One cannot serve both the one percent and the 99 percent as their interests are at odds with each other. Although many join for righteous reasons, actions speak louder than intentions. Actions of the U.S. military has always been death, destruction, anguish of the working class, and entitlements for the elites. When the ruling class benefits it’s always at the expense of the poor.
I’m a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Not only that, I’m a veteran of both surges. Eight years after separating from the military I see that I did not provide a service for my country. Clearly the wars have sucked our hard-working dollars and placed them on a silver platter for the economic ruling class–war contractors (oops I mean ‘defense’ contractors), politicians, and corporations that literally profit from the death of innocent people, including little children.
Although I served in the U.S. Army as a Paratrooper working as a mechanic, the world sees me as nothing but an imperialist watchdog. The people impacted by the wars in which I participated don’t care about the difference between an infantry soldier and an administrative paper-pusher. It’s all the same to them: soldiers occupying their homelands and pointing weapons at innocent people, like women, children, and the elderly.
When I visited Palestine last year for the first time, a local Palestinian activist greeted our delegation with open arms. I traveled with the organization Veterans For Peace. In many languages, the word ‘veteran’ is not translatable. Most languages refer to veterans as ‘retired soldiers’ or a similar translation. After a while, I explained that some of us ‘veterans’ had fought in the Iraq War. Our host’s face lit up with shock and anxiety. He began to tell his friends around us and began ranting while pointing his finger at me. I only remember one thing he said: “I will never forgive you for what you have done!” I just sat there in tears. He was absolutely right.
I realized in that moment that there is no forgiveness for destroying an entire country–generations of Iraqis whose lives have been shattered. Was I to explain to him about my intention of providing a service to my country? Was I to justify the wars that are rooted in his oppression? Was I to justify the actions of the troops that deny his humanity and right to exist? We all know that answer.
The Arab world isn’t the only group impacted by U.S. imperialism. Even veterans suffer. Veteran suicides are currently an epidemic. If veterans provided a real service to their fellow countrymen and women, why would they end their own lives? Providing a service to people we love is a fulfilling duty, one I would say all human beings inherently want to do. We are social creatures. Without each other, we cease to be human. What would be a real service is helping veterans who are considering suicide, not promoting another war based on lies, racism, and the drive for corporate profits.
We often hear troops saying that they love providing a service to their country and veterans speaking about their service with pride. But how did they provide a service? After 17 years of endless war in the Middle East, we are mired in more conflicts while the majority of the population suffers from economic distress. The war contractors and corporations are richer than ever. Our local water sources are poisoned, and the United States consists of the most obese population in the world. The U.S. security apparatus is stronger than ever before and the strongest in the world. We have TSA patting us down at airports, police officers shooting innocent people, corporations working with government agencies to conduct illegal surveillance on their own people, politicians spouting off lies, and the wars just keep on going. How has the serviceof veterans helped this country?
The only service which veterans have provided has been for the ruling class, the top ten percent of this country. The rest of us are worried about rent, our children’s future, and the threat of annihilation caused by climate change (an actual threat). We, as a nation, need to come to terms with this. The troops are not providing a service but rather are watch dogs for the imperialist ruling class who continue to benefit from death and destruction around the globe. Seven countries are currently being bombed, eight hundred military bases exist in eighty countries, counter-terrorist operations continue in 76 countries, and the blowback of these actions will be worse than al-Qaeda and ISIS combined. This is not a service to anyone.
I once wore the uniform with pride. I came from a family full of people who wore the same uniform. I dutifully deployed overseas and put my life in danger to fight for a cause that I thought was real. In the end, I realized it was all a lie. I was used, then discarded like a rag not worth washing. Twenty veterans commit suicide every day. I know I am not alone. Calling our fighting in the military a service is a disservice. It’s a disservice to the Iraqis, the Afghans, our own people, and the entire world which suffers from US militarism one way or another.
Did I provide a service to the people of Iraq? I say no after learning the US and coalition forces killed half a million innocent people and the creation of ISIS was simply blowback from US atrocities. Did I provide a service to the people of Afghanistan? I say no after learning the surge completely failed and actually caused terrorism to grow. Did I provide a service to Americans? I say no after learning that our economy still hasn’t recovered to pre-2008 economic levels and that economic inequality is at its highest ever in this country’s entire existence.
Since becoming an anti-war activist and organizer, I learned how the wars in which I participated actually did more harm than good. The wars wasted tax dollars, distracted us from addressing climate change, tortured and killed innocent civilians, and none of this is helping my fellow veterans with the silent epidemic of suicide. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other nations the Pentagon is currently destroying continue their lives in a wretched existence, partly caused by my own ignorance, which led me to fight for the interest of the elite in battles they themselves would never fight. The working class of one country is fighting and killing the working class of another while the elite sit back in their leather seats with money spilling out of their pant pockets.
The best thing I have done is admit to myself that I had no idea what I participated in. It led me to ask questions and seek answers which would have never come from my chain of command. My self-confession drove me to learn more and inevitably changed the course of my life. I am now more cautious of my actions, and indeed the words I use, for I know that my actions and language have impact on the world. In doing so, I’ve flipped my world upside down. I once was an ignorant soldier who obeyed commands without thought but today I question all illegitimate authority I encounter. I understand the decisions I make today will have lifelong consequences for myself and others around me. Never again will I provide a service to the ruling elite. Never again will I fight for the rich. Never again will I sacrifice my life for a cause I do not understand. This all started with denouncement of one word, service.
Will Griffin is the director of The Peace Report with over 150,000 followers on social media. He was deployed to Iraq when President Bush announced the surge in 2007 and in Afghanistan when President Obama announced the surge in 2009. He is now a full-time anti-war activist, organizer, and speaker.