Baboons know what to do when they are threatened by other baboons: they grab the nearest infant and hold it in front of them. Since baboons dote on their young, this often serves to deflect violence between adults.
You might say that baboons understand and employ the same maneuver as do politicians who “support our troops.” Talk about “the troops” serves as a ready ploy designed to deflect criticism of the US government’s war against the Iraqi people. By inviting understandable sympathy for Americans sent to fight and die in Iraq to be transferred onto the politicians themselves, a kind of moral authority is conferred upon the war makers and armaments profiteers. That this extension of sympathy is undeserved, has been repeatedly demonstrated by the offhand dismissal of GI concerns and willingness to bend every unadvertised clause and footnote in the contract for military service, to prolong service.
GIs are not stupid. The level of resistance being shown across Iraq and within the United States itself already far surpasses what had occurred after a comparable period of time had passed in the war conducted by this country against the Vietnamese. Only in the last years of that marathon atrocity did instances of “fragging”—attacks upon officers by enlisted men—become a matter of public knowledge. This phenomenon had already surfaced in the Iraq theater, on the eve of the invasion. (1)
Steve Hesske showed great insight in writing, “A conscript or draftee Army is much more inclined to the type of sedition wrought and witnessed in Vietnam which is one of the main reasons America's military is now all-volunteer. But with the U.S. now the moral arbiter for the world and a global policeman for capitalistic law and order, even an all-volunteer force will begin to feel the profound strain of such an undertaking…” These prophetic words assumed real-life validation in January of this year, when Lieutenant General James Helmly, commander of the United States Reserves, warned it was in danger of becoming “a broken force.” (2) He specifically cited plummeting morale and the obvious disdain the military has for its pawns, repeatedly extending stays in combat and utilizing every technicality to dragoon unwilling civilians into the Iraqi meatgrinder.
Troop morale is especially hard to bolster when the people you are supposedly “liberating” obviously fear and hate you. The best US troops can hope for is uncertainty—the very element that makes being there so dangerous and stressful. As one GI plainly stated the matter: “It’s hard to look these people in the eye after blowing everything up. These people were just victims.” (3) That he was referring to Fallujah is instructive, since that area has now been “liberated” by being destroyed—a place where returnees find an absence of security, electricity, or running water. Welcome to the post-Saddam Iraq.
It further complicates matters when the war in which you are trapped is based on lies and deceptions, as we have seen the changing “line” twist and turn its sinuous course from White House disinformation desks. Unsurprisingly, the mail to family and friends from GIs stationed in Iraq overwhelmingly express their wish to be released from duty and returned home. (4) It is not hard to see what “support” really means to these men and women—something very different from the triumphalist breast-pounding of the corporate flacks who call from the distance of home for more war in Iraq. The distance between the pro-war voice of the corporate (“mainstream”) press and the desires of most US troops is especially notable when considering the fact that even the most mild and passing criticism of government war makers like Defense Secretary Rumsfeld brings the risk of punishment to GIs. (5) It is remarkable, therefore, that disgust with the war, the obvious falsehoods for which GIs are required to fight and die, and the resultant drop in morale, have brought an increasingly open chorus of dissent from within the ranks.
In addition to incidents of GI fragging and complaints to family back home, some members of the military seek political asylum abroad as conscientious refugees from an evil war. Two prominent cases are receiving widespread international publicity, with the attorney defending these AWOL GIs himself being formerly an American resister to the Vietnam war. (6) Although applying for refugee status in Canada—as did these two GIs—is a feasible course to pursue, more common are inquiries by GIs about what rights they have and possible legal relief. “Anti-war groups report that their hot lines have been flooded by calls from service members. The ‘GI Rights Hotline’ that counsels service members logged about 3,500 calls in January and 3,100 in February -- double the monthly average in 2002.” (7)
While the legal avenues available to GIs are very restricted, they can take heart from the case of Perry O’Brien, recently returned to his home in Maine after having served three years of active duty in Afghanistan. As one of the few who have successfully pursued application for Conscientious Objector status, his case is exceptional. No one should get the idea that the military readily hands out C.O. status to anyone wanting it—but it does happen, and did in the case of this fortunate and principled young man. (8)
Most impressive is the breadth of the resistance, sprung from almost nothing in the space of two short years. The best single online collation of GI resistance may be U.S. War Heroes of the Iraq War -- War Resisters from within the Military. (9) Pictures, background, resources, and updates all appear here. Viewing this is truly inspirational and a real lift to the morale of all who truly care for Americans sent to die for a lie.
Dan Raphael has been an activist since the Vietnam war was heating up. He recently joined the Green Party of the United States.
Useful sources for GI resisters and those who support them:
Other Articles by Dan Raphael
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