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Tomgram: Nate Terani, One Veteran's War on Islamophobia

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Recently, I was asked a question about Kill Anything That Moves, my history of civilian suffering during the Vietnam War. An interviewer wanted to know how I responded to veterans who took offense at the (supposed) implication that every American who served in Vietnam committed atrocities.

I think I softly snorted and slowly shook my head.

Already two books behind me, Kill Anything That Moves might as well have been written by someone else in another lifetime. In some sense, it was.

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It takes effort for me to dredge up the faded memories of that work, a Kodachrome-hued swirl of hundreds of interviews on two continents over the course of a decade. But this particular question was easy enough to answer. Almost all the Americans I interviewed had seen combat, but most American veterans of the war hadn't. Many had little or no real opportunity to commit war crimes. Case closed.

But that question caused me to recall a host of related queries that churned around the book. Questions by skeptics, atrocity-deniers, fair-minded interviewers attempting to play devil's advocate. A favorite was whether the book was "anti-veteran." That, too, was a head-shaker for me.

"How could that be?" I would respond. After all, the book owed its genesis to veterans. Veterans were key sources for it. Veterans provided the evidence. Veterans provided the quotes. Veterans even supplied the title. The book was, to a great extent, the history of the war as described to me by veterans. The story I told was their story. How could that in any way be anti-veteran?

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Many of the vets I spoke with viewed their truth-telling as a form of patriotism, of continuing service to country. Nate Terani's inaugural TomDispatch essay follows in the same American tradition. His eyes were opened to the abuse of military power while living in Iran as a boy. Later he would join the U.S. Navy and wear the stars and stripes with particular pride. September 11th and all that came after -- notably the demonization of his Muslim faith in his homeland -- imbued him with a new mission, one he now views as no less sacred than his military service.

From Smedley Butler to Andrew Bacevich, Daniel Ellsberg to Chelsea Manning, Vietnam Veterans Against the War to Iraq Veterans Against the War, the U.S. armed forces have produced a steady stream of truth-tellers and whistleblowers, men and women willing to serve their country in profound ways during trying times. There's no bronze star for activism, no Navy Cross for unpopular or contrarian opinions, no Purple Heart for the hard knocks involved in speaking out against war crimes or Islamophobia or laying bare information vital to the American public. Veterans who dare to do so have sometimes walked a cold, lonely road far from the warm glow enjoyed by summer soldiers and sunshine patriots. Those who do so exhibit a special form of courage that may even exceed the bravery of the battlefield, the courage to stand tall and make oneself a target, a courage deserving ( with a nod to Thomas Paine) of the love and thanks of man and woman . Nick Turse

Tehran, USA
Fighting Fundamentalism in America
By Nate Terani

I'm not an immigrant, but my grandparents are. More than 50 years ago, they arrived in New York City from Iran. I grew up mainly in central New Jersey, an American kid playing little league for the Raritan Red Sox and soccer for the Raritan Rovers. In 1985, I travelled with my family to our ancestral land. I was only eight, but old enough to understand that the Iranians had lost their liberty and freedom. I saw the abject despair of a people who, in a desperate attempt to bring about change, had ushered in nationalist tyrants led by Ayatollah Khomeini.

What I witnessed during that year in Iran changed the course of my life. In 1996, at age 19, wanting to help preserve the blessings of liberty and freedom we enjoy in America, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Now, with the rise of Donald Trump and his nationalist alt-right movement, I've come to feel that the values I sought to protect are in jeopardy.

In Iran, theocratic fundmentalists sowed division and hatred of outsiders -- of Westerners, Christians, and other religious minorities. Here in America, the right wing seems to have stolen passages directly from their playbook as it spreads hatred of immigrants, particularly Muslim ones. This form of nationalistic bigotry -- Islamophobia -- threatens the heart of our nation. When I chose to serve in the military, I did so to protect what I viewed as our sacred foundational values of liberty, equality, and democracy. Now, 20 years later, I've joined forces with fellow veterans to again fight for those sacred values, this time right here at home.

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"Death to America!"

As a child, I sat in my class at the international school one sunny morning and heard in the distance the faint sounds of gunfire and rising chants of "Death to America!" That day would define the rest of my life.

It was Tehran, the capital of Iran, in 1985. I was attending a unique school for bilingual students who had been born in Western nations. It had become the last refuge in that city with any tolerance for Western teaching, but that also made it a target for military fundamentalists. As the gunfire drew closer, I heard boots pounding the marble tiles outside, marching into our building, and thundering down the corridor toward my classroom. As I heard voices chanting "Death to America!" I remember wondering if I would survive to see my parents again.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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