Letters From the Troops
As we approach the holidays, I've been thinking a lot about our kids who are in the armed forces serving in Iraq. I've received hundreds of letters from our troops in Iraq -- and they are telling me something very different from what we are seeing on the evening news.
What they are saying, often eloquently and in heart-wrenching words, is that they were lied to -- and this war has nothing to do with the security of the United States of America.
I've written back and spoken on the phone to many of them and I've asked a few of them if it would be OK if I publicized their letters and they've said yes. They do so at great personal risk (as they may face disciplinary measures for exercising their right to free speech). I thank them for their bravery.
Lance Corporal George Batton of the United States Marine Corps, who returned from Iraq in September (after serving in MP company Alpha), writes the following:
"You'd be surprised at how many of the guys I talked to in my company and others believed that the president's scare about Saddam's WMD was a bunch of bullshit and that the real motivation for this war was only about money. There was also a lot of crap that many companies, not just marine companies, had to go through with not getting enough equipment to fulfill their missions when they crossed the border. It was a miracle that our company did what it did the two months it was staying in Iraq during the war.... We were promised to go home on June 8th, and found out that it was a lie and we got stuck doing missions for an extra three months. Even some of the most radical conservatives in our company including our company gunnery sergeant got a real bad taste in their mouth about the Marine corps, and maybe even president Bush."
Here's what Specialist Mike Prysner of the U.S. Army wrote:
"Dear Mike: I'm writing from the trenches of a war, not knowing why I'm here or when I'm leaving. I've toppled statues and vandalized portraits, while wearing an American flag on my sleeve, and struggling to learn how to understand... I joined the army as soon as I was eligible -- turned down a writing scholarship to a state university, eager to serve my country, ready to die for the ideals I fell in love with. Two years later I found myself moments away from a landing onto a pitch black airstrip, ready to charge into a country I didn't believe I belonged in. My time in Iraq has always involved finding things to convince myself that I can be proud of my actions; that I was a part of something just. But no matter what pro-war argument I came up with, I pictured my smirking commander-in-chief, thinking he was fooling a nation..."
An Army private, still in Iraq and wishing to remain anonymous, writes:
"I would like to tell you how difficult it is to serve under a man who was never elected. Because he is the president and my boss, I have to be very careful as to who and what i say about him. This also concerns me a great deal... to limit the military's voice is to limit exactly what America stands for... and the greater percentage of us feel completely underpowered. He continually sets my friends, my family, and several others in a kind of danger that frightens me beyond belief. I know several other soldiers who feel the same way and discuss the situation with me on a regular basis."
Jerry Oliver of the U.S. Army, who has just returned from Baghdad, writes:
"I have just returned home from "Operation Iraqi Freedom." I spent 5 months in Baghdad, and a total of 3 years in the U.S. Army. I was recently discharged with Honorable valor and returned to the States only to be horrified by what I've seen my country turn into. I'm now 22 years old and have discovered America is such a complicated place to live, and moreover, Americans are almost oblivious to what's been happening to their country. America has become "1984." Homeland security is teaching us to spy on one another and forcing us to become anti-social. Americans are willingly sacrificing our freedoms in the name of security, the same Freedoms I was willing to put my life on the line for. The constitution is in jeopardy. As Gen. Tommy Franks said, (broken down of course) One more terrorist attack and the constitution will hold no meaning."
And a Specialist in the U.S. Army wrote about the capture of Saddam Hussein:
"Wow, 130,000 troops on the ground, nearly 500 deaths and over a billion dollars a day, but they caught a guy living in a hole. Am I supposed to be dazzled?"
There are lots more of these, straight from the soldiers who have been on the front lines and have seen firsthand what this war is really about. I have also heard from their friends and relatives, and from other veterans. A mother writing on behalf of her son (whose name we have withheld) wrote:
"My son said that this is the worst it's been since the "end" of the war. He said the troops have been given new rules of engagement, and that they are to "take out" any persons who aggress on the Americans, even if it results in "collateral" damage. Unfortunately, he did have to kill someone in self-defense and was told by his commanding officer 'Good kill.'
"My son replied 'You just don't get it, do you?'
"Here we are...Vietnam all over again."
From a 56-year-old Navy veteran, relating a conversation he had with a young man who was leaving for Iraq the next morning:
"What disturbed me most was when I asked him what weapons he carried as a truck driver. He told me the new M-16, model blah blah blah, stuff never made sense to me even when I was in. I asked him what kind of side arm they gave him and his fellow drivers. He explained, "Sir, Reservists are not issued side arms or flack vests as there was not enough money to outfit all the Reservists, only Active Personnel." I was appalled to say the least."
From a 40-year-old veteran of the Marine Corps:
"Why is it that we are forever waving the flag of sovereignty, EXCEPT when it concerns our financial interests in other sovereign states? What gives us the right to tell anyone else how they should govern themselves, and live their lives? Why can't we just lead the world by example? I mean no wonder the world hates us, who do they get to see? Young assholes in uniforms with guns, and rich, old, white tourists! Christ, could we put up a worse first impression?"
Remember back in March, once the war had started, how risky it was to make any anti-war comments to people you knew at work or school or, um, at awards ceremonies? One thing was for sure; if you said anything against the war, you had better follow it up immediately with this line: "BUT I SUPPORT THE TROOPS!" Failing to do that meant that you were not only unpatriotic and un-American, your dissent meant that you were putting our kids in danger, that you might be the reason they lose their lives. Dissent was only marginally tolerated if you pledged your "support" for our soldiers.
Of course, you needed to do no such thing. Why? Because people like you have always supported "the troops." Who are these troops? Most of them are our poor, our working class. Most of them enlisted because it was about the only place to get a job or receive the guarantee of a college education. You, my good friends, have always, through your good works, your contributions, your activism, your votes, supported these very kids who come from the other side of the tracks. You never need to be defensive when it comes to your "support" for the "troops" -- you are the only ones who have always been there for them.
It is Mr. Bush and his filthy rich cronies -- whose sons and daughters will never see a day in a uniform -- who do not support our troops. Our soldiers joined the military and, in doing so, offered to give their lives for us if need be. What a tremendous gift that is -- to be willing to die so that you and I don't have to! To be willing to shed their blood so that we may be free. To serve in our place, so that we don't have to serve. What a tremendous act of selflessness and generosity! Here they are, these 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds, most of whom have had to suffer under an unjust economic system that is set up not to benefit them -- these kids who have lived their first 18 years in the worst parts of town, going to the most miserable schools, living in danger and learning often to go without, watching their parents struggle to get by and then be humiliated by a system that is always looking to make life harder for them by cutting their benefits, their education, their libraries, their fire and police, their future.
And then, after this miserable treatment, these young men and women, instead of coming after us to demand a more just society, they go and join the army to defend us and our way of life! It boggles the mind, doesn't it? They not only deserve our thanks, they deserve a big piece of the pie that we dine on, those of us who never have to worry about taking a bullet while we fret over which Palm Pilot to buy the nephew for Christmas.
In fact, all that these kids in the army ask for in return from us is our promise that we never send them into harm's way unless it is for the defense of our nation, to protect us from being killed by "the enemy."
That promise has been broken. It has been broken in the worst way imaginable. We have sent them into war not to defend us, not to protect us, not to spare the slaughter of innocents or allies. We have sent them to war so Bush and Company can control the second largest supply of oil in the world. We have sent them into war so that the Vice President's company can bilk the government for billions of dollars. We have sent them into war based on a lie of weapons of mass destruction and the lie that Saddam helped plan 9/11 with Osama bin Laden.
By doing all of this, Mr. Bush has proven that it is he who does not support our troops. It is he who has put their lives in danger, and it is he who is responsible for the nearly 500 American kids who have now died for no honest, decent reason whatsoever.
The letters from the friends and relatives of our kids over there make it clear that they are sick of this war and they are scared to death that they may never see their loved ones again. It breaks my heart to read these letters. I wish there was something I could do. I wish there was something we all could do.
Maybe there is. I would like to suggest a few things each of us could do to make the holidays a bit brighter -- if not safer -- for our troops and their families back home.
1. Many families of soldiers are hurting financially, especially those families of reservists and National Guard who are gone from the full-time jobs ("just one weekend a month and we'll pay for your college education!"). You can help them by contacting the Armed Forces Emergency Relief Funds at http://www.afrtrust.org/ (ignore the rah-rah military stuff and remember that this is money that will help out these families who are living in near-poverty). Each branch has their own relief fund, and the money goes to help the soldiers and families with paying for food and rent, medical and dental expenses, personal needs when pay is delayed, and funeral expenses. You can find more ways to support the troops, from buying groceries for their families to donating your airline miles so they can get home for a visit, by going here.
2. Thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed by our bombs and indiscriminate shooting. We must help protect them and their survivors. You can do so by supporting the Quakers' drive to provide infant care kits to Iraqi hospitals -- find out more here: http://www.afsc.org/iraq/relief/default.shtm. You can also help the people of Iraq by supporting the Iraqi Red Crescent Society -- here's how to contact them: http://www.ifrc.org/address/iq.asp, or you can make an online donation through the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies by going here: http://www.ifrc.org/HELPNOW/donate/donate_iraq.asp.
3. With 130,000 American men and women currently in Iraq, every community in this country has either sent someone to fight in this war or is home to family members of someone fighting in this war. Organize care packages through your local community groups, activist groups, and churches and send them to these young men and women. The military no longer accepts packages addressed to "Any Soldier," so you'll have to get their names first. Figure out who you can help from your area, and send them books, CDs, games, footballs, gloves, blankets -- anything that may make their extended (and extended and extended...) stay in Iraq a little brighter and more comfortable. You can also sponsor care packages to American troops through the USO: http://www.usocares.org/.
4. Finally, we all have to redouble our efforts to end this war and bring the troops home. That's the best gift we could give them; get them out of harm's way ASAP and insist that the U.S. go back to the UN and have them take over the rebuilding of Iraq (with the US and Britain funding it, because, well, we have to pay for our mess). Get involved with your local peace group -- you can find one near where you live by visiting United for Peace, at: http://www.unitedforpeace.org and the Vietnam Veterans Against War: http://www.vvaw.org/contact/. A large demonstration is being planned for March 20, check here for more details: http://www.unitedforpeace.org/article.php?id=2136. To get a "Bring Them Home Now" bumper sticker or a poster for your yard, go here: http://bringthemhomenow.org/yellowribbon_graphics/index.html. Also, back only anti-war candidates for Congress and President (Kucinich, Dean, Clark, Sharpton).
I know it feels hopeless. That's how they want us to feel. Don't give up. We owe it to these kids, the troops we support, to get them the hell outta there and back home so they can help organize the drive to remove the war profiteers from office next November.
To all who serve in our armed forces, to their parents and spouses and loved ones, we offer to you the regrets of millions and the promise that we will right this wrong and do whatever we can to thank you for offering to risk your lives for us. That your life was put at risk for Bush's greed is a disgrace and a travesty, the likes of which I have not seen in my lifetime.
Be safe, come home soon, and know that our thoughts and prayers are with you during this season when many of us celebrate the birth of the prince of "peace."