Comment on this article |
View comments |
Email this article |
Military Resisters: In Their Own Words
06 Apr 2004
Among the most important AWOL cases is that of Camilo Mejia. Mejia had served in the army for three years. He first joined up in his youth after coming to the U.S. from Nicaragua. After his first three years in the army Mejia signed up in the Florida National Guard for another five, with hopes of getting tuition assistance for Florida State schools. But after six months in Iraq, Mejia decided he had enough. During a short two-week leave he decided he didn't want to return to Iraq. He spent the next months living underground in New York and Boston.
Military Resisters: In Their Own Words
by Phillip Watts
Revolutionary Worker #1236, April 11,
2004, posted at
Spring has come and March Madness, the annual NCAA
basketball tournament, is well under way. As I was watching
some of the games this year (as many as I could sneak in
anyway), I started to trip on these commercials for the U.S.
army that kept coming on. Now the U.S. military is always
trying to get at youth, particularly during events like the
NCAA basketball tournament, and promise them dreams of running,
jumping and parachuting, going to college and getting ahead
etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. But most of the commercials I've
seen in the past have seemed like they were signing people up
to be in a triathlon or something. With this whole "army of
one" shit. Or showing a guy rock climbing and at the end he
becomes a Marine. But these new commercials were different.
These new ones were designed not to entice young people with
promises of running and jumping, but to pull at heartstrings
and make youth feel that they can be someone if they join the
military. In the two different ads I watched, each showed a
young man, one Black and one Latino, talking with their
parents. The commercials are serious and somber as the youth
tell their parents of the important decision they have made, to
make something of themselves and join the army. Though it is
not mentioned outright, what is implied is that the youth may
have to make some sacrifices because of this decision, but that
it is honorable, and they can make something of themselves and
get money for college in the process.
Clearly these commercials are taking into account that the
U.S. is waging a war on the world. Of course
these extremely deceptive commercials fail to mention that as
many as 600 GIs have gone AWOL or why. They fail to mention
that amongst GIs who took a recent survey, 50 percent reported
a low morale. That over 600 GIs have died in Iraq and thousands
more have been severely injured. They certainly don't tell
those they try to recruit about razing Iraqi villages and
killing Iraqi civilians, of which some 10,000 have been killed
during this war so far.
It is important that many GIs are now refusing to fight and
bringing to light the realities of the military and the war in
Iraq. As a revolutionary communist, I don't share the pacifist
views of some of these GI resisters. And I have been reading
about the 1960s and the many Vietnam vets who escaped the
military and became revolutionaries. We need that kind of
revolutionary movement today. But there is much to learn from
these stories from GI resisters. It becomes clear how these
soldiers are caught between callous officials in the military
on one hand, and an angry Iraqi people on the other. It becomes
clear that not finding WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) is
having a deep effect on U.S. troops, as more begin to see there
is no "honor" fighting for a lie. These are some of their
The Case of Camilo Mejia
Among the most important AWOL cases is that of Camilo Mejia.
Mejia had served in the army for three years. He first joined
up in his youth after coming to the U.S. from Nicaragua. After
his first three years in the army Mejia signed up in the
Florida National Guard for another five, with hopes of getting
tuition assistance for Florida State schools. But after six
months in Iraq, Mejia decided he had enough. During a short
two-week leave he decided he didn't want to return to Iraq. He
spent the next months living underground in New York and
Recently, Mejia came out of hiding and publicly declared
that he will not be a part of the U.S. occupation in Iraq. "I
can no longer be an instrument of violence," he told the press.
"I made a decision to disagree with this war, I think this war
is particularly immoral."
Mejia has made several heavy statements on his reason for
not returning. "The justification for this war is money and no
soldier should go to Iraq and give his life for oil." "This is
an immoral, unjust and illegal war," he told the press. "The
whole thing is based on lies. There are no weapons of mass
destruction, and there was no link with terrorism. It's about
oil, reconstruction contracts and controlling the Middle
Part of Mejia's decision not to return was based on his
experiences fighting in Iraq. On the Not In Our Name website
Mejia tells an account of one particular ambush, the views of
the military officials and how he came to see himself as a
"On May 30, my squad was ambushed for the first time in the
eastern part of Ar Ramadi in what was called the `Sunni
Triangle.' We heard a whistle as we passed an area that was
notorious for bombed-out buildings. Next, a bomb exploded in
the road in front of our lead Humvee. Prior to this attack, I
had briefed my squad on what I understood to be Standard
Operating Procedure (SOP), which was that if we were ambushed
we should `haul ass' while returning fire with our weapons.
Following the blast, bullets rained down on us from rooftops on
both sides of the road as we drove out of the area.
"Back at the base, we were euphoric that no one had been
hurt in the ambush. My commander, XO, and 1st Sgt. immediately
asked to be briefed. When I told them what happened they asked
me why we had fled rather than staying and fighting. I told
them that it was SOP to try and drive out of an ambush. They
agreed, but added that we had just sent the wrong message to
our attackers because our mission is not to run from the
enemy--but to kill them. The next morning our commander passed
down word that in the future we should not celebrate our
`failures' and celebrating our escape also sends the wrong
message to other soldiers.
"It dawned on me that protecting our troops didn't rank very
high on our leaders' agenda. Medals, glory, and `sending the
right message' were all worth the lives of a few soldiers. This
war was more complicated than I had imagined. Not only did we
have to be careful with the enemy, but we also had to be
careful with our own leaders, too.
"When I saw with my own eyes what war can do to people, a
real change began to take place within me. I have witnessed the
suffering of a people whose country is in ruins and who are
further humiliated by the raids, patrols, curfews of an
occupying army. My experience of this war has changed me
"One of our sergeants shot a small boy who was carrying an
AK-47 rifle. The other two children who were walking with him
ran away as the wounded child began crawling for his life. A
second shot stopped him, but he was still alive. When an Iraqi
tried to take him to a civilian hospital, Army medics from our
unit intercepted him and insisted on taking the injured boy to
a military facility. There, he was denied medical care because
a different unit was supposed to treat our unit's wounded.
After another medical unit refused to treat the child, he
"Another time, my platoon responded to a political protest
in Ar Ramadi that had turned violent. My squad took a defensive
position on a rooftop after some protesters started throwing
grenades at the mayor's office. We were ordered to shoot anyone
who threw anything that looked like a grenade. A young Iraqi
emerged from the crowd carrying something in his right hand.
Just before he threw it, we all opened fire, killing him. The
object turned out to be a grenade, which exploded far from
everyone. I know that the man we killed had no chance of
hurting us--he was too far away. My platoon leader later told
us that we killed three other Iraqis during this same protest,
although I didn't see them die.
"I also learned that the fear of dying has the power to turn
soldiers into real killing machines. In a combat environment,
it becomes almost impossible for us to consider things like
acting strictly in self- defense or using just enough force to
stop an attack.
"Going home on leave in October 2003 provided me with the
opportunity to put my thoughts in order and to listen to what
my conscience had to say. People would ask me about my war
experiences and answering them took me back to all the
horrors--the firefights, the ambushes, the time I saw a young
Iraqi dragged by his shoulders through a pool of his own blood,
the time a man was decapitated by our machine gun fire, and the
time my friend shot a child through the chest.
"Coming home gave me the clarity to see the line between
military duty and moral obligation. My feelings against the war
dictated that I could no longer be a part of it. Acting upon my
principles became incompatible with my role in the military,
and by putting my weapon down I chose to reassert myself as a
It has now come out that Mejia has been charged with
desertion by the U.S. military and could face serious prison
time. After turning himself in to military officials in
Florida, Mejia had applied for conscientious objector status.
He is the first veteran to both fight in Iraq and seek
conscientious objector status. His lawyers have stated that in
many ways Mejia's situation is a test case for other GIs who
have refused to return to Iraq. Mejia has stuck to his
convictions stating that he would rather go to prison than go
back to Iraq. On March 20, in his home country of Nicaragua,
anti-war protesters carried signs in support of his
Mejia's case was recently covered by 60 Minutes II.
During the show, Mejia stood firm and resolute on his
convictions, that the war against Iraq is unjust and immoral,
that it is illegal. It was very, very inspiring. But the other
part of the show was serious wartime propaganda. As one of
Mejia's commanding officers told Dan Rather, "His duty's not to
question myself or anybody higher than me, his duty is to carry
out the orders that I give him or his platoon leader gives him.
We're not paid in the military to form personal opinions or
doubt what our leaders say."
Lucky for humanity some people, like Camilo Mejia, don't
An Unnamed Soldier Applies for CO Status after Four Months
In an article on Alternet by Dan Frosch, there is an account
from one GI, part of a Special Operations unit, who spent four
months in combat in Iraq. He has remained anonymous as his
application for conscientious objector status is still pending.
In just a few weeks of battle his thoughts on the war started
to change. "There was this numbness..., this human aspect, you
didn't think would be there," he said. "People all around
me--us, the Iraqis--we were all losing friends and family. It
"I saw destruction of people. Innocent lives taken that
won't be coming back. I took lives," he said. "You
were trained to think these people were lower than you. But you
wondered if that person you'd just killed could have been your
friend.... There was no honor in it, and I didn't want to be a
part of it any more."
Stephen Funk Released from Military Prison
Another GI resister was released from a North Carolina
military prison last month after serving six months for
"unauthorized absence" or AWOL. Stephen Funk was the first
conscientious objector imprisoned for refusing to fight in the
A military jury acquitted Marine Stephen Funk of the charge
of "desertion" on September 6, 2003. However, they then
convicted him of the lesser charge of "unauthorized absence"
(aka AWOL). The jury later sentenced him to six months
In April of last year, then 20-year-old Funk, a gay Marine
Corp Reservist, stated: "I am a conscientious objector because
there is no way for me to remain a Marine without sacrificing
my entire sense of self-respect.... I refuse to surrender my
dignity, I refuse to hand over my liberty or surrender my
beliefs. I refuse to kill. The military demands obedience, but
I will not obey... I know it demands courage to say no in the
face of coercion. I hope other soldiers will find the courage
to follow their beliefs... I hope other soldiers will come to
see they are more than just cogs in the machinery of war and
have the power of free will."
After his release from military prison, a welcome home party
was thrown for him by anti-war activists. Funk told Free
Speech Radio News,"Doing what's right and being punished
for it is much better than spending the rest of your life in
the system doing something you found out was wrong."
Escaping to Canada
During the Vietnam War many GI resisters who went AWOL split
to Canada. An underground railroad was set up as literally tens
of thousands of youth avoided serving in the U.S. military and
fighting in Vietnam. Many were avoiding being drafted into the
military, others who had already been inducted or had fought in
Vietnam were escaping the military. Part of what made this
possible was the whole anti-war movement and a culture of
resistance against the war. Many diverse forces assisted GI
resisters, from the Quakers to other more radical and
revolutionary forces. While it is not exactly known how many
GIs resisting the Iraq war have fled into Canada, there are
some inspiring stories of GIs who have.
Jeremy Hinzman is one of the GI resisters who escaped into
Canada with his wife and young child rather than go to war in
Iraq. As Hinzman told the press, "I feel that if I had gone to
Iraq I would be in a sense putting myself into a criminal
enterprise and becoming a criminal because it's a war--or an
act of aggression, I don't think it can be called a war--based
on false pretenses in terms of weapons of mass destruction, the
links to al-Qaida and bringing democracy to Iraq."
Hinzman had filed for conscientious objector status before
he was originally shipped out to Afghanistan after 9/11. As the
National Catholic Reporter tells it, when Hinzman got
to Kandahar, "Word circulated among the troops that he had
filed the claim, and Hinzman's sergeant decided to make an
example of him. For more than eight months, Hinzman was
assigned to KP, washing dishes in a mess hall 12 to 16 hours a
day, seven days a week." As Hinzman puts it, "I worked absurdly
long hours for a long time, it was a lonely experience."
Hinzman's conscientious objector application was ultimately
After returning from Afghanistan and facing the very real
prospects of redeployment in Iraq, Hinzman made the decision to
escape the country and go to Canada. He said that if he saw his
fellow soldiers, who have since been shipped out to Iraq, "I'd
hold my head up high. I would have more to be ashamed about had
I not acted on what I felt was right."
Hinzman has also shed a lot of light on how the U.S.
military trains its troops. It is quite chilling to think about
these so-called liberators bringing democracy to Iraq, in light
of Hinzman's descriptions of how U.S. troops are trained.
"When we were marching around chanting songs like, `Train to
kill. Kill we will,' or during bayonet training they'd ask,
`What makes the grass grow?' and we'd say, `Blood, blood,
bright red blood.'.
"It's all presented, at least on the surface, as, `Oh, it's
just in humor, and no one's around listening to it,' but I
think that really does put that mindset in a soldier that
"Everyday conversation is like a gangsta rap song, the way
women are referred to by people you would never suspect of
talking that way."
"It's almost expected that you're going to refer to women
and the enemy in negative terms-- objectifying the people you
fight against so they no longer have humanity."
Hinzman is believed to be the first American soldier to
leave the United States and seek asylum in Canada because of
his opposition to the Iraq war. He is currently classified as a
deserter by the U.S. military. A hearing some time in May will
determine if Hinzman's application to the Immigration and
Refugee Board of Canada requesting permission to stay as a
refugee will be accepted.
Another GI who has escaped into Canada is Brandon Huey, with
the help of Carl Rising Moore, a Vietnam vet turned peace
activist and advocate for AWOL GIs.Huey joined the army when he
was just 17 years old. At first Huey thought joining the army
was a good move. As he puts it on the Canadian documentary TV
show Disclosure , which followed his journey into
Canada: "Growing up, I always thought it was a good thing to
do, go into the military." After high school, I figured it'd be
a good way to get money to go to college."
But soon after Huey enlisted, the prospect of going to fight
a war he knew was wrong started unraveling his earlier ideas
about the army. Huey started to look for a way out which
brought him to an article on the internet about a new
"underground railroad." From this article he found and
contacted Carl Rising Moore with the following e-mail:
"I do not want to be a pawn in the government's war for oil,
and have told my superiors that I want out of the military.
They are not willing to chapter me out and tell me that I have
no choice but to pack my bags and get ready to go to Iraq. This
has led me to feel hopeless and I have thought about suicide
several times. However, just a few days ago I discovered some
articles about you and Freedom Underground on the Internet,
which gave me new hope.
"I am desperate enough that I would gladly leave the country
if that's what it meant to escape. I do not have much money,
however, and would need a place to stay and help finding a job
once I left the country.
"I pray that you or someone you know can help me. I am in
Texas, I won't tell you exactly where because I don't know who
could be reading this but I am willing to pack my bags and
start driving to anywhere you tell me to go."
Huey made his connection and was able to escape into Canada.
He told the filmmaker who traveled with him why he felt he had
to desert. "I thought what was going on over there was immoral,
it wasn't right. I feel that since Bush broke international
law, that every soldier has the responsibility to resist
He also shed light on the fact that the military is trying
to keep returning troops separate from deploying ones.
Disclosure sums up Huey's comments, "He's heard
service members in Iraq are getting incurable skin diseases
because of the sand flies. Both sides are suffering from the
use of depleted uranium, the effects of which will last long
after the war is over. There are rumors some soldiers have died
from dehydration due to a tight water ration."
"Morale is abysmal and the suicide rate is higher than
normal. Some of the Humvees aren't properly armored--including
the ones Hughey was supposed to drive. There is no exit
strategy. Most damning--no sign of weapons of mass
Reservists Going AWOL
GI reservists have been playing a much bigger role in Iraq
than in other U.S. military offensives. There is a lot of
resentment among reservists, many of whom have served long
tours in Iraq and have lost their jobs or businesses in the
U.S. Jason Cheney is a Lance Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps
Reserves. He is one of a number of reservists who applied for
Conscience Objector status.
Jason Cheney had written a public letter telling his story,
he starts telling how: "Last January my reserve unit, 4th
Assault Amphibian Battalion in Tampa, FL, was ordered to active
duty for `Operation Iraqi Freedom.' I walked into my unit on
the day I was to report, and found my Commander. I told him
that I would not be participating in this war. He looked at me
funny, the thought of what I was telling him sinking in. He
actually rubbed his head like in the movies! To him, I may have
looked normal, like I was used to doing this, but that was one
of the scariest moments of my life. At first I was humiliated,
but realized that I was doing the right thing and I could just
hope that some of those mocking us would join us in the
".It's hard to explain the way that the military can get
into your mind to somebody who has never been. But you are
trained from the first day of basic training to not question
orders and do what you are told, now!You learn to fear
those in authority and want only to please them. So coming
clean with yourself and admitting that you don't agree with
your superiors is like jumping in a pit of hungry bulldogs. So
you just go with the flow, that is until something really
important begins to happen."
Jason Cheney was sent to New Orleans for further processing.
At first he was alone, but as he tells it: "Three days later,
my prayers came true. In walked PFC Alhassan, LCpl Nuniyants,
and LCpl Walz. All CO's. I guess they were a little iffy around
me because they didn't know who I was. But that lasted about 30
minutes and we all fast became good friends. Throughout the
next few weeks, CO's came pouring in to the base. I guess we
had a total of 27 CO's there at the time. We all weren't close,
although now that I think back on it, I wish we had been. We
even had a Staff Sergeant on our side from a reserve unit in
New York, if I'm not mistaken. But we had a good group that
stayed close throughout our ordeal and we still talk a lot.
".Eventually, everyone in my chain of command, all the way
up to the commandant, denied my claim as a CO, and I was
finally sent back to my unit in late August. Keep in mind that
these Marines had just gotten back from Iraq, and they lost one
of their soldiers while over there. Man were they so totally
not happy to see me. I dealt with a lot of crap for the three
weeks that I was there. I was forced to clean the oil drains at
the end of the ramp twice a week. I `busted rust' on the AAV's
all day at least four times. I was called a liar, cheater,
coward, dirtbag, etc. I definitely know how to clean a bathroom
now. All this while just waiting for them to demobilize me off
of active duty.
"My Master Sergeant in Tampa asked me one day, `So, Cheney,
if we get activated again, and have to go to war, what's gonna
happen to you?' I told him, `I'll be in the same position I am
now, Master Sergeant..'
"So now I have been off active duty for roughly five months,
and haven't had a single call from my reserve unit. Hopefully
they won't take so long this time to do what they need to do to
discharge me. I would've like to have been classified as a CO,
and gotten an honorable discharge, but now I'll get an OTH
(other that honorable) discharge, and be on my way. I don't
regret what I did, if anything, I'd say it is the best decision
that I have ever made. I stood up for what I believed in,
something that takes more guts than just doing what you are
Recently at a public event, in a grotesque display of
imperialist arrogance, George Bush made jokes about not finding
Weapons of Mass Destruction. As countless lives continue to be
torn apart by this war and thousands of people have died. And
here Bush is cracking jokes about not finding WMDs, which were
one of the main pretexts for the war to begin with. With such
callous contempt for the lives of the people, it is not
surprising to hear about the morale of U.S. troops--that seven
in ten soldiers characterized the morale of their fellow
soldiers as low or very low. It indicates some deep things
about what effect the mountain full of lies used to justify the
war against Iraq is having on U.S. troops. It is not surprising
to hear that suicide rates are on the rise among U.S.
On March 20 there was an anti-war demonstration of over
1,000 people at Fort Bragg Army Base in Fayetteville, North
Carolina. Among those speaking were families of GIs, including
GIs who had been killed in Iraq. And some news accounts also
mentioned that there were young guys in the audience with the
distinguishable "high and tight" hair cuts of the U.S.
military. As a climate of war and repression continues to grow
in the U.S., as the winds of preemptive wars and empire
building blow throughout the land, a counterwind is blowing. A
culture of war is being met by a culture of resistance to such
unjust wars. Women and men who are being told to fight and die
for a mountain of lies are searching for the truth and finding
their conscience. They are finding underground railroads and a
community of friends and allies who support their refusal to
fight in an unjust war. And as this war progresses, we will
welcome more GI resisters and conscientious objectors. And they
should continue to find more of us to back them up!
This article is posted in English and Spanish on
Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
This work is in the public domain
Re: Military Resisters: In Their Own Words
(No verified email address)
06 Apr 2004
you cant blame this guy for not going back to Iraq who could. But why all the rationalizing? Isnt it enough to just know that the US military is a force of evil and violence in the world. And the US military since WWII has been the greatest war criminal organization in the history of man.