Some of them will be okay. They will live with the secrets. They can dissociate from what happened in combat because it was part of the job. It was what they signed up for. They will keep the secrets out of duty -- the silence is part of a code, and they honour that code above all else.
But for others, the secrets they keep are like a poison, slowly releasing toxins of shame and remorse. Who can they tell anyway? They talk to each other -- other veterans who have seen what they've seen, done what they’ve done, and who can relate to the burden of carrying these secrets for the rest of their lives.
In 1971, the protest group Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered at a hotel in Detroit. More than 100 veterans talked about the atrocities they had witnessed in southeast Asia.
The event lasted for three days and was named Winter Soldier after Thomas Paine's famous article. "These are the times that try men's souls," he wrote of the terrible winter of 1776, when Washington's ragtag, demoralised army turned the tide of the War of Independence.
The Vietnam vets, spurred on by the court martial of Lt William Calley, who had ordered the infamous My Lai massacre, wanted to turn a tide too -- against public opinion, to demonstrate that the execution of hundreds of innocent villagers in 1968 was not an isolated incident as so many believed. The Winter Soldier event received little coverage in America, but was the subject of an internationally acclaimed documentary of the same name.
This month, for four days in Washington, DC, beginning on March 13, there will be a second Winter Soldier gathering -- 37 years after the first. Organised by the protest group Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), US veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan since the 9/11 attack on New York will testify about their experiences. They will present photographs and videos, recorded with mobile phones and digital cameras, to back up their allegations -- of brutality, torture and murder.
The veterans are not against the military and seek not to indict it -- instead they seek to shine a light on the bigger picture: that the Abu Ghraib prison regime and the Haditha massacre of innocent Iraqis are not isolated incidents perpetrated by "bad seeds" as the military suggests, but evidence of an endemic problem. They will say they were tasked to do terrible things and point the finger up the chain of command, which ignores, diminishes or covers up routine abuse and atrocities.
Some see it as their responsibility to speak out -- like Jason Washburn, a US marine who did two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq; Logan Laituri, a US Army forward observer in Iraq; and Perry O'Brien, an army medic deployed to Afghanistan in 2003. They believe that, as veterans, they are the most credible sources of information. They say they were put in immoral and often illegal positions. They will speak about what they saw, and what they were asked to do.
The above is from Ariel Leve's "Patriot missiles: Iraq Veterans Against the War" (Times of London). That's the action that takes place later this month -- IVAW is holding a DC action:
In 1971, over one hundred members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered in Detroit to share their stories with America. Atrocities like the My Lai massacre had ignited popular opposition to the war, but political and military leaders insisted that such crimes were isolated exceptions. The members of VVAW knew differently.Over three days in January, these soldiers testified on the systematic brutality they had seen visited upon the people of Vietnam. They called it the Winter Soldier investigation, after Thomas Paine's famous admonishing of the "summer soldier" who shirks his duty during difficult times. In a time of war and lies, the veterans who gathered in Detroit knew it was their duty to tell the truth.Over thirty years later, we find ourselves faced with a new war. But the lies are the same. Once again, American troops are sinking into increasingly bloody occupations. Once again, war crimes in places like Haditha, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib have turned the public against the war. Once again, politicians and generals are blaming "a few bad apples" instead of examining the military policies that have destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan.Once again, our country needs Winter Soldiers.In March of 2008, Iraq Veterans Against the War will gather in our nation's capital to break the silence and hold our leaders accountable for these wars. We hope you'll join us, because yours is a story that every American needs to hear.
Click here to sign a statement of support for Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan
March 13th through 16th are the dates for the Winter Soldier Iraq & Afghanistan Investigation. Dee Knight (Workers World) notes, "IVAW wants as many people as possible to attend the event. It is planning to provide live broadcasting of the sessions for those who cannot hear the testimony firsthand. 'We have been inspired by the tremendous support the movement has shown us,' IVAW says. 'We believe the success of Winter Soldier will ultimately depend on the support of our allies and the hard work of our members'." As part of their fundraising efforts for the event, they are holding houseparties and a recent one in Boston featured both IVAW's Liam Madden and the incomprable Howard Zinn as speakers. IVAW's co-chair Adam Kokesh will, of course, be participating and he explains why at his site, "But out of a strong sense of duty, some of us are trying to put our experiences to use for a good cause. Some of us couldn't live with ourselves if weren't doing everything we could to bring our brothers and sisters home as soon as possible. The environment may be unking, but that is why I will be testifying to shooting at civilians as a result of changing Rules of Engagement, abuse of detainees, and desecration of Iraqi bodies. It won't be easy but it must be done. Some of the stories are things that are difficult to admit that I was a part of, but if one more veteran realizes that they are not alone because of my testimony it will be worth it."
In Sunday's New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise and Richard A. Oppel's article noted yesterday runs. In other news can we all get the word out that Katha Pollitt (distorting, in the Los Angeles Times) what Gloria Steinem said) is not a femist? Can we all point that Gloria Steinem didn't say anything racist but that, in 2002, Katha Pollitt stuck her big, broken nose -- on that chunky, chicken fat face, into the NAACP's campaign against the lack of positive African-American portrayals on TV and said it didn't matter? Katha Pollitt's a racist more infamous today for being so damn pathetic that when her lover left her for another women, she started stalking them. She's pathetic, she's not a feminist and she's no friend to women. She couldn't write one word in 2006 about the gang-rape and murder of Abeer by US soldiers. When the criticism became too intense by the middle of 2007, she acknowledged Abeer in a half-of-a-sentence. That's not a feminist. That's a woman writer who plays at being the in-house feminist at a magazine that published 491 men to 149 women in 2007. The mainstream media should especially take note of that because Katha never called it out -- the same Katha who recycles the "___ paper has only __ female columnist and ___ men!" She can point that corpulent finger at others but she can't do a damn thing to help women at her own magazine or even publicly call it out. Dumpy got dumped for a reason. And the Los Angeles Times shouldn't pimp a list of 'feminists' without noting that it's men and women, it reads like "Reds for Bambi" (nothing wrong with that but don't hide it behind "feminists") and has included such notable (and genunine, we're sure) authentic signers as "Minnie Mouse."
Back to the New York Times, we're not interested in promoting the lie that there is 'justice' in Iraq so we'll skip the execution news. Sheryl Gay Stolberg's article was also noted yesterday so that leaves us with nothing to note from the paper. There's a Reuters item on Iran offering Iraq a one billion dollar loan.
Leila Fadel reports on today's visit in "Visit by Iran's president shows depth of Iraq's divisions" (McClatchy Newspapers):
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday became the first Iranian head of state to visit Iraq in three decades and immediately became the focus of demonstrations that underscored Iraq's sectarian split.
In Fallujah, Sunni Muslim protesters demonstrated against his visit, calling him the killer of Iraqi children. Iraq's Sunni vice president showed up late for a reception for Ahmadinejad hosted by Iraq's Kurdish president.
Meanwhile, Iraq's Shiite ruling elite, many of whom had been taken refuge during Saddam Hussein's time in Shiite Iran, listened to Ahmadinejad without need of translation into Arabic, clearly comfortable hearing his Farsi.
American officials stayed far away from the visiting Iranian delegation. At a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, Ahmadinejad claimed that "Iraqis don't like Americans." Maliki didn't challenge the assertion.
CORRECTION: Those Times (of New York) articles were Saturday's paper. I'm home (and tired) and pulled Saturday's paper out of the blue blag. (Usually someone here as already read it and it's not in the blue bag.) Sunday's New York Times contains one article on Iraq, Alissa J. Rubin's "Iraq Visits by Ahmadinejad and Chairman of U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Will Overlap" which runs on A10. My apologies.
New content at The Third Estate Sunday Review:
Truest statement of the week
Truest statement of the week II
A Note to Our Readers
Editorial: While You Were Distracted
TV: Recyling the tired and the damaging
Why Marcia started her own blog
Fool On The Hill
Dumb Ass of the Week -- It's a tie!
It's still called The Progressive, right?
A mini-note to the readers
When the edition was finally near completion (in the morning, forget polish and completing the editorial), Kat stated, "I don't have it in me to even try a review." I completely understand. We're on stripped down mode and there will be this entry and "And the war drags on . . ." (already completed as I type this). Isaiah's comic is completed and will go up tomorrow morning unless Flick's a pain. Ava and I leave early in the morning (to go back out on the road) and if it's not up in the morning, I will upload it tomorrow night. My apologies.
The e-mail address for this site is firstname.lastname@example.org.
iraq veterans against the war