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Active-duty troops call for an end to the occupation
Voices of soldiers against the war

November 3, 2006 | Pages 8 and 9

ERIC RUDER reports on the new signs of antiwar opposition within the military's ranks.

WITH OCTOBER ranking as the fourth-deadliest month for U.S. troops since the invasion of Iraq and the defense establishment acknowledging that the war effort is floundering, active-duty troops are adding their voices to the chorus of opposition.

In October, Jonathan Hutto, a Navy seaman based in Norfolk, Va., worked with other active-duty personnel to initiate "An Appeal for Redress," which calls on "political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq."

"Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price," says the appeal, which military personnel can sign at www.appealforredress.org. "It is time for U.S. troops to come home." In the space of barely a week, almost 500 had signed on.

According to organizers, the campaign takes advantage of the statutory right of active-duty troops to express their opinions to members of Congress without fear of retaliation. "I don't think any more Iraqis or Americans should die because of the U.S. occupation," said Liam Madden, a Marine sergeant and another organizer of the appeal campaign. "The occupation is perpetuating more violence."

What else to read

"An Appeal for Redress," written by active-duty troops, can be read on its own Web site--military personnel are welcome to sign on. You can also visit the Different Drummer Café Web site for ongoing reporting on military resistance.

David Cortright's Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War, recently republished in a new edition by Haymarket Books, is a fascinating account of the resistance movement within the military that helped bring the Vietnam War to an end.

Riverbend's Baghdad Burning Internet blog is updated--when electricity supplies allow--with an eyewitness account of what life is like for ordinary Iraqis.

For an ongoing analysis of the situation in Iraq and the wider Middle East, read Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog. Articles by left-wing Iraq expert Michael Schwartz appear regularly on the TomDispatch.com Web site. Schwartz also sends out articles of interest on his IraqViews listserve--to subscribe, send an email to [email protected] with the message: "sub iraqviews-l".

For a book that provides the background to the U.S. war and occupation, get Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War, a collection of essays edited by Anthony Arnove (with one by Socialist Worker columnist Sharon Smith) published in an updated edition after the invasion.

 

Several antiwar groups, including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out, are helping to spread the word about the appeal.

"The long-term goal is to end the occupation of Iraq," says Madden. "The short-term goal is to spread the word that service members who feel like we do have a tool to have their voice heard, and it's their duty as a citizen of a democratic society to participate in democracy."

Hutto got the idea for the appeal after reading David Cortright's book Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War, which chronicles the rebellion in the U.S. military during Vietnam. With U.S. troops openly defying their commanders, the military could no longer function as an effective fighting force, contributing to the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.

Hutto then contacted Cortright and brought him to Norfolk to speak. "The day before I arrived, they showed Sir! No Sir! [a documentary about the soldiers' revolt]," said Cortright in an interview. "Then I gave a talk at a YMCA, where 100 people or so attended. Afterwards, there was a more private get-together at somebody's home with about a dozen active-duty people, where we had a more detailed talk about the issues, then and now."

"Jonathan, who's very bright, was especially fascinated by the big GI petition in November 1969, which some 1,300 active-duty service members signed. It ran as a full-page ad in the New York Times the Sunday before the big November 15 moratorium rally in Washington, D.C. The petitions had been circulating for some weeks, and we got 60 from our base to sign. It was a very dramatic, very powerful message. I think it helped to build the moratorium rally."

News of the new appeal against the Iraq occupation sent a ripple of concern through the political establishment. Two senators, Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), immediately expressed their misgivings. "We've had a long tradition making sure the military doesn't engage in political debate," said Graham.

Maybe it slipped Graham's mind that the Pentagon brass spent years selling Bush's war to the American public.

"There's a huge population of soldiers upset about the way things are going," said Garett Reppenhagen, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. "And I don't blame them one bit. It's finally risen to a point where their frustrations have peaked, and they're no longer afraid to voice their opinions about the direction of the war. It's a cry to the public for people to realize how dire the situation is, and that not every soldier supports it.

"There's nothing illegal about a soldier trying to inform the public that war in Iraq is a negative experience, especially considering that the war itself is illegal and probably unconstitutional."

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MORE THAN 100 U.S. troops died in October, and the number of injured will surpass 1,000. But the number killed in action would be a lot higher if not for advances in field medicine and new innovations in body armor.

The ratio of troops injured to killed in Vietnam was 3 to 1, but today is 8 to 1. With the lower Vietnam-era survival rates, instead of some 21,000 injured and 2,813 dead in the Iraq War, there would be nearly 8,000 dead and 13,000 injured.

The Pentagon is very aware of the political calculation that the U.S. public will not tolerate a high death count. Enormous resources are expended on lifesaving air evacuations. But badly maimed and injured soldiers find themselves abandoned when they return to the U.S.

Take, for example, Brad Fulks, who was critically injured in Iraq. According to 60 Minutes reporter Scott Pelley, a dozen aircraft and 1,000 personnel were involved in evacuation and medical treatment for Fulks, who suffered burns over half his body, a collapsed lung and failing kidneys. Lt. Col. Warren Durlac, chief of trauma at American Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, called $1 million a "conservative" estimate for what was spent on his care.

Fulks didn't make it, succumbing to an infection 18 days after he was injured. But had he survived, he would likely have faced the same screw-ups and abuse that other injured troops do.

Robert Luria lost his hand in Iraq, and his whole body was raked by shrapnel. A week later, he woke up in a bed at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C., faced with the prospect of learning to walk again and making do with one hand.

Under the military's policy, his pay rate should have been downgraded because he was no longer in a combat zone. Eventually, the Pentagon discovered its error--and told Luria he owed them money. His wages were garnished, and as he prepared to leave the military, he was hit with a $6,200 bill.

"It was like I was being abandoned," said Luria. "I was no good to the military any more. They figured the pay glitch was my fault, and I was going to pay for it."

Luria isn't alone. The First Infantry Division estimates that eight out of 10 of its soldiers wounded in Iraq have experienced a similar ordeal.

"You have to understand that these soldiers are suffering from incredible injuries, some of them have lost limbs, some of them may never walk again," said Capt. Michael Hurst, who came up with the estimate and is now out of the Army. "And in the midst of that struggle, to then get a paycheck for nothing really hurts morale."

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