with helping Iraqis, only killing them. Except for the military’s interpreters, every Iraqi in the movie — including the women and children — are either evil, butchering insurgents or collaborators. The sense is that there isn’t a single innocent Iraqi in the war. They’re all “savages.”
Finally, it seems that a voice of criticism will be heard through the character of Marc Lee. When Lee voices his skepticism, Cooper asks, “Do you want them to attack San Diego or New York?” Cooper somehow wins with that absurd question. Later in the film, Navy SEAL Ryan Job is shot in the face. Distraught, Cooper decides he should lead a group of SEALs back out to avenge Job’s death, which is portrayed as the heroic thing to do. While Lee and Cooper are clearing a building, an Iraqi sniper shoots Lee in the head. The audience is then at Lee’s funeral, where his mother is reading the last letter that Lee sent home expressing criticism of the war. On the road home, Cooper’s wife asks him what he thought about the letter. “That letter killed Marc,” Cooper responds. “He let go, and he paid the price for it.” What makes Cooper a hero, according to the film, is that he’s a sheepdog. In Jason Hall’s world, Lee stops being a sheepdog when he questions his actions in Iraq. He becomes a sheep, “and he paid the price for it” with a bullet from a wolf.
Hall claims his film is a character study, yet he shamelessly butchered Marc Lee’s real story (and part of Kyle’s) to promote his moral fantasy world and deny legitimacy to veterans critical of the war. Here’s the truth: On the day that the real Ryan Job was shot, the real Marc Lee died after stepping into the line of fire twice to save Job’s life, which apparently was either not “sheepdog” enough to portray accurately in the movie or would have taken the focus off of Cooper’s reckless heroics. You can’t have people believe that critical soldiers are actually not sheep, can you? And as it turns out, Kyle never said those things about Lee’s letter and never blamed Lee for his own death for being skeptical of the war. (Here is Marc Lee’s actual last letter home in full.)
Chris Kyle was like so many soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He believed in doing the right thing and was willing to give his life for it. That trait that drives many veterans is a truly special one I wish we all had. Was Kyle wrong that the Iraq War had anything to do with September 11, protecting Americans, seizing weapons of mass destruction, or liberating Iraqis? Without a doubt. But that’s what he was told and he genuinely believed it — an important insight into how good people are driven to work for bad causes. Was Kyle wrong for calling Iraqis “savages”? Of course. In one interview, he admits that Iraqis probably view him as a “savage,” but that in war he needed to dehumanize people to kill them — another important insight into how humans tolerate killing, which was left out of the movie.
So enough about Chris Kyle. Let’s talk about Cooper and Hall, and the culture industry that recycles propagandistic fiction under the guise of a “true story.” And let’s focus our anger and our organizing against the authorities and the institutions that craft the lies that the Chris Kyles of the world believe, that have created a trail of blowback leading from dumb war to dumb war, and that have sent 2.5 million veterans to fight a “war on terror” that persists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Pakistan. Critics and nonviolent organizers can be sheepdogs too.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

US Militarism and the International Sex Industry

An important article from the current issue of Draft NOtices, the newsletter of San Diego-based COMD:

From Draft NOtices, January-March 2015

U.S. Militarism and the International Sex Industry

— Karen Guzman
It is clear why the United States of America has been given global recognition as the country with the most powerful military in the world. The U.S. government spends more on its military than the annual budgets of nearly all countries in the world. Aside from having the most weapons, aircraft, and satellites, the United States’ military presence worldwide has expanded so much that it has earned it the status of a modern-day imperialist nation — an imperialist nation that has been able to disguise its methods of expansion through military bases, foreign aid, and even humanitarian work around the world.
History shows us that the U.S. expanded from having 14 military bases abroad in 1938 to 30,000 large and small installations in approximately 100 countries by 1945. Today many of these installations have been closed, but the once-occupied communities have been left to struggle with the aftermath of U.S. military presence. While there is more awareness now of the ramifications of U.S. militarism and its destruction of the environment and livelihoods of local people, one of the less-known issues is how U.S. military expansion contributed to the growth of the international sex industry.
Perhaps one of the most discernible examples of this is the U.S. Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines. In the 1980s there were more than 4,000 American officers and their dependents stationed there, following the Vietnam War-era heyday when some four million U.S. sailors passed through Subic every year. The base was described by the Wall Street Journal as the “central hub for U.S. military operations in the Asia-Pacific.”
But Subic Bay Naval Base also has a dark secret. In the 1980s, local brothels and traffickers generated an estimated $500 million from buying and selling women and girls to meet the demands of the servicemen stationed there. A women’s non-profit organization known as the Buklod ng Kababaihan was established in 1987 as a drop-in center for the staggering number of women being exploited through prostitution outside the Subic base.
When the base closed in 1992, the problem did not end. U.S. nationals continued to travel to the region, some to simply take advantage of the commercial sex industry established by what was once the biggest U.S. military base. According to the Buklod ng Kababaihan website, they fight for the approximately 300,000-400,000 women and 100,000 children who are still being exploited.
Following recent agreements made between the Obama administration and President Benigno Aquino III this year, some are eager to reopen the base. With U.S. troops being welcomed back into the Philippines, negative consequences are sure to follow in the already hurting community.
Sadly, Subic is not the only example. The Pentagon is aware of how the international sex industry is being perpetuated by the U.S. military. According to Humantrafficking.org, in December 2002, President Bush “declared zero tolerance for involvement in human trafficking by federal employees and contractors in a National Security Presidential Directive” following media reports detailing “the alleged involvement of DynCorp employees in buying women and girls as sex slaves in Bosnia during the U.S. military's deployment there in the late 1990s.” However, the actual implementation of such policies has been minimal. This is why in 2011 the ACLU filed a lawsuit tackling the underreported problem of trafficking and abusive treatment of foreign workers on U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Middle Eastern firms working under American subcontractors in Iraq were engaging in human trafficking.
The United States military is not expanding its military presence as much for national security or for helping allies as it is expanding its occupation to seek profit and power. In the process it destroys the environment and the livelihoods of the people whose lands are occupied, and it also creates and perpetuates systems of violence against women. Today, the sex industry is one of the largest and most profitable industries in the world (profitable for pimps and traffickers, that is). The U.S. military’s role in supplying the demand for this industry is very clear. Militarism affects everyone. It’s an environmental justice issue, a social justice issue, an anti-imperialist issue, and a feminist issue.
Information sources: “The Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle Against US Military Posts,” by Catherine Lutz, 2009; "5 Philippine Bases Where the U.S. Military Will Look to Gain a Footing," by Trefof Moss, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 14, 2014; "United States: Address Role of U.S. Military in Fueling Global Sex Trafficking," Equality Now, Mar. 4, 2013; buklodcenter.wordpress.com; humantrafficking.org; "Your Tax Dollars at Work? U.S. Military Contractors and Human Trafficking in War Zones," by Steven M. Watt and Valerie Brender, American Civil Liberties Union, July 21, 2011.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org/)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Career Fairing at Reagan HS

We had great visits to Reagan HS for a lunchtime tabling on Jan. 20 and during their career fair on Jan. 30th.  At the career fair, it was good to see so many colleges represented, as well as several trade options.  We talked with 3 linemen who were there with Austin Energy to recruit for their training program.  The line work is tough, so if you want the kind of physical workouts you see in US Marine commercials, think about this as a healthier alternative.  The pay and benefits are good, and you're working to keep your community supplied with power.  ACC also has a training program, as it's a job in high demand.

Penny Poll results during the career fair showed a greater concern for Health Care than previous penny polls.  Results were: 231 pennies for Health Care (37%), 155 for Education (25%), 92 for the Environment (15%), 77 for Humanitarian Aid (12%) and 71 for the Military (11%).

Thanks to the Raiders for inviting us!

The ACC Riverbat mascot shows his stuff!

There are several firefighter programs available for young people, including the firefighter program at LBJ HS


Hart does some stretching to ease his back

Tablers getting set up

Most students said they would fight Poverty and Racism.  They also talked about links between all the supervillians.

Together, we are strong

Students pointed to the top photo.  Some said, "I think they show more courage because they don't have guns; they have community."

Some of our materials


Linemen from Austin Energy with their equipment.  We appreciated talking with them.
  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"Selma" a must-see

"Selma" is one of the best films about the US Civil Rights Movement.  The lyrics of Common and John Legend's song, "Glory" are well-deserving of their Golden Globe award.  See the film!


Solid advice from an Army Ranger

Very good article published yesterday in In These Times:

An Open Letter to a Young Army Ranger, From an Old One: Why the War On Terror Isn’t Your Battle

“I’m writing this letter in the hope that offering you a little of my own story might help frame the bigger picture for you.”
BY RORY FANNING
Dear Aspiring Ranger,
You’ve probably just graduated from high school and you’ve undoubtedly already signed an Option 40 contract guaranteeing you a shot at the Ranger indoctrination program (R.I.P.). If you make it through R.I.P., you’ll surely be sent off to fight in the Global War on Terror. You’ll be part of what I often heard called “the tip of the spear.”
The war you’re heading into has been going on for a remarkably long time. Imagine this: you were five years old when I was first deployed to Afghanistan in 2002. Now I’m graying a bit, losing a little up top and I have a family. Believe me, it goes faster than you expect.
Once you get to a certain age, you can’t help thinking about the decisions you made (or that, in a sense, were made for you) when you were younger. I do that and someday you will, too.  Reflecting on my own years in the 75th Ranger regiment, at a moment when the war you’ll find yourself immersed in was just beginning, I’ve tried to jot down a few of the things they don’t tell you at the recruiting office or in the pro-military Hollywood movies that may have influenced your decision to join. Maybe my experience will give you a perspective you haven’t considered.
I imagine you’re entering the military for the same reason just about everyone volunteers: It felt like your only option. Maybe it was money, or a judge, or a need for a rite of passage, or the end of athletic stardom. Maybe you still believe that the U.S. is fighting for freedom and democracy around the world and in existential danger from “the terrorists.” Maybe it seems like the only reasonable thing to do: defend our country against terrorism.
The media has been a powerful propaganda tool when it comes to promoting that image, despite the fact that, as a civilian, you were more likely to be killed by a toddler than a terrorist. I trust you don’t want regrets when you’re older and that you commendably want to do something meaningful with your life. I’m sure you hope to be the best at something. That’s why you signed up to be a Ranger.
Make no mistake: whatever the news may say about the changing cast of characters the U.S. is fighting and the changing motivations behind the changing names of our military “operations” around the world, you and I will have fought in the same war. It’s hard to believe that you will be taking us into the 14th year of the Global War on Terror (whatever they may be calling it now). I wonder which one of the 668 U.S. military bases worldwide you’ll be sent to.
In its basics, our global war is less complicated to understand than you might think, despite the difficult-to-keep-track-of enemies you will be sent after—whether al-Qaeda (“central,” al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in the Magreb, etc.), or the Taliban, or al-Shabab in Somalia, or ISIS (a.k.a. ISIL, or the Islamic State), or Iran, or the al-Nusra Front, or Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Admittedly, it’s a little hard to keep a reasonable scorecard. Are the Shia or the Sunnis our allies? Is it Islam we’re at war with? Are we against ISIS or the Assad regime or both of them?
Just who these groups are matters, but there’s an underlying point that it’s been too easy to overlook in recent years: Ever since this country’s first Afghan War in the 1980s (that spurred the formation of the original al-Qaeda), our foreign and military policies have played a crucial role in creating those you will be sent to fight.
Once you are in one of the three battalions of the 75th Ranger Regiment, the chain-of-command will do its best to reduce global politics and the long-term good of the planet to the smallest of matters and replace them with the largest of tasks: boot polishing, perfectly made beds, tight shot groupings at the firing range, and your bonds with the Rangers to your right and left. In such circumstances, it’s difficult—I know that well—but not impossible to keep in mind that your actions in the military involve far more than whatever’s in front of you or in your gun sights at any given moment. Our military operations around the world—and soon that will mean you—have produced all kinds of blowback. Thought about a certain way, I was being sent out in 2002 to respond to the blowback created by the first Afghan War and you’re about to be sent out to deal with the blowback created by my version of the second one.
I’m writing this letter in the hope that offering you a little of my own story might help frame the bigger picture for you.
Let me start with my first day “on the job.” I remember dropping my canvas duffle bag at the foot of my bunk in Charlie Company, and almost immediately being called into my platoon sergeant's office. I sprinted down a well-buffed hallway, shadowed by the platoon’s “mascot”: a Grim-Reaper-style figure with the battalion’s red and black scroll beneath it. It hovered like something you’d see in a haunted house on the cinder block wall adjoining the sergeant’s office. It seemed to be watching me as I snapped to attention in his doorway, beads of sweat on my forehead.
“At ease… Why are you here, Fanning? Why do you think you should be a Ranger?” All this he said with an air of suspicion.
Shaken, after being screamed out of a bus with all my gear, across an expansive lawn in front of the company’s barracks and up three flights of stairs to my new home, I responded hesitantly, “Umm, I want to help prevent another 9/11, First Sergeant.” It must have sounded almost like a question.
“There is only one answer to what I just asked you, son. That is: you want to feel the warm red blood of your enemy run down your knife blade.”
Taking in his military awards, the multiple tall stacks of manila folders on his desk, and the photos of what turned out to be his platoon in Afghanistan, I said in a loud voice that rang remarkably hollowly, at least to me, “Roger, First Sergeant!”
He dropped his head and started filling out a form. “We’re done here,” he said without even bothering to look up again.
The platoon sergeant’s answer had a distinct hint of lust in it but, surrounded by all those folders, he also looked to me like a bureaucrat. Surely such a question deserved something more than the few impersonal and sociopathic seconds I spent in that doorway.
Nonetheless, I spun around and ran back to my bunk to unpack, not just my gear but also his disturbing answer to his own question and my sheepish, “Roger, First Sergeant!” reply. Until that moment, I hadn’t thought of killing in such an intimate way. I had indeed signed on with the idea of preventing another 9/11. Killing was still an abstract idea to me, something I didn’t look forward to. 
He undoubtedly knew this. So what was he doing?
As you head into your new life, let me try to unpack his answer and my experience as a Ranger for you.
Let’s start that unpacking process with racism: That was the first and one of the last times I heard the word “enemy” in battalion. The usual word in my unit was “Hajji.”  Now, Hajji is a word of honor among Muslims, referring to someone who has successfully completed a pilgrimage to the Holy Site of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. In the U.S. military, however, it was a slur that implied something so much bigger.
The soldiers in my unit just assumed that the mission of the small band of people who took down the Twin Towers and put a hole in the Pentagon could be applied to any religious person among the more than 1.6 billion Muslims on this planet. The platoon sergeant would soon help usher me into group-blame mode with that “enemy.” I was to be taught instrumental aggression. The pain caused by 9/11 was to be tied to the everyday group dynamics of our unit. This is how they would get me to fight effectively. I was about to be cut off from my previous life and psychological manipulation of a radical sort would be involved. This is something you should prepare yourself for.
When you start hearing the same type of language from your chain-of-command in its attempt to dehumanize the people you are off to fight, remember that 93% of all Muslims condemned the attacks on 9/11. And those who sympathized claimed they feared a U.S. occupation and cited political, not religious, reasons for their support.
But, to be blunt, as George W. Bush said early on (and then never repeated), the war on terror was indeed imagined in the highest of places as a “crusade.” When I was in the Rangers, that was a given. The formula was simple enough: al-Qaeda and the Taliban represented all of Islam, which was our enemy. Now, in that group-blame game, ISIS, with its mini-terror state in Iraq and Syria, has taken over the role. Be clear again that nearly all Muslims reject its tactics. Even Sunnis in the region where ISIS is operating are increasingly rejecting the group. And it is those Sunnis who may indeed take down ISIS when the time is right.
If you want to be true to yourself, don’t be swept up in the racism of the moment. Your job should be to end war, not perpetuate it. Never forget that.
The second stop in that unpacking process should be poverty: After a few months, I was finally shipped off to Afghanistan. We landed in the middle of the night. As the doors on our C-5 opened, the smell of dust, clay and old fruit rolled into the belly of that transport plane. I was expecting the bullets to start whizzing by me as I left it, but we were at Bagram Air Base, a largely secure place in 2002.
Jump ahead two weeks and a three-hour helicopter ride and we were at our forward operating base. The morning after we arrived I noticed an Afghan woman pounding at the hard yellow dirt with a shovel, trying to dig up a gaunt little shrub just outside the stone walls of the base. Through the eye-slit of her burqa I could just catch a hint of her aged face. My unit took off from that base, marching along a road, hoping (I suspect) to stir up a little trouble. We were presenting ourselves as bait, but there were no bites.
When we returned a few hours later, that woman was still digging and gathering firewood, undoubtedly to cook her family’s dinner that night. We had our grenade launchers, our M242 machine guns that fired 200 rounds a minute, our night-vision goggles and plenty of food—all vacuum-sealed and all of it tasting the same. We were so much better equipped to deal with the mountains of Afghanistan than that woman—or so it seemed to us then.
But it was, of course, her country, not ours, and its poverty, like that of so many places you may find yourself in, will, I assure you, be unlike anything you have ever seen. You will be part of the most technologically advanced military on Earth and you will be greeted by the poorest of the poor. Your weaponry in such an impoverished society will feel obscene on many levels. Personally, I felt like a bully much of my time in Afghanistan.
Now, it’s the moment to unpack “the enemy”: Most of my time in Afghanistan was quiet and calm. Yes, rockets occasionally landed in our bases, but most of the Taliban had surrendered by the time I entered the country. I didn’t know it then, but as Anand Gopal has reported in his groundbreaking book, No Good Men Among the Living, our War on Terror warriors weren’t satisfied with reports of the unconditional surrender of the Taliban. So units like mine were sent out looking for “the enemy.” Our job was to draw the Taliban—or anyone, really—back into the fight.
Believe me, it was ugly. We were often enough targeting innocent people based on bad intelligence and in some cases even seizing Afghans who had actually pledged allegiance to the U.S. mission. For many former Taliban members, it became an obvious choice: fight or starve, take up arms again or be randomly seized and possibly killed anyway. Eventually the Taliban did regroup and today they are resurgent. I know now that if our country’s leadership had truly had peace on its mind, it could have all been over in Afghanistan in early 2002.
If you are shipped off to Iraq for our latest war there, remember that the Sunni population you will be targeting is reacting to a U.S.-backed Shia regime in Baghdad that’s done them dirty for years. ISIS exists to a significant degree because the largely secular members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party were labeled the enemy as they tried to surrender after the U.S. invasion of 2003. Many of them had the urge to be reincorporated into a functioning society, but no such luck; and then, of course, the key official the Bush administration sent to Baghdad simply disbanded Saddam Hussein’s army and tossed its 400,000 troops out onto the streets at a time of mass unemployment.
It was a remarkable formula for creating resistance in another country where surrender wasn’t good enough. The Americans of that moment wanted to control Iraq (and its oil reserves). To this end, in 2006, they backed the Shia autocrat Nouri al-Maliki for prime minister in a situation where Shia militias were increasingly intent on ethnically cleansing the Sunni population of the Iraqi capital.
Given the reign of terror that followed, it’s hardly surprising to find former Baathist army officers in key positions in ISIS and the Sunnis choosing that grim outfit as the lesser of the two evils in its world. Again, the enemy you are being shipped off to fight is, at least in part, a product of your chain-of-command’s meddling in a sovereign country. And remember that, whatever its grim acts, this enemy presents no existential threat to American security, at least so says Vice President Joe Biden.
Let that sink in for a while and then ask yourself whether you really can take your marching orders seriously.
Next, in that unpacking process, consider noncombatants: When unidentified Afghans would shoot at our tents with old Russian rocket launchers, we would guesstimate where the rockets had come from and then call in air strikes. You’re talking 500-pound bombs. And so civilians would die. Believe me, that’s really what’s at the heart of our ongoing war. Any American like you heading into a war zone in any of these years was likely to witness what we call “collateral damage.” That’s dead civilians.
The number of non-combatants killed since 9/11 across the Greater Middle East in our ongoing war has been breathtaking and horrifying. Be prepared, when you fight, to take out more civilians than actual gun-toting or bomb-wielding “militants.” At the least, an estimated 174,000 civilians died violent deaths as a result of U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan between 2001 and April 2014. In Iraq, over 70% of those who died are estimated to have been civilians.
So get ready to contend with needless deaths and think about all those who have lost friends and family members in these wars, and themselves are now scarred for life. A lot of people who once would never have thought about fighting any type of war or attacking Americans now entertain the idea. In other words, you will be perpetuating war, handing it off to the future.
Finally, there’s freedom and democracy to unpack, if we’re really going to empty that duffel bag: Here’s an interesting fact that you might consider, if spreading freedom and democracy around the world was on your mind. Though records are incomplete on the subject, the police have killed something like 5,000 people in this country since 9/11—more, in other words, than the number of American soldiers killed by “insurgents” in the same period. In those same years, outfits like the Rangers and the rest of the U.S. military have killed countless numbers of people worldwide, targeting the poorest people on the planet. And are there fewer terrorists around? Does all this really make a lot of sense to you?
When I signed up for the military, I was hoping to make a better world. Instead, I helped make it more dangerous. I had recently graduated from college. I was also hoping that, in volunteering, I would get some of my student loans paid for. Like you, I was looking for practical help, but also for meaning. I wanted to do right by my family and my country. Looking back, it’s clear enough to me that my lack of knowledge about the actual mission we were undertaking betrayed me—and you and us.
I’m writing to you especially because I just want you to know that it’s not too late to change your mind. I did. I became a war resister after my second deployment in Afghanistan for all the reasons I mention above. I finally unpacked, so to speak.
Leaving the military was one of the most difficult but rewarding experiences of my life. My own goal is to take what I learned in the military and bring it to high school and college students as a kind of counter-recruiter. There’s so much work to be done, given the 10,000 military recruiters in the U.S. working with an almost $700 million advertising budget. After all, kids do need to hear both sides.
I hope this letter is a jumping off point for you. And if, by any chance, you haven’t signed that Option 40 contract yet, you don’t have to. You can be an effective counter-recruiter without being an ex-military guy. Young people across this country desperately need your energy, your desire to be the best, your pursuit of meaning. Don’t waste it in Iraq or Afghanistan or Yemen or Somalia or anywhere else the Global War on Terror is likely to send you.
As we used to say in the Rangers…
Lead the Way,
Rory Fanning
Rory Fanning is the author of Worth Fighting For, recently released from Haymarket Books. He walked across the United States for the Pat Tillman Foundation in 2008–2009, following two deployments to Afghanistan with the 2nd Army Ranger Battalion.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

SOY in Cougar Country


Today, we had a great lunch tabling at Crockett HS, home of the Cougars.  Because of that, we had added a question to our t-shirt challenge about cougars: where are they native?  None of the students we asked really knew for sure!  In truth, we had to do the research first ourselves...

Also, because tomorrow, December 10, is International Human Rights Day, we asked students to write down the human rights most important to them.

We added #BlackLivesMatter to the Peace Wheel, hoping students are involved and learning about what's happening all around the country.

We really appreciated all the students coming by and taking on the t-shirt challenge.  Penny poll results:

Environment: 30% of the budget
Education: 20%
Military: 18%
Health Care: 16%
Humanitarian Aid: 16%