A few words from U.S. troops in Iraq, all quoted in Chapter 1 of Dahr Jamail’s brilliant new book “The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan”:
“Oh yeah, we did search and avoid missions all the time. We would go to the end of our patrol route and set up camp on the top of a bridge and use it as an over-watch position. It was a common tactic. We would just sit there and observe rather than sweep. We would call in radio checks every hour and report that we were doing sweeps.” — Eli Wright
“Unit members would go and play soccer with Iraqi kids instead of going on patrol. I knew soldiers who learned to simulate vehicular movement on the computer screen, to create the impression of being on patrol.” — Josh Simpson
“Nearly each day they pull into a parking lot, drink soda, and shoot the cans. They pay Iraqi kids to bring them things and spread the word that they are not doing anything and to please leave them alone.” — Geoff Millard
“Our platoon sergeant, an E7, was with us and he knew our patrols were bullshit, just riding around to get blown up. We were at Camp Victory, at Baghdad International Airport. A lot of time we’d leave the main gate and come right back in another gate to the base where there’s a big PX. They had a nice mess hall, and a Burger King. The BK is where we wanted to go and to the PX and look at DVDs and dirty magazines. We’d leave one guy at the Humvees to call in every hour, and we’d spend the full eight hours doing this.” — Cliff Hicks
“A big thing used to be squads putting up in some Iraqi’s house for a day or two, just going there and staying. They insert themselves in a house covertly in order to watch a neighborhood without anyone knowing that they were there. But it is really not about watching. It is about sleeping. Hopefully the squad is well-accepted in the family. Sometimes they even make friends. A few soldiers keep watch, the rest of the squad catch up on sleep and relax for a change.” — Bryan Casler
“So we would go and drop the dismounted people at some house with an air conditioner, where they would kick in a door and hang out and drink tea with those people, while we would proceed with the vehicles and bide time out of visible range.” — Seth Manzel
What a bunch of slackers: that might be an appropriate response to all of this if there were some comprehensible and worthwhile thing that any of these people were supposed to be doing. But, as Jamail’s book makes clear, when US soldiers in Iraq are not avoiding their duty they are engaging in harassment, abuse, torture, the murder of civilians, endless stress and trauma, and the risk of their own death and injury for no purpose that has been made clear to them. Soldiers quoted in the book point out that if their own nation were occupied they would certainly fight back just as the Iraqis do. In fact, these are soldiers who signed up to fight for a cause. Some of them fell for the post-9-11 propaganda and signed up thinking they would help defend the United States. Many of them signed up for economic reasons, but they also had a willingness to kill and risk death for a noble cause. Many of them tried to do so for years before losing faith. And what went away, other than their physical and mental well being, was not their courage or generosity. It was their ability to convince themselves they were risking their lives for any good reason.
As recounted in “The Will to Resist,” which ought to be read by every American, avoidance of duty (or, rather, illegal orders masquerading as duty) in Iraq has often evolved seamlessly into refusal to obey. Jamail recounts incidents of individuals and squads refusing to obey orders. If you were sent out at the same time every night to the same place, and were losing more friends each time to predictable attacks, for no apparent reason, would you not at some point refuse to go out yet another time, at least without changing your path and timing? Most of these soldiers do not have any understanding that war is always a mistake. They are willing to fight a war if someone can explain to them what the purpose of it is, or what a victory would look like. But they have turned against this particular war, since nobody can explain it to them, and they have seen for themselves that what they do in it accomplishes no good.
So, some soldiers refuse to load their guns, risking their own lives rather than kill. Others go AWOL. Others, indeed, turn against all wars and apply for conscientious objector status. Some leave the country, some go to jail, some go to court and win. All of these stories are found in this book. So is a rich collection of stories from Winter Soldier, the series of events organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, at which veterans of the Iraq War have described what they did — most of it far more shameful and painful than facing the charge of “slacker” from fat chicken hawks in air conditioned studios. Iraq Veterans Against the War turns five years old this week and continues to grow rapidly, as it should: http://ivaw.org
Other worthwhile organizations to join and support are described in “The Will to Resist,” which includes a powerful foreword by Chris Hedges, and some excellent chapters on how veterans are trying to deal with PTSD, injuries, lack of income, and despair, the products of a war that kills more US troops through post-combat suicide than through enemy attacks. The resistance movement within the military to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is still not what it was during the Vietnam War. Soldiers today were not drafted away from lucrative careers. They are in the military because they do not have other options, and almost half of them have families to support. And soldiers are kept together in their units so that they will each fight out of loyalty to their buddies even if they all oppose the fighting. But, as Jamail discusses, soldiers who want to resist lack the same support from civilians that was provided during the Vietnam War. That’s the rest of us. We have a duty to read these books, support the groups doing the work, build up the coffee shops near the bases, keep the military out of our schools, and offer our time to assist those willing to make a more courageous choice than that of simply obeying illegal orders.