Winter Soldier 2008

— Nate Franco and Dianne Feeley

MORE THAN 250 veterans and military families gathered from March 13-15 outside Washington, DC for the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) Winter Soldier Investigation: Iraq and Afghanistan. Videos of their testimony on their experiences are posted at www.IVAW.org.

The weekend was directly patterned on the example of the 1971 testimonies organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War on the horrors and atrocities they had witnessed and perpetrated in that holocaust, calling the event “Winter Soldier” after Thomas Paine’s call for patriotic service during the Revolutionary War.

In a panel with Barry Romo (a VVAW founder), David Cortwright (author of Soldiers in Revolt) and Tod Ensign (Director of Citizen Soldier), the weekend began by making the case that as with Vietnam, ending today’s wars requires an antiwar movement within the military. Resisters Jeff Englehart and Garett Reppenhagen described how they created the blog “Fight to Survive” while in Iraq, writing about their experiences and what they thought was wrong.

Englehart was told to cease and desist, but did not. Back home, he joined Iraq Veterans Against the War and has found it to be the best therapy he could find. Reppenhagen noted that many veterans are career soldiers, which makes antiwar organizing difficult in the military: Though they oppose the war, they want to remain in the military for the benefits. Reppenhagen says soldiers can speak out without getting in trouble, and IVAW stands ready to help them learn how.

In a panel on gender and sexuality in the military, women and men noted the frequent harassment and demands for sex, as well as rape — all of which go undocumented, and about which any who speak out are coerced into silence. One female soldier was raped in a shower while the camp was being attacked.

Margaret Stevens, former Army National Guard soldier, noted that the issues of gender and sexuality are woven throughout war and imperialism, including the rape of Iraqi women. She also discussed the pressures women face to trade sex with superiors for promotions, as well as tensions created by pregnancy of soldiers.

Other panels discussed the crises in Veterans Affairs, the global context of the “war on terror,” the use of racism to dehumanize the enemy, the costs of war at home and abroad, and the breakdown of the U.S. military.

In testimony about the rules of engagement, Jon Turner, formerly of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, recounted the mistakes that he made, that everybody in Iraq made. “On April 18, 2006, I had my first confirmed kill. This man was innocent.”

“I called him ‘the fat man.’ He was walking back to his house, and I shot him in front of his friend and his father. The first round didn’t kill him…he started screaming and looked right into my eyes…So I took another shot and took him out. He was then carried away by the rest of his family…We were all congratulated after we had our first kills, and that happened to have been mine. My company commander personally congratulated me…the same individual who had stated that whoever gets their first kill by stabling them to death will get a four-day pass when we return from Iraq.”

Turner concluded his testimony by saying, “I am sorry for the things that I did. I am no longer the monster that I once was.” (Full transcript can be found at www.democracynow.org, March 17 broadcast. “Democracy Now” was among the handful of media outlets to cover the hearings.)

My Lai Anniversary

The final day of Winter Soldier Investigation, March 16, marked the 40th anniversary of the infamous My Lai massacre, when U.S. troops entered a Vietnamese village and murdered hundreds of men, women and children, young and old, raping some of the women and bayoneting elderly men.

It is up to us in the antiwar movement to publicize the Winter Soldier investigation, especially to those on the street who don’t even know what IVAW is, and to those young men and women in this country who are on the verge of walking up to that recruiter and signing on the dotted line.

ATC 134, May-June 2008

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