A soldier has one paramount concern: coming back alive. But what happens when he or she does return but with a conscience wracked by guilt?
Winter Soldier 2008, a three-day event sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War that is taking place at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, MD, is a catharsis for many soldiers who want the world to know their truth about what is occurring in the battle zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. As one soldier said, he didn't want violence to conquer him and that he was at Winter Soldier 2008 as a way to deal with it. War, he said, does irrevocable damage to one's physical spirit and health.
In a country where one's enemies are not identifiable by those wearing the "black hats," war easily takes on the tone of kill or be killed. Soldiers in training are taught to act mechanically. Shoot the target. It comes back up almost immediately, but how does one deal in real situations--shooting someone who doesn't come back up? In the war zone it's easier to deal with and as one soldier testified got him congratulations by his commander for his first kill and, maybe, even a four day pass.
Listening to the soldiers' testimonies on Pacifica.org painted a picture of war in its ugliest form, where rules of engagement were changed to suit the need for retaliation by soldiers, some psychologically challenged by having to serve on a third tour of duty and, of course the overriding concern: to bring each other home alive.
How did one determine "hostile intent" in a place where violence cannot be contained? Anyone wearing certain head gear became anyone holding binoculars, a cellphone or anyone walking down the street or trying to tend a field after curfew. Vivid accounts were told of shooting passing motorists, old ladies carrying vegetables and then simply of ways of taking out aggression as in the description of repeatedly shooting at a mosque when it couldn't be proven that gun fire came from it. And when were the rules of engagement humane? When "embedded reporters were with us we did by the books" one soldier said.
John Michael Turner, a former Marine, is sorry for the hate and disaster inflicted on innocent people but he warns it will continue to happen as long as the occupation is allowed to continue. He's no longer the monster he once was, he reassured everyone, especially himself.
The soldiers' stories were hard to tell and equally hard to hear. And those who didn't want to believe what was revealed managed to express themselves in a call-in after the session ended. As an example, one 20-year veteran from Washington who caught some of the broadcast on his car radio returning home from work voiced concern that anyone was speaking for him. His remark was attributed to "blind obedience" by the group responding to the call.
And "Wave the flag. Let someone else fight your battles" was a message to the American people who've supported the war.
Corporate world, the greatest beneficiaries of war
Bechtel, Shaw, Perini, Halliburton--especially Halliburton--those were companies with the biggest contracts, according to Antonia Juhasz, whose bio describes her as a Tarbell Fellow, oil Change International and a visiting scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy At a Time.
The main point that Juhasz wanted to make, however, was that oil was the reason for the occupation. BT, Total, Exxon, Chevron and Shell were companies kicked out of Iraq in the 1970s, she reminded everyone. Oil companies again want re-privatization of Iraq's vast oil reserves, she said. The mission of the troops would be to stay to insure their safety.
Coverage of the event continues. To listen via streaming audio on March 15, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. EST and March 16, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.EST go here.
For a wrap-up on the March 14 testimony go here.