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Resistance on the home front

By Eric Ruder | Janury 21, 2005 | Page 5

SOLDIERS, VETERANS and their families across the U.S. have been placed under enormous strain by the U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if soldiers manage to avoid serious injury or worse while stationed abroad, the mental scars live on long after they leave the war zone--from watching their friends die, to being forced to follow orders that lead to the deaths of innocent Iraqis, and more.

But some U.S. soldiers and their families are finding ways to resist.

When Bush called up some 5,000 members of the Individual Ready Reserve--former soldiers who can be recalled on an "emergency" basis--more than a third simply didn't report for duty. Troops in the U.S. have refused to conduct training exercises, and some soldiers in Iraq have refused combat missions.

The number of such incidents is small, but they are taking place more quickly than in the Vietnam War, when the rebellion of soldiers was decisive in stopping the U.S. war machine.

In the U.S., the growing participation of military families in antiwar organizing has exposed the Bush administration--by undermining the argument that "supporting the troops" requires dropping any criticism of the war effort.

Fernando Suarez del Solar, whose son Jesús was an early casualty of the war in Iraq, has become a leading figure in the antiwar movement with his tireless campaigning. Last week, he spoke at a panel discussion in a Latino neighborhood in Chicago, organized by the Committee Against the Militarization of Youth.

Other speakers included Juan Torres, whose son died in Afghanistan, and Brian Roa, a teacher at Senn High School, who was involved in the struggle to stop the military from taking over a wing of Senn to start a Navy academy. Nearly 200 people attended the meeting, which was conducted in Spanish and translated into English, in the basement of the St. Pius Church. Fernando moved the crowd to applause several times, and he urged listeners to put aside their fears and raise their voices against the war.

In Burlington, Vt., Paul Fleckenstein is part of a grassroots chapter of Military Families Speak Out that is organizing a statewide speaking tour to spread their message and reach out to other military families. The chapter formed in just the last six weeks, but it already has a core of six or seven families who come to meetings, plus contact with a much larger network of military families across the state.

Most families have loved ones in the Vermont Army National Guard, which has suffered the highest per capita fatality rate in the country. Last week, Colleen McLaughlin, a member of the group whose son is currently in Iraq, spoke on an "End the Occupation, Troops Out Now" panel at Burlington City Hall, along with antiwar activist and authory Anthony Arnove and U.S. Labor Against War member Gerry Colby.

Fleckenstein--whose nephew is in the Army and will likely be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan sometime soon--explains that the group has gotten off to a good start, but has a lot of work to do.

"I think it's clear that there is a lot of reservation and concern about the war and the Vermont Guard deployment," Fleckenstein told Socialist Worker. "Many family members will speak about this privately, but they're not at the point where they will publicly criticize the Guard leadership. They're scared for their family members who are deployed--and that they might face repercussions from the military. We need to shift this, so that more and more military family members are comfortable speaking out about the need to bring the troops home now in order to end the war and stop the killing of both Iraqis and U.S. troops."

In the Boston area, antiwar activists are organizing an 18-stop speaking tour between January 29 and February 6--featuring Michael Hoffman, who was a Marine artilleryman and helped to found Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Kelly Dougherty, who served in the 220th Military Police Company. The tour will touch down at high schools, colleges and community forums, where these soldiers will share the experiences and horrors they witnessed in Iraq in order to inspire more people to oppose the war.

Plus, on the second anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq, as part of the March 19 international day of action, thousands of veterans, soldiers, military family members and antiwar activists will converge on Fayetteville, N.C.--home to Fort Bragg and the Army's 82nd Airborne Division--for what promises to be the largest antiwar demonstration there since the Vietnam War.

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