AlterNet Editorial: Iraq Vets Will Detail U.S. Atrocities in Winter Soldier Hearings
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This week, on March 13-16, a new generation of "Winter Soldiers" -- veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq -- will descend on the nation's capitol to tell America in their own words what they saw during their service in the "war on terror," the Bush administration's signature policy. They'll give a ground's eye perspective on the occupation's toll on the people of those countries and the costs to the military, and they'll tell stories of what it was really like in places like Fallujah and Ramadi -- places that are just names on a map to most of the people back home.
They'll be following large footsteps. In the early months of 1971, a group of Vietnam vets, organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), gave two days of testimony about the Vietnam that they had seen, up close and all-too-personally, in the original "Winter Soldier" investigation. While largely dismissed by the political establishment, their wrenching testimony redoubled the peace movement's efforts to end that war.
In his opening statement 37 years ago, William Crandell, a 26 year-old lieutenant who served in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division -- the division that committed the infamous My Lai Massacre -- told the hushed room, "The Winter Soldier Investigation is not a mock trial. There will be no phony indictments; there will be no verdict against Uncle Sam." He promised "straightforward testimony -- direct testimony -- about acts which are war crimes under international law. Acts which these men have seen and participated in. Acts which are the inexorable result of national policy."
And they did just that. Over two days, more than a 100 vets of the Vietnam conflict bore witness to the horrors that they had seen with their own eyes -- "the inexorable result of national policy." One panel examined the question, "What are we doing to Vietnam?" and another asked "What are we doing to ourselves?"
The media largely ignored the hearings. The East Coast papers, with the exception of a New York Times article a week after the event, refused to even cover them. The VVAW complained of an "official censorship blackout."
That was before the right had built its formidable echo chamber -- before Fox News, the Washington Times , the New York Sun and the emergence of the right-wing blogosphere, with its instinctive attacks on any who question the morality of the "war on terror." It's difficult to imagine the kind of character assassinations the soldiers who gather in Washington this week will face from the war's supporters, but it's likely that they're going to redefine courage and genuine patriotism in the face of withering criticism.
But the progressive community is also better prepared to push back against those attacks this time around. A robust alternative media, of which AlterNet is proud to play a role, will at least allow this new generation of Winter Soldiers to be heard. You can get involved as well by supporting IVAW, by tuning in to the proceedings live via the internet, satellite TV and select Pacifica Radio stations, or you can organize an event to view the testimony with others in your community.
All week, AlterNet will feature special coverage of the hearings. Each day leading up to the event, we'll be posting some of the transcripts from the 1971 event. You can read Lt. Crandell's opening statement and testimony from members of the First Marine Division, and we'll post more as the week progresses. We'll also take a look back at the impact the original hearings had on the anti-war movement and on the larger debates of the day.
Several members of the AlterNet team will be in Washington this weekend, and we'll bring you the sights and sounds and in-depth coverage that the commercial media won't.