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.
Only end of occupation can restore self-determination!
The author is an Iraq war veteran.
On the heels of the Status of Forces Agreement, the Iraqi flag was raised for the first time since the 2003 invasion in a symbolic handover of the Green Zone to the Iraqi government.
The Green Zone is a 5.6-square-mile community along the west side of the Tigris River in central Baghdad. It is home to roughly 30,000 residents, including 14,000 U.S. and coalition forces. For nearly six years, the Green Zone has been used to paint a picture of stability and U.S. success in Iraq. When U.S. and foreign politicians visit occupied Iraq, they stroll around the Green Zone, being shown beautiful gardens and lavish palaces that paint a picture of a safe and successful occupation.
But the Green Zone itself is nothing more than a public relations prop and a headquarters for the military brass, private military contractors, and Western corporations to conduct their affairs in luxury. It is off limits to most Iraqi citizens.
Its relative safety is due to a 13-foot concrete wall, miles of barbed wire, machine gun nests every few hundred meters and tightly controlled entry points. Anyone entering the Green Zone is searched thoroughly with high-tech devices such as body scanners. While the Green Zone is frequently attacked from outside with rockets and mortars, there have been few attacks within its walls due to the overwhelming security measures.
The situation just outside the walls of the Green Zone is drastically different. The Green Zone sits in one of the areas where the Iraqi resistance is strongest. Residents outside its walls must cope daily with the severe manifestations of the occupation-extreme poverty and violence.
With U.S. officials coordinating every aspect of Iraqi governance from within its walls, the Green Zone has long been a symbol of U.S. colonial occupation in Iraq. But now, in a move to further tout the occupation, the Green Zone is being manipulated to become a symbol of Iraqi sovereignty.
The handover of the Green Zone, in fact, does nothing except place Iraqi guards in charge of security. Essentially, the “sovereignty” heralded by the handover only gives the Iraqi security forces backed by Washington the sovereignty to protect their occupiers as they continue business as usual within its walls.
Public spectacle changes nothing
Still, Iraq’s puppet president, al-Maliki, declared Jan. 1 a national holiday titled “Sovereignty Day.” A banner at the transition ceremony read in Arabic, “Receiving the security of the Green Zone is a major step toward full independence and the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.” Once the ceremony concluded, the banner was taken down, and behind it was a sign listing a set of rules created by the U.S. military. (Washington Post, Jan. 1)
While the Iraqi security force in the Green Zone-the “Baghdad Brigade”-has supposedly been put in charge, that too is a farce. The Baghdad Brigade is under direct control of President al-Maliki-a U.S. puppet whose government would collapse without Washington’s backing. Furthermore, U.S. forces will continue to be in direct control of security for the next 90 days, at which point the arrangement will be “re-evaluated.” While the Status of Forces Agreement mandates that U.S. forces in the Green Zone come under Iraqi control, U.S. officials have acknowledged that how and when that will happen is uncertain, and unlikely for the time being.
Even if the Baghdad Brigade does officially control security in the Green Zone, it will only be under the strict watchful eye of the U.S. forces. Baghdad Brigade commander Brigadier General Emad al-Zuhairi said, “The Americans will supervise us.” (Washington Post, Jan. 1)
Majid Mola, a resident of Baghdad, commented on how he viewed the newly gained “sovereignty”: “Where are the government services? Where is the electricity? People want practical things.” (Reuters, Jan. 1)
The handover of the Green Zone serves only to improve the public image of a brutal occupation that has killed more than 1 million Iraqis, displaced 4.5 million more, and plunged the Iraqi population into deep poverty. The symbolic handover should be seen for what it is: a public-relations ploy detached from the reality on the ground. While the Iraqi flag now flies over the hub of the occupation, nothing has changed for the Iraqi people.
Raising the Iraqi flag is a symbolic step that brings Iraqis no closer to sovereignty, but is a real step towards cementing U.S. imperialism’s geopolitical and economic goals. Real sovereignty requires an immediate end to U.S. occupation and intervention-a goal the Iraqi people have bravely been fighting for, and for which they deserve our full support.
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.
On the outset of the invasion of Iraq, I sat strapped in a cargo plane that swooped through the night sky dodging anti-aircraft guns. As we sat in darkness, not knowing if we would ever reach the ground, we suddenly dropped quickly from the air and slammed hard against a makeshift runway. Our plane was the first to land in the north. Our mission was to get in quickly, take the required territory and be relieved by heavy armor.
As we took our first steps on Iraqi soil, we expected to get back on a plane and leave within two months. Month by month, our deployment was extended. We read of the overwhelming military defeat across the country, and wrote home to our families that we would see them soon. We began to pack our bags as we watched the president declare the “mission accomplished,” expecting our return orders to come any day. We watched the blazing summer come and go, just trying to get through one more month.
We grew bitter as we ate a Thanksgiving dinner of macaroni and stale bread as the president smiled for photos in Baghdad holding a giant fake turkey. We spent the day dodging bullets when Saddam Hussein was captured, thinking maybe-just maybe-it was finally over. Even as we strapped back into a cargo plane a year after we landed, we expected to circle right back and continue to watch the months pass through a rifle sight. This was a reality for some; many in my unit were sent back within two months of returning home. Anyone who could not find a way to get out of the army was stop-lossed and sent back for at least one more tour.
Essentially, my year of watching the months pass represents the Iraq war as a whole-thinking it was going to end, but seeing only an increase in the size and brutality of the occupation. With the “end of major combat operations” declared in the early months of the war, we saw all-out sieges on Fallujah, Basra and other cities where the Iraqi people had stood up to the occupiers.
The American and Iraqi people demanded that the troops be withdrawn, yet they got the opposite-a massive troop surge. The surge, sold to the public as a temporary measure to bring an end to the war, has served as a justification to keep the number of soldiers in Iraq well above pre-surge levels. Furthermore, the number of U.S. soldiers occupying Iraq has been supplemented by private mercenaries, paid generously by the Pentagon to terrorize Iraqis with no legal consequences.
To ring in the New Year-the fifth of the occupation-2008 began with the war’s largest bombing campaign on one of Baghdad’s most populous suburbs. Month by month, the body count rises and the imperialist occupation of Iraq deepens.
Why not just vote for change?
In 2006, the masses of American people opposed to the war put their hopes in the Democratic Party, handing it control of Congress in what was widely understood as a vote against the war. Since then, funding for the war has continued to flow unimpeded and General Petraeus and the Bush administration have continued on their destructive warpath. In June alone, Congress approved $165 billion to fund the war without restrictions.
Now, many who still fail to recognize the true loyalties of the Democratic Party have thrown their support behind another Democrat posing as an anti-war candidate. Barack Obama, who began his campaign promising a total withdrawal from Iraq within 16 months-simultaneously pledging imperialist intervention elsewhere in the Middle East-has also begun to shift his position to prolong the occupation.
Obama now promises, using ambiguous language, to remove “U.S. combat troops” from Iraq. “Combat troops” do not include residual forces such as “counterterrorism” units, military training personnel and force protection units. Nor does it include private contractors and mercenaries, which number over 180,000.
Obama’s Iraq policy co-coordinator, Colin Kahl, advocates a residual force of up to 80,000 U.S. troops. Obama advocates a “careful” withdrawal, essentially subject to the advice of military commanders. General Petraeus, widely known for promoting a massive, brutal and indefinite occupation of Iraq, has Obama’s full support as the new commander of the U.S. Central Command. This position gives General Petraeus full control over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as all U.S. military operations in the Middle East, East Africa, and Central Asia.
Those who believe that they can “vote for change” will be voting for a slightly modified imperialist policy.
Charting an independent path
The reality is that the war against Iraq will continue unabated. This is glaringly evident in the new security agreement now being forced upon the Iraqi people. Keeping with the trend of further entrenching and increasing the occupation while the Iraqi masses are demanding an end to it, the security deal will guarantee the U.S. military 58 permanent military bases in Iraq-nearly double the current number-while once the public was assured that there would be no permanent military bases.
The security plan will strip Iraq of whatever sovereignty it has left, cementing its de facto status as a U.S. colony. It will give Washington control over Iraqi airspace and the ability to use Iraq as a staging ground for military attacks elsewhere in the region. It will grant U.S. troops and private contractors full immunity from Iraqi law, giving them the right to raid any house and to arrest and interrogate Iraqi citizens without permission from the Iraqi government
Not only does the security plan demonstrate the U.S. government’s determination to forever control Iraq, it sets the stage for further conquest in the Middle East.
There is no doubt that, if politicians in Washington get their way, the war will continue for years to come. Months will pass as they debate the complexities of the war and develop new strategies aimed at giving the appearance that the end is just around the corner. Months will pass and the lives of Iraqis will continue to be destroyed and soldiers will continue to strap into cargo planes only to be snuck home at night in flag-draped coffins.
The plan to permanently occupy and terrorize Iraq is staring us in the face. We cannot vote for change; change will come the way it always does in society-through the efforts of a dedicated, militant mass movement against the heinous crimes of those who claim to represent us. Without such a movement, the imperialist plans for the Middle East will stay on course, and war will be a permanent reality.
The author is an Iraq war veteran and the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s congressional candidate in Florida’s 22nd District. Click here to read more about his campaign. Click here to read more about other PSL candidates running in local and national elections.
While prosecuting its war on the Iraqi people I had been in Iraq for about two months when my brigade suffered its first fatality. He died from a gunshot wound to the head. Nobody wanted to believe that it had happened. The deployment was supposed to be quick and easy; we were supposed to be greeted with flowers and return home within a few months. ??As the sounds from the memorial service echoed in our barracks, there was silence-only the recorded sounds of bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace.” Nobody wanted to talk about the realization that we may never return home. Nobody wanted to talk about the situation we had gotten into; the number of Iraqi people who were dying because of the invasion. Most of all, nobody wanted to talk about the soldier who had died.
The bullet that killed him came from his own rifle, but nobody wanted to talk about that either. Everyone wanted to believe the official story, that it was an accidental discharge. To consider anything else meant accepting that surviving the war was more than just surviving combat. Making it home alive does not necessarily mean making it home safe.
According to the Pentagon, at least 152 soldiers have committed suicide while serving overseas in the phony “war on terror.” It can be safely assumed that this number is much higher, as the military brass would rather explain a suicide as a “tragic accident” rather than a result of combat stress. ??In fact, the Army maintains to this day that it has not yet found a link between combat stress and suicide. The Army’s Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, has asserted: “We have not made a connection between the stress on the force and some massive or even significant increase in suicides.” ??This position ignores the truth about serving an imperialist army in an imperialist war. ??It was exposed by a recent CBS News study on suicide levels among veterans. The study showed that veterans commit suicide at twice the rate of civilians. The suicide rate among people in the United States as a whole is 8.9 per 100,000 people. The level among veterans is at least 18.7 per 100,000 people.
Veterans of the imperialist “war on terror” experience a higher rate of suicide with at least 22.9 suicides per 100,000 people.
The Veterans Administration does not keep a record of veteran suicides. It actively avoids these terrible statistics. Countless cases have come to light about soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder being denied treatment, being diagnosed as having a “pre-existing” condition and being accused of lying to escape military service. ??The military brass has stooped so low as to blame suicides on “Dear John” letters, poor upbringing by parents, and “underdeveloped life coping skills.” ??False excuses like these allow the Pentagon to absolve itself of all responsibility. The military is able to circumvent paying disability benefits. It also permits the warmongers to distort the situation in Iraq to serve their own interests. The Pentagon only cares about advancing its military goals. It cares nothing about the soldiers it uses to spread imperialism.
It cares nothing about the Iraqi people, over a million of whom have been killed in this criminal war and occupation.
A criminal war
I have experienced first hand the bureaucracy of the VA system. I have walked into the mental health office and been pointed in a hundred different directions, told to come back another time, and told to drive over an hour to another VA office. After several months of frustration, I ended up with a bag full of pills. This was the treatment I was offered.
Private Jonathan Schulze also received the run around from the VA. An Iraq war veteran suffering PTSD, he tried to check himself in to a VA psychiatric unit in Minnesota. With the aid of his parents, he explained to his counselor that he was suicidal and insisted on being admitted. Instead, he was placed on a long waiting list. The following day, his parents called the VA and pleaded for their son’s admission. They received no cooperation. Four days later, haunted by memories of war, Jonathan Schulze went into his basement, tied an extension cord around his neck, and hanged himself.
Private Jason Scheuerman could not wait until he returned home from Iraq to seek treatment for PTSD. He informed his fellow soldiers and commanding officers that he was suicidal. He was experiencing some of the most extreme symptoms of PTSD, including hallucinations. When he finally received a mental health evaluation, the psychiatrist concluded that he did not meet the criteria for a mental health disorder. The psychiatrist also informed his leaders that he was “claiming mental illness in order to manipulate his command.” ??Not only was Scheuerman denied treatment and forced to remain on combat duty, but he also was punished by his superiors for seeking mental help and threatened with jail time. Shortly thereafter, there was a letter posted on Scheuerman’s barracks closet. Inside the closet, his lifeless body was discovered. “Maybe finally I can get rid of these demons, maybe finally I can get some peace,” he wrote.
The U.S. government will not adequately care for the soldiers it sends to do its biding. It will use them as cannon fodder, then leave them to die alone in a basement or in a dark closet. ??With the recent data displaying a suicide epidemic, the VA has vowed to improve its psychiatric treatment. This is nothing but empty promises. Soldiers will continue to kill and be killed in an unjust war on the Iraqi people. If they return, many will be plagued by trauma. ??But soldiers have the power to break this cycle. If soldiers want to fight a just battle, one that will serve their interests and not the interests of the ruling class, they can join the fight against the system that profits from human suffering. ??Not one more Iraqi should have to die. Not one more Iraqi family should have to leave their homes to flee the imperialist occupation of their country.
Not one more U.S. soldier should fight and die in Iraq. And not one more will have to if they refuse to fight in this criminal war.
Originally Published on Wednesday, November 21, 2007
The all-too-common story of a checkpoint in Iraq
On a cold night in Iraq, two fellow soldiers and I were awakened by our superiors and told to interrogate a prisoner who had just been arrested. Whoever brought in the detainee insisted that it could not wait until morning, so we irritably left the warmth of our sleeping bags and set off into the darkness.
When we arrived at the detention facility, there was a young Lieutenant waiting for us. He brought the prisoner there.
But the prisoner did not get to that facility the way most did-hands bound tightly behind the back with a sandbag over the head.
He arrived on a stretcher. The Lieutenant told us with a sadistic smile that this prisoner tried to flee a traffic checkpoint he was working that night, and he proudly proclaimed that he filled the Iraqi man’s car with bullets as he tried to drive away.
The traffic checkpoint was one of thousands that operate daily in Iraq. The road is blocked off, and anyone driving on the road is searched and questioned. We had gotten used to questioning prisoners who were arrested for the slightest suspicion at these checkpoints. Many were arrested for carrying a large amount of cash-a common practice for store owners and vendors. ??According to the Lieutenant, there was a long line of cars waiting to pass through his checkpoint. Towards the end of the line, a car that had been waiting pulled out and turned around, driving away from the checkpoint. This act was proof to the Lieutenant that the driver of the vehicle must be guilty of something and trying to escape, so he raised his rifle and fired into the night.
When I walked in to the cell where he was being kept, it was dark, and I couldn’t see him but I could hear him breathing. He was breathing heavily, almost hyperventilating, and his breaths were interrupted by shaking and sobbing. As we followed the sounds, I was able to make out a figure lying on a stretcher against the wall.
We approached the man and clicked on our flashlights. The first thing I saw was the gauze wrapped around his neck, caked in blood, where he had been shot. My first thought was that he was lucky to be alive, but I could tell that he was not thinking the same thing.
I could see streams of tears along the sides of his face, leading to the stretcher that was too small for his large body. He was shaking furiously, his bare feet sticking out from under a thin blanket that was not large enough to cover him. I knew that he was not only shaking from the cold, but from the fear of death, torture, or life in prison. Every Iraqi knows that people get snatched up in the middle of the night; some never seen again, some returning with stories of intense interrogation techniques.
We told our translator to ask him why he had run away. He responded, struggling through gasping breaths and flowing tears. He said he was tired of waiting in the long line in the middle of the night, and decided to just go back home. Nothing suspicious was found in his car.
Instead of making it back home he ended up in that cell, alone in the dark with only blood soaked bandages to keep him warm. This was the price he paid for being impatient.
He cried as he pleaded with us, repeating over and over that he had never done anything wrong. He said he was in pain and begged to be taken to a hospital. I have never seen a man so weakened, terrified, and defeated.
When we left, the Lieutenant was still proudly boasting about his accomplishment. I wondered how many more Iraqis would be wounded or killed by this man, or by the soldiers he commands. This was the example he set for his subordinates in the field.
As I tried to go back to sleep that night, I could think only of the man down the street in a cold cement room with a bullet wound in his neck. I tried to imagine what he felt, how he thought of the U.S. occupation, and how this mission could possibly be conceived of as “liberation” or maintaining “peace and security.” I’m sure we were both kept awake that night-me by confusion and frustration, and him by fear and desperation.
The next morning, I was instructed to go back to the detention facility for more interrogations. There was, as always, a constant flow of scared, shaking, and sobbing prisoners. The man I had seen the previous night was a unique case only insomuch as his wounds were visible. ??Through his broken words, his convulsing body, his tears, and his blood, the innocent Iraqi man on the stretcher showed me what every prisoner felt. That night he taught me what the Iraqi people already know; he taught me who the real enemy was.
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.