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Camilo Mejía and Kelly Dougherty on the antiwar struggle today
"GI resistance will stop this war"

August 19, 2005 | Pages 6 and 7

KELLY DOUGHERTY and CAMILO MEJIA, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), attended the Veterans for Peace National Convention in Dallas, Texas, in early August. After a screening of Sir, No Sir--a new documentary about the GI resistance during the Vietnam War that will hit U.S. theaters later this year--they spoke with Socialist Worker's ERIC RUDER about GI resistance, then and now.

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Right now, most of our veterans' movement is made up of people who are out of the military or no longer on active duty. During Vietnam, you had thousands of active-duty GIs protesting, setting up coffeehouses and producing underground papers.

I wish we could have that mass movement right now, but I try to put it in perspective. Not only was there a draft, but the Vietnam War had been going on for practically 10 years at that time, and many more thousands of U.S. soldiers were dead than we have right now in Iraq.

Camilo spent nine months in jail for refusing to re-deploy. Some of the other war resisters have either served jail time or other punishment. But to see Vietnam-era GIs who resisted and were sentenced to 20 years in prison, who were shot dead for trying to escape from where they were being held after they went AWOL, who were beaten up by their fellow soldiers and brutalized when their only "crime" was to resist--it's incredible.

It puts it in perspective when you realize how strongly and violently the military was trying to suppress the war resisters and outspoken service members. The war resisters right now are making sacrifices. We thought 15 months was a harsh sentence, but these guys were getting six years, 10 years and more.

Vietnam became like a disease for the army. Because people protested the war, testified about the brutality of the war, showed pictures of the effects of Agent Orange and napalm, the military had to do a lot of damage control from the Vietnam years.

Kevin Benderman got 15 months' confinement--the harshest sentence of any resister so far--but I think we owe the relatively lighter sentences today to the GI resistance during Vietnam.

The stories and the pain that soldiers have--they're pretty much the same. It doesn't matter if the country is different.

You have people in the military, who for one reason or another are not speaking out, but who feel really strongly against the war. Those like Kelly or [IVAW co-founder] Mike Hoffman, for example, who are speaking out now that they're out, represent thousands more in the military who disagree with what's happening.

And whether the resistance is public or not, whether there are people going to jail for refusing to go back, the fact is that there is a resistance. You can see it in the numbers that the Pentagon is putting out. When I first came back from Iraq, the number of AWOL and desertion cases was 22. Five months later, it was 500. Eleven months later, it was 5,000. Right now, after 18 months, I think it's up to 6,000.

A lot of people on active duty are opposed to the war, and they're opposed to the way they're being treated and being used. But they're not ready to take that step because they're afraid of being openly outspoken in their units, they're afraid of how the people around them are going to treat them, they're afraid of repercussions by their command.

At one event I did, two active-duty soldiers came up to me, they had served one tour and were ready to deploy for their second, and they said, "We're so against this war, and we really appreciate what you said. We hate being in the Army right now." But that was as far as it went.

And I understand where they're coming from--especially for people on active duty. You're told over and over and over that it doesn't matter what your personal feelings are about this--you have to do what we tell you, and that's your only option.

But gradually, that's going to change. It is building more and more to the point where more people on active duty are acting out or voicing opposition or showing opposition in whatever small ways.

We have to continue doing what we're doing--going out and speaking to people, showing antiwar films, sharing our experiences, reaching out to communities, schools and church groups. The more we do that, the better. Things like the September 24 march in Washington are important, but they need to become more frequent, more consistent, more massive, more angry.

I think we also need to do a lot more infiltration operations. In the Vietnam era, there were coffeehouses outside military bases and underground newspapers and activism within the bases.

Because the military learned from the Vietnam War, they try to keep soldiers today isolated from what's happening outside. You go to any Army base, and all they have is Fox News, 24 hours a day. And we didn't get any newspapers or anything. The Kellogg, Brown & Root mess halls all had TV sets, but they didn't have the news, at least when I was there.

Today, we need to rebuild the GI coffeehouses and those sorts of things. That takes bucks, and some people are going to get arrested for it, but that's what it's going to take. You can go out and run for office and all that, but as the Bolton recess appointment shows, they can ignore all that.

It's the GI resistance that's actually going to stop the war--people saying, "Fuck the Army, I'm putting my weapon down, I'm not going to kill Iraqis any more, I'm not going to fight this war." The other things will help, but this is crucial.

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