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Veterans Speak Out
K elly Dougherty, an MP in the National Guard from Colorado, and Mike Hoffman, a lance corporal in the Marine Corps from Pennsylvania, are co-founders of Iraq Veterans Against the War, IVAW (www.ivaw.net). Founded in July 2004 at the annual meeting of Veterans for Peace, IVAW now has 150 members. Recently, Military Families Speak Out (www.mfso.org) helped bring them to Boston for a series of talks at high schools, universities, and churches. I spoke with them on February 6, 2005.
MIKE HOFFMAN: I joined the Marine Corps in 1999 for a lot of reasons. I wasn’t doing anything. I wanted to travel and the military promised adventure. I wanted to get out of the small town I grew up in, where my father worked for Bethlehem Steel and my mother drove a bakery truck.
By early 2001, things started to change. I was just back from Okinawa and I started listening to punk rock. I read Chomsky for Beginners . Some friends introduced me to the work of the comedian Bill Hicks. I was open to new ideas and somehow that period made me ask: “Why did I join the military? What am I doing?” I talked extensively with five or six good friends. During our second tour of duty in Okinawa, we had nothing to do. We just sat around on the base all day talking about politics. We all had different reasons for being open to new ideas. One friend had done so many drugs in high school and felt like he was outside the accepted norms. Another friend was part Native American and so he was pretty well acquainted with the whole history of U.S. exploitation of peoples and resources.
Two days before I was supposed to be able to leave the military, my commanding officer called me in. “I’m sorry Hoffman, but a ‘stop-loss clause’ has just been put into effect. You’re going to Iraq.” Two days before that my girlfriend had broken up with me. My friends told me, “Don’t worry, Mike. You might survive this. You might not get killed.”
I had already packed up my computer to be shipped home, so I went to use my friend’s. I wanted to look up information on being a conscientious objector. He looked over my shoulder and saw what I was doing and he said, “Hey, Mike, you can’t leave us now.”
And I realized it was true. I couldn’t leave my friends. We had been together in our unit this whole time and I couldn’t abandon them. I wanted to go to Iraq with them to do what I could to make sure they would come home safe.
My officer sat us down and said, “Look. You’re not going to Iraq to be heroes. You’re not going because of weapons of mass destruction. You’re not going for the purpose of taking out Saddam Hussein. You will be going to Iraq for one reason and one reason only: oil. But you are going to go for two reasons: because you signed a contract and because your friends are going.”
And that was about the whole truth. A sense of community is what the military sells you on. They promise that you’ll feel pride, commitment, and a sense of family. But this is also something that can backfire. You realize you don’t want to watch your friends die.
I was lucky enough to come home. Others weren’t. I feel I have to speak for them and I have a lot of feelings about what we’ve done to the people of Iraq. We owe them reparations. We can’t make good on that until we’re out of there.
KELLY DOUGHERTY: I was in Iraq near the city of Nasiriya. The troops around me experienced so many negative effects—marriages collapsing, missing the first years of their children’s lives, not receiving full salary—which already was only a fraction of what they were earning as civilians. [Dougherty served with the National Guard.] Families at home could not make ends meet.
It was difficult for me to be there. I was opposed to the war, but once I had to go, I hoped that maybe we would at least be helping to bring democracy to a people that had suffered so much in recent years. But I had to let go of that illusion as well. My father, a Vietnam veteran, sent me books and articles from the independent media, which helped me understand the war. He sent me the Progressive , Z Magazine, and books by Greg Palast, Jim Hightower, Al Franken, and Noam Chomsky.
I sat around with two other people from my unit and watched a DVD called What I’ve Learned about U.S. Foreign Policy: The War Against the Third Word by Frank Dorrel. It turns out the U.S. doesn’t have much of a knack for bringing democracy anywhere— in fact, the opposite is true.
It was hard to read that stuff and learn about U.S. history while I was over there. It made me feel crazy. There was just no outlet for expressing yourself. We weren’t allowed to say anything honest to the media. Mostly, people resorted to scrawling graffiti on the port-a-potty walls.
HOFFMAN: It’s not true that reporters couldn’t get the real story about what troops in Iraq thought about the war. All they had to do was go in and read the messages in the port-a-potties.
DOUGHERTY: I once ran into a reporter from Texas in the bathroom. There were no officers around so I figured maybe she’d ask me something substantive. I even threw her an opening. “Gee, it must be hard to get the real story when you can’t talk to soldiers privately.” She just smiled at me and nodded. She didn’t ask me a single thing.
Talking to Young People
DOUGHERTY: Kids have a lot of questions. What is the military really like? We give a different viewpoint from the movies and the video games. We talk about what the realities of the benefits in the military are. The way military recruiters attract students is by saying, “Join us and we’ll pay for your college tuition.” Yet look at me. I have thousands of dollars of student loans. Things are working out very differently from what I was told.
The advertising slogan for the National Guard is something to the effect of, “Stay at home; serve your country.” But now we’re being used to fight a foreign war—a war that isn’t serving our country either.
It’s important for someone being recruited to talk not just to a recruiter, but to someone who’s been to Iraq. I can’t tell people what to do. Young people need to make their own decisions. But they should have full information about what is going on in Iraq, and they should have access to alternatives. I tell the kids, “Make your guidance counselors work. Find help.” There are a lot of services available that go unused because people don’t know about them.
HOFFMAN: Recruiters are salespeople. They pick and choose what they talk about according to whether it will help them sell their product. Their product is the military. I try to balance that by giving the kids additional information. It’s incredibly unfair that some kids can go to college without having to worry about it and other kids have to join up and risk their lives for the chance. Then that even turns out to be a false promise. Why should the less affluent have to shoulder the burden of the military?
One student approached me after I spoke at an inner-city high school in Boston. He said, “I was thinking of joining the military, but since I heard you, I’ve changed my mind. The problem is…my friend just got killed here on the streets in Boston. So I feel like choosing not to go to Iraq just means staying home and getting shot.”
I told him, “There’s an old Jewish proverb: when you’re given two choices, take the third.”
The IVAW supports creating more alternatives. We want to mount political pressure to shift military spending to meeting domestic needs. So many of these kids are perfectly poised to join a widespread movement against the war and for shifting spending priorities at home.
When I talk at suburban schools, the first thing they ask me about is the draft. They know that’s something that might affect them. The kids in inner-city schools never ask me about the draft. In a sense, the draft is already in effect for them. It’s the poverty draft and their number has already come up.
DOUGHERTY: I was part of the military police. We were supposed to police the Iraqi people even though we couldn’t speak their language, had no interpreters, knew little about their culture, and just fundamentally weren’t trained to do the job. We searched people’s houses and couldn’t even speak to them. They might be desperately trying to communicate and we didn’t know what they were saying.
I’m not proud of what I did there. One of the things we had to do was guard contracted vehicles that had broken down, mostly KBR fuel tankers. KBR stands for Kellogg Brown and Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, so we were basically guarding Halliburton. The military didn’t want the Iraqis to get access to what was on the trucks—whether it was fuel or food. We would spend hours guarding these vehicles and keeping hundreds of Iraqis at bay. Usually, the military would decide the vehicle could not be fixed or towed so we were told to burn or abandon the vehicles. I’m not proud of burning fuel trucks. I’m not proud of burning flat bed trucks filled with food while hungry Iraqis looked on. I’m not proud of burning ambulances.
During one of these guarding episodes, my commanding NCO [non-commissioned officer] told me to shoot the next Iraqi that tried to cross the street. I said, “Wouldn’t that be against our rules of engagement, sir?” He replied, “Sergeant Dougherty, are you having a hard time following orders?” He assigned me to go sit in the truck and monitor the radio.
HOFFMAN: You might wonder why soldiers don’t defy their orders more often. You have to remember the pressures. You are asking them to abandon their friends and to do something that will have lifelong legal and economic ramifications. It could mean jail time and the loss of all your veterans’ benefits.
If you want soldiers to be able to resist the military on the inside, you have to build a strong movement on the outside. We can’t just protest the war, but we have to say to the soldiers, we don’t want you to needlessly waste your life.
You lose a part of yourself when you go to war. I came back. I have all my fingers and toes. But I have to carry with me in my mind what we did over there. I can never be pleased with that, but I am pleased with what I’ve become and with the work I’m doing now.
I’ve learned a lot from talking to Vietnam Veterans Against the War. They’ve taught me about what happened when they were organizing. The big marches were important, but so were the individual acts of defiance. A squad would be sent out on some mission in Vietnam and they would just set up camp somewhere and send in false radio reports. One battery made a Declaration of Peace and negotiated a truce with the North Vietnamese they were engaged in battle with. There were hundreds of underground base newspapers. One of them at a naval base was called, “All Hands Abandon Ship.”
There were four guys on this one base that were doing a lot of organizing. The military split them up and sent them to different bases, thinking that would undermine their work. But instead, they helped multiply those efforts. Each of the four guys organized at their new base and started a new core group of activists. When they got split up, they multiplied even further. These acts of resistance and defiance are going on now in Iraq.
We heard from one guy that his whole unit organized to vote for Kerry. Another guy insists on calling everyone in his chain of command by his first name. One of our members is writing under a pseudonym about what’s really happening in Iraq. Those guys who refused to drive their unarmored vehicles into dangerous territory took a big risk. That was an important act of defiance.
I’d say something like 60 percent of the troops are against the war and it is growing. People are still afraid to speak out though.
When I was traveling in Britain, I heard about a British corporal who said in front of his troops that Blair was a mad man. There’s dissension all through the ranks.
People Can Make Enormous Changes
HOFFMAN: I believe in organizing people starting with where they’re at. Organizing—working collectively —can make change, but the media and the schools and lots of our institutions work to make people feel marginalized and invisible. I got excellent grades in history when I was growing up, but I never once heard about the general strike that closed down Pennsylvania for a whole week in 1877.
IVAW is focused on Iraq right now. If we succeed in ending the occupation, we’ll work with veterans on the issues they face at home—their benefits, their health care. We’ll work on reparations for Iraq.
It’s frustrating to do this kind of work, especially when you see how much energy gets sucked into the Democratic Party. Somebody once said that the Democratic Party has been the graveyard of so many social movements. We have to stop relying on the Democrats. Grassroots pressure—not electoral politics—will change what the government does.
DOUGHERTY: Even though I was opposed to the war, I hadn’t gotten active. I didn’t know what to do. People think, “Even if we demonstrate, it’s not going to make a difference.” Our government relies on that. People don’t know their history—that ordinary people have made enormous changes many times in history. I realized that by not speaking out, I was complicit. It helped a lot to meet other Iraq veterans against the war and to connect with Military Families Speak Out. It has made me realize that I’m not alone.
HOFFMAN: I’d like to see what Smedley Butler [a Marine Corps general at the turn of the century] called for. He said the only way we could have a sane foreign policy was for the first born of every elected official to serve in the military and that all those elected to office could earn only as much as the lowest-paid enlisted soldier.
I’d like to get rid of the national selfishness that leads us to exploit other people’s resources. And I’d like to redistribute the enormous wealth that some people seem to enjoy. What is the point of all that wealth? Haven’t they heard that you can’t take it with you?
I know I’m getting near the “s” word here and that’s dangerous territory in this country. We’re still dealing with the remnants of McCarthyism in this country. In the U.S. people are afraid to espouse alternatives to capitalism. And that works for elites. They don’t have to worry about the threat of a good idea.
Cynthia Peters is a frequent contributor to Z . She is a community activist and labor teacher and organizer.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.