On Power

(Disclaiming in advance for the rare exceptions in Congress)

If there is one thing we can always count on, it’s politicians who walk over human corpses to show fear only in the face of something as formless and abstract as an opinion poll. Many of us in the veterans and military families antiwar movement are well-versed on so-called realism–and that deference we are supposed to exercise when we approach elected officials, hat in hand, for a few crumbs of your attention and support.

We understand power very well.

You are fighting each other for your careers, and you are retaining your power over us through distance and guile, and trying to promote that power by pretending you are hearing our “concerns.” But we have more than “concerns” at stake here.

It is because we understand power that we haven’t the slightest intention of allowing ourselves to be used to promote your careers past the 2006 elections. If you fail to demand US withdrawal now, you are supporting the war; and if you support the war, as far as we are concerned, you can go straight to hell in 2006.

It is because we understand power that we are not going to forgive and forget that when the war fever was up, fed by the lies of Republicans, the war was facilitated by the eager xenophobic complicity of most Democrats, and by the slavish obedience of the corporate press. Most of you not only co-signed what you knew to be an illegal invasion–you have continued to sign the checks to perpetuate the war.

You wanted to be lied to about the war, because the polls supported the war, and you were sniffing the political air.

It is because we understand power that we know that most of you did this out of craven opportunism and a concern for your political ambitions–knowing full well that no one you loved was likely to be sent home without a limb, without an eye, without a life.

It is because we understand power that we know how cynically cavalier you are with the lives of others, and how narcissistically self-promoting.

It is because we understand power that we understand why many of you are backpedaling in your support for the war. You are maneuvering to be “critical” of the war. You “demand” the administration provide “an effective exit strategy.” And you haven’t said a goddamned substantive thing, as the cameras shutter away for you. And you want us to play along–so you can beat Republicans without taking a single real position. You don’t want to stop this war. You want to win an election. By the time you win that election, another thousand troops and another 20,000 Iraqis could be dead. We do not calculate time the way you do.

It is because we understand power that we know most of you will stand by while those of us with less privilege see our loved ones sent to kill and die. The real corpses produced by the exercise of power are no more to you than a political calculation.

We understand power, because we know what really stands behind it. Power is embodied in the mounted cops you use to police our protests. Power is expressed by the armed guards for your gated communities. Power is the ability to kill and maim and get away with it, even if you dress it up in $5,000 suits and trot it out on the talk-show circuit, on C-Span, in your interviews with CNN.

Power is projected onto other peoples using your Cruise missiles and A-10s and Bradley fighting vehicles and the people who join the military. And the price of that power doesn’t merely come from our pockets. We probably wouldn’t fight you about how you rob us for your pork barrel defense contracts. The price that has us in motion right now–you really must understand this, because it means we will never back off–is exacted on the bodies of human beings.

The price is exacted with mortars, with IEDs, with high powered rifle ammunition, with bombs, with the same A-10s and Bradleys; and it is exacted on the bodies of our loved ones and the loved ones of the Iraqi people.

That’s why we are not going to grant you the power to manipulate us, to contain us, to corral us, or to pimp our grief over this war and its costs on behalf of your political careers or the needs of a political party. That’s why were are going to be rudely explicit when we say that your bombast against the Bush administration–as if they did this without your help–in calling for a more effective “exit strategy” and demanding that people merely think about a plan for withdrawal from Iraq that will take months or years this verbiage is meaningless and manipulative. We will never stand for studying a withdrawal, for phasing a withdrawal, for delaying a withdrawal, for setting conditions for a withdrawal, or for partial withdrawal. Never.

Our demand from the beginning remains unchanged. It is for withdrawal, and for immediate, unilateral, unconditional withdrawal; and if political careers go up in smoke as a consequence, we do not give a good goddamn. People are dying in Iraq as a direct result of this war every single day. Go back to your fucking law offices and let our children live.

Gradual, phased, planned, strategized, conditioned, delayed, partial withdrawals get implemented, if at all, while those military sedans continue to roll up in front of people’s houses to announce the extinction of a human being to his or her family and while the bodies are dropped into the fresh graves at the cemeteries of Iraq.

Gradual, phased, planned, strategized, conditioned, delayed, partial withdrawals get implemented, if at all, while the poisons accumulate in the soil and water and food of Iraq, and in the bodies of Iraqis and occupation troops.

Gradual, phased, planned, strategized, conditioned, delayed, partial withdrawals get implemented, if at all, while the hospitals fill up with the lamed, maimed, blinded, and disfigured.

Gradual, phased, planned, strategized, conditioned, delayed, partial withdrawals get implemented, if at all, while the grief and horror associated with this criminal war become the daily emotional fare of more and more people, occupation forces and Iraqis.

No member of Congress has the moral right to dither on the question of his or her precious career while a single constituent is facing the fear of that devastating knock on the door. We say the emperor has no clothes; and we say we know you when you feign “concern” with your eye fixed firmly on your ambition.

An exit is not a strategy. An exit is a command.

If the commander in chief won’t give that command, then you in Congress–if you want to salvage anything that looks vaguely like a conscience or a soul–will refuse to grant this administration another penny to continue this war. We are not hearing you when you tap dance about political “realism.” The mounting mass of corpses, that you have walked over every time you voted a cent to continue this war, is about as real as it gets. Don’t you dare ever lecture military families and veterans about realism. And don’t you doubt that we understand power.

You may think you can respond to your careerist concerns in the face of reversing polls. You may think you can pretend to do something, that you can bewilder us into accepting half a loaf better than none.

To the tiny handful of you in Congress who have said what we say, “Out Now!,” we commend you and thank you for your principled voices.

To those of you who are openly supporting this criminal administration, we’ll see you in the street, and history will consign your names to the chapters about imperial bullying, comb-over machismo, and cognitive mediocrity.

To those of you who call for half measures, phases, and strategies, you are directly in front of us now. You are standing directly in our path, and we are not going to go around you.

We are not going to commend you on being “better” than the reactionaries.

We are not going to thank you for our half a loaf.

We are not going to try and give you the political cover you need to wiggle around those shifting opinion polls while you salvage your careers.

We do not love you. We find your ambivalence contemptible.

We love the people who are facing the real consequences of this war while you schmooze your way through the chicken-salad circuits of imperial power, nattering on about realism and phases and strategies.

You will not divert our attention away from you. You will redirect neither our anger nor our will away from you. It is you who are standing directly in our way; and every time you try to dicker about people’s lives with us like we are in street market, every time you try to pimp our outrage at this crime, as a mere “concern” that only you are entitled to address with your careerist half-measures, we will call you to account. We will embarrass you. We will shine a spotlight on your cowardice, your opportunism, and your grotesque cynical hypocrisy.

November 2006 is not an election to us; it is a body count. If you think you can take us for granted over an election, think again.

Get it right, because we have never wavered on our position. The mass of American society is moving toward us, not you. They are listening more and more to us, and less and less to you. We are about saving lives, not saving face. So get it right, and get it right fast. We are looking at your political house with an eye to pulling it down.

We understand power very well.

STAN GOFF is the author of “Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti” (Soft Skull Press, 2000), “Full Spectrum Disorder” (Soft Skull Press, 2003) and “Sex & War” which will be released approximately December, 2005. He is retired from the United States Army. His blog is at www.stangoff.com.

Goff can be reached at: sherrynstan@igc.org


Stan Goff retired from the US Army in February 1996. He is a veteran of the US occupation of Vietnam, and seven other conflict areas. His books include Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti (Soft Skull Press), Full Spectrum Disorder: The Military in the New American Century (Soft Skull Books), Borderline: Reflections on War, Sex, and Church (Cascade Books), Mammon’s Ecology: Metaphysic of the Empty Sign (Cascade Books), Tough Gynes: Violent Women in Film as Honorary Men (Cascade Books), and Smitten Gate (a novel about Afghanistan, from Club Orlov Press).