FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Winter Soldiers and Washington’s Wars

by RON JACOBS

During the recent debate between John McCain and Barack Obama, the military situation in Iraq was defined as a victory by Senator McCain.  This is despite the fact that close to one hundred US soldiers and more than fifteen hundred Iraqis have died there in the past four months, while the Pentagon stated recently that Iraq “remains locked in conflict.”

Meanwhile both candidates – Obama much more vociferously than McCain, pledge to send more troops into Afghanistan , pacify Afghanistan and destroy the insurgency and Al Queda.  Neither candidate expressed concern for the huge numbers of Iraqi and Afghani casualties reserving their regrets  for US military casualties, of whom a hundred or more have died in these conflicts over the past four months.  Instead, they spoke about the sacrifice they had made,  without acknowledging such  sacrifice was worth it, or whether  the blood and death of war was even the best way to accomplish the goals desired by Washington.  Naurally, neither candidate seriously questioned the goals themselves.

hose goals as explained by the politicians and generals have changed as the occupations dragged on.  Most recently, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was quoted as saying leaving these countries “would be a disastrous blow to our credibility, both among our friends and allies and among potential adversaries.”   At other times, the reasons for the occupations have included establishing democracy, fighting Al Queda, stopping ethnic violence and finding weapons of mass destruction.  Of course, underlying the stated goals are more fundamental ones that have to do with US hegemony and the desire to expand that hegemony.

A recent book published by Haymarket Books of Chicago provides the interested reader with the real reasons for the occupations.  This book, titled Winter Soldier: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations is a collection of testimonies from military veterans of these operations and local civilians in the middle of them.  The tales told herein are not for the faint of heart.  They represent the best of the US military and the worst.  Sexual harassment, murders, wanton destruction, macabre joking about civilian deaths and military mistakes resonate through the stories here.  Simultaneously, the fact that the men and women that appeared in public to describe what they had done and seen as participants in these military actions provides hope that there are many individuals whose conscience does not allow them to justify the death and destruction done in the name of the US.

The hearings, which took place in March 2008, were followed by testimony before a Congressional committee.  Except for some prowar organizations, the reception to the veterans’ effort was mostly supportive.  The US mainstream media barely covered the event, but this was not much of a surprise.  As far as those who run that media, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are old news.  Furthermore, since the government has no intention of ending those adventures, they are as much a fait accompli as poverty and domestic abuse.  Therefore , they don’t rate daily coverage in a media more concerned with Paris Hilton’s weekends in jail.

For those who don’t know the history, the aforementioned hearings were based on a similar set of hearings held in 1971 by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW).  These hearings probably received less attention from the mainstream media at the time than the IVAW hearings did.  Nonetheless, they were the first time that veterans of the US military spoke openly to an international audience about what they had seen and done in the jungles of Vietnam while serving in the US military.    I only heard about the 1971 hearings via US underground newspapers and through GIs I knew in Germany that worked on the FTA Heidelberg underground rag.  VVAW went on to become a historical example to military members ever since.  The story of their organization’s founding, actions, growth and internal struggles is the subject of another book just republished by Haymarket:  Winter Soldiers: An Oral History of the VVAW.  I read this book when it first came out in 1997 and was impressed by its breadth and detail.  As I re-read it this past week, I was awestruck at how well the author Richard Stacewicz covered and presented the multitude of political and personal nuances that were present in the organization.  Although I worked and hung out with VVAW members in Maryland in 1974 and 1975, there is information here that I was completely unaware of.  Besides this, the explanations provided by the recollections written down here is useful today, as well.  Indeed, as the IVAW matures, the internal struggles of the VVAW can be instructive.

There is an ongoing discussion within the essentially moribund antiwar movement of today and among antiwar veterans themselves regarding the roles vets should play in rebuilding that movement.  In a movement whose politics run from libertarian to socialist and beyond, this question can be a contentious one.  However, as Stacewicz’s book proves, the role of an antiwar veteran’s organization can be crucial to ending wars, despite (or perhaps because of) a wide variety of political viewpoints within the organization.  As the US readies itself for a new president and Congress, the most essential thing for antiwar veterans and their civilian counterparts is to be ready to do whatever is necessary to end the wars Washington is currently engaged in.

Both of these books are about Washington’s wars and the men and women sent to fight them.  The stories in each represent the realizations arrived at by many of those men and women that what they are doing is wrong.  Too many civilian residents of the US will ignore these stories, thereby avoiding any sense of a need to stop the death and destruction taking place in their name.   If you read them, pass them on.  Then find some way to act on the knowledge you have gained.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

 

 

 

Your Ad Here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail