Why I won't go to Iraq

Mathis Chiroux is a sergeant in the U.S. Army who served in Afghanistan, Japan, Europe and the Philippines as a photojournalist and was honorably discharged in summer 2007. In February of this year, he received orders to return to active duty in order to deploy to Iraq.

On May 15, the day that nine members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) testified on Capitol Hill at hearings organized by members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Chiroux publicly announced his intention to refuse deployment. He spoke with Leia Petty of the Brooklyn College Antiwar Coalition (BCAW) about his decision.

Mathis ChirouxMathis Chiroux

AT WHAT point did you decide that you disagreed with what the U.S. government was doing to the people of the Middle East?

I DIDN'T like the war from the start. I always thought it smelled fishy, but I knew at the time, the Army owned my ass for at least the next four-and-a-half years. So I got in line like most soldiers, and prayed night and day that I could trust American civilians to end the war. I was so disappointed when my prayers went unanswered.

I REMEMBER when we first met in March, you felt the need to honor your contract with the U.S. military and deploy to Iraq, despite your disagreements with the war. What changed?

WHEN WE first met, I already despised the illegal occupation of Iraq, but I still thought I could do some good by going there. I thought, if not as a journalist, then as a guerrilla IVAW implant.

The more I thought about this, though, and the more what I already knew to be true was reinforced by my fellow IVAW members' testimonies, I came to the realization that I could not carry a weapon or wear a uniform to Iraq and not be a part of the problem.

But I ended up not being comfortable with the idea of leaving the country. So I settled upon my decision: I would remain here and go public with my personal resistance.

What you can do

To read Mathis Chiroux's statement to the media announcing his intention not to deploy, visit his profile on the IVAW Web site.

To donate to the IVAW Legal Fund to support Matthis and other servicemembers who refuse to support the occupation of Iraq, go to IVAW's online donation form and select “Legal Fund” under special projects. If you would like to send a message of support to Matthis, e-mail thankyoumatthis@ivaw.org.

The Citizen Soldier Web site is an excellent resource for active-duty soldiers looking for news and advice about their rights. Soldiers can also contact the GI Rights Hotline Web site, or call 877-447-4487 from the U.S., 202-483-2220 from outside the U.S., or 06223-47506 from Germany.

For an excellent history of how the rebellions of GIs ended the U.S. war on Vietnam, read David Cortright's Soldiers in Revolt. David Zeiger's Sir! No Sir! is an inspiring documentary about the Vietnam soldiers' revolt, and is available on DVD, along with many other supplemental materials.

WHAT MADE you decide to contact IVAW initially?

IT WAS quite by accident, actually. An instructor at Brooklyn College, Kumru Toktamis, mentioned an antiwar event to me one evening in class, when I was still significantly fucked up in the heart and the head as a result of my recall. I was battling to have an extension granted to me so I could at least finish my semester of school before being forced to return to war, only this time in Iraq.

It was at this event that I saw veterans and even active-duty personnel speaking out for truth and justice. I knew I had found my kind.

DID YOUR involvement in IVAW and the Brooklyn College Antiwar Coalition (BCAW) influence your decision to not deploy?

ABSOLUTELY. BECAUSE of my constant exposure to the truth of this occupation through being with my fellow antiwar veterans, I came to understand that it would be to forsake the individual sacrifices of each of them to ignore their stories and throw myself into what so clearly is an unlawful expression of American power on a people who never did a damn thing to any of us!

BCAW gave me hope that civilians were ready to support and receive peace by the mouths of babes, pleading in Washington for elected officials to do the right thing.

WHAT HAS the response been since you announced your decision?

VERY POSITIVE. As usual with these types of things, there is a small, but very loud minority on the right that is calling for my blood, literally. But I'm content to let barking dogs make all of my best arguments for me. Many of my loudest critics do so in openly racist and uninformed ways, and make many of my best arguments for me, which I'm always a fan of letting people do.

Less work for me, I guess, but with that also come threats of violence, threats of death or retaliation in one way or another. All quite illegal, but we will not be silenced by fear. We will speak regardless of the personal risk. That's at the core of our Constitution, isn't it?

YOUR DECISION to not deploy is incredibly heroic to us in the civilian antiwar movement. I know you are expecting to face a court-martial and possible jail time for your decision. What can people do to help support your defense campaign?

THANK YOU for your gratitude. I do want to be clear though that I did not make this decision to benefit any movement or serve anyone's agenda. I made this decision for myself, based on an intense personal conviction that what I am doing is not only right, but the only decision possible for me as a person and a veteran.

I swore an oath that basically boils down to, if by my sacrifice my nation will be protected from decay, I offer myself proudly and willingly. I'd like to think it is American to find creative ways to support dissent against injustice. Prove me right, people.