William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” This certainly applies to current US policy toward Iraq. As the war drums in Dubya’s White House beat ever more loudly, GIs’ families are beginning to mobilize against another invasion.
During the first Gulf War, family members played an important role in sparking opposition within the military’s rank and file. Two families with children who have recently been sent to the Gulf War zone are leading efforts to establish a new anti-war organization, Military Families Speak Out (MFSO).
Charley Richardson and Nancy Lessin, of Jamaica Plain, MA, have a 25-year old son, Joe, who has been sent to the Gulf as an Arab language radio recon commando. Before he shipped out, Joe was able to spend a precious weekend with his parents on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. “We body surfed, rode bikes and relaxed as if the world wasn’t crashing around us,” his father wrote. “I certainly don’t want Joe to get hurt or to hurt someone else because of George Bush’s ego or because his financial backers won’t allow a reasoned, multilateral approach to Iraq. Also, I don’t want innocent Iraqi women, children and men to die.”
Charlie and Nancy recently befriended another military parent, Jeff McKenzie of Brockport, NY. Jeff’s son, Jeremy, is an Army captain who pilots a medical helicopter. His daughter-in-law, Nicole, is also deployable as a member of the Army National Guard. In a recent open letter, Jeff wrote: “I love my son, who in many ways is like a brother and best friend to me. We’ve always been close, but especially after Jeremy’s mom died in a car accident when he was ten. We shared much as he grew up, traveling all over the US and to Israel and Egypt. As my son prepares to deploy to Kuwait, I’ve let him know I’m proud of him and of his job – flying a medical ambulance that picks up the wounded – no matter which side they’re on.”
Jeff concludes his letter with a challenge to US political leaders: “To President Bush, Congress and those Americans who either support the war or sit idly by. I will hold you responsible should Jeremy or Nicole or anyone else wearing the uniform be killed in Iraq. I will not accept an attack on Iraq and the deaths of Iraqis defending their country against an aggressor nation.”
One GI has already publicly announced his refusal to serve as part of a unilateral invasion of Iraq. When Army Pvt. Wilfredo Torres, 19, of Rochester, NY, walked to the podium at a Veterans Day anti-war rally in New York City on November 10, he took important steps for the newest generation of GIs and reservists.
Addressing an audience of about 200 vets from WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War, Torres said that he joined the Army to serve his country and to learn a trade. However, after suffering severe harassment by one drill instructor, he went AWOL from Fort Benning, GA. Back in Rochester with his family, Wilfredo did some reading and thinking. “I decided that it would be wrong for our country to attack Iraq on its own, without working as part of the United Nations,” he told me. “I’m no expert, but I think that such an attack would undermine the UN and lower America’s standing in the world.”
Citizen Soldier, a GI/veterans rights advocacy organization, agreed to arrange Torres’ public surrender and also defend him, if necessary, against court martial charges of AWOL or desertion. During the first Gulf War, the group defended several resisters, including Dr. Yolanda Huet-Vaughn, who based her refusal on her fear that Gulf duty would force her to violate her Hippocratic oath. Specifically, she was opposed to administering two experimental drugs, the anthrax vaccine and PB pills, a nerve gas antidote. Since the war, both drugs have been identified by researchers as potential factors that may explain why a record number of Gulf War vets (one in four) are receiving some sort of medical disability from the VA. Needless to say, the Army has yet to upgrade
Dr. Huet-Vaughn’s Dishonorable Discharge.
Pvt. Torres received a standing ovation from the vets at their rally when he said, “I’m returning to the Army today so that my case can be resolved. I know that the UN Security Council has just voted to approve a new round of weapons inspections in Iraq. However, my suspicion is that the US may still decide to invade alone. If we do, I won’t be going with them!”
After Torres surrendered at Ft Knox, KY, he was placed in a detention center with about 50 other AWOLs. After seven days in Army custody, a phone call from a Rolling Stone reporter prompted the Army command to offer an administrative “bad” discharge, in lieu of courtmartial. If the US invades Iraq, however, Citizen Soldier anticipates that similar cases will be treated much more harshly, with prison sentences becoming routine.
On another front, two Gulf War veterans, Charles Sheehan-Miles and Eric Gustafson, have formed a new group, Gulf Veterans for Common Sense. Their Website (www.veteransforcommonsense.org) explains: “We veterans of the (first) Gulf War seek to inject common sense into the debate over a possible US war against Iraq. We want to place the debate in the context of protecting our liberty, freedom, and constitutional values.” Their Website will also provide news about any invasion of Iraq on a daily basis. The MFSO organizers urge all interested family members to attend anti-war demonstrations.
When Sheehan-Miles appeared on a Boston radio program with several other Gulf veterans to debate a new war with Iraq, he was the only one who’d actually seen combat. “It became apparent,” he concluded, “that the further a vet had been from the actual fighting and dying the more enthusiastic they were about sending in our troops again.”