John Fogerty has it right. “It’s déjà vu all over again,” except with a difference.
In Vietnam, in the post-Tet period, when it had become clear to the soldiers on the ground that the war was a lost cause and that they were risking their lives and limbs just to provide cover to Richard Nixon and the other politicians in Washington, mutiny, desertion and “fragging”-the offing of overly aggressive officers who were trying to get you killed before your tour ended–not to mention the crazed and superstitious offing of the guys carrying the body bags into battle (if there were no body bags, nobody could get killed)-became epidemic.
This time around, as it becomes clear that the U.S. cannot win-whatever that even means-in Iraq, and is destined to be tossed summarily out of the country dragging its tail at some point, whether this year or five years from now, it’s a different army. Instead of angry and unwilling draftees, the military doing the fighting this time around is composed, at least nominally, of volunteers-people who either signed up as regular military, or who joined the reserves or the National Guard. Few of them, obviously, thought they’d be in this kind of endless guerrilla war in a country half a world away, but they still know that they did sign up.
Granted many of the grunts in the desert were either sold a bill of goods by conniving and dishonest recruiters, or were driven to join the military by a lack of any employment alternative, or they saw military service as a way to pay for a college education that for many poor Americans is financially out of reach any other way, but they still have a sense, most of them, that they asked for the uniform.
But this is also an older, more self-assured military, which became apparent when a group of National Guard soldiers in Kuwait, about to be sent into the battle zone, were given a chance to meet with Defense Secretary and war architect Donald Rumsfeld.
They didn’t frag the secretary, but if words could kill, that pompous gasbag would be pushing up daisies right now. The soldiers peppered him with hard questions about stop-loss orders that keep many of them on active duty long past their enlistment periods, about having to fight without body armor, about being given humvees and heavy trucks with no armor even as half or more of the casualties and fatalities of U.S. servicepeople in Iraq could have been prevented with better armor. In short, they let the shocked and befuddled secretary know that they are royally pissed at what they’re being asked to do. These soldiers dared to speak out in a way should shame the Washington and Pentagon press corps (if that overpaid and over groomed lot weren’t such shameless suckups to power).
We hear now too, that this army of 150,000 in Iraq has so far experienced 5000 desertions–an astonishing rate of 3.3 percent. That’s remarkable, considering how hard it must be to desert in that environment. In Vietnam, you could hide out in a Saigon brothel, or, as some soldiers did, melt into the jungle, turn yourself over to the VC, and get smuggled north to North Vietnam and eventually Russia or even Sweden. The options in Iraq aren’t so good, particularly with an insurgency that is far less organized and disciplined, and that is as likely to kill a wandering deserter as to give him or her shelter and sanctuary.
How much longer will it be before desertion and angry questioning, and the occasional mutiny like we saw in late October with the fuel convoy that refused orders because of a lack of guards and armor on its explosion-prone trucks, give way to the same kind of disorder, sabotage and mayhem that plagued the U.S. military in Vietnam descends on the U.S. war machine in Iraq?
My guess is that day isn’t that far off.
When soldiers believe in what they are doing-when what they’re actually doing jibes more or less with the propaganda they were fed in training-they can endure incredible risks and hardship. Remember, a lot of U.S. troops believed they were avenging the 9/11 attacks and protecting America from a madman with The Bomb. Now many are realizing they are fighting a nationalist resistance in a country that was never a threat to the U.S., and that had nothing to do with 9/11. As it becomes ever clearer that they are just cannon fodder, that they are being asked to do something less noble, or worse, that all they are doing is cleaning up a mess made by political hacks, ideologues and incompetents back home, all they will want to do is what anybody in that situation would want to do: get out and back home alive and in one piece.
What we’re seeing now are the first cracks.
It will only get worse.
As Fogerty sings in his powerful new song: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” to be published this fall by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org