Here’s a story about Robin Long, a young American whose father, aunts and uncles, and cousins are all military veterans. When Bush, Cheney, Rice, Powell and the gang told him they needed to invade Iraq in order to destroy weapons of mass destruction and prevent further al-Qaeda attacks, it seemed to him only natural to answer their call; Long joined up in June of 2003. “I felt great about it,” Long would tell a radio interviewer years later. “I was finally doing something with my life. I was serving my country.”
But when Long began his basic training, he was shocked by what he saw and heard. Officers sang cadences about blood, death and destruction, and referred to the Iraqi people over and over again as “ragheads.” When Long raised objections to using these slurs, his superiors encouraged other soldiers to ostracize him. Eventually, he was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and soon began hearing reports from soldiers coming back from Iraq on temporary leave. These soldiers proudly displayed photos of civilians they had run over with a truck, showed him pictures of the head of the first person they killed, and told war stories of watching human beings explode.
And then, one day, Long was given orders to report to Iraq on his 21st birthday. By that point, his opposition to the war had mounted steadily, but he knew there would be some steep consequences if he followed through on that opposition. “If I don’t go,” Long remembered thinking in that same interview with Courage to Resist, “my family’s going to disown me. I’m probably going to get a dishonorable discharge and have a hard time even getting a job at McDonald’s.”
Still, when the time came for Long to leave for Fort Carson, Colorado (where he was to briefly train before going to Iraq), he knew refusal was the only moral option. Long fled to Canada in June of 2005, where he has lived ever since. But now, the Canadian government is trying to deport Long, and if they are successful, he faces jail time and potentially a long separation from his Canadian-born son. The Courage to Resist interviewer asked Long if he had any regrets about his decision.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Long said. “I made the best decision, I know that. And regardless of what hardships I go through, I could have easily put a family or someone else in that country into way more hardship.”
(Hear Robin Long’s interview here: www.couragetoresist.org)
Is this the first time you are hearing the story of Robin Long? If so, why do you suppose that is?
“Support the troops, not the war.” By now, this phrase has been repeated so often inside the anti-war movement that it is the stuff of cliché. There are many reasons this slogan is misguided, and worse. One of the most immediately obvious of these reasons is that this position—regardless of the intent of the person advocating it—ultimately takes the suffering of the Iraqi and Afghani people out of the equation. A recent article in Revolution newspaper —“The Battle of Berkeley: This War Must Stop”—captured this point very well: “How can you ‘deeply respect and support the men and women in our armed forces?’ the article asked, “and at the same time support the Iraqi or Afghani people they are killing? This makes about as much sense as saying you ‘support the rapist and not the rape.’”
But there is another related, yet often-overlooked fundamental problem with the “support the troops” argument: the motto utterly discounts the many troops who do not support the war. Depending on who is articulating the refrain, it either inadvertently ignores or deliberately masks the reality that while all U.S. soldiers are brainwashed at the beginning of their service, they don’t all stay that way. Robin Long is not alone. Rather, he is part of a buried legacy of men and women who came face-to-face with the unspeakable atrocities the American government asked them to carry out, and said: “NO f*cking WAY.”
The film “Winter Soldier” chronicles a January 1971 gathering in Detroit of more than 100 Vietnam Veterans whose conscience demanded not only that they personally refuse to commit war crimes, but that they expose these crimes to the world to in order to bring them to a halt. Yet, like Robin Long, when these soldiers first entered the military, they did so because they believed in their country strongly enough to die for it. “I was the average middle-class American,” said the last soldier pictured in the film. “It was just the thing to do.”
“I wanted to go into the service,” explained another, earlier in the film, “because I really believed the war was right and I think one of the main things was I wanted to see for myself if I was really a man or not.”
But then, much like Robin Long, these and many other soldiers were confronted quickly and brutally with the truth of their mission, and with the gap between that truth and the lies they had been told going into their service: Young women raped in front of their entire villages. Soldiers trading decapitated ears of Vietnamese civilians for beers from their commanding officers. Prisoners thrown out of helicopters to their deaths. Entire villages burned to the ground.
The film ends with the words of a soldier who describes reaching a threshold past which participation or complicity in these horrors was simply no longer an option. “All of the sudden I realized, ‘No, there is no justification, man’” he says. “What I have done is wrong. I have to face it, I have to admit what I’ve done is wrong, and now I have to try and tell other people before they make the same mistakes I made.”
Fast-forward more than thirty years, to horrific wars in Afghanistan and Iraq based on utterly-transparent bullshit the subservient major media nonetheless refused to look through. U.S. soldiers who enter the military steadfastly believing in the good of their country and the evil of the enemy again are given a quick dose of reality, which compels them to speak out and to resist. In July of 2007, the Nation published “Iraq Vets Bear Witness"
an article by Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian in which more than fifty Iraq veterans spoke about witnessing and executing routine slaughter of Iraqi men, women, and children; and about terrorizing the people they were supposedly liberating through home raids. In the article, Sergeant John Bruns described a typical raid.
“You go up the stairs. You grab the man of the house. You rip him out of bed in front of his wife,” Bruhns said. “ You put him up against the wall. You have junior-level troops, PFCs [privates first class], specialists will run into the other rooms and grab the family, and you'll group them all together. Then you go into a room and you tear the room to shreds and you make sure there's no weapons or anything that they can use to attack us.”