A Gulf War veteran speaks out
October 25, 2002 | Page 6ANTHONY SWOFFORD is a former Marine corporal who fought in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. In early October, he wrote an op-ed article for the New York Times that went to the root causes of that war. "I watched the fallout from the burning oil wells coat my uniform," Swofford concluded, "and I knew that I was breathing into my lungs the crude oil I was fighting for."
He has also written a soon-to-be-published book called Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles. Here, Swofford tells Socialist Worker's ERIC RUDER why he opposes George W. Bush's drive for a new war on Iraq.
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WHAT DID you see while you were stationed in the Middle East?
I SAW a lot over there. I saw myself sitting around a lot, quite bored, with not a lot of information about what was occurring.
I was in a line infantry battalion, in the scout sniper platoon, which each Marine Corps infantry battalion has. It was a rather small platoon. I was lucky for that. I wasn't just a grunt, though I'd been a grunt. Every Marine is a grunt, they say, because you have a rifle, and you're supposed to be prepared to kill.
I saw a lot of damage--the absolute and brutal superiority of our air power, the confusion of the battle. I don't think that anything that I saw was anything new for anyone who's been in combat. It was scary and dangerous, equal parts amusing, ridiculous, gruesome--the things that make war war and that generally send veterans home quite convinced that war is not the best answer.
WHEN YOU realized that you had been sent to the Gulf to fight for oil, how did you feel?
IT MADE me feel incredibly sick, and it's part of why I've written a book--to expunge the nasty taste that's still in my mouth.
In every war, there's a lot of misinformation. George Herbert Walker Bush talked about human rights concerns--I know all this from my postwar reading--but that was just smoke and mirrors.
At first, it was about getting in there to protect Saudi Arabia, because between August 2 and 5, the real thinking in Washington was that the Iraqis were going to go into Saudi Arabia. It didn't take until the end of the war to realize that I was really there to fight for oil, however. Nor my fellow Marines--much of our banter was about that fact.
If you're in the Marine Corps, and you're 20 years old, and you've signed a contract, and you're in the desert, you sometimes might have a fantasy of walking to Jordan, where things might be better. But that's a long walk.
MANY GULF War veterans have reported all sorts of mysterious ailments that go under the name of Gulf War syndrome. But the government has dragged its feet in acknowledging this problem. What do you think about this?
IT'S NOT surprising. That's what the government always does. In 50 years, we'll get a clearer idea of what Gulf War syndrome might be.
There's a lot of contrary information about what happened on the battlefield, and whether American servicemen were exposed during combat or exposed to chemical weapons postwar when munitions dumps were being destroyed.
There's ample evidence that this occurred. Especially at a large munitions site in southern Iraq that was bombed, there was evidence of chemical weapons in the air, and roughly 75 of 110 men in one unit near that dump report ailments that fall under the generic designation of Gulf War syndrome.
I'm angry, but not surprised. People point to various reasons for Gulf War syndrome, and I'm afraid that no real answers will ever come. And it must be said as well that by 1995 or 1996, the Veterans' Administration was opening its door to those people--for testing and treatment. While it certainly isn't enough, they're not completely ignoring the veterans, and that's promising.
WHEN YOU hear Bush Jr. talking about war again, what are your thoughts on that?
I'M DISTURBED. War is not the answer here. I think we can work through the United Nations and continue to contain Saddam. I don't think anyone would argue against the fact that he's a tyrant.
What really concerns me is the talk coming out within the last 10 days concerning the occupation plans--like the occupation of Japan after the Second World War. Having Tommy Franks be our MacArthur--those are chilling moments when I read that in the paper. The larger plan has to do with trying to insert the American doctrine where people don't want to be indoctrinated that way.