Winter Soldier in Pasadena

May 14, 2009

PASADENA, Calif.--Former soldiers, family members and antiwar activists spoke out against the U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan on May 9 at "Winter Soldier Southwest--Iraq and Afghanistan," held at Pasadena City College.

Former Marine Infantry Sgt. Devon Read echoed the sentiments of many as he quoted U.S. General Smedley Butler, who once admitted:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

After quoting Butler, Read added, "We should look to Butler for what to expect from war rather than accepting stupid slogans in support of the war: 'Better to fight them there than here' is a catch phrase that needs to be abandoned as ridiculous and inflammatory."

The hearings included testimonies from members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Military Families Speak Out and Gold Star Families for Peace (family members of soldiers who have died in the war). Additionally, members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and Veterans for Peace spoke about peace activism and lessons from the past that can be applied to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Members of VVAW began the hearings by explaining the history and purpose of Winter Soldier, as well as what can be learned from their experiences in Vietnam. As former Marine Jan Ruhman said, "This war is exactly like Vietnam. It's because we didn't learn the lessons of Vietnam. It's because as citizens we don't pay attention to what our government does in our name."

Ruhman emphasized the importance of soldiers' testimonies, commenting, "The spirit of Winter Soldier transcends political parties and special interest groups."

Ruhman pointed out that blame for wars should be placed on leadership, rather than soldiers: "Leadership at the top is what sets the policy. [The leaders] put on a new suit and they wash the blood off, and we applaud the bastards, but they should be put on trial."

He also criticized the financial waste in the U.S. military budget: "A 15 percent cut in the military budget could fund health care for all American citizens. We are wasting our money and are not making ourselves safer. We are making the special interests richer."

IVAW HELD held a panel that included five soldiers who gave testimonies from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wendy Barranco, president of the Los Angeles chapter of IVAW, said she joined the Army because she wanted to serve her country, but she felt invisible when she returned.

Jacob Diliberto chose to emphasize his personal transformation from a warrior to a supporter of peace, saying "My story today is about my journey to repentance."

He explained that after serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa, he argued in support of the war at college until a political science professor convinced him to travel with him to the West Bank and work with the Palestinian community. He is now committed to completing his education and working toward peace, and ended by saying, "Peace is possible, because I lived it."

Marine veteran Christopher Gallagher went on a total of three tours to Iraq. "The most important thing we can do is let the world know United States imperialism is wrong," he said.

Gallagher criticized the waste involved in paying "trigger-happy mercenaries" such as Blackwater up to five times the pay given to soldiers who do the same work. He went on to say that "the choice to prosecute global terrorism by conducting two wars against countries that had little or nothing to do with the September 11 attacks was mistaken" and that "democracy doesn't come from the barrel of a gun."

Ryan Endicott, vice president of the Los Angeles IVAW chapter, served four years as a Marine. He recalled the brutal violence he witnessed on a regular basis in Iraq:

One Tuesday they brought a car that had just been shot up. The driver's fully intact brain was sitting in the back seat. To the looks of it the passenger's brains were all over the car. I walked over to the body bag with the passenger in it. The bag was still twitching and we could hear his body still attempting to breathe.

Endicott recalled being assigned to the position of "shooter" in an Iraqi neighborhood with few observers. He was instructed, "Make sure your combat reports are rock solid and we'll take care of you. You saw two guys with weapons and one ran off." He said, "Rules of engagement may change like the tides of the ocean or a hurricane, but people do not come back from the dead."

He discussed the cost of the war for veterans: "Many veterans feel that there's just no one out there who can help them, and they live on the street homeless, with nothing, or sometimes worse. Veterans are attempting and completing suicide attempts at an unprecedented rate."

Endicott concluded:

I know today that I cannot mend the things that I have broken or fix the lives I have destroyed. But maybe with my testimony today I can help one person who might help two people who can eventually help four and maybe all of us together standing united can prevent these atrocities from ever happening again.

Further Reading

From the archives