Thursday, March 11, 2004

a soldier speaks... will you listen?

This is going to be a long post, but it's a complex problem, and glossing over it wouldn't be right... I think we owe it to the people who are risking their lives in foreign lands to hear what they have to say. I just read an interview with a soldier who has returned from Iraq that pretty much sums up everything wrong with US military actions over there. The guy is a military medic who served in the Gulf War as well, and his family taught him that he needed to do his part as an American by serving in the military. His description of what has been going on in Iraq, and what he thinks is yet to come, just hurts.

He's concerned about the lack of respect being shown to those who lost their lives in this little game...

Do you think the American public is well-informed about what is happening in Iraq?

No, I really don't. I see young people on my medical table all the time, people who have lost their legs or arms or had other terrible injuries. No one back home sees any of that. I've been home for a month and I haven't seen a casualty yet on television. I'm still waiting. Where are the casualties? It's as if it doesn't exist, as if it doesn't happen.

Was it like this in previous wars?


What brought about the change?

From what I gather, it used to be that the president would go out to the area to meet the [deceased] soldiers coming in. They would drape the caskets and they would actually watch and give a moment of silence as the coffin came by. The Bush Administration felt that was too much for Americans to handle, so they secured that part of the ceremony so that no one knows when that fallen soldier comes home. It's an injustice to the military, because you gave your life to the country and the country should give something back to you. Even just a moment of silence. Every day that someone dies, the flag should be lowered to half staff. Not just because a politician died. Those guys are good people. They work hard. They do anything and everything that is asked of them. And they gave the ultimate sacrifice. It should not be that you have to go to a website to find out who died.

How did you feel when the President said to the Iraqis, to the insurgents, "Bring it on!"

Being a medical person, I take an oath to try to protect my troops at all times. Anything that puts them in danger, alarms me. And that was unnecessary.

... and about Bush cutting the VA budget and reducing veteran's benefits...

I've seen lots of people with severe, permanent injuries. They're going to need a lot of help when they get back home, because their lives are going to change forever. And to have the guy [President Bush] cutting billions from the VA [Veterans Administration] budget, at a time when you've got all those guys coming back from overseas with major injuries, that's disgusting! That hurts every person who ever served this country. I don't understand how someone can stand up and say, "I'm pro-military," when you want to cut $16 billion from the VA and close VA hospitals.

... about the way Bush is twisting the media...

What did you think about President Bush's Thanksgiving visit to Iraq?

I was there when President Bush came to the [Baghdad] airport. The day before, you had to fill out a questionnaire and answer questions, that would determine whether they would allow you in the room with the President.

What was on the questionnaire?

"Do you support the president?"



Members of the military were asked whether they support the president politically?

Yes. And if the answer was not a gung-ho, A-1, 100 percent yes, then you were not allowed into the cafeteria. You were not allowed to eat the Thanksgiving meal that day. You had an MRE.

What's an MRE?

Meals ready to eat. We also call them "meals refused by Ethiopians."

... and he's concerned that our current administration, who haven't served in the military or lost family members to the war, are ignorant of the realities of war:

Do you think it matters that so many of the top people in the Bush Administration never served in combat?

Yes. It's quite a list. Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Rove, Rice, and many more. I'm still trying to figure out how Cheney managed to get five draft deferments. They say there is not one person in Congress today that has a son or daughter in combat. Neither house of Congress.

What do you think about that?

I think they would make different decisions if their sons and daughters had to go or if they had been there themselves. I really do. If Barbara and Jenna [Bush] had to put on a pack and go to war, I think Daddy would make different decisions. But there's never going to be a draft because rich people don't want it. You know, most of the kids in the military are not rich kids. As a matter of fact, most of them are poor. The reason they joined the military was to try to get ahead. So you have the lower class and middle class kids fighting, while the upper class kids, I don't know what they're doing. Hanging out at the beach, something like that.

He's concerned about our reasons for staying in Iraq...

President Bush said on Meet the Press, "We are welcome in Iraq" because "they realize what a free Iraq will be." What have you concluded about the feelings of Iraqis toward the Americans?

They think we did a good job getting rid of Saddam. Now they want us to get out so they can run their country. It's not so different from our war with England. We were glad the French helped out, but the French didn't come in and say, "Okay, now we're going to occupy you for the next 20 or 30 years." They want to do their own thing like we did our own thing. That's one thing that we haven't figured out... they don't want us there! They feel that they can solve their own problems, just like we solved ours.

... and he's got a front-row seat point of view regarding the democratic elections that the US is currently trying to block:

Do the troops currently serving in Iraq have a sense of how long the U.S. military is likely to remain there?

Yes. We know it's going to be a minimum of ten years.

Based on what?

Based on our government telling us that. A minimum of ten years.

So even if there is an Iraqi government of some sort formed...

We will still be there, to make sure the government thrives. If you know anything about the British occupation of Iraq, the British people after a few years pulled their soldiers out. They said, "We're tired of this, we don't want to do this any more." The British government set up an Iraqi government. In a very short time, that government was dead, and the Baath Party came into being.

So are you, therefore, not terribly optimistic about peace, freedom, and democracy taking root in Iraq very soon?

As soon as the Ayatollah [Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani] says go to war, the people will go to war. When he tells them to go home, they go home. When he tells them to get up, they get up. And he's going to be our worst nightmare because he controls over 60 percent of the people [the Shi'a] in that country.

There was an attempt on this Ayatollah's life recently.

And I wouldn't be surprised if it was us who tried it.


Yes. Because he will mess up our plans. We don't want to turn Iraq into another Iran.

By another Iran, you mean a radical Islamic state?

[Run by] ayatollahs. We dropped leaflets promising them that you will have elections, you will have a democracy, you will be able to choose your own leaders. Sistani is going to hold us to it. They will have elections. One man, one vote.

But the United States is currently...

Balking at that idea.

Saying that for one reason or another, direct elections with one man, one vote are not possible, or not yet.

Correct. Because if they allow one man, one vote, he will win in a landslide.

He being Ayatollah Sistani, or candidates that he designates?


And these caucuses that have been proposed by the American occupation authorities and the Iraqi Governing Council they appointed?

They're not going to fly.

Because there would be American control over them?


Which is what people like Ayatollah Sistani are questioning.

Dead against. He thinks the Governing Council they have now is phony. They will not survive if an election happens.

And he doesn't think Bush has been very honest about the whole thing...

Do you feel the Bush Administration has honestly and fully explained why they went into Iraq and why the U.S. military is still there?

No, and I don't think they ever will. There's no one to hold them accountable. Congress is a joke. We laugh at Congress. They come over and want to get their pictures taken. That's nice. But what are they doing? They're not helping us. They gave this man [President Bush] carte blanche to do whatever he wanted, and he's doing exactly what he wants.

Is it true that the American invasion of Iraq acted as a magnet, to bring in foreign fighters who weren't there before?

Yes, because they don't want Iraq to become a haven for the United States. They want it to be an Arab country. You've got to remember, what we're installing is actually against the way of life they've always known. It would be like somebody coming into this country and installing a dictatorship. We would fight that with everything we had.

... and he's concerned about the way personnel changes are being made without regard to the safety of our soldiers...

What else is happening in the military that we should know?

One thing that's really important, and that makes no sense, is that they are cutting 10,000 people in the Navy from active duty right now.

Why? To save money?

Yeah, and during a war. It said in the Navy Times that from October 1, 2003 to October 1, 2004, something like 10,000 sailors are going to go. They're going to try to run some of the ships with far fewer people than they've always used.

How is that going to work?

It looks like they are going to try to cut the Navy down to the size of the Marine Corps and have people doing more jobs. Just wait until the first time they have a real "general quarters" on a ship, an actual emergency. Because you need everybody on board to work as a team, to handle a crisis aboard ship. It's not like you can walk back to shore. So I'm waiting for the first crisis that occurs when they don't have enough people. And it will come. It's astonishing that they're letting those 10,000 people go in wartime.

But wait, at the same time, in certain parts of the military, they're ordering Reservists to stay on for much longer than they expected.

The Reserves are different.


Because Reservists are not paid yearly. Reservists don't make as much money as active duty people do. They don't require housing; you don't have to move the entire family to the base in order to ship them out. The whole idea is to get more people on as Reservists, so that they can use them to replace active duty. It's great for them [the government], they're saving money.

...and he thinks that the results of sending large amounts of Reservists, who have had less training, are going to be very bad:

What do you think of the United States remaining in Iraq now that Saddam Hussein has been overthrown and there are apparently no weapons of mass destruction?

We need to come home. We did our job.

So this whole notion of staying for the extra 10 years or whatever . . .

Why? What's the purpose? There is no military purpose there. We're not the police. We have pressing needs in our country. We are spending money like it's going out of style over there. Companies like Halliburton are gouging the American people over there. We protect them also. Part of our job now is actually to protect Halliburton employees. So, if we really want to cut off the spigot, we need to come home.

You're not too impressed with the corporate military contractors.

No. You know, they actually come up to you and offer you jobs. They say, "Once you get out [of the military], go to this company to apply and you can come back over. We can use people like you." I don't think it's worth any amount of money to be in a combat zone. You know, over 100,000 soldiers were offered $10,000 to re-enlist. Hardly anyone took it. I do not want to go back. I will do it if those are my orders, but I do not want to go back. It's not a winning situation for us. You're going to lose more people this summer than you did last year, I guarantee it.


For one thing, people going over there with inadequate training, like I said before. Heat, for another. It's unbelievably hot there in the summer. When it gets hot, people get upset. When April, May, June, and July roll around, watch how it spikes up again.

And he said something that I wish every armchair warmonger in this country, people who "support the troops" enough to get them killed but not enough to keep them out of unnecessary conflict, would hear:

Do you feel it is possible for American citizens to support the troops without supporting the policies under which the troops are acting?

Yes. Most definitely.

Any parting words?

We did our job. We need to come home.

I agree with him. And I'm pretty sure that Bush, who started this whole thing, isn't going to be the one to pull them out... he's going to leave them over there, and if they aren't useful in getting him votes it will be some other president that is seen to withdraw from Iraq in defeat. The guy is weak and evil and he seriously needs to get the fuck out of the Whitehouse. And you can do something about that. Go do it.