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Member of Military Families Speak Out:
"They're asking our kids to fight and die"

September 19, 2003 | Page 5

LOU PLUMMER served in the North Carolina National Guard for six years. Today, he is an antiwar activist and member of Military Families Speak Out. His son Drew has served in the Navy since June 2001 and is currently stationed aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. In March, Drew spoke out against the war on Iraq at a peace vigil in Fayetteville, N.C.--and was charged by the Navy for making "disloyal statements." After an Associated Press reporter threatened to write a story about the incident, Drew was let off with a slap on the wrist. Lou Plummer spoke with Socialist Worker's JULIE SOUTHERLAND and CATHERINE GEARY.

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YOU COME from a military background. How did you become an antiwar activist?

I'M NOT a pacifist. For example, the American Civil War was a war that couldn't be avoided, and had I placed myself in that historical situation, then I would have been willing to fight to end slavery.

I joined the military as a 17-year-old whose dad and grandfather had done the same thing and felt the family pressure. Plus, coming from a working-class family, this was my opportunity to make money and go to college, so that's what I did.

During the entire time that I was in the military, I didn't really disagree with its mission. After I left the military, I went to work at a correctional office. Working in the prison system, I became politically awake and realized that the government does lie, the government enforces racist policies, and that woke me up to activism.

My son joined the military when he was 17, which meant that I had to sign the papers for him to actually be able to enlist. That was his decision--he did it with an informed mind, so I let him do it.

On the other hand, there's a place in the military for people to speak out, and my son has done that since he's been in the service. He's gotten in trouble for doing it. I'm proud of him for doing that. It's not like my son is "defending our country." My son is organizing GIs.

WHY DID you get involved with Military Families Speak Out and the Bring Them Home Now Campaign?

I was a peace activist before I heard of Military Families Speak Out. This organization appealed to me right off the bat because I'm a veteran, my dad's a vet, my grandfather's a vet. Plus my son is on active duty. So I felt I had a voice that mattered.

I was in Chicago for the United For Peace and Justice conference, representing the community of Fayetteville, and met up with Charlie Richardson and Nancy Lessin, who founded the organization.

WHAT ARE the conditions like for U.S. soldiers in Iraq today?

THERE ARE people there who have spent 140-150 days with no hot food, the temperature there is 120 degrees, and they're getting three liters of rationed water a day. The tools of war making are flowing in, but the basic needs of the soldiers are not. The guys are writing home saying, "Please send me toothpaste," "Please send me toilet paper." And yet, when you go to the military to ask them to comment on this, you're talking to career soldiers who say everything's fine, we're gonna kick some Iraqi ass. And it's just bullshit.

The majority of the troops in Iraq are reserve component soldiers. They don't have the same built-in support structure that active duty units have. Here you are, serving the richest country in the world, and you haven't had a hot meal in four-and-a-half months.

And people say, "You don't want to talk about that--it's going to undermine morale." How's that going to undermine morale? It's ludicrous. The people who are serving know what their situation is, and if they speak out, we can put pressure on the government to improve those conditions.

WE'RE TOLD we need to "Support Our Troops"?

THAT'S SOMETHING we hear a lot around here. When you guys leave here, drive to the end of the street, turn right, and there's a big pizza sign that says, "Papa Johns: We Support Our Troops." Go in and say, "My husband's in Afghanistan or Iraq, can I have a discount?" And they'll say "No."

Supporting our troops mean trying to protect their lives. It means trying to support their families. It doesn't mean tying yellow ribbons.

Do I support our troops? You betcha. My son's on active duty, my brother got pulled out of medical school to go on active duty, my uncle's on active duty, I'm a vet. As a peace activist, I believe I do more to support American soldiers than any right-wing, war-loving Republican ever thought about doing.

WHAT ARE the real reasons for this war and occupation?

MOST OF us knew a long time ago that we were being lied to. Now the world knows that we were lied to. The war was pitched to us as a war that would keep Americans safe by capturing these weapons of mass destruction. And it was also to break the ties that the administration claimed existed between al-Qaeda and the nation of Iraq.

There wasn't a whole lot said in the beginning about liberating the Iraqi people, but as the war took place, and the weapons of mass destruction didn't materialize, and we didn't find any al-Qaeda training camps in Iraq, then it became this "war of liberation." And that worked for about two or three days until the people that we had just "liberated" started killing our kids.

I say kids because the majority of them are 18, 19, 20 years old. Last year, they were worrying about football practice and algebra tests and going to the prom, and now they're dead, lying in a box. When you hear on the news that two American soldiers were killed by rocket fire in Afghanistan today, those are people like my kid.

And what you're talking about is not 142 people dying. We're talking about one person dying 142 times. That's 142 families whose child is dead. I don't know about you, but I don't feel one bit safer. And I think that's a crime.

If there's one thing about this movement that's important, it's the fact that what we do can save somebody's life. The people who are benefiting from this war are huge companies like Halliburton and McDonnell Douglas. The United States is the world's richest country and spends more on the military than the next 20 countries in the world combined. The fact that we're spending a billion dollars a week in Iraq is mind-boggling.

Then you have the "support our troops" government wanting to cut the pay of combat soldiers. They want to reduce imminent danger pay. And they wanted to start a futures market on terrorist attacks, so if you could bet that 15 American soldiers will be killed in April of 2004, you could make money on it. That's a crime against humanity.

SOME ACTIVISTS in the antiwar movement consider this just a "Bush thing."

I LIKE to quote Michael Moore: "Bill Clinton was one of the best Republican presidents we ever had." He fought wars and called them "humanitarian wars." Unfortunately, we live in a society where the two major political parties cater to the 10 percent of people in this country who control the money. And those people by and large have investments in the defense industry.

What Bill Clinton did and what George Bush does and what whoever succeeds George Bush will do is cater to the people who have the money. I got into a debate recently with one of the pilots who was shot down in Mogadishu in 1993.

He claimed that had George W. Bush been president when he was shot down, then there would be nothing where Mogadishu is except for a big black hole. But the truth of the matter is that his entire mission was planned in the older Bush administration. Bill Clinton took over, and he had the plans approved by--guess who?--Colin Powell.

SOME PEOPLE say that soldiers volunteer for the military, so they pretty much know what they're getting into when they sign up. What do you think about this attitude?

WE HAVE a heavier operational tempo now than we did 25 years ago, when the military had double the number of active-duty troops. So we're relying on reserve component people--folks like me who enlisted to get some college money. And we're totally disrupting their lives. I know people in the reserve component who were farmers. Well, when you're a farmer, and you get called to go to Bosnia for 10 months, you don't get to have a crop that year. If you have livestock, you have to sell them.

There is an economic draft in the U.S. In the entire U.S. Senate, in the entire U.S. House of Representatives, from all those parents there, they've managed to produce exactly one member of the armed services. I'm talking about over 500 people. But if you live in Harlem, and you want to get a job where you can make $20,000 a year and have health insurance and educational benefits and get the hell out of Harlem, your choices are pretty much to join the military, and nothing else.

That's what's there for you. So, they did have a choice. They had a choice to stay at home where the average life expectancy for a male person of color is about 35, where half the people of color staying in that environment end up being convicted of a felony--or joining the military.

And on the other side, you have people who say, "Okay, my dad's rich, and I'm going to decide whether I want to go to Yale, or whether I'm going to join the Marine Corps." So there's freedom of choice out there, if that's what you want to call it, but anyone can tell you that this country's wars have always been fought by the poor. We're asking the poor kids to fight and die so that the rich kids can have an easier life.

WHAT CAN we do to end the occupation of Iraq and bring the troops home?

THE BIGGEST thing that we can do is to speak out every day. When you wake up in the morning, if you realize that your mission that day is to save a human being's life, then it's a good day to write a letter, it's a good day to get somebody else to write a letter, it's a good day to make a phone call, it's a good day to get in your car and drive from Greensboro to Fayetteville to talk to somebody.

We have to know the facts, and we have to keep throwing them out to people--know what's going on, talk about it every day, and make that your mission on a daily basis, to help save these people's lives. What we're going to do is what happened 30-35 years ago. We're going to make enough parents, enough wives, enough citizens angry enough to take to the streets and take to the press, and we're going to make a difference.

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