"Bring them home now!"
August 1, 2003 | Page 5
DAVE CLINE is a disabled Vietnam War veteran. He is national president of Veterans For Peace and a coordinator of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and he helped initiate Bring Them Home Now!, a newly formed coordinating committee of military families, veterans, active duty personnel, reservists and others opposed to the ongoing war in Iraq. Cline talked to Socialist Worker's ERIC RUDER.
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WHAT'S THE connection between the plummeting troop morale and the lies told by the Bush administration to gather support for the war?
WHEN AMERICAN soldiers were sent to the Middle East, they revved them up by saying that they were going to defend the country, liberate Iraq, find the weapons of mass destruction. They sold it as a righteous cause, pumped them up and told them that they were fighting the good fight. And it's turned out to be a structure of lies.
There have been no weapons of mass destruction found, and the people we're supposed to be liberating are resisting. The troops were under the impression that they were going to fight this battle and come home. Now they're stuck in 120-degree heat, being shot at.
In response to a question about armed Iraqi resistance, Bush said, "Bring 'em on." That's easy for Bush to say. He's sitting in the White House, safe and secure, but what if you're the guy at a roadblock in Mosul or doing a patrol through Baghdad, and the commander in chief is taunting the people who don't want you there to attack you? If it was me--and I'm sure a lot of these guys feel this way--I'd say, "This is bullshit, man."
A lot of people in the military are looking at it like a job. They're not supposed to be charging around the world, and the things that they were led to believe that they're fighting for are falling apart.
In Vietnam, the Pentagon Papers came out in 1971 and 1972, exposing the Vietnam War as a series of government lies from the beginning. That took from 1965 to 1971. This war, which began in March, is collapsing into lies in July. It's like the old Country Joe song: "One, two, three, four, what are we fighting for? Don't ask me, I don't give a damn, next stop is Vietnam."
There are 146,000 troops over there, and anyone who gets sent into combat is changed.
WHAT ARE young soldiers thinking as they face the growing Iraqi resistance?
AMONG SOLDIERS, you have to make some distinctions. Some people join the military driven by some patriotic or ideological fervor to go fight, defend the country and avenge 9/11--there's a certain section like that.
But the much larger section of people in the military joined because of what we call the poverty draft. They look at it like, "If I go into the military, I can get this college program, and I'm not going to be stuck working at McDonald's or selling drugs." They see it as a way to improve themselves in society because they're in such a low economic status.
That tells you something about our society--where the main way for poor, young people to improve their lives is to go into an armed force, as opposed to a job program or other alternative. But that's part of the reality of America today.
And when people go into war, even the most gung ho get changed. It's one thing to talk about fighting. It's another thing when you have to fight, when you have to kill people, when you have to see people get killed, see your friends get killed. That changes people, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically.
So a lot of these people are facing the grim realities of what war is. Seeing people that they thought they were liberating saying, "Go home." I'm a Vietnam vet, and to me, it sounds like an old story.
The whole idea is that we're going over thinking that we're helping the people--and then we find out the people don't want us there. That'll lead some soldiers to say we shouldn't be here and turn against the war. And it'll lead other soldiers to begin to hate the Iraqis, and that becomes the basis for atrocities and massacres. It was the same way in Vietnam.
I think that this whole situation is shaking the military to its foundations. You have a lot of people over there who are reservists. After this, reserve recruitment is going to collapse.
I heard a report about one convoy going down the road near Baghdad, and a reservist had a sign in the window, "One week a month, my ass!" People were joining the reserves because it was about playing the soldier and only one weekend away from home per month, and now they're stuck into this. Do you think people are going to keep doing that?
AFTER HIS brief tour of Iraq, Wolfowitz said that things were better in Iraq than he thought. How do you think soldiers are responding to that?
THERE ARE probably some guys who want to believe in the cause, and people like that might say, "Oh yeah, Wolfowitz, he's the man!" But other people are going to say, "Well, it's not so bad for you, but you were just here for five days and went home."
The military's goal is to try to keep up support for the leadership and the cause, and I think the Bush administration is pretty bad at it. They're arrogant, they're reckless, and it's easy for them to talk, because they're coming back home. They're chicken hawks!
HOW DID the Bring Them Home Now! campaign that you're involved in get started?
THERE WAS a mass antiwar movement that swept this country before the war--and, in fact, swept the world. Veterans and military families played an important and leading part in a number of actions that were part of this movement.
And after the Bush administration ignored world protests and went to war, a lot of people said, "We gave it our best shot, but they're not listening, so what can we do?" For a few months--March, April, May--people were waiting and asking about what to do next. In that period of time, all the things that the movement talked about started coming out.
This stuff in the paper about Bush's claims that Iraq sought uranium from Niger--the information that this was bogus was available back then, but it's just coming out now. So a lot of these developments have caused people to say that it's time to mount a new offensive, a new campaign, a new push.
And particularly, when we began hearing about some of the wives and families at military bases demanding that their husbands come home, we thought we ought to develop a program to respond to that in an immediate way.
We need to have a long-term approach to work with servicepeople because anyone who looks at this situation has to recognize that this is not just Iraq. This is about a whole strategy for global empire.
They have troops in Afghanistan, troops in the Philippines, troops in Colombia, troops in Uzbekistan, troops in Kosovo, troops in Bosnia, troops in Korea. This is a growing military presence that this government is trying to push--more troops overseas. I don't even see how they're going to be able sustain this eventually with an all-volunteer army.
I believe that they will be increasingly compelled to look at the possibility of compulsory military service just because of the scope of their militarist vision. And that places on us the responsibility to begin to do more outreach toward veterans.
Back in the Vietnam days, there was a much more systematic effort to reach out to vets. So we decided it's time to start rebuilding--on two levels. One is to deal with the immediate situation and to begin raising the demand "Bring the troops home now!" and interacting with military families and people on bases.
And on another level, we have to begin to develop on a more long-term basis an expanded network of people that are concerned about and working with servicemen and women. There are some military families that say, "Now that blood has been shed, we can't just walk away, but we want our husbands home."
We're dealing with the contradictions of people who at least to some degree bought into the ideological political explanation for this war--and now they're revolting against the consequences of that. They were never told or didn't understand what was going to happen.
They thought that we were going to go in there, and the Iraqi people would cheer us, like France during the Second World War, and we'll all be home, and the Iraqis will all live happily ever after, watching soap operas. The Iraqi people have a long history of anti-colonial struggle. And they're continuing that struggle. That's not about Saddam Hussein--that's about Iraqi self-rule and self-determination.
During the Vietnam War, a GI movement developed that shook the military to its core. One of the main reasons that the U.S. was compelled to leave Vietnam was that the military was beginning to refuse to function like the commanders wanted. I'm not saying that we're doing that, because that would be illegal. But I am advocating that we will reach out to those in uniform, because, of our countrymen, they're the ones who are suffering the most from this war.
During the Vietnam War, the reserves were a way to avoid Vietnam service. That's what Bush did--he joined the Texas Air National Guard. And in a lot of cases, it used to be that you had to be connected to get in the Guard. There were a few reservists who served in Vietnam and died there, but mostly, reserve service was--I don't like to use the term--a draft dodge.
Today, it's just the opposite. It used to be that if there was a flood, they would be activated. But do you think people are going to keep joining the reserves to get sent to fight overseas? I think they're beginning to be faced with a real challenge to their ability to maintain their manpower requirements, which is why they're so aggressively recruiting today--trying to play to the "kick ass" type of thing, which a certain percentage of people respond to, before they get into the real deal. Afterwards, a lot of those people become some of the most militant against it, because they had such a false expectation.
And not only that, but you have people in command who are looking to go further and further with even more troops. Bush and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz don't want to just do Iraq--they want to do Iran, Syria. They want to control that region. And in an even bigger sense, they are looking at this strategically as isolating China.
If you read their basic documents, it says that what we should do is prevent a rising of any other country to become a challenge to U.S. hegemony. And they see China as the potential next force that could become a world power on a scale to challenge the U.S. They've really bitten off more than they can chew. Imperial dreams and imperial realities are two different things.