"These are the times that try men's' souls..." - Thomas Paine
On February 28, 2009, United Progressives tagged along with members of the Tulsa, Oklahoma peace community to attend a Winter Soldier hearing in Austin, Texas. The Oklahoma City and Austin peace communities had arranged housing for us, so we hopped in the car and headed south, to perhaps the most liberal part of Texas, or so I'd heard. I thought to myself, it's still Texas, the home of that George W. Bush person. Our host later informed me that Texas was not the home of George Bush, that despite his cowboy mentality, he was actually from Connecticut.
Just southwest of Austin, a little place called Dripping Springs turned out to be a bit of an oasis in what I had always envisioned as a desolate, brush ridden and flat, ranching state. Our hosts were gracious and generous, sharing both their home and their knowledge.
I had known, personally, from the Vietnam era, what Winter Soldier represented, but nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to hear. Here's some of what I learned about military life in Iraq with heartbreaking eyewitness detail from members of Iraq Veterans against the War (IVAW):
FOBs: Forward Operating Bases are established in occupied countries.
Dual source reporting: the process for Iraq civilians to report possible enemy combatant detainees. If the military learns from two sources that someone is a possible enemy, they will then be picked up and put into prisons for an indefinite amount of time, even beaten and tortured.
Plausible deniability: if you didn't see it, it didn't happen.
Training: Absolutely no legal requirement training or mention of Geneva conventions was given to soldiers arriving in Iraq.
In Sadr City, soldiers were given a gun and a map with nowhere to go and no plan.
The role of a soldier is to measure what's ethical vs. pleasing his masters. Only conscientious objection releases him from his masters.
In Iraq, they don't know who is killing them, but they do know who is responsible for their safety.
Camp Taji, just north of Baghdad, is also known as Surge Housing, complete with a swimming pool.
Not only are these soldiers risking their lives everyday, they are subjected to the American consumerism and profit-driven culture that sent them there in the first place. On an American base there are many ways for soldiers to spend their money; video games, sports gear, pizza, Burger King, sunglasses, swimming gear and protective eyewear, even the ability to purchase a new car. However, during much of the war, there was no clean water for soldiers and they sometimes risked their lives just taking a shower because of faulty wiring provided by KBR (Kellogg Brown and Root, the global engineering, construction and services company). In 2008, KBR made $11 billion dollars in Iraq.
The Deployment Game: Livin' FOBulous, Casey J. Porter Video
I could not help but be overwhelmed with emotion listening to testimony from these brave young men and women. There was no escape from the terrible toll of war and the cost, not only in American and innocent Iraqi lives, but to the minds and souls of our next generation. How could we ask our young men and women to carry the burden of what we have asked them to do without any sacrifice of our own?
Then there were the Gold Star fathers from Oklahoma, whom I had met before and considered courageous men. I wondered how they could possibly bear to hear the lessons of brutality from these young men while still grieving the loss of their sons.
While more than 200 attended this event, the only media in attendance were independent documentary producers and one weekly Austin newspaper. Regardless, IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War) has reconciled to work within the military community to support GI resistance and conscientious objectors until there is an end to illegal and immoral occupations and wars. All members of the peace community, and beyond, need to support this effort.
Unlike the Vietnam era, both the major media and those in Congress continue to ignore the significance of these soldiers' testimonies. I wondered how many SUVs carrying those "Support the Troops" bumper stickers and flags could even sit through something like this. If the American public continues to ignore the sacrifice and eye-witness testimony from those who were there, they become just as implicated as our leaders responsible for this mess in what remains an illegal and immoral occupation, even while carrying that little yellow ribbon on their vehicles.
And while I quite enjoy "taking it to the streets," as we did in Austin, I have to ask myself if there is a better way to get our message across. Over the last five years, I have participated in anti war and impeachment demonstrations all over this country, and while I still believe in its impact, I also believe that it is time to think about something different, something perhaps more effective.
What's been clear to me, through my own experience with the American system of government, is that real change is needed. American citizens are not being adequately represented by our government or the major media outlets. And that's the inspiration behind a new policy project, United Progressives. United Progressives is a union intended to unite progressives on issues rather than candidates. By uniting progressives on issues, we believe that the change we seek in our lives and to our political system of government is possible. We believe that when progressives unite under one roof and vote together for the things we believe in, then progressives will have power. We can then speak as a body with the full force of the will of the majority who are the people of the United States.
If you are not already a member, and you believe in the same things we do, then join us. It's about uniting. Together, we can win.