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PROSPECTS FOR GI RESISTANCE IN IRAQ (english)
by Workers World
Email: boston (nospam) workers.org
24 Jul 2003
INTERVIEW WITH VIETNAM-ERA ORGANIZERS: PROSPECTS FOR GI
RESISTANCE IN IRAQ
By John Catalinotto
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the July 31, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper
INTERVIEW WITH VIETNAM-ERA ORGANIZERS: PROSPECTS FOR GI
RESISTANCE IN IRAQ
By John Catalinotto
Last year, in the Oct. 31 issue of Workers World, we interviewed former American Servicemen's Union chairperson Andy Stapp. He told us then that "It's hard to say what will happen in a short war, fought mostly from the air. But in a long occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan with guerrilla fighting and steady casualties, a real opposition movement within the military is possible."
Stapp, who was drafted during the Vietnam War after having burned his
draft card, appends the rank "Private E-1 (retired)" to his name. E-1 is about the lowest rank a soldier can leave the Army with, and indicates the extreme displeasure of the brass with his/her performance.
Workers World recently continued its discussion on the mood in the
military with Stapp and another anti-militarism expert and "retired"
private E-1, Larry Holmes. Holmes was an ASU organizer from 1972 to
1975, and is currently on the steering committee of the ANSWER anti-war coalition.
WW: What's your assessment now of the mood of the U.S. troops?
HOLMES: It was only an illusion that the war was short. The
"conventional" war was short, but only then did the real war begin. This is now a war between the U.S. occupying force and a guerrilla army that has the support and sympathy of the Iraqi people.
As for the U.S. troops' mood, it was never really "good." The morale of the several hundred thousand troops sent over was down even before the war started, when most of them were waiting in Kuwait.
Pro-war morale was down because many of these soldiers had access to
email, instant communication with their families and also to the news. And they learned before the war started that there were huge
demonstrations against the war.
One of the reasons why the anti-war movement has a pretty good sense of the morale of the troops is because of the communications revolution. Unlike in other wars, the troops' feelings can be communicated instantaneously.
Anyone with relatives over in the Gulf knew the troops were asking
themselves, "What are we doing here, everyone is against this war?" Then things went from bad to worse. Once the relatively brief invasion was over, the occupation began.
STAPP: It has obviously turned into a guerrilla war against the U.S.
occupation forces, with now maybe a thousand U.S. casualties, killed and wounded, since the war began. The soldiers are distressed. They were told they wouldn't be there long, among many other lies. They answer: "Tell Rumsfeld to get our sorry asses home."
Soldiers were told they would be freeing people, who would be throwing flowers at them. Instead the Iraqis view the U.S. troops as a hostile occupation. Now guerrillas attack the GIs 25 times daily. The military brass doesn't report half the attacks.
The generals say the "losses are acceptable." This is typical of high-
ranking people. Meanwhile, the GIs begin to distrust all Iraqis: "They smile but they want to stab you in the back," they say, or "The kids throw stones at us."
In raids the U.S troops swoop into villages, drag people off from their homes, shoot some. This leads to anger among the Iraqis, more recruits for the guerrillas, more attacks on the U.S. and then more raids. The U.S. generals talk as if there is a certain limited number of people attacking the soldiers, and that continued attacks could deplete them. It's not true. New recruits come daily from the population.
HOLMES: That's right. Moreover, the government lies to the troops again. Take the Third Infantry Division out of Ft. Stewart, Georgia. This division led the assault on Baghdad and is one of the main divisions doing occupation duties there. First the officers told them they were going home shortly. Then the day they expected to receive their orders to leave, they found out they were staying longer.
There are all sorts of rumors, even that some soldiers talk of mutiny. General John Abizaid, the commander there, admonished soldiers who spoke to the press about [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and Bush using expletives.
WW: You mentioned that Gen. Abizaid demanded that discontented GIs
stop publicly criticizing their commanders. Your reaction?
STAPP: The military suppresses free speech. The GIs have to live under chain of command. This is inherently undemocratic. It's obvious they all want to come home. They should come home. The anti-war movement and their families would welcome this.
After World War II there were mass demonstrations that forced the
generals to send troops home following the end of the war.
HOLMES: The Pentagon is absolutely terrified over the perspective of GIs speaking out against continuing the occupation. They fear that what begins by talking could quickly evolve into organized GI resistance to staying in Iraq. This can reach the point where the U.S. rank-and-file troops view their enemy not as the Iraqi resistance but as anyone over the rank of lieutenant.
Also frightening the Pentagon is the "bring the troops home" movement
that has sprung up among the families of GIs. Both with the families and with the GIs themselves, the Pentagon's instinct has been to lash out with threats of punishment. But it remains to be seen whether that will quell the dissent. Indeed, it may have the opposite effect.
The anti-war and GI support group SNAFU has just issued a statement
supporting the right of the troops and their relatives to speak out
against the military and the war and their right to demand to be brought home.
WW: At a conference we attended in Europe, some people called the GIs
"mercenaries" because the U.S. has an all-volunteer military. Your
HOLMES: This question needs a serious discussion. We will always argue that class contradictions between the troops and their commanders will come to the surface. But this is a super 21st-century high-tech army, with much of the killing done at a distance. It tests theory again.
We found out pretty quickly that the latest technology not only doesn't guarantee victory, it doesn't change the class structure in the Army.
Will there be significant dissent within the ranks? Or have they become alienated from the mass of the people?
It's best that we let events speak for themselves. Now we have seen
enough resistance to dispel any doubt. How much this will challenge the Pentagon is still to be seen, but the opposition is there.
STAPP: Time magazine early in July had 12 pages of ads to join the Army. The Army's pitch is that there is no money elsewhere for education, you don't have jobs. It pitches itself as a jobs program. But you are being sent to the other side of the world to get shot at. The news in Time that week showed how bad the war was going.
Technically, it's true that many of the troops joined the army for money or education and training. But this misses the point of the class nature of the Army. During the Vietnam period I assumed the draftees would be more anti-war than enlistees. After a while I noticed that there was little or no difference, and if there was, the volunteers were slightly more against the war than the draftees.
HOLMES: During the early days of the mass movement against the Vietnam war, many considered the GIs to be like mercenaries. Fortunately, by the time that the anti-war movement reached its heights in the late 1960s and early 1970s there was also a significant organized resistance movement among the GIs themselves. The more class-conscious and politically sophisticated elements within the anti-war movement made sure to create a civilian support network for the GIs.
WW: You've both mentioned the class nature of the armed forces? Could
you explain more?
HOLMES: Class structure in the army is a microcosm of class structure in society. The top management, the CEOs, are like the generals.
Management is the officer caste. The non-commissioned officers are like foremen and forewomen. Workers are like the rank-and-file GIs. It may not always seem this way, but the ordinary soldiers' class interests are diametrically opposite and opposed to those of the officers.
STAPP: The army as an institution pretty much works for the oil companies and banks. These industries, their owners call the shots. The enlisted forces are predominantly working class white, Black, Latino, Native and Asian people. Higher ranks are mostly staffed with upper-middle-class types. There is an absolute dividing line between officers and enlisted people. Nothing is done together. That is called fraternization and is not allowed.
Very wealthy people are sending working-class people to war and the
people commanding the troops are from a wealthier class. That causes
antagonism, no doubt about it. In Vietnam, most soldiers were against
the war, but everyone hated the officers. Many troops sided with me
because I fought against the officers.
The spouses and families are also working class. They don't see that
they have a big stake in the occupation. It's not like Cheney and
HOLMES: There's another important point. When you are talking about
social struggles that threaten the existence of the capitalist system, the class in power, or even threaten the system's ability to function, the army is and always has been the main institution, the ultimate and most important weapon in defending the system with repression.
As the saying goes, "Mayors, governors, presidents, congresses, forms of government come and go, but the army stays." That's where the real power lies. Understanding who is in the army and what their true interests are is vital to those who are in the movement for progressive or revolutionary social change.
Sooner or later getting this right is crucial to your chances of
success. Simply put, you win over the troops to the side of the movement and your chances of winning go up 10,000 percent. But if you are going to win them you have to believe they are winnable.
WW: What is the reaction in the African American community, other
communities of color, to the continued occupation of Iraq?
HOLMES: More than any other segment of the population, the African
American community did not stay fooled for very long. They see Bush's
war as a war of occupation against brown people, to steal their oil and take over their resources and land.
The contradiction, of course, is that for purely economic reasons,
paucity of jobs and lack of a future in civilian life, many young people and more than the proportionate share of African Americans are still drawn to the armed forces. So there is a contradiction between the widespread skepticism over the purpose of the war in the African
American community and the rising percentage of African American troops in the army.
But this contradiction is resolved when more and more of the population embraces an anti-war position in the midst of a terrible imperialist war and occupation such as is happening in Iraq. The attitude of African American GIs stationed in Iraq quite quickly becomes an extension of the anti-war sentiment in the overall African American community and not a contradiction. Black soldiers may yet be the main organizers of the resistance.
Rev. Herbert Daughtry, the pastor of the House of the Lord Church and a close ally of ANSWER, was struck by the rising anger among Black people who have relatives in the armed services and especially in Iraq. At his urging, ANSWER and Rev. Daughtry are co-sponsoring what will probably be the first major rally to bring the troops home. It will take place in his church in the heart of downtown Brooklyn on Aug. 19. We expect to have at the rally, in addition to community and anti-war leaders, relatives of military personnel in Iraq.
It's our hope that the event will help with our plans to organize a
massive national protest against the occupation and to bring the troops home on Oct. 25 in Washington, D.C.
- END -
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