Soldiers and the anti-war movement Friday, September 21, 2007
By: Michael Prysner
Resistance and revolution
The writer is an Iraq war veteran currently living in Florida. He was arrested on Sept. 15 with nearly 200 others while bringing an anti-war message directly to Congress.
After four years of illegal occupation we have seen nearly 4,000 U.S. troops killed and 30,000 wounded, over 600,000 Iraqis slaughtered, 4 million Iraqi refugees forced from their homes, and hundreds of billions of dollars wasted.
During the same period, millions of people have taken to the streets in the United States in opposition to the war.
The writer on the steps of Congress, leading resistance against the war, Washington, D.C., Sept. 15.
Support for the occupation of Iraq declines with each passing day.
Yet the massive war machine grinds on, pushing ever forward in its destructive drive for profits and neocolonialism. It is now clear to millions of people that the politicians of the two ruling parties in Washington are not going to end the war. But who does have the power to stop it?
Marxist writer Bertolt Brecht once wrote, "General, your tank is a powerful vehicle. It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men. But it has one defect: It needs a driver."
The imperialist project in Iraq can survive anti-war protests alone. It can survive declining approval ratings. But what it fears most is an anti-war movement that gives confidence to soldiers to stop fighting. There is no greater internal threat than a thinking military rank-and-file, which consciously identifies with the broader anti-war public—and even the besieged Iraqi people—instead of the Pentagon generals.
There is no question that the war in Iraq has taken its toll on soldiers. Army suicides have skyrocketed to the highest in 26 years, with 99 reported suicides in 2006. One soldier recently hired someone to non-fatally shoot him to avoid redeployment, while another chopped off his trigger finger with an axe.
The number of deserters is also steadily climbing, with official numbers now reaching over 10,000 since the war began. Many believe these numbers may actually be much higher. The G.I. Rights Hotline reports an average of 3,000 calls a month by new recruits and active duty soldiers who have decided they want to abandon the military. These are primarily individual acts, which reflect widespread alienation and trauma among soldiers.
But there are signs of more generalized and conscious resistance inside the U.S. military.
In March 2006, Zogby International conducted a survey of U.S. troops while they were serving in Iraq. The results revealed that the majority of soldiers do not want this war to continue. Seventy-two percent believed the U.S. military should leave Iraq by March 2007. This statistic brings new meaning to the "Support the Troops" mantra.
Soldiers against the war have begun organizing within the military. Active duty soldiers started the Appeal for Redress, a petition calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. It was formulated less than a year ago, and has collected over 2,000 signatures of soldiers currently serving in the military. Membership in Iraq Veterans Against the War is nearing 600.
This summer, IVAW toured different military bases across the United States, espousing the message "bring the troops home now." At their annual meeting, IVAW decided to launch a campaign encouraging soldiers to refuse to fight in Iraq.
Soldiers like Lt. Ehren Watada and Camilo Mejia have set the example, publicly refusing deployment and condemning the war for its illegal and immoral nature.
IVAW also plans to fight recruiters in high schools, colleges and at recruiting stations. They are leading a mass die-in at the Sept. 15 March on Washington initiated by the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism).
There is even growing opposition from high-ranking officers. Twenty-nine-year Army veteran Col. Ann Wright resigned on the eve of the invasion of Iraq in protest, along with several other high-ranking State Department officials. Since then, she has been an outspoken critic of the war.
The history of soldier’s resistance
This sort of military activism—resistance from inside—has a long and proud tradition in the United States. Since the invasions of Mexico in the 1840s and the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century, U.S. soldiers have refused to take part in wars of aggression.
During World War I and World War II, African American soldiers rebelled against the military’s racist policies, which for decades had classified them as "unfit for combat" and relegated them to service duties like cleaning and serving food.
Although Black soldiers fought valiantly abroad, they still faced strictly segregated units and Jim Crow at home. This irony was not lost on the Black soldiers, who returned dedicated to militant struggle for equality and civil rights.
G.I. resistance peaked during the Vietnam War. This has been well documented in several books and the recent documentary, "Sir, No, Sir!" Between 1966 and 1977, the Pentagon recorded over 500,000 cases of desertion. To put that number in perspective, an Army Division consists of 10,000-18,000 soldiers. The refusal to fight by such a vast number of soldiers was undoubtedly detrimental to the U.S. war machine.
G.I. resistance, however, included far more than desertion.
Anti-war newspapers were written and distributed by soldiers, despite the frantic efforts of the military brass to silence criticism of the war. One such newspaper, "GI Says," even offered a $10,000 bounty on the head of Lt. Col. Weldon Hunnicutt, who ordered a suicide assault on the notoriously known Hamburger Hill.
In 1970 alone, the Pentagon reported 209 fragging cases. The Pentagon later admitted that 600 fraggings occurred during the war. Around three percent of officer deaths in Vietnam between 1961 and 1972 resulted from fraggings. Those are conservative estimates.
The number of known fraggings only account for officer killings committed with grenades. They didn’t include the hundreds, if not thousands, of officer deaths at the hands of soldiers from automatic weapons fire, handguns and knifings.
The empowerment of soldiers opposed to the war led entire ground units to refuse to fight, and mission-essential equipment was destroyed to halt operations.
The strength and effectiveness of the soldier’s resistance on the ground forced the generals to change their strategy in Vietnam.
The imperialist leadership could no longer rely on a non-thinking, robot army, but they would not yet abandon their war. Their tactics took a dramatic shift from ground missions to air strikes, relying primarily on Navy war ships.
But even Navy ships along the coast of Vietnam, which decimated the indigenous population, were frequently put out of commission by sailor resistance on board. There were petitions circulated against the war, sit-ins and rebellions that halted missions and outright sabotage that crippled ships.
The ruling class makes plenty as to why we "lost" the Vietnam War, such as blaming the media or the country not "having the stomach" to win. The fact is that the people of this country had nothing to win or gain from the war. The Pentagon’s loss was the soldiers’ victory.
Soldiers in the Russian Revolution
For revolutionaries, the greatest example of soldiers’ resistance is undoubtedly the Russian Revolution.
In 1914, Tsarist Russia class sent millions of workers and peasants to fight in World War I. Although a patriotic spirit initially prevailed, just two years later 1.5 million Russian soldiers deserted in protest of deteriorating conditions and the seemingly endless war.
But desertion was only the beginning. In February 1917, 200,000 workers—including soldiers, soldiers’ spouses and family members—went on strike, demanding an end to the war, and the overthrow of Tsarism. The police reacted with violence, arresting political leaders and killing demonstrators. Instead of remaining a tool of the state, regiments in the military came to the aid of the workers.
Soldiers turned their weapons on a commanding officer who ordered the shooting of innocent civilians. In one day, 66,000 soldiers decided to no longer serve the interests of the ruling class, and joined the ranks of the resistance. Soldiers formed their own councils—called soviets—which passed resolutions and organized actions at the service of the unfolding revolution.
In October 1917, the revolution triumphed. In the course of a few years, the vast majority of soldiers had gone from employees of the tsarist army to supporters or active participants in a revolution that swept away the government, and the capitalist system altogether.
All progressive people need to support soldiers and veterans who protest and resist. They are potentially the most dynamic force in the anti-war movement. They show that unlawful orders do not have to be obeyed, that the real power of the military belongs to the people and that the war can be stopped from within.
Enlisted soldiers are workers in uniform. Their interests aren’t served by imperialist wars.