Soldiers can help end the war

April 12, 2010

Phil Aliff, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, looks at the recent revelations about U.S. war crimes in Iraq--and the role soldiers can play in ending the war.

I WANT to thank for running the article "A massacre caught on video."

This article was tremendous in that it added clarity to a discussion within the antiwar movement about how to understand this video. As an Iraq combat veteran, I have found that people in the antiwar movement have drawn a spectrum of conclusions about the nature of the occupation of Iraq and the role that rank-and-file soldiers play when involved in these occupations overseas.

While the moral outrage spurred by this video is completely understandable and justified, it has led to an argument among some in the movement about what strategies and tactics to take up, based on not only on this outrage, but also the impatience that some feel right now in not seeing growing numbers of people flooding the movement.

Unfortunately, this combination has led some to draw the conclusions that soldiers overseas are simply "animals and racist murderers," while not addressing why this horrific atrocity happened.

When this stance is taken, it plays into the hands of the U.S. military when people say that atrocities in these occupations are carried out by a "few bad apples," rather than blaming the highest levels of government for sending troops into these countries in the first place, and indoctrinating us to dehumanize the people of Iraq and Afghanistan in order to carry out combat operations.

Placing the blame on GIs simply does not explain the cause of these atrocities and should not be the understanding of the antiwar movement. This "blame the soldiers" mentality by a section of the movement is not only rooted in moralism, but also in the idea that soldiers are not agents of change.

Frankly, this position is ahistorical if you consider how the Vietnam War was ended. Not only was it ended by a vibrant antiwar movement at home and the Vietnamese people fighting for liberation, but also by a revolt inside the military that drew conclusions about questions of U.S. imperialism.

The movements at home inspired these soldiers to take up questions of race, class and solidarity with the people they were being told to repress. This is because wars of imperialism pit workers against other workers in the interest of the ruling class at home.

WHEN WE look at the military in this political period, the prospects for organizing GIs to oppose the occupations are very ripe. With the election of Barack Obama, working-class people in this country, including GIs and veterans, have drawn conclusions about our society and its needs.

This radicalization is in its infancy, but the left has a key role in shaping consciousness during this time. According to polls, the majority of this country opposes the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and GIs are not separate from this.

Take, for instance, my experience as a combat veteran. I deployed to one of the most dangerous areas of Iraq from 2005-2006 with the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, one of the best-trained and elite light infantry units.

While overseas, I made racist comments towards Iraqis in order to cope with the things that we were doing in their country. Our chain of command not only condoned this, but also gave us a sense of pride in our unit in order to ideologically justify our actions.

When I returned from Iraq, I began to think through all of the things I had done overseas, but it wasn't until I encountered a political argument about the wars that I was convinced to become a part of the antiwar movement. After developing a political foundation for why my involvement was necessary, I started the first active-duty chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War on my base at Fort Drum, N.Y.

My experience is an example of how people's ideas can change if the left cuts through the confusion about the occupations and takes up political arguments with the people around us. Instead of developing a strategy of moral outrage, we need to develop a strategy of building a grassroots movement that is independent of the Democratic Party.

This does not mean that we are opposed to joining in struggle with people who support President Obama, but that we meet people where they are in this period of radicalization and patiently explain that unless we organize from below to influence U.S. foreign policy, the Obama administration will continue these occupations.

In this period, it isn't necessary to "help people get it," but instead to give people a vehicle for constructively expressing their opposition. This means building a movement of veterans and civilians who show solidarity with the Iraqi and Afghan people by placing the blame where it belongs and lighting a fire from below to ensure that working people's needs around the world are met before the billionaires.

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