War on Iraq

No Jail Time For War Resister Benji Lewis, But His Fight Continues

My resistance was a conscious decision to cease participation in the continued maintenance and creation of empire.

In October 2008 I announced at a Winter Soldier hearing in Portland, Oregon that I was being considered for involuntary activation back into the Marine Corps for a third tour of duty as an infantry mortar man; the day after this announcement I reported to Mobilization Command in Missouri as ordered. I reported with the intention of exercising civil disobedience in order to make a political point by refusing activation. The Marine Corps selected me for activation and since that time I have been publicly refusing service. My scheduled report date was May 18, 2009.

On April 16, 2009, I was contacted through Mobilization Command and told that the military no longer needed all the personnel being recalled in my group. The Marine Corps gave me the option to pursue orders and I declined. It is possible that my orders were canceled in order to remove me and other potentially vocal war resisters from the public eye. Certainly more drastic cases of government intervention to silence dissent have been a part of U.S. history. However, it is more likely that the Marine Corps actually did decide it no longer needed my group of reservists in light of rising retention rates, an ominous sign for our society as we continue to engage in warfare around the world.

Regardless of the cause, I no longer face involuntary activation orders. 

My resistance was a conscious decision to cease participation in any way the continued maintenance and creation of empire through military intervention and global abuses of economic tyranny. That is I resisted on ideological grounds. I think that in order for institutions to change their behavior it is often necessary to work outside the framework of those institutions. I did this in one way simply by no longer recognizing the military’s sovereignty over my person and also by speaking out and educating citizens about the practices of their military. 

Resistance takes many forms and functions:  from active civil disobediences to the reservists who quietly ignore their activation orders and continue on with their lives. When a person is attempting to overthrow injustice or to increase human understanding even the smallest forms of resistance, such as suspending judgment amidst the whims of mass culture, become ripples in the water to be proud of. Though we can acknowledge that in America we have made great strides to improve human capabilities and bring about societal change for the better, we still have far to travel. Not as a country, but as a people. I will continue the work of supporting and organizing for GI Resistance that I started and continue to pursue the goal of peaceful justice. This is an important struggle that affects all society and it is far from over.

It has become clear that the institutionalized militarism within the U.S. has now had an immeasurable impact on us and the world. The fallout of this impact is still being assessed. Certainly anti-U.S. sentiment has increased drastically in the world in response to a militaristic U.S. foreign policy and debilitating foreign investment practices. Predictably, the more the U.S. flexes its military and economic muscles, the more enemies are made. And, clearly, if we are to address the growing violence around the world we must begin investigating some of the inherent unintended consequences of capitalism.

It is crucial that we acknowledge how dependent our society has become on militarism. The current global economic crisis is a compelling example. Trillions of dollars have been invested into the military, money that could have been invested back into our society in countless ways to stave off our current crises and assist students with education, create environmentally sustainable markets, alleviate world hunger, create jobs of value for communities, and preserve natural habitats, to name a few. 

Recently the Bush doctrine and its many policies that are being adopted by the Obama administration have reinforced the trend or using our military to contend with our foreign relations; we seem unable to behave responsibly as the world’s leading power. It is likely that these trends will continue from president to president unless we change the nature of the presidency itself.

We have seen another generation of veterans come home damaged by their experiences, and the human consequence abroad has been far more severe. Our emphasis on institutionalized militarism as an integral part of our economy, with the military and military related projects amassing more monetarily and materially than the rest of the world combined, is quickly bringing us and the globe to the brink of our own demise; not only financially, but also environmentally.

Further, our very culture is at stake. More and more we become detached from the events and people around us as we fall victim to the mass culture that is largely encouraged by Western corporate and other financial interests.  As we busily keep up with popular culture and satiate our habits of fashionable consumption, we see how our true interests are being ignored. Unemployment is rising, the banks once again have gambled with our futures and won, retirement is slipping away, health insurance is simply unattainable to most given the cost of rent and food. Regardless of the assurances from our government we nevertheless see that it is becoming harder to get a college degree, pay for healthy food, stay out of debt and so on.  If this path continues, the future looks bleak even in the wealthiest country on the planet.

In order to pull ourselves out of this mess we must first acknowledge it. As a society we must take responsibility for our actions, intentional or unintentional. Only when we acknowledge our mistakes can we freely educate ourselves on issues and talk about the world in meaningful ways with the bridge of understanding.  That is the path to peaceful and synergistic human relations. It can no longer be denied that America was formed and molded through the displacement of hundreds of advanced societies that had formerly held sovereignty over the continent. We still have not accepted responsibility for that, much less current world turmoil.  A familiar example is the C.I.A.’s involvement in training the mujahidin we are now combating in Afghanistan, another piece of evidence showing us how we helped to create the global war on terror.

The events of 9/11 were horrible beyond doubt, but the amount of horror that has transpired since then has been worse still. And, like many other acts of violence, could have been prevented. The U.S. has been the single biggest perpetrator of terrorism in the world in recent decades through a variety of tactics. These tactics include economic sanctions, biased aid, imposed free trade agreements, self-exclusion, direct military intervention, support of brutal dictators among others; all this in the name of protecting vital U.S. interests. U.S. interests usually translate into the interests of those who would profit and acquire power, and that is very rarely the average American. 

I have advocated throughout my campaign that it is necessary for our society’s preservation to begin questioning our inherent militarism. The achievement of the largest military force in history seems hardly something to be proud of in light of the thousands that die everyday of easily treated maladies and starvation. I have also been active in encouraging other service members facing reactivation to consider their options instead of operating in fear of potential consequences from the military. It is up to us as Americans to ensure the rights of these service members who have been asked more of than anyone should ever give.

The GI resistance movements against the Vietnam and Iraq wars have been incredibly successful in educating the public about the realities of war, and it is likely that active GI resistance to the Afghanistan war will continue to grow and strengthen. We must support these individuals in their struggles. Whereas in the past monarchs and warlords oppressed the majority of people on this planet through absolute control, today oppression is channeled through economic means.  Since economic oppression is a much larger, more complex and less tangible means of oppression, it has been difficult for many to see. By now most realize that their opportunities depend largely on their economic station in life.

We have reached an ironic conclusion in our reasoning -- that to participate in what is considered honorable military service to ones country is to actually work against our own interests and the interests of all human society; ironically, those that oppress keep themselves in bondage as well. We must not ask what we can do for our country, but what our country can do for us. A country is, after all, only a tool, an institution set up by the people, for the people, to help them achieve their potential.

It is true that governments can be a great tool for a population to organize, but what governments cannot do is to ensure our individual freedoms. That is the responsibility of society itself. Only through a well developed collective consciousness can these big and difficult issues begin to be discussed and comprehended.  Freedom is not something given or ensured by a military, that is a delusion; freedom is something we all have inherently. When we realize and accept this responsibility only then will we be able to claim our true freedom.

We are much more dependent on our neighbors than most Americans like to admit, most believe instead on the notion of ‘pulling one’s self up by one’s own bootstraps.’ Yet surely most do not make their own cloths or build their own appliances, much less grow their own food. And, with joblessness soaring all over, it has become more difficult to attain the bootstraps necessary to begin with. Our lives are restricted by the amount of money we have. Whether it is college or food, money is increasingly the primary determinant of being able to fulfill our potential as people. Whether or not this is the best system of economy to use we do know that there is enough money, technology and resources on this planet to increase everybody’s quality of life substantially and that our current system limits that ability.

The truth is humans in modern civilization are an incredibly inter-reliant species. One path to a more vibrant human future is to generate commerce within our own communities rather than use an intermediary like Wells-Fargo or Safeway we could invest in local Credit Unions or Co-Ops. Through this simple act we can make sure that economic power stays within our communities instead of being invested by others for their own interests and deter possibly immoral usages of the products of our hard work.  Even if items are more expensive the local emphasis will allow for employers to pay more.  If we look at money as a source of power to be used for good or for evil it makes as little sense to support Wal-Mart which siphons off our local resources to a unknown place and leaves our communities in foreclosure, as it does to support the military complex which impacts us much more fundamentally.

The U.S. is the largest economic force in history, and more than half of its treasure is tied up in the military. Surely it is transparent that one leg cannot move without the other. If we hope to change our path without constant war, class war as well as physical combat, it is up to the people to stop participating in a system that we know is bankrupt and to crawl out of the framework that was constructed for us. It is time to make a new society, our own society, a society bent on the betterment of humanity instead of the oppression of the many for the privilege of a few, and that is the greatest and noblest task of our generation, and of every generation. 

Benji is a student and Marine Corps veteran who served two tours in Iraq as an infantry mortar man including the first siege of Fallujah. He was honorably discharged in spring 2007. In October of 2009 he received notice of involuntary activation orders and publicly refused activation through winter until is orders were canceled in April 2009. Today he continues to write and speak out as an activist with Courage to Resist and Iraq Veterans Against the War. For more about Benji’s case, please visit Courage to Resist at www.couragetoresist.org.
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