Fighting the Iraq War … At Home


I had just gotten to the gym yesterday, and had started on the treadmill, when a barrel-chested young former marine recently returned from a second tour in Iraq walked past. Looking at my shirt, which sports the slogan “No US War on Iraq” on the front, and a peace sign on the back, surrounded with the number of U.S. dead in the war, he stopped and said coldly, “If I see you here again in that shirt, I’ll tear it off you myself.”

Momentarily taken aback, I looked him in the eye and said, “This is a free country, buddy, and if you touch me or my shirt, I’ll have you charged with assault.”

As he stormed off, I reminded him that America isn’t Iraq, and that here being stronger doesn’t mean you automatically get your way. I added that he was insulting all of those who died in Iraq thinking they were defending American freedoms. He didn’t turn around.

I started my jogging again, but then found myself getting increasingly pissed off. Who did this guy think he was making threats like that?

I went out and informed the YMCA’s executive director of what had happened and said I wanted this guy informed that he couldn’t go around threatening people who didn’t agree with him. Although she was reluctant, she followed me back into the weight room.

I went up to the guy, who now was doing arm curls with two 50-lb dumbbells, and said. “You messed up my run. Now I’m going to mess up your exercise routine. I pay for a membership to be able to come here and work out in peace. There is no rule barring the wearing of political statements on shirts, and I wear what I feel like wearing here. If you want to criticize me, my politics or my shirt, that’s fine, but you are not allowed to make threats and if you do, you are going to have to leave.”

The director backed me up, albeit limply, agreeing that threats were not allowed.

The guy finally grimaced and said, “Okay, I’m sorry.”

As I went back to my treadmill, four people in the room came up and thanked me for taking a stand.

Mulling over what had happened, I realized that this guy, who had fought in the bloody US assault Fallujah in late 2004–a pointless massacre that featured the use of prohibited weapons like napalm and white phosphorus, and that leveled one of Iraq’s largest cities, with the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians–was really reflecting the frustration of the loser,

Less than a month ago, American voters cast out the Republican leadership in Congress in what was primarily a protest against the war in Iraq. Polls are showing that two thirds of Americans now see the Iraq invasion as a giant mistake, and want exactly what my shirt calls for: an end to the war. Back in 2003, and even 2004, American troops in Iraq were seen almost universally as heroes. Now, like the soldiers of the Vietnam era, they are being deliberately forgotten–an embarrassing reminder to those who once supported the war of the idiocy of that mission (just try finding any of those once ubiquitous yellow ribbon magnets). Reports of rapes, torture and murder by American troops in Iraq haven’t helped things.

The would-be bully in the gym has seen his status plummet from hero to, at best, victim.

Clearly, it’s not fair to blame the troops–or him–for what’s happening. He and tens of thousands like him were sent into Iraq on a lie, told by their commanding officers and by their commander in chief that they were going into Iraq as “payback” for 9-11–even though the 9-11 attackers included not one Iraqi, and even though there was never any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. They were given inadequate equipment, inadequate body armor, insufficient troops, and an assignment–pacifying and establishing democracy in a tribal nation–that was clearly a fools’ errand. And they have been left to kill, and to be maimed and killed themselves, in that quagmire now for nearly four years simply to protect the president from having to say he messed up.

Having said that, we are also starting to see the human and social cost of the horrors of that war. People like this former Marine are damaged goods–returned to the U.S. with chips on their shoulders and with an anachronistic militaristic mindset that says the guy with the gun gets to make the rules.

I’m reminded of a similar experience I had back in the late 1960s, when I participated in an event called “Vietnam Summer.” Back then, with the Vietnam War going downhill for the U.S., I volunteered as part of a national campaign to go door-to-door in my neighborhood handing out literature about the war and talking about it with people. I knocked at one door of a ranch house down the street a ways from my home. A woman I didn’t know answered the door. When I told her why I was there, and handed her a flier, she looked at me funny, and said with some irony in her voice, “Honey, there’s someone here to see you.”

A big crew-cut man 10 years older than me came to the door and asked what I wanted. I repeated my spiel to him and gave him a flier too. He glanced at it, his face contorted with anger, and said, “Just a second.” He walked into the house and returned holding an unexploded mortar round. It was painted red, had a hammer-and-sickle logo, and a set of brass fins. He said, “You see this? It’s a Viet Cong mortar. The only reason I’m here talking to you is because it didn’t go off when it landed next to me! Some of my buddies weren’t so lucky. Now scram before I lose my temper and ram this into your head!”

I split in a hurry! But years later, my father said that the guy, retired from the army, mentioned the incident to him and apologized, saying, “I should not have done that. I was angry at the time, but your son was doing the right thing. The war was wrong from the start.”

I don’t know what horrors this young man lived through, though I overheard him telling one shocked woman in the gym that his time in Iraq represented “the best years of my life.” I do know that what U.S. forces did in Fallujah in late 2004 was a collective war crime, with captured and wounded enemy fighters shown on camera being executed point-blank, residential neighborhoods leveled by bombs and tank fire, innocent men and even boys illegally barred from fleeing the scene of battle, fleeing civilians shot as they swam for safety across the river carrying white flags, and hospitals attacked. The entire assault on Fallujah, for that matter, was a case of collective punishment–something outlawed since World War II as a war crime. No one who participated in that mass atrocity could walk away unimpaired in some way.

The most positive thing I can bring away from this encounter is the recognition that the anger and frustration expressed by this ex-Marine is a sign that the American war in Iraq has truly been lost. Back in late 2003, I wrote a piece about this same shirt, which I bought and began wearing on the day of the Iraq invasion. I had observed that when I first wore it in March 2003, it mostly elicited angry denunciations and hand gestures from people caught up in the blind jingoism of the moment, but that by late September, just six months into the war, the majority of people who saw the shirt had positive comments. Over the years, as the war has become even more of a disaster, the shirt, despite becoming pretty seedy looking from long use, has become increasingly popular, with people now asking where they can buy one like it.

I view this veteran’s belligerent response to my shirt and its message as just a corollary of this changed political environment. As the “cause” for which he gave up several years of his young life–and in the name of which he almost certainly lost friends and comrades–goes down the drain, to be remembered as one of America’s historic policy disasters and one of its few military defeats, he is reacting in the way he has been trained: by threatening violence.

In that, he is reflecting the mentality of the current administration, both in its failed approach to international affairs, and in its hostile attitude towards American freedoms.

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!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book is “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.

He can be reached at: dlindorff@yahoo.com



More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South