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Exit Free

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From the Book

RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War

The following report was contributed by Naomi Golner, one of the founders of Exit Free, a collective that helps women leave the military by discharge or desertion.

I've become a criminal for peace. How I got there is a complicated story, beginning when the community college where I teach reduced most of its humanities faculty to adjunct status. It saved them a bundle on salaries. We now teach a maximum of three courses per semester, for a really miserable hourly wage with no benefits. They brought in other part-timers to fill the gaps. So the faculty are now mostly freelancers. I ended up with a lot less money but a lot more time.

Several other women I knew were also broke -- laid off or dropped out of the McJob economy. We decided to share the misery and formed a collective to make ends meet. One of us had a big empty-nester house from her divorce settlement, so we all moved in. We buy food in bulk, share two cars, planted a big garden, help each other with the things each of us is good at, sometimes quarrel and cry, but mostly we like being together. We feel stronger now than before when it was each of us alone against the neo-con world.

We decided to do something useful with all our free time: make trouble. There's a military base nearby, and several of us knew soldiers there. The stories they told us about how they were treated made us mad. The things they were being sent overseas to do made us even madder. A lot of them told us they wanted very much to get out of the military, so we decided to help.

We chose the name Exit Free because it applies to our military work and also to our escaping from our own job prisons as much as possible. Exit Free has been around for three years now. We've got four women out of the war as COs, one as a refuser (but she's still in prison), and nine as deserters. None of the deserters has been caught. We're trying to get more staff so we can open it up to men.

The program starts with encouraging the soldiers to tell what they've been through, to get it off their chests. A lot of women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are traumatized by their experiences there. The brutality they were a part of is a continuing pain on their hearts. Some of them are filled with self-loathing even if they didn't personally do anything horrible. They know they were part of a death factory. And they know how much they were hated by the people there. Plus a lot of them were abused by the male GIs. Those guys do things over there they'd never do at home. It's like they got a license to act out their monster fantasies.

Our psychologist runs a therapy group for these women that helps them come to terms with what they've gone through. It's not that they leave it behind. This stuff goes too deep for that. But they can understand the whole thing better, get some perspective, some psychological distance from it.

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William T. Hathaway is an award-winning novelist and an emeritus Fulbright professor of creative writing. His peace novel, Summer Snow, is the story of an American warrior falling in love with a Sufi Muslim and learning from her that higher (more...)

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