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Winter Soldier 2008: From a Marine Mom's Eyewitness account of the Testimony

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Initially, when I was scheduled to attend the IVAW Winter Soldier event, I had planned on covering it from the perspective of an independent media person.  Since the beginning of Bush’s term in office, I have spent all these years as an activist against his policies and that of our government as well as documenting many stories.  My son did 2 tours of duty as a U.S. Marine, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq.  So my life has been forever altered by the events of the past 7 years. 

 

However, after spending almost 4 days within the halls of the National Labor College, meeting new members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, and seeing many old friends from VFP (Veterans for Peace), VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against the War), MFSO (Military Families Speak Out), and the other anti-war groups listening to the testimony given, I can no longer be an objective reporter.  So I decided to write this story, from a marine mom’s perspective, and one who is adamantly opposed to the so called “war on terror”, occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and any other wars that this government is cooking up.

 

I reported on Friday the events of the press conference and evening panel discussion from the “oldies but goodies” with the objectivity of an independent writer. http://www.opednews.com/articles/genera_elaine_b_080313_iraq_and_afghanistan.htm

I went into Day 2, where the testimony began at 9 AM with “Rules of Engagement”.  Speakers from the Army and Marine Corps., some IVAW members I have known for the last few years, recounted the atrocities that they not only witnessed but participated in.  I strongly encourage anyone who is interested can listen online at www.ivaw.org/wintersoldier.  About halfway into that panel, I lost my objectivity.  The stories they were telling about the breakdown of the Rules of Engagement (ROE) they learned while training at boot camp, or on a military base “back home”, were the same stories of ROE breakdown as what I had heard from my son.  I began sobbing with cameras and notepad in hand, and couldn’t stop.  The photographs they were showing on the 5 viewing screens of bloodied bodies torn apart by close gunfire, 50 cal. machine guns, rocket launchers, and every other damn weapon our great military industrial complex has created, were all too familiar to me.  When my son returned home from both war zones, he was eager to share his stories and pictures. 

 

I could not fathom my son, who I raised to be a Catholic, took him to Sunday school, where he received communion and confirmation, had not only been a participant in such horrors, but had pictures to prove it.  I immediately told him that I would not listen to his stories or look at those pictures. He could speak with his father.  My response may seem to many as being hard on my son, who only wanted to unload what he was feeling on his mother.  But I couldn’t come to terms with it then, and now. 

 

Watching and listening to the testimony made me very ill.  Here were these young men and women, handsomely dressed, some wearing medals, talking about ROE in a war zone, which started out following the manual, and dwindled into what Jason Hurd called “Operation Fan & Fury.”  This is when you shot anyone who is in your area that is holding a cell phone, carrying anything, whether it is groceries, and a shovel, carrying a white flag, holding binoculars, or just looking a bit suspicious to the particular soldier or marine that is on watch.  And the orders were “take ‘em out!”  The Rules of Engagement, as stated by Garrett Rapenhagen were “a joke and disgrace, and ever changing.”

 

I knew that was the case because I had heard it back home from my son.  He told me he had to survive, he had to protect his buddies, and all come home alive.  They didn’t know who the enemy was, so they would just “blast them away.”  The marines are taught that.  That is why they send them into a war zone first.  They shot and don’t even ask questions.  Their motto is “Kill ‘em all and let God sort 'em out!” 

 

Camilo Mejia, who is the Chair of IVAW, spoke about how the dehumanizing of the enemy is necessary to survival, and how they are taught to think of Iraqi’s as “hajjis”.  In fact, all of the panel members described the citizens of Iraq as hajjis.  I know that word all too well; I have heard my son use that term of reference, as well as towel heads, sand niggers, and more.  The saying “If you feel threatened, use your weapon” was also a familiar phrase to me.  “Do what you need to do.”  That meant that you use your rifle anytime, and you can crush whoever you want with your vehicle in the street. 

 

Members on the panel discussed when they were bored how they blew up dogs and other animals to keep them entertained.  All too well I had heard these stories, which gave me the creeps more than anything else.  I heard the testimony of Matt Childers who said that he witnessed at Abu Ghraib prison one of the soldiers “take off his hat, push it down his butt, then try to feed it to a hooded Iraqi.  They were so hungry, that the prisoners would try to eat it.” 

 

A testifier that I happened to get a personal interview with, Bryan Casler, USMC, who reminded me so much of my son, recounted stories of the first invasion of Iraq.  They left from Kuwait and crossed into Iraq, and as the days went on, marines would take their MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) which were in plastic bags, and defecate in them and toss them out to the people as they drove by in their trucks.  Those who picked them up would think they were food and attempt to eat the contents.  He said that they would urinate in bottles and throw them at children.  They would also remove the chemical packets that were contained within the MRE’s (which helped heat the food) and hand them to children to eat.  He said that when they went into Babylon, the marines would drive vehicles into the historic mosques and ruins, and break off pieces to take home with them, all with the blessings of the commanding officers.  Familiar stories to me.

 

Mike Totten, USMC, received a commendation from General Patreus which he ripped up upon finishing his grueling testimony about how to dehumanize the enemy, and threw it at the floor in front of him.  Another marine had a chest full of medals which he proceeded to throw out into the audience after his heart wrenching account of atrocities he had committed, and begged the Iraqi people for forgiveness.

 

Again, all too well I know these stories, and have known them for years.  So I kept crying and asking myself how these young men and women wound up in this position.  How someone who joined the military out of a sense of “patriotism” wound up doing such horrible and heinous things that would make a mother sick to her stomach.  How do we let our children do this?  Bryan, like my son, joined right out of High School.  Many do.  And many don’t have to be recruited; they just feel like that want to serve their Country.  Many feel that that is what makes heroes.

 

So I spent 3 days listening to heart and gut wrenching stories, to ask myself the same question “Why?”  And why do these soldiers and marines, who are a new breed of resisters, still feel so tied to their military bonds, that they state during testimony “I am proud of my service in the military.  I am not proud of what I did.”  For someone like me, I can clearly see that statement making sense.  But then I had to ask myself “Why” did I think that made sense.

 

How could you be proud to be in the military, and yet not like what you participated in.  I have often asked my son this question, when he says “I love the Marine Corps., but hate the government.”  What a deep statement, and it conjures up very mixed, confusing emotions.  So I have to examine not only the statements of love for our Country, but of loathing for war.  War is a dirty business, forever has been and forever will be.  So why do we encourage our citizens to think otherwise. 

 

After spending time at this event, I went downtown to Washington, D.C. to visit all of our monuments built to honor those soldiers who fought in past wars.  I had to make sense of how we keep making the same mistakes.  We send an entire generation off to a foreign land to kill people.  My father fought in WWII, and was in the Battle of Okinawa, where he was severely wounded.  He was fortunate to come home and repair physically, but never mentally.  He hated the Marine Corps.  He never spoke about that war, but I always knew he was angry. 

 

The first memorial I visited was that one, where my father’s picture is stored in a digital bank and you can enter the name and information surfaces on a computer screen.  There he was, in his pacific Alpha’s (a uniform that is green wool), with all his medals, smiling at the age of 27 when he was first drafted.  The roiling emotions took over my entire body.  I grew up seeing that photo, and loving my father for what he did to “protect” our freedom.  Next to the monument are the infamous words “Freedom Is Not Free,” carved into the granite wall.  My father eventually died from liver failure, which was caused by Hepatitis C which he contracted on the battlefield through a blood transfusion from a Japanese soldier that they had taken prisoner. 

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http:/elaine.worldcantwait.net

Anti-war activist, mother of three combat tour US marine; member of the national steering committee for the "World Can't Wait" www.worldcantwait.net and member of Military Families Speak Out (my opinions do not reflect the national position of MFSO).
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I too am a marine mom . nothing I could do to stop... by ladybroadoak on Monday, Mar 17, 2008 at 11:35:03 PM
I was happy to see your comment, and saddened that... by Elaine Brower on Tuesday, Mar 18, 2008 at 10:53:21 AM
Thank you for your candor, Elaine.The proper use o... by Mac McKinney on Tuesday, Mar 18, 2008 at 11:45:21 AM