We join the military for many different reasons. Some of us want to have access to a college education. Some of us want job training and a steady paycheck. Some of us join to get U.S. citizenship. Some of us need to get out of debt or need to get off a destructive path. Some of us join out of pride, patriotism and a genuine desire to be a part of some greater, collective good. Many of us made the decision early-while still in high school, enticed by recruiters’ promises of cash bonuses, adventure and opportunity-while some of us joined after years as a worker, drawn by the military’s full health care and housing benefits.
Whatever the reason, we all found ourselves wearing the uniform of the U.S. military. What did we actually join? What is the role of the U.S. military in the world? What does it mean to be a soldier following the dictates of U.S. foreign policy? When we sign ourselves away to the military, what are we being used to do?
In recent years, many of us ended up in Iraq or Afghanistan. We are told that as a soldier in the U.S. military we are defending the interests of the United States. This does have an ounce of truth-but only an ounce. We are defending the interests of a particular class in the United States. It is only a wealthy minority whose interests are being defended in Iraq, Afghanistan and the more than 130 countries where U.S. troops are stationed.
In whose interests do we serve?
I was sent to Iraq believing we would be helping the Iraqi people. Once the illusions of pride and patriotism crumbled, I realized I was never sent to help anyone. I kicked down their doors and dragged them from their homes. I robbed them of their humanity in interrogation cells. I watched the life ripped out of them. I saw children torn to shreds. I witnessed my friends disabled by physical and/or psychological trauma. All this suffering and destruction for “Iraqi Freedom,” which really means the freedom of a new U.S.-installed government to hand over control of its natural resources to U.S. corporations.
It wasn’t much different for those soldiers sent to Korea, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Panama or other countries that have been targets of U.S. intervention over the past half-century and more.
We are taught the United States stands for freedom and democracy, and that military force is used to defend or further those ideals. This is echoed constantly throughout our lives, in school and in the media. It is woven into the fabric of our national identity, making it possible for people to accept the deaths of U.S. soldiers in foreign lands, as long as they are assured they died in the interests of democracy.
History of U.S. conflicts
However, reviewing the history of conflicts in which the U.S. military has been involved tells a completely different story. The U.S. government does not have a history of supporting democratic movements, but rather a history of overthrowing them. Among those countries whose popularly elected governments have been crushed by the U.S. military and replaced by authoritarian and non-elected dictators are the Congo, Grenada, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Chile, Indonesia, Iran, Haiti-and the list goes on. Quite simply, this government – whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House-has no problem installing and backing oppressive dictatorships.
Understanding U.S. foreign policy becomes much easier if we stop looking at it in terms of “defending democracy,” and start looking at it in terms of economic interests. It is not the form of a foreign government that determines whether it ends up in the crosshairs of the U.S. government, but whether or not that government will give U.S. businesses access to its markets, labor force and natural resources. This explains why the United States supports governments with some of the worst human rights records, like Colombia, or Saudi Arabia, which has never had an election in its history! U.S. corporations reap billions of dollars in profits from these countries.
U.S. foreign policy really boils down to ensuring the extraction of wealth from the developing world by U.S. corporations. In the words of two-time Medal of Honor winner Major General Smedley Butler: “I spent 33 years in the Marines. Most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.”
Claims that the Pentagon only works to defend the United States and spread democracy fall apart when you look at the current use of the military. It is now obvious that Saddam Hussein posed no threat to the United States, nor did the U.S. government care about the well-being of the Iraqi people. A quarter of Iraq’s population of 26 million people has been killed, wounded or displaced since the illegal U.S. invasion on March 19, 2003. Iraq sits atop a massive supply of petroleum, all of which was nationalized and closed to U.S. corporations’ control under Saddam Hussein.
The role of banks and big business
The banks and Wall Street exert dominating influence over U.S. foreign policy. Our “democracy” is reserved for those who have millions of dollars to run for office, and who are funded by (and ultimately beholden to) corporate interests. Our “free press” is owned by only five mega-corporations who directly profit from the military-industrial complex and distort reality to shape public opinion accordingly.
The ruling class of Wall Street CEOs, bankers and their loyal politicians has the power to annihilate an entire country for profit-but they never fight in these wars themselves. So they have to find a way to convince the average worker that these wars are worth fighting. They must find a way to convince working-class people that we should kill and die to make the rich ruling class even richer.
Our enemy is not on the other side of the world; that enemy is in the corporate boardrooms and the Pentagon Brass. Defeating that enemy means refusing to take part in their imperialist plans and organizing together to demand real justice.
When I volunteered as a soldier to be a part of the initial invasion of Iraq, it was under the assumption that our intentions were just. U.S. troops-most of us from working-class backgrounds-were fed countless stories of the supposed brutality of Saddam Hussein, and the plight of the Iraqi people.
I truly began to understand the nature of the “liberation” that the U.S. military was bringing to Iraq after one particular mission-one that I struggle with everyday, and one that I share with a great deal of shame and regret.
I still have not discovered the reasons for being sent on this mission. There was a block of about 10 homes in an Iraqi city, all with families living in them. Our orders were to force them to leave. We drove our unarmored Humvees as occupiers through a newly “liberated” Iraqi neighborhood. We found the block of houses, set up security and began knocking on each door.
Each family, “free” from Saddam’s “dictatorship” was greeted by rifles in their faces and eviction notices. As they argued with us, confused and panicked, all we could tell them was that they had two days to leave. We did not tell them where to go, why they had to leave or offer any compensation. All we provided was an “official” letter ordering them out of their homes.
When we returned two days later, none of the families had gone. The instructions from the military brass were clear: empty the houses no matter what. We were given no reasons or explanations. Only orders.
The orders did not tell us what to do with the Iraqi children in the homes, or the old man who could not walk. We barged in the houses, rifles first, and began removing people.
A young Iraqi girl who spoke English tried to reason with us. She tried to understand why this was happening and what they were supposed to do. All we did was tell her we were sorry, as we dragged her family crying onto the street. That day was spent being spit on, being told we were “worse than Saddam,” and being forced to turn our heads as crying families begged us to let them stay. The men who refused to leave were zip-tied and brought to jail. The women and children were told only what prison their family members were being taken to; we left them standing in the street as we drove back to base. This was the “liberation” that the U.S. military occupation brought to Iraq.
Not a day has gone by that I haven’t been haunted by the desperate faces of those newly homeless families. The oppression of the colonial occupation of Iraq is something that weighs heavily on my mind.
Everyday, the U.S. government throws families onto the street. In Iraq, it is with threats and violence.
There is no colonial occupation in the United States, but workers also are losing their homes and apartments to make way for the rich. Workers here are faced with racism, bigotry and poverty-all aimed at them by the system and a massive media-based propaganda machine.
Families in Iraq are not our enemies. The hungry and impoverished workers in Iraq are the same as workers who struggle to survive in the United States.. And it is working-class people in this country who are deliberately targeted by military recruiters. The politicians in Washington send oppressed people overseas to kill, humiliate and oppress others.
This does not serve our interests; it only serves the interests of the war profiteers.
Real liberation will come when we-soldiers, workers, immigrants, students and families-no longer let the ruling class divide and create barriers between the exploited in the United States and the exploited abroad. Soldiers should refuse to fight and, instead, bring the struggle home. Real liberation will come when we struggle together against our common enemy, instead of being used against each other to profit the rich.
Originally Published on Tuesday, February 19, 2008
The truth about military ‘opportunities’
Employment opportunities are a pillar of military recruitment. Recruiters focus much of their efforts on low-income schools and communities, promising that the military provides valuable skills and job training.
Television commercials for the Army often show soldiers transitioning into the professional world, depicting military service as a guaranteed stepping-stone to success. The Army airs television commercials showing soldiers in uniform transforming into professionals in suits and lab coats.
The idea that one can serve a short term in the military and emerge a valued, marketable worker attracts youth fearful of life after high school, as well as older workers who struggle under capitalism. While many join the military hoping for a better life for themselves and their families, the reality is that veterans actually experience a dramatically higher rate of unemployment.
A recent study by consulting firm Abt Associates Inc. discovered that a staggering 18 percent of veterans who sought work within one and three years of their discharge were unemployed. The current unemployment rate in the United States is 4.9 percent, showing that veterans are far more likely to suffer unemployment than civilians.
Of the veterans who do find employment, 25 percent earn less than $21,840 annually. The study said that the reasons veterans are denied jobs are the very things they hoped to overcome when they joined the military-lack of technological skills and poor education.
The issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been a difficult obstacle for veterans trying to return to civilian life. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers severely inadequate assistance. The study also revealed that employers are less likely to hire veterans because they fear a mental condition. Veterans with PTSD not only have to struggle with their own inner demons and the effect it has on their families; they are also discriminated against by employers for their condition.
The reserves uses the potential for quality employment as a recruiting tool much more than the active-duty military, promoting the idea of a “citizen soldier” who is in the military for only one weekend a month. Reservists are convinced that they will receive job training and education, and have the freedom to pursue a career while serving a small obligation to the military.
As it turns out, reservists are finding themselves locked into active-duty status and being sent on repeated deployments. Moreover, they are also being denied their jobs when they return. The Labor Department has reported high rates of formal job complaints filed by reservists. In 2006, 1,357 reservists filed formal complaints after being refused their old jobs upon returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
While thousands of veterans struggle to find employment after leaving the military, many cannot even find a place to live. The VA refuses to track the number of homeless veterans.
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates hundreds, perhaps thousands, of soldiers who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan are homeless or living in shelters. Over 1,200 homeless veterans have received help from NCHV. However, groups aiding homeless veterans assert that this number reflects only a fraction of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are homeless.
When compared with the rate of homeless veterans following the Vietnam War, the future of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan looks very grim. Vietnam veterans who became homeless did so after spending five to 10 years trying to readjust to civilian life. Veterans of the current wars are ending up with no place to live after only 18 months.
The problems veterans face upon separating from the military-lack of jobs, alcohol and drug abuse, denial of benefits, suicide, homelessness-all stem from the same root cause. The military-industrial complex has one goal in mind: profit.
The U.S. government spends millions on a single bomb, but will not spend an adequate amount establishing support systems for veterans once they return from combat. The massive military budget is used to increase the wealth of the capitalists, while the veterans of their imperialist wars are tossed into poverty.
The deteriorating conditions for veterans and the increasing number of problems they must face reveal the true nature of this war: profits over people.
Michael Prysner is an Iraq war veteran running for Congress (22nd District – Florida.) as a candidate of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. For more on his campaign click here.
A soldier’s story is our story. On this April afternoon, I attended a memorial. Americans in my local community, as well as those in every other region of the country, mourned the recession. People pondered the reality; this war affects our daily lives and our fiscal stability. In my neighborhood, Michael Prysner, an Iraq War veteran offered his theory on the theme, Recession and the Iraq War; A Soldier’s Story. I share an introduction to his tale and an invitation. Please peruse the musings of Michael Prysner.
Twas the day before any other day in the lives of average Americans. It was April 24, 2008. Countless people traveled about in late model luxury automobiles. A few could not afford such finery. Still, those of lesser means were able to retain a vehicle of sorts. In the United States, a motorized metal chariot is considered a must. In many nations, car ownership is thought lavish. Certainly, those with money enough to drive from place to place have not a care in the world. Yet, here most individuals in carriages are stressed.
In every neighborhood, numerous persons are now out on the street. Some only have a car to count on. They do not have the money to purchase the petroleum needed to run the vehicle. The price of fuel is high and steadily climbing. Rates of unemployment have increased. Job security decreased. The value of homes has dropped. However, few citizens can afford to remain in what was once their shelter. Foreclosures are frequent. Mortgage brokers and a lack of reasonable banking regulations have helped to create a meltdown within the marketplace.
In America, there is an economic crisis. The government cannot assist the common folk. All available funds are spent on wars in the Middle East. Residents in the richest country in the world are worried. Will they survive?
This was the question asked at vigils throughout the nation. In conjunction with MoveOn.org people in this country spoke of how the Persian Gulf wars have affected the economy. Recession and the Iraq War were the themes. In Boca Raton, Florida Mike Prysner, an Iraq war veteran spoke of his experience in country and how those relate to the fiscal calamity Americans face.
May I introduce Michael Prysner and his Winter Soldier testimony. With permission from the informed, informative, and inspirational author, it is my great honor to present . . .
The following statement was delivered at the Winter Soldier event, organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, and held in Washington, D.C. from March 13 through March 16. The event featured the testimony of numerous Iraq war veterans about their personal experiences. The author is an Iraq war veteran and the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s congressional candidate in Florida’s 22nd District.
When I first joined the army, we were told that racism no longer existed in the military. A legacy of inequality and discrimination was suddenly washed away by something called “Equal Opportunity.” We would sit through mandatory classes, ensuring us that racism had been eliminated from the ranks, and every unit had its own EO representative to ensure no elements of racism could resurface. The Army seemed firmly dedicated to smashing any hint of racism.
And then Sept. 11 happened. I began to hear new words like “towel head,” “camel jockey” and-the most disturbing-“sand n*gg*r.” These words did not initially come from my fellow soldiers, but from my superiors-my platoon sergeant, my company first sergeant, my battalion commander. All the way up the chain of command, viciously racist terms were suddenly acceptable.
I noticed that the most overt racism came from veterans of the first Gulf War. Those were the words they used when they were incinerating civilian convoys. Those were the words they used when this government deliberately targeted the civilian infrastructure, bombing water supplies knowing that it would kill hundreds of thousands of children. Those were the words the American people used when they allowed this government to sanction Iraq-and this is something many people forget. We’ve just learned that we’ve killed over 1 million Iraqis since the invasion; we had already killed a million Iraqis before the invasion throughout the 90s through bombings and sanctions.
‘Haji’ was the enemy
When I got to Iraq in 2003, I learned a new word-“Haji.” Haji was the enemy. Haji was every Iraqi. He was not a person, or a father, or a teacher, or a worker. But where does this word come from? Every Muslim strives to take a pilgrimage to Mecca, called a Haj. A Muslim who has completed that pilgrimage is a Haji. It is something that, in traditional Islam, is the highest calling in the religion-essentially, the best thing for a Muslim made into the worst thing.
But history did not start with us. Since the creation of this country, racism has been used to justify expansion and oppression. The Native Americans were called savages. The Africans were called all sorts of things to excuse slavery. A multitude of names were used during Vietnam to justify that imperialist war.
So Haji was the word we used on this mission. We’ve heard a lot about raids during Winter Soldier, kicking down people’s doors and ransacking their homes. But this mission was a different kind of raid. We never got any explanation for these orders, we were only told that this group of five or six houses were now property of the U.S. military. We had to go in and make those people leave those houses.
So we went to these houses and told the people that their homes were no longer their homes. We provided them no alternative, no place to go, no compensation. They were very confused and scared, and would not leave-so we had to remove them from their houses.
There was one family in particular that stands out: a woman with two young daughters, an elderly man who was bed-ridden and two middle-aged men. We dragged them from their houses and threw them onto the street. We arrested the men for not leaving and sent them to prison with the Iraqi police.
At that time I didn’t know what happened to Iraqis when we put a sandbag over their head and tied their hands behind their back; unfortunately, a couple months later, I had to find out. Our unit was short interrogators, so I was tasked to assist with interrogations.
A detainee’s ordeal
First, I’d like to point out that the vast majority of detainees I encountered had done nothing wrong. They were arrested for things as simple as being in the area when an IED went off, or living in a village where a suspected insurgent lived.
I witness and participated in many interrogations; one in particular I’d like to share. It was a moment for me that helped me realize the nature of our occupation.
This detainee who I was sent to interrogate was stripped down to his underwear, hands bound behind his back and a sandbag on his head-and I never actually saw his face. My job was to take a metal folding chair, and as he was standing face-first against the wall, I was to smash the chair next to his head every time he was asked a question. A fellow soldier would yell the same question over and over, and no matter what he answered, I would smash the chair next to his head.
We did this until we got tired, then I was told to make sure he stayed standing facing the wall. By this time he was in an extremely broken state-he was shaking uncontrollably, he was crying, and he was covered in his own urine.
I was guarding him, but something was wrong with his leg-he was injured and kept falling to the ground. My sergeant told me to make sure he stayed standing, so I would have to pick him up and slam him against the wall. He kept falling down so I’d have to keep picking him up and forcefully putting him against the wall.
My sergeant came by, and was upset that he was on the ground again, so he picked him up and slammed him against the wall several times-and when the man fell to the ground again I noticed blood pouring down from under the sandbag.
So I let him sit, and whenever my sergeant starting coming I would warn the man and tell him to stand. It was then that I realized that I was supposed to be guarding my unit from this detainee, but what I was doing was guarding this detainee from my unit.
I tried hard to be proud of my service. All I could feel was shame.
Face of occupation is laid bare
Racism could no longer mask the reality of the occupation. These were people. These were human beings. I have since been plagued by guilt-anytime I see an elderly man, like the one who couldn’t walk, who we rolled onto a stretcher and told the Iraqi police to take him away. I feel guilt anytime I see a mother with her children, like the one who cried hysterically, and screamed that we were worse than Saddam as we forced her from her home. I feel guilt anytime I see a young girl, like the one I grabbed by the arm and dragged into the street.
We were told we were fighting terrorists. The real terrorist was me. The real terrorism is this occupation.
Racism within the military has long been an important tool to justify the destruction and occupation of another country. It has long been used to justify the killing, subjugation, and torture of another people. Racism is a vital weapon employed by this government. It is a more important weapon that a rifle, or a tank, or a bomber, or a battleship. It is more destructive than an artillery shell, or a bunker buster, or a tomahawk missile.
While all those weapons are created and owned by this government, they are harmless without people willing to use them. Those who send us to war do not have to pull a trigger or lob a mortar round; they don’t have to fight the war, they merely have to sell us the war. They need a public who is willing to send their soldiers into harm’s way, and they need soldiers who are willing to kill and be killed, without question. They can spend millions on a single bomb-but that bomb only becomes a weapon when the ranks in the military are willing to follow the orders to use it. They can send every last soldier anywhere on earth, but there will only be a war if soldiers are willing to fight.
The ruling class-the billionaires who profit from human suffering, who care only about expanding their wealth and controlling the world economy-understand that their power lies only in their ability to convince us that war, oppression, and exploitation is in our interest. They understand that their wealth is dependent on their ability to convince the working class to die to control the market of another country. And convincing us to die and kill is based on their ability to make us think that we are somehow superior.
Soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen have nothing to gain from this war. The vast majority of people living in the United States have nothing to gain from this war. In fact, not only do soldiers and workers gain nothing from this occupation, but we suffer more because of it. We lose the limbs, endure the trauma, and give our lives. Our families have to watch flag-draped coffins lowered into the earth. Millions in this country without health care, jobs, or access to education must watch this government squander over $400 million a day on this war.
The real enemy is here
Poor and working people in this country are sent to kill poor and working people in another country, to make the rich richer. Without racism, soldiers would realize that they have more in common with the Iraqi people than they do with the billionaires who send us to war. I threw people onto the street in Iraq, only to come home and find families here thrown onto the street in this tragic and unnecessary foreclosure crisis that is already leaving hundreds of Iraq war veterans homeless.
We need to wake up and realize that our real enemies are not in some distant land; they’re not people whose names we don’t know and whose cultures we don’t understand. The enemy is people we know well and people we can identify-the enemy is the system that sends us to war when it’s profitable; the enemies are the CEOs who lay us off from our jobs when its profitable; they’re the insurance companies who deny us health care when it’s profitable; they’re the banks that take away our homes when it’s profitable.
Our enemies are not 5,000 miles away. They are right here at home, and if we organize and fight with our sisters and brothers we can stop this war, stop this government, and create a better world.
Please view this glorious presentation. Support the troops. Stop Escalation
Dear Reader . . .
Tonight I saw a presentation that spoke to me. I share this message in hopes that you too are affected. I have long believed that to support the troops, we must ensure their safety. Placing soldiers in harms way hurts us as a nation. A country that cares for its people does not condone combat. Were I the Commander-In-Chief, I would do all that I could to sustain every life. I would not wish to take a young man or woman far from home and family. Subjecting an individual to undue stress is, in my mind, not just. I do not think a person of any age need endure the conditions of war.
I envision soldiers as peace officers, not persons parading across foreign lands fighting to survive. When our children are labeled invaders and occupiers, we all suffer. Our soldiers represent us. Try as the troops might to be truly compassionate, to be the gentle souls that they are, or were when safely residing in America, when their life is threatened, when guns and bombs greet them at every corner, they struggle to stay sane. Being genuinely calm and caring is a challenge when you must be combat ready.
The Iraqi people suffer the same circumstances. Daily life is in turmoil. They know not who to trust. Rather than escalate the violence or the troops I propose we begin working towards peace. Pull the troops out. Allow the Iraq people to govern themselves. Apologize for unwarranted unilateral attack and build global coalitions. Veterans are attempting to bring us together.
VoteVets.org, with Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, is leading the charge against the President’s escalation of the war in Iraq with a new television advertisement. Our ad makes clear that if you support the escalation, you don’t support the troops. We’re backing up our ad with tours and targeted media pushes to ensure all Senators vote in favor of the bipartisan resolution opposing escalation in Iraq.
You may wish to contribute to their campaign. They are asking for donations so that they may reach more people. The veterans want to send their message to our Representatives. Members of the Senate and Congress need to know that we support them in their support of the troops.
Please let your voice be heard. Vote with your heart, your mind, and a few dollars might help. I thank you. I trust the troops appreciate your authentic concern. May peace be with us all, everyone!