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Thursday, October 14, 2004

Soldiers speak out against the war

In its current issue, Mother Jones profiles war dissenters in the military.

Here is a preview:
When Hoffman arrived in Kuwait in February 2003, his unit’s highest-ranking enlisted man laid out the mission in stark terms. “You’re not going to make Iraq safe for democracy,” the sergeant said. “You are going for one reason alone: oil. But you’re still going to go, because you signed a contract. And you’re going to go to bring your friends home.” Hoffman, who had his own doubts about the war, was relieved—he’d never expected to hear such a candid assessment from a superior. But it was only when he had been in Iraq for several months that the full meaning of the sergeant’s words began to sink in...

In a 2003 Gallup Poll, nearly one-fifth of the soldiers surveyed said they felt the situation in Iraq had not been worth going to war over. In another poll, in Pennsylvania last August, 54 percent of households with a member in the military said the war was the “wrong thing to do”; in the population as a whole, only 48 percent felt that way. Doubts about the war have contributed to the decline of troop morale over the past year—and may, some experts say, be a factor in the 40 percent increase in Army suicide rates in Iraq in the past year. “That’s the most basic tool a soldier needs on the battlefield—a reason to be there,” says Paul Rieckhoff, a platoon leader in the New York National Guard and former JPMorgan banker who served in Iraq...

Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey may be the most unlikely of the soldiers who have come out against the war. A Marine since 1992, he has been a recruiter, infantry instructor, and combat platoon leader. He went to Iraq primed to fight. “9/11 pissed me off,” he says. “I was ready to go kill a raghead.”

Shortly after Massey arrived in Iraq, his unit was ordered to man roadblocks. To stop cars, the Marines would raise their hands. If the drivers kept going, Massey says, “we would just light ’em up. I didn’t find out until later on, after talking to an Iraqi, that when you put your hand up in the air, it means ‘Hello.’” He estimates that his men killed 30 civilians in one 48-hour period...

Sergeant John Bruhns is sharply critical of soldiers who go AWOL. “I feel that if you are against the war, you should be man enough to stay put and fight for what you believe in,” he says. But he also doesn’t believe in making a secret of his opinions about the war. “I’m very proud of my military service,” he tells me from his post with the Army’s 1st Armored Division in Fort Riley, Kansas. “But I am disheartened and personally hurt, after seeing two people lose their limbs and a 19-year-old girl die and three guys lose their vision, to learn that the reason I went to Iraq never existed. And I believe that by being over there for a year, I have earned the right to have an opinion.”

Bruhns returned in February from a one-year deployment in Iraq. He is due to complete his Army service next March, but his unit may be “stop-lossed”—their terms extended beyond their discharge dates to meet the Pentagon’s desperate need for troops. Critics have called this a backdoor draft, a way to force a volunteer military into involuntarily serving long stints in an unpopular war. A California National Guard member has filed a lawsuit challenging the policy, and Bruhns has considered joining the case.

“I’m really a patriotic soldier,” the 27-year-old infantryman tells me; he addresses me as “sir” and stops periodically to answer the squawk of his walkie-talkie. He signed up as a full-time soldier in early 2002, after serving five years in the Marine Corps Reserve. “I was really upset about what happened on 9/11,” he recalls, “and I really wanted to serve. I lost a buddy of mine in the World Trade Center. I believe what we did in Afghanistan was right.”

But what he saw in Iraq, Bruhns says, left him disappointed. “We were fighting all the time. The only peace is what we kept with guns. A lot of stuff that we heard on the news—that we were fighting leftover loyalists, Ba’ath Party holdovers—wasn’t true. When I arrested people on raids, many of them were poor people. They weren’t in with the Ba’ath Party. The people of Iraq were attacking us as a reaction to what the majority of them felt—that they were being occupied.”

Full story here.


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