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Antiwar soldiers speak out:
"The situation in Iraq is getting worse every day"

May 6, 2005 | Page 6

FOR U.S. troops in Iraq who oppose the war for oil and empire they were sent to fight, speaking out can be dangerous. But three soldiers--whose pen names are hEkLe, Heretic and Joe Public--found that their consciences made it more difficult not to speak out.

Each spent about a year in Iraq. Throughout their tours, they earned a reputation for reporting the truth--on their Web log at what was taking place in occupied Iraq. Their dispatches have also been featured in Thomas Barton's GI Special, a daily Internet newsletter for soldiers and military families, available on the Web at

In mid-April, hEkLe, Heretic and Joe Public spoke to Socialist Worker's ERIC RUDER about their experiences, observations and opinions of the U.S. occupation. Here, we print excerpts of the conversation.

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WHAT DO you think about morale in the military?

WHILE WE were in Iraq, it was pretty low. It depends on what camp or operating base you were at. If you are at a place where you didn't go out on missions, but stayed on and provided support for others, morale was higher, because they weren't seeing the shit. Battalions that were going out every day and doing missions--their morale was pretty low.

You're crammed into a 15-by-20-foot aluminum box with two other roommates--plus the heat, plus the miserable conditions, plus bad food for a whole year. You add it all up, and morale gets pretty low.

I saw the military bring in reporters who they knew would tell a picture-perfect story. They wouldn't talk to reporters who might tell it how it is. The soldiers they interviewed all gave the Army hoo-hah. Low morale never got out to the public.

A lot of soldiers coming back now are starting to realize that they have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some of the things you've seen start to creep back up on you. Whatever you had growing in you--bottled up all year long--is starting to come out now. It's going to be really interesting to see how guys react to this now that they're back in the real world.

SOME PRESS reports acknowledge that the Army and National Guard are missing their recruitment quotas, and that a small number of soldiers has refused to re-deploy to Iraq. What's happening among soldiers in Iraq?

I KNOW a lot of people who say they're never going back. The three of us agree that we're never going back.

There are people who have re-enlisted while they're in Iraq. There are a lot of people in the Army who came from poor families. They join the Army, and the government feeds them and clothes them and takes care of their families. All they have to do is go out and kill for a year. They're not afraid to sacrifice that comfort level.

The number of resisters in the ranks is still very, very low. It's going to take time before they realize that the war isn't right--that it's wrong. There are definitely some resisters, but not as many as the antiwar movement would like to see.

CAN YOU talk about life as a U.S. soldier in Iraq?

YOU WORK every day, and your mission could stay the same or change greatly, depending on where you're at, or what you're doing. My mission was pretty monotonous, but it always involved going "beyond sector," and coming in at night and trying to regroup your thoughts.

A lot of times nothing happened. We'd go out, get a lot of ugly looks and come back home. But at least once or twice a month, there'd be something that was really disturbing--something that would really just make you sit down and think for a while.

Going out every day and doing what you're told is your mission, and then coming back and waiting for the clock to run down every day for a year--it gets very tedious and stressful. You don't even realize how stressful it is until you're back, and you're in normal society. It was a long year of my life, but at the same time, it flashed right by because of the amount of work that we were doing.

CAN YOU describe life for average Iraqis?

WHERE WE were, there were many peasant farmers and small shopkeepers. Many didn't want anything to do with the violence, but they didn't sympathize with American forces either, which only helps the insurgency. Stuff like car bombs at Iraqi police checkpoints didn't faze the people--it was just more violence added on. You could see in their eyes--they were just getting tired of the violence.

We were there for a year, and nothing changed--nothing was solved. And I don't imagine anything is being accomplished now, as we speak. There's a lot of poverty, roads need repairs, street lights need repairs. A lot of people didn't have electricity or running water. These are things we promised them when we came in, and nothing is getting solved. A lot of the reason is because we're too busy trying to hold down this insurgency that's not dying out, and seems to be getting stronger.

WHAT KIND of pressure did you face for opposing the occupation?

IF YOU'RE a soldier that your chain of command recognizes as a resister--a peace-freak, somebody that doesn't like the Army--you have an enemy on both sides of the wire.

The three of us have been labeled "shit bags" by the Army--that's what they like to call people like us because they don't like what we believe in. They don't like the way we see things, and we're pretty vocal about it. The chain of command can make it very hard on a soldier who constantly says, "This is fucked up, this is wrong," or just generally dismisses a lot of what the Army thinks is important.

I was really stressed out that I could go out and die--or I could get court-martialed and sent to jail because I said some bad things about George W. Bush and the war. So it felt like I had an enemy on both sides. There are people trying to fuck me in the camp and my chain of command--and then there are insurgents out to kill me on the outside.

The chain of command creates stress. And outside of the wire, you had to deal with blown-up bodies. Car bombs that killed innocent civilians. A little girl's pink sandals smoldering on the side of the road. A guy's face in a watermelon after a watermelon truck full of explosives blew up and killed Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint. U.S. soldiers dying in Bradley tanks.

You deal with that kind of shit for a year, and you recognize it as disturbing and gross. But when you get back and start thinking about it, all of a sudden it becomes much more horrific, much more painful. All this creates a classic diagnosis of PTSD--general depression for no reason, problems concentrating and remembering little details. You don't even know what's affecting you. It parallels a lot of the traumas associated with victims of abuse.

A lot of it boils down to guilt. That's what I feel for the people I killed out there and the stuff that I saw--just knowing what you're doing is wrong. All of these guilty feelings bottle up and explode in moments.

Patriotism in itself isn't wrong, but overzealous patriotism and overzealous nationalism isn't right. The public's own inability to see its nationalistic fervor is what's actually hindering people from seeing the overall picture. If they can try to understand it through the eyes and from the shoes of the Iraqis, they can understand that war is shit, and it's not accomplishing anything. It's hard for an American to say that war is wrong when all they're given is a patriotic shot in the ass about it.

Of all the casualties, almost 50 percent are women and children. How is this right? How is this war justified? How is it correct? How is it even helping our country? War is wrong.

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Joe Public

HOW DO you think the war and occupation are viewed by most people in the U.S.?

I BELIEVE that the current climate in which people are seen as unpatriotic if they refuse to support the nation is something that parallels the nationalism that happened in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. Being called "unpatriotic" because you refuse to support your government is not something that someone should be subjected to.

In the media, there's a one-sided representation of the war that corresponds to what the U.S. government is attempting to put forward. As such, the feelings of the soldier and also of the Iraqi national are not being represented, because the U.S. government has such control over the media.

What's taking hold in Iraq is not "democracy." It's just our own fascist tendencies, to be quite honest. I think that forcing our own notion of government into power and forcing our beliefs on these people is not what should happen.

And the power mongers in Iraq--the people who know that if they take power now, they'll be able to maintain power for 30 years--they're the ones at the forefront of this government. Throughout all of it, America has backed them, because no matter what, as long as we can install our government within their system, we're going to be able to get that 20 cents off every dollar at the gas pump.

WHAT SHOULD people know in order to fill in the blanks in the media's account?

IT'S NOT that people ignore the story of the common soldier. It just happens to be that the common soldier is so brainwashed at this point that they're more than willing to give the story that the government wants everyone else to hear--which is why our Web site or other similar sources stand out.

They're taking a kid who is 17--whose mom had to sign a waiver--and putting him through basic training. Now he's 19, he's going to war and he doesn't know anything else, aside from his mother and the Army. You take this kid and put him in a situation like this, and he has no choice but to comply with the ideas that have been given to him. It's the lack of outside ideas within the Army itself that leads to this kind of general malaise.

The overwhelming hatred for Islam is, I believe, pure bigotry on the part of the U.S. government, and I refuse to accept that. I myself am an atheist, and I believe placing one person's god over someone else's is inherently wrong. I believe that racial bigotry and religious bigotry permeates this entire war and is played out through the media every night. These are inherent wrongs in the system.

Everyone's path to the divine is their own choice, and to say that your path to the divine is wrong because your god doesn't comply with my god's needs is nonsense. Hatred is only hatred--it doesn't matter where you find it or how you find it.

Racism is just inherent to the system. You go out there every day, and you're going to kill "sand niggers." You look at these people as animals, because that's how they're treated by the military and that's how you're taught to view their lifestyle.

I don't believe that all commanders inherently believe that the people they're fighting are racially or culturally inferior. But up high, most of these people are officers because that's the career they chose. And because of their "career path," they have no other choice but to believe that these people are inferior to them; that they are subservient; and that our mission is to make them fall in line with "American democracy."

WHAT IMPACT has the war had on you personally?

I grew up in a PTSD household. My mom was married to a Hell's Angel who beat the shit out of her. Every time she heard a Harley, she'd cringe and crawl under the counter. That was just part of growing up. Now, here I am, and every time I hear a door slam, I'm going to fall on the floor. There's nothing I can do about that.

The thing I'd like to bring up isn't me or my friends, but the young soldier--the 17-year-old who joined the Army with his mom's signature, who's being forced to believe what the government believes, and who's being mentally ripped from any cradle they could have had. They're forced into this mentality where there is no evil except for the evil they're fighting--because dehumanization of the enemy is the single thing anyone is taught. That was what Hitler taught. He's pioneered the idea to teach to the lowest level, and in the American Army, everyone is taught at the lowest level.

People like us escaped the system because we were able to think for ourselves, outside of the system. But there are those who can't, and here, they're brainwashed and alone. Then come home, torn up, torn apart, hopeless. These are the people you hear about who are homeless, being just completely mind-fucked.

The American government has placed itself in a situation where it has irreconcilable differences with the enemy, and because of these irreconcilable differences, the enemy has no choice but to win--because the enemy can't escape the war zone. And all we can do at this point is try to get through alive. It's just straight out of Apocalypse Now. These soldiers only serve one year, but the soldiers on the other side have only one choice--their home has been invaded.

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IS THE best course for the U.S. to withdraw immediately?

THE SITUATION in Iraq is getting worse every day. The longer I was there, I saw more and more abuse of the Iraqi people by U.S. soldiers. I don't think the problem is going to go away with force of arms. It's obvious that the longer we stay there, we build more and more enemies throughout not only Iraq, but the entire world.

If we're talking about "securing the nation" and what's best for Americans, it's obvious that the right thing to do is pull out. If we can get the United Nations or other more diplomatic solutions to the problem, that's better, but immediate withdrawal is the first step in resolving this whole problem.

If you talk to Iraqis, the difference between the American occupation and Saddam Hussein is that Iraq is a less-safe environment with the Americans there. We get attacked constantly, and the victims of those attacks are usually Iraqis, not Americans--through collateral damage.

Saddam Hussein had a dictatorship, but now, Iraqis are getting pulled over on the road and hijacked, and there are more gangs, more rapes, more murder. It's not safe to walk the streets at night for Iraqis. They're either going to get shot by an American or held up by an insurgent.

All they want is for the Americans to leave so they can solve their own problems.

People in America and the rest of the world were lied to at least four times to bring on this war. Obviously, the weapons of mass destruction issue is a farce--there are no weapons of mass destruction. In fact, in my opinion, the only reason we went is because we knew for certain they didn't have weapons of mass destruction.

IN OTHER words, the U.S. invaded because it figured Iraq couldn't retaliate with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

WAR IS money. If we went in and Iraq retaliated with nuclear arms, I think that would reflect very badly on the Bush administration, which is a lot more intelligent than the average American thinks. If the reasons we went in are exposed as false, then obviously, they're not the true reasons that the administration had for going in.

I think in many ways that the U.S. has succeeded with the Iraq mission. It's just that the American people don't understand or believe what the true goals of the Bush administration were.

After the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq's army was run down, there was horrible training, equipment was depleted. Basically, the military was crumbing. And chemical and biological weapon toxins have a certain shelf life. So any chemicals that Iraq had before the war would have been mostly useless by the time the weapons inspectors arrived a few years ago.

The idea that there was an immediate threat of a nuclear attack is ridiculous. We had a no-fly zone over Iraq, so to launch a ballistic missile, they would have had to set it up and prepare to launch it, without us attacking them and shooting it down. That's ridiculous, considering we had been launching bombing missions since the 1991 war up to the second occupation of Iraq.

So it's my belief that we attacked Iraq knowing that they didn't have capabilities to release a nuclear weapon, or even a biological or chemical weapon against our troops.

Another lie we were told was that the war was waged to destroy Saddam Hussein and the Baathist regime. If that was our only goal, it's obvious we completed it, and we still haven't pulled out.

Another lie was the supposed al-Qaeda and 9/11 links to the Baathist regime. The 9/11 commission--made up of five Republicans and five Democrats--concluded that the evidence of this link was false.

The fourth lie is Iraqi freedom. In my opinion, we may have set up a constitution and had the first elections in Iraq, but I don't think we're going anywhere anytime soon. We've increased our building and construction on bases--the infrastructure for soldiers to get there and operate in Iraq is increasing every day. We're spending billions of dollars to grow our bases and our military strength in Iraq, and there's no sign that we're going to pull out just because we "freed Iraq."

Those are the four lies that soldiers and the public have been given to enter Iraq for unjust reasons. Gaining control of that nation, its oil and its people--even to create a capitalism there withh consumers in a whole new nation for products of the West--is definitely a major goal.

HOW DOES the military shape the attitudes of soldiers toward Iraqis?

IRAQ IS a really easy victim for the U.S. to inflict war on. Most people are afraid of what they don't understand, and they attack what they're afraid of. Arabic people--their culture, their language, their history, their way of life--are alien to the average person in the U.S. When a soldier gets thrown into that environment, there's a lot of confusion there.

You go there with all these lies built up that you're going to help these people, and they're turning around and shooting at you. It doesn't take long before the average American soldier is going to have prejudice against the Iraqi people.

Soldiers don't understand why they're there, they've got a bunch of people shooting at them, and they're frustrated that they're in the situation at all. And they don't have the power to blame the right people--the people who are in charge--because soldiers can be brought up on disciplinary charges, kicked out of the military and sent to prison.

The only people left to hate are the Iraqi people, because soldiers are allowed to abuse them and shoot at them.

Every day, we see a man get pulled out of his car at a checkpoint, strip searched, thrown to the ground and abused by American soldiers. American soldiers are afraid of this man and afraid of car bombs, but meanwhile, this man is getting humiliated while his wife and children are watching from the car. That humiliation is occurring every day to the Iraqi people.

It's hard to say that it's the soldiers' fault because we're all victims of this war and thrown into this situation. Not a lot of people have an understanding of the big picture--to realize why the situation is affecting them the way that it is. So the average soldier takes out all that anger and aggression on the Iraqi people, especially after being there for a year, sometimes a year and a half--that's far too long.

HOW HAVE you come to understand the Iraqi resistance?

I THINK that to lump all the resistance in Iraq together is ignorance. The complexity of the resistance goes far beyond one definition. There are many resistance fighters, and they all have their own goals. There are certainly warlords out there who are only out for a dollar, and to gain control or power.

But the average farmer in Iraq who's resisting is grossly tired of the U.S. occupation. There are many different facets to the resistance--just as many different facets as there are in America. If you ask an average citizen why they support the war in Iraq, you'll get a different reason from 100 people down the line. It's the same in Iraq for people who resist.

To have compassion and understanding for all of them--that's an alternate form of humanity. It can't be seen as betrayal to the country to understand someone who's in a difficult place. Just because there are two sides in a war, it doesn't necessarily make one correct. I think that's where Americans get derailed.

There are men over there who are cutting people's heads off--that's obviously wrong, and nobody's going to support that. But what we're doing over there is wrong in a lot of ways as well. So if someone feels sympathetic to the Iraqi people and some of the resisters, that doesn't mean that they condone cutting people's heads off.

I think there are two negatives in the whole soup. In the long run, we're the ones that made the pre-emptive strike, and we're the ones inside Iraq, so the logical solution and the cure to this problem is to leave Iraq. Then there won't be any IEDs [improvised explosive devices] killing American soldiers, there won't be any RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] attacks. There wouldn't be people cutting off people's heads if we weren't in Iraq.

DO YOU think that the U.S. has an obligation to keep soldiers in Iraq in order to fix the problems that it created?

IN MY time in Iraq, I've seen more schools close than open. I've seen more roads explode in front of me than I've seen fixed. I've seen the infrastructure deteriorate every day that we're there. We're not solving the problem by having soldiers there on the ground. The way to solve the problem is instead of spending billions and billions of dollars on a military campaign on Iraq, maybe we should spend it in more diplomatic and helpful areas.

Staying there and trying to keep the peace is an oxymoron. We're not there to create peace. We're there creating war.

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