Thursday, September 29, 2005
by DIANE FORD WOOD
How can a film like Winter Soldier, describing war atrocities witnessed by Vietnam veterans while in the service of their country, be overshadowed by anything? Overlooked, under-attended, denied and misunderstood, maybe. But upstaged? Could anything be that powerful?
Like life, one story often usurps another.
As searing, unscripted war horror stories emitted from the screen, weekend life on the University of Minnesota campus was business as usual. As I gazed into flaming, on-fire (or sometimes tired/covered) eyes of war veterans attending the movie and manning the Vets for Peace booth next to me, I witnessed (to name a few): a man running around in beekeeper clothes, very large security guards in pink shirts with night scanners, many tears and hugs, drunks and scantily clad women outside, a lot of preaching to the choir over buttons and handouts inside, ear-splitting rock music and swaying hips, all leading to a collage of personal revelations and memories.
As Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged our nation (and members of nearby Fraternity Row went on yet another keg run), veterans like Scott Camil and Rusty Sachs spoke their witness onto film and into 1970s microphones with a bullseye to the heart. Young veterans with too-old eyes seared my consciousness with verbal recollections intermixed with images of Vietnamese people walking in ragged lines along dirt roads, carrying children and possessions, begging for mercy or just looking dead-straight into the world unknown. How could I not grieve the contrasts?
Through the eleven screenings of Winter Soldier that I attended (most of them from the lobby) and two screenings of first-run films previewed in the same theater, a powerful, unscripted living montage of truth evolved for me:
Opening Night: A new-semester crowd of partying U of M students, some drinking, some barely dressed, were arrested in numbers (368) far outshining the film's audience of 4 to 50 people a showing. Did any of these students have a clue about the gravity and substance of the film showing just a few feet away? Is the world so different today given, for example, the war in Iraq? Do America's young really have that kind of room and license to distance or deny life's realities?
Saturday: (Not to interject a little humor): I saw a beekeeper racing down the street in front of the auditorium in full protective gear, followed seconds later by a swarm of angry bees. He took the honey in his hands to his office in the theater building and left a window open for straggling bees. Hours later (by his own account), 5,000 bees attacked the honey. He and his son frantically closed doors and windows attempting to stave off a bee invasion of nearby offices. Secretly, I hoped those insects would beeline their way toward Fraternity Row, and drive all those drunk/partying students (and the nearly 30,000 people who live within a few-mile radius) into the Bell Auditorium for a real education;
Sunday morning: Scorcese's account of Bob Dylan's early artistic journey ran before Winter Soldier. (Interestingly enough, it did not play to a full theater either.) But there was Dylan, lying, cheating and stealing his way into our ears and hearts (but not our peace movements), with his absolute refusal to answer our stupid questions and conform to what we wanted him to be. On screen, a radiant Joan Baez, filmed in her comfortable kitchen, acknowledged her once-intense connection with "Bob" (accented by a gentle kick or two in the ass, see "Song to Bobby"); Dylan's spike-haired nephew spurned "Reserved for family" seating, laying low at the back of the theater. Just blocks away, Uncle Bobby had spent some of his early years on "Positively Fourth Street" in an apartment above Gray's Drug Store. Everywhere, I could feel the history.
Thursday: A gigantic African-American man, in a black suit and pink tie, protected the sanctity of a preview of "The Corpse Bride" with body scanners and infrared cameras. (The crowd for this preview was full and rocking.) Exhibiting a noticeable lack of anger and an excellent personal outlook, this man told me how he helped integrate a powerful Southern railroad company in his youth, with his x-ray camera pointed playfully at my blouse;
Nightly: Adam Sekuler, the MN Film Arts Program Director and a Wizard of Oz kind of guy, was the man who brought the film to the Bell (along with Vets for Peace and Women Against Military Madness). Almost single-handedly, he raced among the roles of emcee, projectionist, ticket taker, cheerleading squad and baggage handler (ah, don't you love non-profit jobs). Nearly as young as those hanging outside on Fraternity Row, Adam's commitment to bringing the film to the Twin Cities, and his knowledge and understanding of the subject, showed that not all is lost among the young.
Nightly: Each Winter Soldier showing was introduced by veterans of the Minnesota Vets for Peace, Chapter 27. At least two or three members were present at all times to talk with the public, including Chante Wolf (1st Gulf War Veteran) and Vietnam Veterans Joe Johnson, Doug Drews, Tom Dooley, Barry Riesch and Ron Staff, committing time to the screenings as if they have no lives beyond The Cause. (It struck me how much we take commitment like this for granted.) These vets consistently give up precious personal time to voice their opposition to what is happening in America today. From them, and other veterans in the audience, I heard stories that echoed the film and went way beyond war experiences: stories of rows of executed prisoners; soldiers blown up by land mines and dead before they hit the ground; women ordered to dark boiler rooms by too-aggressive superior officers, shattered marriages and lives, chronic physical and mental aftereffects of war, and more.
Closing Night: And finally, folding up the old card table that held the VetSpeak.com booth, I noticed a tiny label taped to the table's underside. "Abe and Ida Kaufman," it said. These are my husband's grandparents, both of whom died within the last twelve months at 97-98 years of age. Both committed most of their entire working lives, and free time, to activism and making the world a better place. Photos of them attending many major events across the U.S., like Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream," speech in Washington are everywhere in my husband's family, who as Quakers, share the load. Abe and Ida would have been proud to know that part of them was at every showing of this film in Minneapolis. These thoughts brought tears to their daughter Raquel's eyes, and she is a woman who does not cry easily.
Over dinner Sunday night, when it was all over, we had a late dinner at the Dinkytowner. The place was alive with the sleek, shimmering bodies of young college women moving to a Latin beat. In my mind, I took the gnarled hand of the veteran next to me and kissed it wordlessly. In that moment, I challenged myself, as I challenge the students at the University of Minnesota and all Americans, to look into the eyes of any veteran you know, no matter the war or politics. Listen to his or her testimony, his story, her wisdom born of experience. Listen not just for you, but for them–and for all of us. I dare you not to be moved.
Diane Ford Wood, 9/28/05
Friday, September 16, 2005
A Firsthand Report (Unedited, Uncut) from the NYC "Re-Premiere" of the film Winter Soldier
by Nancy Miller Saunders
When VetSpeak spokesman Bill (Willie) Hager and I, along with speakers bureau members Terry DuBose, Alex Primm, and author Gerald Nicosia, confronted a Swift Vet crew of propagandists at Texas Tech’s 5th Triennial Vietnam Symposium in March, we came back together after decades of not seeing each other. It felt as if our reunion was meant to be, as if we were going with a flow that drew us together and gave us strength. I felt that flow again on August 12 at the sold-out “re-premier” of the film Winter Soldier, which I helped make 34 years ago.
Winter Soldier is that much-maligned documentary film of the Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI) conducted in the winter of 1971 by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). For three days, Vietnam veterans, all with verified military backgrounds, presented direct testimony about acts that occurred in Vietnam. Many of these acts were considered war crimes under international law, and the veterans testified that these crimes were SOP (Standard Operating Procedure)--accepted, condoned, and at times ordered by commanding officers and hidden from the news media. The vets’ revelations were a serious embarrassment for the United States. Consequently Winter Soldier, the WSI, and VVAW were bitterly condemned, and the film faded into documentary-film oblivion. Until last year.
The Swift Boat Veterans for (what they erroneously call) Truth (SBV) revived it as a weapon to use against Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry, who had been a leader of VVAW and appears in Winter Soldier. All over the media, the SBV charged that the WSI was a phony investigation in which anyone could just show up and relate wild fantasies to discredit all Vietnam veterans. No self-respecting soldier or Marine, the SBV ranted, would set up or participate in such a fraud.
How do I know theses accusations are false? Because I was there. I helped film the WSI.
I know because my official title on the project was what was then called a "script girl." (You should have heard my father explode, "A WHAT girl?" when I told him.) With only two short breaks, I sat through the entire three days of testimony. I personally took notes on each panel, about who said what, at what time, and with descriptive details about each vet, so that we could synchronize the audio tape and silent 16-mm film we took home with us to edit into the film, Winter Soldier.
I know that the SBV’s accusations of fraud are wrong because, during my off-duty moments, I held sobbing vets and listened to them confide even more horror stories. They reminded me of rusty faucets that, once broken open, could not be shut off.
I know, contrary to what the SBV would have you believe, that VVAW was denouncing United States military policies in Southeast Asia, not the troops in the bush. I personally heard vets say this in a multitude of different ways. For example, they wanted to avoid creating government scapegoats like Lt. William Calley (who at the time was being court-martialed for the My Lai massacre), so they frequently reminded those of us transcribing the testimony to omit the names of veterans who were not present at the WSI. The official government story about My Lai was that the massacre was an aberration. Not so, said the veterans testifying in front of our cameras. Vet after vet testified that war crimes, like the that massacre, were United States military policy, SOP.
I know on an instinctive level that what I heard at the WSI was true (as well as each vet could recall), because we—filmmakers and veterans—were together then. We were held together by the strength that comes of being united in doing what needs to be done, no matter how painful and no matter what repercussions we might face. It was the strength we shared again at the film’s “re-premiere” and that I felt when we came together at the TTU symposium last March.
I know that the WSI testimonies were true because, thanks to the Hot Springs (Arkansas) Documentary Film Festival asking me for permission to show Winter Soldier at their 2003 festival, I have seen it several times in the past two years. Seeing and remembering the pain in the faces of those young men as they recalled events they wanted only to forget, made the truth of their testimonies all too clear.
And I know that Winter Soldier is true because of the effect I have seen it have on those who see it, like a doctor with the Veterans Administration. He is now a better doctor to his patients because, having seen Winter Soldier, he has a clearer idea of their needs.
New York City, August 12, 2005
I almost didn't make it to the Winter Soldier “re-premiere. I knew the film was being re-released, but no one contacted me with the details. Maybe other members of Winterfilm (the collective we formed to make the film) were trying to divorce themselves from me because I chewed them out during last year's campaigns. When former VVAW leader John Kerry ran for president, while the United States was embroiled in another political war based on lies, I wanted everyone to see the Winter Soldier. I wanted to remind people of the toll taken on our sons and daughters, sisters and brothers whom we send to fight unnecessary wars for us.
So I contacted others in Winterfilm about re-releasing Winter Soldier before the election, but they refused. They were cooperating with Kerry's campaign managers and did not want his VVAW connection to harm his election chances. I excoriated them in a blistering e-mail in which I insisted that, whether Kerry agreed or not, the voters of this country needed to know the truth of his VVAW history before the Bushistas spun it against him. Which is just what they did. And Kerry lost.
I never heard from Winterfilm again. I wasn't even notified that Winter Soldier was being re-released, much less invited to join the filmed conversation among the collective members that has been spliced onto the end of the film.
Then, a week before the re-premiere, Scott Camil, a true buddy, called me. As a vet who had given testimony (which he can document) at the WSI and who is featured in Winter Soldier, Scott had been invited to speak at its re-opening. When he noticed that I was not included on the Winterfilm roster, he called to ask if I wanted to be. OF COURSE I DID. My credibility was at stake: Having confronted the Swift Vet crew at TTU I know how they operate. So I wanted my participation at WSI clearly verified before the SBV portrayed me as a liar. I did not want my absence on Winterfilm lists to give them and opportunity to accuse me of faking my participation on the film.
I first met Scott on the night before he testified at the WSI. Over time, I watched him transform himself from a Marine sergeant boasting of his daring feats, into a man who returned the medals he was proud of, and then into an implacable antiwar activist. Just as Winterfilm featured Scott in Winter Soldier, so I feature him in my manuscript, “Combat by Trial: Travels and Travails with 20TH Century Winter Soldiers.”
Once Scott stepped in, my invitation was issued and I dashed off to NYC. I arrived with Scott and his wife Sherry along with Ken and Cathy Campbell. Ken is now Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations and Director of International Relations Program at the University of Delaware. He is also the vet who shot down Sinclair Broadcasting's plans to show Carlton Sherwood's anti-Kerry film, Stolen Honor, just before the election. That film has a clip from Winter Soldier (a possible copyright infringement) of Scott's debriefing, in which Ken verified Scott's story before VVAW allowed him to testify. The two had served in the same unit and were reminding each other of actions it had taken. Sherwood contended that Ken was coaching Scott on what to say. Wrong. Ken sued for misrepresentation and only portions of the film were aired.
The five of us (Ken, Cathy, Scott, Sherry and I) planned to meet Rusty Sachs and his wife for dinner before the Winter Soldier reception. Rusty had also testified at the WSI and, two days before the film’s re-opening, he was interviewed by Terry Gross on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air.
Even when you go with "the flow," plans don't always go as arranged. We were still trying to hook up with Rusty when we arrived at the hotel where Ken and Cathy were staying and discovered a reunion of some of VVAW's earliest members and their spouses already underway in the hotel bar. We joined, of course. All faces had to be carefully examined to remove the changes more than 30 years of aging had wrought and the shaving of beards had revealed. The times they sure have been a-changin'. But we were still the way we were. The beards and fatigues were gone, but the vets dressed casually for a premiere (I was really hoping to finally see Scott in a suit). A surprising number of them—without consulting each other—wore Hawaiian shirts.
That sense of the absolute rightness of our being together again--which Scott and I (and other contributors to VetSpeak) had felt at TTU--was strong. About sixteen of us (all vets and wives, none from Winterfilm except me) followed "the flow" to a nearby Greek restaurant for a fine dinner. Rusty and his wife joined us just before we ordered, and later, stomachs content, we paraded down the avenue to the Walter Reade Theater at the Lincoln Center for the showing of one very powerful film.
During the reception before the showing I was unable to recognize the other Winterfilm people. While trying to identify them, I noticed a solitary man standing by himself. I asked him who he was, and he replied, "Jan Barry." Here was someone I had long wanted to meet, one of the original six members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Jan is a quiet, gentle, self-deprecating man with a talent for writing from the heart. I have always credited him with planting the seed that flowered into VVAW. That night, I felt honored to watch Winter Soldier by his side.
Winter Soldier is not an easy film to watch. There is a lot of pain and brutality, as well as the profane language of rage. But it is a true film because Winterfilm’s editors kept our promise to let the film make the vets’ statement, not ours. The vets helped with the editing, and provided photographs and 8-mm film footage they had shot while “in country.” Inescapably apparent truth is what makes this film so powerful. That truth is why, of all the films shot of Vietnam veterans in The Day, Winter Soldier is the one to be re-released. It is also why the turnout was so large that people had to be turned away from the theater. It looked to me as if as many people were turned away as were admitted. I heard there were a few protesters, but I didn’t see them.
After the showing, Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary) spoke and sang. Then Scott, Ken, and Rusty (all featured in the film) spoke. Four Winterfilm members planned to speak, but the climax of the evening came when they gave up their seats to four members of the newly coalescing Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). The IVAW earned standing applause, and my eyes still tear up when I remember watching them come down to the stage and take the places vacated for them. They were so young. Their stories were so horribly familiar, even if the details differed.
The "flow" I first felt in Texas, and then in the bar of the NYC hotel (where we were inebriated only on each others’ company), I now felt with a new generation of misused veterans. Added to that, was the coming together for me, later that evening, with two women from Winterfilm. There was a purpose in all this, one that can never be forgotten or overshadowed by slights, accusations or misunderstandings that are always part of any human collective.
I wrote this while the biggest coming together was still taking place outside W’s “ranch” in Crawford, Texas. Some of the VetSpeak team joined Cindy Sheehan and other Gold-Star parents in asking our commander in chief what their children died for.
What have 1,900 United States military personnel died for in Iraq? What did 58,000 die for in Southeast Asia?
Don’t let the bastards stop us from coming together and demanding answers to these and so many other questions.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Published in the September issue of
The Gainesville Iguana, September 2005
by Scott Camil
Recently, I was asked to speak at a teach-in built around the Downing Street Memo, a secret British document that shows that the public was lied to to get our support for Bush’s war against Iraq. This “Memo” is actually meeting minutes transcribed during the British Prime Minister’s meeting on July 23, 2002—eight months prior to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. (The Sunday Times in London printed the text of this document on May 1, 2005.)
I was asked to speak about what it feels like to be a U.S. veteran who voluntarily served in war, only to come home and learn that my government had lied to, manipulated and betrayed me. I thought to myself, “This will be a real easy speech: It sucks.” The question made me think about the many similarities between the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq.
• United States involvement in both wars started with deception. In Vietnam, the deception included the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the SEATO treaty, the violation of the Geneva Accords, and the manipulation of the public with propaganda. In Iraq, we were lied to about weapons of mass destruction. We were Goebbelized (fed propaganda) to believe that there were links between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein, and we were led to believe that Saddam was evil because of what he did to his own people. It was our moral obligation to remove him, even though we empowered him and sponsored his actions. We were told that our effort in Iraq would help the war on terror; instead, it is giving the terrorists a rallying cry and has allowed them to operate inside Iraq, which Saddam Hussein never permitted.
• The U.S. Congress was derelict in its duty to the Constitution and our citizens. The Constitution provides for checks and balances and gives Congress the power to declare war. In both wars, Congress abdicated its responsibilities and gave carte blanche to the executive branch. This breach of responsibility cannot be overstated.
• Neither war had a realistic exit strategy. The general strategy was and is “might makes right,” and, “we’ll kick their ass and make them do what we want.” While we’re kicking their ass, we’re telling the public that we’re winning their hearts and minds. In Vietnam, we used to say, “Grab them by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow.” It didn’t work in Vietnam, and it isn’t going to work in Iraq. Every time you hurt the innocent, you bolster and inspire the anti-occupation forces.
• We claim that we will teach the Iraqis democracy and we will train them to be able to militarily gain control over the people of their country. We tried this in Vietnam and we called it Vietnamization. It did not work in Vietnam, and it won’t work in Iraq. We have still not learned from our misplaced arrogance. Both Vietnamese and Iraqi culture are thousands of years older than ours.
• In both wars, we thirsted for oil. President Eisenhower spoke of the importance of Vietnam’s oil to the US. Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world. The number one source of income of both countries is oil.
• In Vietnam, we trained, equipped and armed the South Vietnamese military and police. That enabled the anti-occupation forces (AOF) to infiltrate, get training, get equipment, and learn intelligence to help their cause. The same thing is happening in Iraq. When car bombers ambush military and police units on the way to a mission, it’s because of inside information. It’s almost as if we’re fighting ourselves because we’re equipping them and teaching them our military strategy.
• Part of our strategy in both wars was to eliminate the leadership of the AOF by assassination. In Vietnam, it was called the Phoenix Program. In that program, 41,000 Vietnamese citizens were assassinated. One of the men who worked in that program, Thomas O’Connell, has now become the U.S. assistant secretary for Special Operations. (Thomas O’Connell, before he came to this job, ran “Grey Fox,” a unit of Special Operations forces and CIA that assassinates those considered to be enemies of the United States.) Special Operations controls Task Force 121 and its plan for dealing with the AOF is called “pre-emptive man-hunting.” In both wars, there was monetary incentive to turn over neighbors who are leaders of the AOF to the Americans. That monetary incentive encourages people to turn in people they don’t like and get paid for it.
• In both wars, the United States carried the overwhelming economic and material of the burden of the war. They were international efforts in name only.
• Both wars saw a large drop in the international standing of the United States, which hurts our national security as well as our image.
• In both wars, the United States far outmatched the enemy in arms and technology and American troops didn’t have to worry about enemy aircraft.
• In both wars, the United States attacked countries that were not a threat to the United States. Neither country had the power nor the ability to strike the United States.
• In both wars, the borders were not secure.
• In both wars, the United States made secret illegal incursions into neighboring countries.
• Both wars saw the use of mercenary forces by the United States. In Vietnam, they were Laotian mercenaries. In Iraq, there are mercenaries from Latin America and corporate mercenaries. One of the ways that the United States has played with the numbers to make Iraq look like a smaller commitment than Vietnam is by changing who handles the infrastructure of the war. In Vietnam, the military handled it. In Iraq, private corporations handle it, thereby concealing the actual size of our military presence there.
• Because of poor planning, in both wars, the U.S. government had to turn to coercion to supply the manpower needed for the commitment. In Vietnam, it was the draft; and in Iraq, it is the backdoor draft known as 'stop loss.' Under stop loss, once you’ve served all the time in the military you’ve signed up for, you can be kept in the military for up to six months after the war has ended.
During the Civil War in the U.S., combat units were organized by cities and towns, so when a unit from a certain place would take heavy casualties, it impacted that place in a much more detrimental way than had those soldiers been split up from around the country. We changed the way we organized combat units so this wouldn’t happen anymore. Because Bush has bitten off more than the regular army can chew, this war has to be fought with a large percentage of reservists and National Guard, so again, as these units take casualties, certain towns and cities are taking a disproportionate share of the losses.
• Neither war was fought to hold land. You clear an area, you lose some men, you go somewhere else, only to come back and lose more men clearing that same area again. This creates a morale problem for the soldier.
• In Vietnam, the majority of casualties were from mines and booby traps. In Iraq, they’re from improvised explosive devices, commonly known as IEDs. An IED is a mine.
• In both wars, there was and is an increase in soldiers going AWOL (absent without leave).
• Psychologically speaking, it was the trauma of the war of occupation in Vietnam that led to the realization that soldiers in combat will have psychological scars that may last a lifetime. Now we hear that 30% of the troops coming home from Iraq have symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
• In both wars, there was and is a lack of concern for the safety of the troops. In Vietnam, we were given M16 rifles that didn’t work. In Iraq, our soldiers don’t have adequate body armor or armored vehicles.
• In both wars, there was lack of concern for the long-term health of the troops. In Vietnam, the use of Agent Orange still affects veterans and their families forty years later. In Iraq, the use of depleted uranium ammunition will have the same negative long-term effects on our troops and their families.
• In both wars, there was and is abuse of the citizens of the occupied countries by U.S. forces. There is much evidence of abuse of prisoners. In Vietnam, there were cases like My Lai and the testimony of U.S. servicemen at the Winter Soldier Investigation that show the type of abuse that went on. In Iraq, abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib Prison is so bad that our government is fighting to keep from the world the photographs and films of these abuses, including rape of children. In Vietnam, body count as a measure of success led to many civilian deaths. Because of the stigma the body count created, in the Iraq war, they’ve decided not to keep track of the people they kill. This lack of accountability results in countless deaths of civilians.
• Major Colin Powell was assigned to investigate what happened at My Lai. Being a team player, he whitewashed the investigation. A year later, an investigative journalist named Ron Ridenhour sent numerous letters to the White House, the Pentagon and Congress, asking them to do something about the massacre at My Lai. Congressman Morris Udall started another investigation, which resulted in the conviction of Lt. William Calley. This conviction whitewashed the responsibility of U.S. government policy in the massacre. Years later, Major Colin Powell became U.S. Secretary of State and, as a team player, he sold the Bush lies about WMD in Iraq to the United Nations.
• In both wars, the government has scapegoated lower ranking members of the military, placing all of the blame for criminal acts on them while denying any responsibility by leadership or policy. This is directly counter to the rules established at the Nuremberg Trials where the U.S. presided over prosecution of war criminals.
• In both wars, the mainstream news media, having initially bought the government’s deceptions, eventually followed public opinion and turned against the war.
• Journalists have died covering both wars. According to Reporters Without Borders, more journalists have been killed in two and a half years in Iraq (66) than were killed in 20 years of covering Vietnam (63). At least 20 of the journalists killed in Iraq have been killed by American troops.
• In both wars, the U.S. lauded big democratic voter turnout in the elections of their puppet governments. It didn’t make a difference in Vietnam, and in Iraq, because everyone who was on government handout had to show a purple thumb to get their water and food rations, we don’t really know how much of that turnout was for anything besides food and water.
When I think about occupation, I think about how would I feel if the United States were occupied. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that another nation decides that we need regime change in the United States. They present their justifications to the world before they unilaterally and preemptively attack us. Their reasons are as follows:
• The people of the United States do not have real democracy. They have voting systems without paper accountability. Their leaders are responsive only to the corporations and the wealthy.
• The United States is the only western nation that executes its own prisoners. It imprisons more of its people per capita that any other western nation.
• It refuses to abide by international law and ignores the World Court.
• It uses a much higher percentage of the world’s resources than its share in terms of population.
• It’s not willing to acknowledge the huge negative impact it has on the environment, putting the whole world at risk from things such as global warming and the use of depleted uranium in ammunition.
There are many things I could add to this list, but I think you get my point. I agree that all of the above is true and I agree that we need regime change, but I would never accept that change—as important as it might be to the world—if it came from the barrels of the guns of foreign troops occupying my country. Occupation only gives you control—and limited control at that—while you occupy. The occupier becomes a prisoner of his own policy. There’s no way to get out and save face. We have to have the integrity to admit our mistakes in Iraq and try to correct them. The longer we draw it out, the worse it will be for us.
It is very clear that the majority of the people of Iraq were much better off under Hussein than they are under Bush. Under Hussein, they had reliable electricity, running water and telephone service, their children could walk to school without fear, their wives could go shopping without fear, their fathers could take public transportation to work, their daily routines were safe. Those politically opposed to Saddam, members of Al-Qaeda, or a religious fundamentalists had problems. Under Bush, the regular people, the overwhelming majority of people, do not have the services or the safety they had before we invaded.
The U.S. war in Vietnam lasted 10 years. We are now hearing that our military commitment to Iraq may also take 10 years. There are a few bottom lines here for me:
1) Ten years from now, the only ones who will be thinking about Iraq will be those who have lost family members and friends and those who have lost parts of themselves physically or mentally. The rest of America will go on, just as it did after Vietnam.
2) There will come a time when we leave Iraq and the Iraqis will choose for themselves what they want just as the Vietnamese did. So the real question is how many must die and suffer before that happens. I don’t believe that more deaths and suffering will change the outcome. There are those that say if we “cut and run now,” all those who have suffered and died will have done so in vain. I ask those people how many have to die before it’s okay to cut and run? When there are 58,000 names for a wall of American veterans who have died in Iraq, will it then be okay to cut and run? Is that how many lives have to be thrown away before it’s okay to admit that we’ve made a mistake and do what’s right?
What should we do?
1) Withdraw all American troops and support services from Iraq immediately.
2) Turn over all responsibility except financial to the international community.
3) Pay the cost of repairing all the damage we have done. We broke it, we should have to pay to fix it.
4) Recognize the World Court and turn over to them everyone who is responsible for starting this war. Let them face justice.
5) Many American corporations are profiting mightily from this war. In return, they provide the economic support that allows these irresponsible and sometimes criminal politicians to hold onto their power. We must take the ability to profit out of war. If the troops are asked to show their patriotism by sacrificing life and limb, then let the corporations show their patriotism by sacrificing their profit.
6) Vote out of office every congressmember and senator that supported this war. There are those who say it’s not the fault of Congress, that there are many members of Congress who are good, decent people who got swept up in the politics of patriotism. But it is the responsibility of Congress to provide a check and balance to the executive branch. To allow the executive branch carte blanche because they wrapped a criminal policy in the flag is an abdication of their responsibility. Why would we allow them to stay in office when they have not been responsible? We need to set a precedent so that future congresses will take their responsibility seriously.
The argument that Congress has to support the troops allows the executive branch to commit the troops and then demand support for the policy, no matter how wrong. This puts the cart before the horse, keeps the troops in a place they do not belong, and mandates useless suffering and death.
For those congressmembers who argue that they were misled into starting this war, they allowed themselves to be misled. There were many voices against this folly of ours, including many of our citizens and most of the countries on this planet.
If we fail to take a stand that punishes those responsible for this crime, it will only be repeated again.
During the American war against Vietnam, we marched on Washington to confront our government, express our dissatisfaction with their criminal policies, and call for an immediate end to the war and the return of our troops. On September 24th, we will be marching on Washington for the same reasons. I urge you to join us.
Scott Camil is a Vietnam veteran. He testified about U.S. war crimes in Vietnam at the Winter Soldier investigation in 1971 in Detroit, a tribunal which is captured in the recently re-released film "Winter Soldier." Currently he serves as a counselor for the GI Rights Hotline and on the executive committee of The Suwannee St-Johns Group Sierra Club.