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News :: War and Militarism
Iraq Veterans Against the War Speak Out
15 Nov 2007
As part of the national anti-war mobilization on October 27, 2007, as many 10,000 protesters gathered in Boston to make themselves heard against the war. Among them, Iraq Veterans Against the War were not only present but became prominent at the rally as they chanted, marched, wearing proudly their IVAW t-shirts, and told their stories to anyone who was ready to listen.

As part of the national anti-war mobilization on October 27, 2007, as many 10,000 protesters gathered in Boston to make themselves heard against the war. Among them, Iraq Veterans Against the War were not only present but became prominent at the rally as they chanted, marched, wearing proudly their IVAW t-shirts, and told their stories to anyone who was ready to listen.

This is Michael Blake who was in Iraq from April 2003 to March 2004 in the 4th infantry division, 3rd brigade.

MICHAEL: Well, once you start seeing through the holes in their little lies, you start to realize that everything you’ve ever been told about American benevolence is false, and really all we have is self-interests. That’s what our political system is organized around and our government… They systematically exploit people not only the United States but all over the world to further their own personal wealth and their political agenda. And I learned the power of a lie, because a lie can bring people to war. A lie can kill women and children. A lie can change the world. A lie can bring the end to the human race, and the person who tells it… It’s just so simple for them. They just tell a lie and it changes everything. So once you’ve found out you’ve been lied to almost your whole life, it really causes a crisis for you, so you just want to find the truth however you can.

INDY REPTR: I asked Michael why he decided to join the army and his views on military recruitment in this country.

MICHAEL: We have this illusion that we have this volunteer army because people sign on to it for a limited amount of time, but their terms get extended past that time. So once you’re being held involuntarily you are by nature, no longer a volunteer. That’s what the government really learned since Vietnam, is that in order to maintain retention of their soldiers they have to get group cohesion going… So whereas before soldiers would filter in-and-out for a year or two in Vietnam, now soldiers are being held for an entire three-year life cycle in a unit where they have to deploy and come back with them… Where they develop such strong unit solidarity that they manage to guilt everyone into staying in because they are defending their friends and protecting their friends. And they’re just going back for a second or third tour just to go do what their buddies are doing. So, that’s one of the tools they use to extend this war and keep the burden of this war on a very small segment of the population.

INDY REPTR: Adrian Kenny, who worked as military intelligence and now is working at a VA hospital helping wounded soldiers who come back from the war, also spoke about the deeply-ingrained comraderie among soldiers and how it extends itself among war resisters, such as the Iraq Veterans Against the War.

ADRIAN: A lot of times when we go to events like this, the most gratifying part about it is just us getting together as veterans and soldiers and kind of taking back. Because when you are in the military, that culture… There is just this comaderie soldier-to-soldier that you can never really explain to anyone else who has not been in the military. And that’s one of the things that makes it so hard. I mean, even when I was against the war I was this close to re-enlisting, because is hard to break away from that. But I found it again in Iraq Veterans Against the War, that comraderie, that feeling that you are a group of people and that you are behind some united cause. It’s really incredibly gratifying to be around other veterans who have experienced similar things.

INDY REPTR: So, someone like Camilo Mejia, for example, who made a decision not to go back… How is he seen in the movement? Do you feel it encourages other people to resist the war that way?

ADRIAN: Well, actually Camilo was just elected to be one of the Executive Directors of Iraq Veterans Against the War, so, IVAW is completely supportive of people who decide that they are not going to serve in support of this war and occupation anymore.

INDY REPTR: I imagine it takes a lot of courage to be in the military and say, “I’m not fighting anymore.”

ADRIAN: I think it must take a tremendous amount of courage. I can’t even imagine, as someone who has served and let my time expire and got out that way… Which was hard to do, it was hard to do enough, especially after 10 years to say no… But for someone who is in, to actually make that conscious decision, it must take the most courage that I can imagine. I just want anyone out there to know that if they want to take that step, that IVAW is going to be there to support them.

INDY REPTR: Howard Zinn was invited to speak at the rally, but he also took the time to speak to the Iraq veterans, most of them young men and women under thirty. The veterans eagerly asked him whether he thought they could make a difference in ending this war.

VETERAN: In high school… I didn’t read you until I was out of high school, and then it was too late because I already joined the military. Now that I got out all these Vietnam vets come give me a hug and say, “I’m sorry brother. We vowed we would never let this happen to your generation.” But it’s like I learned too late.

PROTESTER: And Howard, I have a question for you about the importance of people like Iraq Veterans Against the War, and the importance of veterans like yourself speaking about the war.

ZINN: Well, what I found, when I was speaking against the war in Vietnam, I found it was helpful for people to know that I was a veteran. Because otherwise they come up with the usual stuff, you are unpatriotic, you don’t want to serve… And the fact that I was a veteran in World War II, I could speak with a little more authority than people who had not been in war. So I think veterans in general… I believe that in the case of Vietnam, the resistance of the Vietnam veterans against the war, the resistance of the GIs in the war, the GIs who refused to go out in the field, the pilots who refused to fly... I believe that was crucial in bringing the war in Vietnam to the end. And I believe in this case, to me the most exciting thing in the slow development of the anti-war movement of against the war in Iraq, it was the emergence of Iraq Veterans Against the War. This is the key, when more and more veterans, more and more young people are attacked by recruiters, refuse to join, when more and more parents insist recruiters stop coming to high schools… In other words, when they can’t refurbish their military, when they can’t count on people to fight their wars anymore, then the war will have to come to an end.

INDY REPTR: Ryan Mcarthy, a soldier stationed in Iraq for a year who served as an MP, he talked about how Iraq Veterans Against the War has given him the space and courage to speak up against the war.

RYAN: They provide the space for people to turn. If you are an Iraq veteran and you are against the war, you are going to find IVAW. It’s a good place for us to get together and have our voice be heard as a group, rather than… you are just some guy somewhere who happens to be Iraq. We can speak together, we can work together.

INDY REPTR: And why is that important to you?

RYAN: It was great to see people who felt the same way as I did and who had gotten organized. I’m not someone who goes out and starts organizations, but they had already done that. And they were thinking along the same lines I was. I could join them, I could feel comfortable with them.

A lot of people have no connection with the military, so they don’t see what’s going on. They just think, “They volunteered for it!” We volunteered to be in the military, we didn’t volunteer to go occupy countries that didn’t need to be occupied. Our guys are getting killed for no reason, they didn’t volunteer for that. They volunteer to expose themselves to danger for a good cause, but there is no cause. And so it has to be soldiers who speak up because no one else cares or sees.

INDY REPTR: Adrian echoed the feeling that it is the soldiers, the war resisters, who much like in the war in Vietnam, will make a difference in putting an end to this war.

ADRIAN: Last year I was actually working in a VA hospital where I was seeing soldiers coming straight back from Iraq and Afghanistan, after being hit by IEDs, so they had traumatic brain injury, and/or PTSD. That’s when I really started thinking about what we were doing in Iraq and what we were doing to our soldiers. And hearing them speak about their experiences. Some of them had been hit by an IED, came back to the States, were fixed and sent over again, hit again, and sent back to the States… There is just this never-ending cycle.

I spoke to a soldier who said he was an MP in Europe and he was escorting prisoners, and he said he saw our government do things to people that no one should ever have to witness. And he couldn’t talk about because he felt it was classified, and if he spoke about it what he saw, he would be betraying their trust. But you know he was talking about our government torturing prisoners. And for somebody to have to witness that, witness what our military is really all about, what our government has become, and the policies and the tactics they were using, and have to deal with that… Deal with the fact that our government is using our soldiers to torture people. And then they can’t even speak about it because they feel bound to the military?

It’s about time our soldiers realize that they are not bound to anything but the United States constitution, and to support and defend that against all enemies both foreign and domestic. And when our governments tells our military to do things that are illegal and crimes against humanity, it’s upon our soldiers to say no. And that they will not support an illegal invasion of Iraq. They will not support crimes against humanity, they will not support torture. It’s time for them to say no.

INDY REPTR: When did you become active against the war? Did the war in Iraq itself change you?

ADRIAN: I was pretty much against the war before we invaded, but as a soldier in the military I really didn’t think I had a voice to speak out against anything. Because you are basically bound to support the military and for a long time I felt that, in order to support the military I had to support our soldiers and whatever they did. And then as the years go by and nothing changes and in fact, things get worse. And then you put all this energy into the elections…

In 2006 I started doing so much, encouraging people to vote, speaking about the issues, encouraging people to vote for the Democrats because I was convinced that they would do something. And then, not three months after the Democrats take office the escalation was announced...

That was in January and I basically didn’t know what else to do. I had just moved to Vermont, there was a bus that was going down to DC for the January 27th march in Washington. And I got a slot in the bus and that’s how I met Iraq Veterans Against the War and basically, joined the movement. I’ve been doing stuff with them ever since.

It actually makes me feel hopeful. It can be frustrating, overwhelming, and beside yourself. But seeing so many people come out and speak against the war, who have been there and know what is like, to see them really struggling and organize a resistance. It’s incredible. It gives me hope that there will be change in the future. And I would encourage everyone to check out IVAW’s website and see what they’re about and support IVAW. Soldiers need to hear from other soldiers that they don’t have to fight and serve and support this illegal war. It gives me hope.

INDY REPTR: For Boston Indymedia and WMBR, this is Sofia Jarrin from Boston.

[chanting] Wherever we go, same people want to know, who we are, where we come from. So we tell them, we are the veterans, combat veterans, military veterans, against the war, against destruction. Iraq veterans, against the war…

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