Sunday, January 27, 2008

"War resistance and war resisters matter" (Third Estate Sunday Review)

This is a repost of the editorial for The Third Estate Sunday Review.

Editorial: War resistance and war resisters matter

I was having an emotional breakdown at work, seeking aide from the combat stress people we had there. I told them of my lack of sleep and loss of appetite. They put me on a med called Seroquel. It was not working for me too well for I was having bad dreams and was unable to focus. During a fire fight, when I was shot at, I froze, which was something that never had happened to me in any of my past engagements. It was not fear, but it was me thinking of my family, it was all that was rushing tough my head. In a few days the preterm problems at home were getting bad. I rushed and traded out my leave dates with another solider and came home earlier. The night I came home in early December, my wife went right into early labor. We went to the hospital in NY. She was only 33 weeks, so they stopped the labor and gave her meds. We went home and enjoyed some time together. We started to have a bit of a falling out, when I told her it was out of my power to go back to Iraq and that I would have to go. She kept telling me she couldn't do it all alone and why should she have to. I told her that I did not want to leave her and the kids. I was very stressed out about our new born son, who had some health concerns; going back to Iraq; finance issues; and just so much was going on in my head. I still was not sleeping or eating right I just did not have the urge.So I went to mental health, where they said that they wanted to treat me further, but could not, due to the nature of my deployment and the fact they could not hold me back unless I was either suicidal or homicidal. So they put me on new meds called "TRAZODONE". The new pills help me sleep more at night, so at this point in the story I'm stuck because I know I have a big issue and that I need to fix it and take back control, but the Army just will not allow it. So what I did was go to my representative for my Unit here in the States and he got a hold of my Commander. I talked to my Commander a few times on the phone and he kept telling me that he understands and that he was on my side with this issues. He believes in family and my well being. My Commander knows me as a person. We have talked several times before and I had even seen him before I left Iraq to tell him about my issues a bit, so this was not a fully new issue to him. At this time I'm doing the right thing. By going to my Chain of Command, and trying to get this all settled the right way. My Commander told me that there was nothing he could do for me except write a letter to the Battalion Commander on my behalf. Witch he did...My wife wanted to be close to family and did not want to be in the States. I really wanted the baby born in the States, but at this time nothing was going my way, so I followed her up to Canada. On Christmas Eve she went in to labor again and on Christmas morning at 6:01 a.m., we had our new baby boy, Grai Jacob William Keller. Christmas night I got a voicemail from my Commander telling me, all that he could advise at this time was for me to get on the plane and head back to Iraq. I was to leave on the December 26th at 5:00 a.m. in the morning. My Commander told me that there was too much going on in Iraq at this time to settle my problem right now and that they would want me to come back and fix it there. I know what they have to offer there and there's nothing to fix me over there, so after spending 2 days in the hospital with my wife and son, I made up my mind that I was not going back. I was staying to be with my family. No matter what.

That's Sgt. Allen Robert Keller explaining why he and his family went to Canada from "Sgt. Keller in his own words" (Daytona Beach News-Journal) [see also Audrey Parente's "Combat, family stress bring soldier to desert" from the same paper].

On Friday, actions took place at Canadian embassies in the US to show support for war resisters who went to Canada. The purpose was to put pressure on the Canadian parliament to provide the resisters with a safe harbor. [See CBC's "U.S. protesters demand Canadian protection for war deserters," Caroline Franks report for 580 CFRA News Talk Radio, Carol Mulligan's "Anti-war activists to demonstrate in Sudbury on Saturday" (The Sudbury Star) and Jeff Paterson's "Supporters of War Resisters Stage Vigil at SF Canadian Consulate" (Indybay Media).] Saturday, actions took place in Canada.

Jeremy Hinzman is the first US war resister to go public about going to Canada during the Iraq War. Jenny Yuen makes him the focal point for her "Campaign wants to keep Iraq war resisters in Canada" (Toronto Sun):

Jeremy Hinzman joined the United States army in search of adventure, belonging and money to pay for school. But the longer he stayed, the more he felt he was being brainwashed.
The former soldier, who was stationed in Kandahar, spoke to a crowd of 300 inside the Bloor Street United Church as part of the war resisters support campaign -- just one of eight across Canada yesterday and six in the States on Friday.
"I was trained to be desensitized to humanity," said Hinzman, 29, who said he could be forced to leave Canada in five months. "The way you learn to kill is start by shooting weapons and, week by week, they become more human and you don't even realize it."
The campaign urges MPs to adopt a recommendation from its citizenship and immigration committee that makes it possible for U.S. Iraq war resisters to obtain permanent Canadian resident status.

Some war resisters were comfortable speaking at events, some found other ways to participate. An example of the latter would be James Burmeister. If you're saying "Who?" then you're new to the community and probably overly dependent on our print and broadcast independent media. See James Burmeister is among the many war resisters who went public in 2007 -- the year independent media just didn't give a damn. Laura Czenkaj (Ottowa Sun) reports on his actions on Saturday and we'll note this section:

In September 2006, Burmeister was sent to Iraq and stationed in Baghdad. His opinion of the army changed when he says he became aware of U.S. soldiers luring Iraqi civilians into touching army equipment left as bait in order to shoot them.

Yeah, the kill teams. The Washington Post's big story in the fall of 2007. The one independent media could have had as early as the spring of 2007 if they'd shown even the smallest bit of interest in covering war resisters -- which they didn't. (Christian Hill of The Olympian, a daily paper, big media, did cover it prior to The Post.)

Every one of them has a story and every story illuminates the illegal nature of the Iraq War. Brandon Hughey was the second war resister to go public. Hughey is from Texas. As is Kimberly Rivera -- another class of 2007 who was ignored in the US. Kathy Rumleski (London Free Press) reports on another Texan, Josh Randall:

Randall tended to a 10-year-old boy housed in a detainee centre in Iraq who was so scared of him he was shaking and crying.
"He was deathly afraid of me."
Involved in a raid on a household, Randall had to walk away from a small girl injured from explosive splinters in her stomach when U.S. forces moved in to look for "supposed terrorists," he said.
Randall was told not to worry about the child because she would be taken to hospital.
He argued: "I've been to the local hospital. I know they can't fix this.
"I still regret not arguing more."
Finally, when Randall looked into the face of a dying soldier and he couldn't help him, he knew he had to get out.
"He looks at me and says, 'Why?' I had no answer about why this guy died."

Michael Espinal is another of the (ignored) class of 2007. In November of 2006, we wrote about "The Full Brobeck" named after war resister Ivan Brobeck who came back to the US from Canada on the day of the 2006 elections with an open letter to the Bully Boy and he received . . . no attention. Common Dreams posted his press release. KPFA's Flashpoints interviewed him. Nothing else. Go down the list of US independent media and grasp how ignored he was. [See C.I.'s "2006: The Year of Living Dumbly (Year in Review)" and C.I.'s "2007: The Year of Living Useless (Year in Review)" for more on how US independent media has worked overtime to ignore war resisters -- whether they went to Canada, resisted in Iraq (Eli Israel) or resisted in the US.] It's disgusting. On Friday, Democracy Now! decided to 'cover' Iraq in the way that's fast becoming the show's hallmark -- what happened before the start of the illegal war or in its earliest days. Friday, it went with Abu Ghraib (2004) and did everyone laugh as loud as we did when Amy Goodman was asking a whistleblower about the reaction within Abu Ghraib when the news started coming out? Goodman blurbed war resister Aidan Delgado's book but you have to wonder if she actually read The Sutras Of Abu Ghraib: Notes From A Conscientious Objector In Iraq because Delgado is very clear about the reaction. [Read the book. Get it at the library, online or at a bookstore. Until you do, see "Aidan Delgado's The Sutras Of Abu Ghraib" and " 2 Books, 20 minutes."] Somehow that example just slipped on by.

Rachel Punch (The Sudbury Star) reports on Michael Espinal:

Espinal participated in the siege of Fallujah with the U.S. military in Iraq. He now suffers post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his experience. In his view, he committed numerous human rights abuses and criminal acts there. After his first tour of duty, he resolved not to return to Iraq.

There's a story in that. There are many, many stories and they aren't being told by US independent media.

As important as what gets told or what does not is who tells it.

That came home loud and clear on Friday when a Dumb Ass had her article posted at Common Dreams. A community member praised her article and noted that US independent media ignored war resisters. Dumb Ass' reaction was, "Go to a website!" Community member Heather called her out on it and wrote a strong rebuttal to Dumb Ass in today's Polly's Brew.

As Heather noted, if you don't think war resisters need attention, why are you even writing about them?

That alone makes Dumb Ass the wrong voice for war resisters. We'd leave it at that (we have no plans to ever link -- none of us -- to Dumb Ass again) but there's another aspect.

Dumb Ass elected to go to the US websites with her plea. Dumb Ass is the wrong person to build support for war resisters in Canada with Americans. Why is that?

Dumb Ass is a US citizen. Who lives in Canada. Who went up there not to resist an illegal war, not to avoid serving in Iraq (or Afghanistan) but because she didn't like the election results.

Boo-f**king-hoo. War resisters going to Canada are showing tremendous bravery. That gets undercut in the US when their 'advocate' is a little cry baby who wasn't happy about the election results so she chose to flee the country and hide out until the Bully Boy leaves the Oval Office. She has no sway with Americans who have remained in the United States. She's a namby-pamby, self-righteous coward.

War resisters aren't cowards and have put their futures on the line. We also have no problem with those Americans who, seeing the erosion of the Constitution and the Madness of King George, said, "Screw it, I'm going to Canada and switching my citizenship." But there's a world of difference between that group and those cowards who want to go to Canada until it 'blows it over' and Bully Boy's no longer in the White House. Americans on the left and right and in the center have challenged this administration's illegal actions, have fought to stop the destruction of democracy. They don't need lectures from self-righteous prisses who flee to another country temporarily because they're not happy with the occupant of the White House. That's not a stand, that's not a hejira. It's just cowardice.

Such a person might be able to sway Canadians, but she has no pull with Americans. As important as the stories being told is who tells them.

Though the demonstrations have taken place (some are still to come in Canada), you can still make your voice heard and the War Resisters Support Campaign and Courage to Resist offer information on how (the latter even provides you with an online contact form).
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