Veterans of recent conflicts describe their individual journeys from raw recruit to war resister in this collection of testimonials. Although it is not well publicized, the long tradition of refusing to fight unjust wars continues today within the American military. The stories in this book provide an intimate, honest look at the personal transformation of each of these young people and at the same time constitute a powerful argument against militarization and endless war. Also included are exclusive interviews with Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg addressing the U.S. wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan and the role civilian and GI resistance plays in bringing the troops home.
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About the Author
Buff Whitman-Bradley is an author, an editor, and a social justice activist in the Courage to Resist organizing collective. He lives in Marin, California. Sarah Lazare is an independent journalist, an editor, and an organizer in the U.S. antiwar and GI resistance movement through the Civilian-Soldier Alliance and Courage to Resist. She lives in Urbana, Illinois. Cynthia Whitman-Bradley is a birth doula and an activist through Courage to Resist and ¡Presente! She lives in Marin, California.
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Military Resisters Turn Against War
By Buff Whitman-Bradley, Sarah Lazare, Cynthia Whitman-Bradley, Jeff Paterson
PM PressCopyright © 2011 Buff Whitman-Bradley, Sarah Lazare, and Cynthia Whitman-Bradley
All rights reserved.
Benjamin "Benji" Lewis was honorably discharged from the Marines after two deployments to Iraq. Subsequent to his discharge, Benji was notified that the Marines were considering recalling him to active duty. On October 18, 2008, at a Winter Soldier event in Portland, Oregon, he announced his intention to refuse to return to the Marines.
I joined the Marine Corps, actually, as soon as I turned seventeen, and about six months after that I got my high-school diploma and went to boot camp. That was in 2003. I was going through kind of a rough spell in my life, kind of seeking direction. I felt at that time that the military was my chance to do some good and help out in the world.
I went to boot camp in San Diego and I was there for about four to six months before my first deployment to Iraq in 2004. Initially, we were sent to Okinawa. We were told we weren't going to Iraq. But once we got to Okinawa, we were notified that we were deploying to Iraq. At that time, my name came up because of testing scores and my ASVAB [Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery]. I had a 99 on my ASVAB and 134 GT [General Technical] and they took me back to California, to Twentynine Palms, for Arabic language training. I was being trained to be a quasi-interpreter.
Haditha and Fallujah
When I returned to my unit, we went to Iraq. We were stationed at the Haditha Dam and we were running patrols in and around the city of Haditha and starting to build a rapport with the police department there. In March or April, we demobilized from the Haditha Dam and we went to assist in the push through Fallujah. While I was in Fallujah, I was also the adjusting "A" gunner for my mortar platoon, and we spent about two weeks or so lobbing mortars at Fallujah and then we maintained a presence there for another two weeks to a month before we went back to Haditha.
Once we were in Haditha again, my platoon was split basically into two provisional rifle platoons. Because of my language skills, I was attached to the one that was stationed in the Haditha police department where we stayed for a couple of months, basically guarding the police, the police station, while other units of the Marine Corps were to help aid the police in taking over security of their own town.
The closest I got to going into Fallujah was after we had basically pulverized the town. Artillery and air strikes were pretty much just pulverizing the town. Then our unit pushed in and we operated as a close frontline support for the riflemen as they were going street to street. They took three streets, and the rules of engagement would change and they'd fall back and then they'd go back and we kept up that mess for a week or two. Then the command post was formed at the edge of the city of Fallujah, and it was actually pretty much a dump site, you know, trash and garbage everywhere where they set up the command post. We maintained an active mortar posture there and stood guard, but by that time pretty much all the action had died down and most of the resistance elements in Fallujah had fled.
No Chance to Reflect
Actually it wasn't until significantly later, after my second tour, that I was able to start reflecting. We didn't get a whole lot of sleep in Iraq and because I was the adjusting "A" gunner for my entire mortar platoon, I got even less sleep because I always had to be by the gun, manning the gun. When we went to the Haditha police department, our guard rotation was such that we were lucky to get three hours of sleep or so a night. I would say I was pretty much sleep-deprived for the majority of my Marine Corps experience. The time for reflection, we didn't really do it; we didn't talk about it; we didn't want to talk about it so much. We were just looking forward to mail call. We were looking forward to the next time we'd get to go to the PX [Post Exchange] and buy some distractions or pick up some books or whatever. So I'd say for the most part, I never really reflected on what we were doing at that time.
At the time of the battle of Fallujah, we were told we were going in to fight the resistance fighters who had hung the four U.S. contractors on the bridge leading into Fallujah. Much later, I learned that killing them was in retaliation for a U.S.-endorsed assassination by Israel of a quadriplegic Muslim cleric. That was when I started really thinking back to my Marine Corps experience and realizing that most of what I was being told by my commanders was probably not the facts.
The Time between Deployments
I was in Iraq for approximately five months on my first deployment. I came back toward the end of 2004 and from there we had our decompression, went on leave, you know, and I'll be honest with you, it's all really fuzzy because the whole thing kind of ran together, but we had another approximately four or five months of training back in the States before we redeployed to Iraq again.
At that time, I would say that I and most of my fellows pretty much just self-medicated and when we weren't PTing [physical training], when we weren't training, when we weren't in the field, we pretty much stayed in a constant state of drunkenness.
My second deployment to Iraq in 2005 for OIF 3 [Operation Iraqi Freedom] was, once again, to Fallujah. At this point, through involuntary response or whatever, I'd completely neglected my language and I'd forgotten most of the Arabic I'd learned.
We were stationed at a checkpoint for vehicles leaving and coming into Fallujah. It was about a seven-month deployment and it was a very long and stagnant tour. Not a lot happened. We were kind of just there to be a presence. We'd have eight-, ten-hour days out on the line, where we're wearing all our gear and it was just really hot and we would search vehicles for weapons coming into Fallujah. The whole thing was really ludicrous because there were so many other avenues of smuggling into Fallujah. Why anyone with any armaments would voluntarily go through a vehicle checkpoint, I don't know, but I think for the most part we were getting together a database, and they were issuing all the Fallujah citizens IDs. I think the real purpose of the deployment was just to have an intimidating military posture there.
Good Relationships with Iraqis
I had a lot of respect for the Iraqi citizens, especially after my first tour where I really worked with translators and whoever I could and I tried to speak with them as much as possible. I lived hand-in-hand with them in the Haditha police department. We'd sit post together and we'd talk, we'd try to learn each other's language, teach each other games, you know, pass the time. Most of them, I felt like they were kind of kids just like me and everyone else, kind of caught up in the whole thing and looking for a paycheck and, you know, not really understanding the consequences of the bigger picture.
One story comes to mind. While we were operating the personnel checkpoint, people were going in and getting issued IDs, so they could go into town. These people had been waiting since four or five in the morning to try to get into the city. Well, it was coming toward five o'clock at night and they're closing down the checkpoint and there are still several people in line and we're having to tell them to get going, we're sorry, we can't help you, come back tomorrow. One Iraqi kind of stood up and was like, "Hey, I want to go home," and we were like, "Well, yeah, buddy, we want to go home, too." He was like, "Well, why don't you go home and then after you go home, I can go home," and it was probably the most sensible statement I ever heard the entire war.
Another time a dump truck was driving into the checkpoint. I believe there were three occupants of the vehicle, but I only remember an adult male and a little boy. We found out later that their brake lines had gone out so they couldn't stop at the checkpoint. They were barreling through and we fired a couple of warning shots and then the machine gunner started firing at the engine block with a 240. At that point all the Iraqi guardsmen that we were working with were firing in the air, firing all over the place, and so pretty much it was a duck-and-cover scene for me. Luckily no one was hurt. The dump truck was all shot up, but the little boy and his father were all right.
Back in Twentynine Palms
After seven months we went home on leave and when I came back, I had the opportunity to get out of my unit and get attached to a unit that was called Mojave Viper. It was in Mojave Viper that I spent my last year of in the Marine Corps, as an instructor teaching escalation of force, vehicle checkpoints. I kind of tried to sway the classroom to teach people how they could not discharge their weapons.
After six months, they were going to send me back to my unit and I requested to stay in Mojave Viper because I felt I was doing more good there than I could have been doing back in my unit. The Mojave Viper training wasn't easy. We were pretty much out in the field anywhere from eight to fifteen hours a day, and, in all honesty, that whole year felt like I was still deployed to Iraq. The stress levels for the instructors were pretty high there, even though we were back in the States, because of the numbers of Marines we were training and the intensity of what we were teaching them.
It was during this time that I started reflecting and remembering some of the things I'd witnessed in Iraq. I think one of the most heart-wrenching experiences was in Fallujah, during the push back in 2004. I remember when we heard some M-16 shots going off and kind of looking around going, "What the fuck is going on?" I hear my name getting called and I'm running up there. They were shooting at this lady who was walking up to our posts waving her arms and asking for help in Arabic. So I came up close and talked to her, and her face looked like death itself. She had salt crusted all over her face. It was obvious that she had been crying for quite a bit. I kind of got the story that she had a family. We were like, "Go back home, go to your family." And then it came out that she was asking for help. Three days ago, her entire family, her children, had been pretty much buried in the rubble of their house, and she was asking for help. I asked my staff sergeant, "Can we help her? Can we help her?" He said to tell her to walk to the Red Cross aid station, which was a few miles away. We couldn't leave our posts to help her, so we gave her a couple of bottles of water and wished her luck, you know. It dawned on me later on that me being the adjusting gunner for the mortar section, there was good probability that I was the one that put those rounds on her house.
It was at that time, too, that I was starting to realize all the propaganda that led me to joining the Marine Corps from a very, very young age. I started thinking about all the movies I used to watch, looking at these heroes in these war movies, Clint Eastwood, Heartbreak Ridge, Top Gun, all these stories that I grew up idolizing. I started realizing that American society was heavily, heavily indoctrinated, and it starts as soon as you can receive messages from television.
Discharged and Called Back
I got out of the Marines in February 2007, pretty much right after I got out of the Marine Corps. I attended spring semester at Mt. San Antonio Community College. When I got my call to report for IRR I determined I wasn't going back in, that I was going to show up, to report, but only to inform them that I wasn't coming back.
Benji Lewis refused orders for his Individual Ready Reserve recall, and was discharged from the military with no penalties.CHAPTER 2
Samantha Schutz's recruiter told her not to say anything to the Army about her past depression and emotional problems, but almost immediately after she started Basic Training, those problems recurred. Samantha sought help and support from the Army and received none. Her emotional difficulties continued through Advanced Individual Training (AIT) and her deployment to Iraq where she worked as an Army journalist. What she did and experienced in Iraq deepened her opposition to a war she had never believed in. Returning to the U.S. on leave, Samantha decided to go AWOL rather than go back to the Middle East.
At the time I joined the Army in 2006, I was going through a lot. In April of that year, I'd been in an inpatient program in my local hospital for a deep depression and kind of an inability to cope with society. I was having a lot of financial trouble and my dream was really just to kind of go on the road. It sounds silly, but my biggest dream was to work odd jobs and sow love and poetry all over America. And my family was telling me that was impossible and I needed to grow up and get a real job and get myself planted and rooted.
When I did sign up, I was nineteen years old and breaking my third lease and had just come out of the hospital and was very mistrustful of authority. I had little to no options and joining was one of the only opportunities that I was be able to find to get money together and make my family trust that I could be an active member of society, even though it wasn't what I wanted.
I really feel that the advertising on TV hooks young people. Like I was into thinking that the Army is not a war machine, it's just a place to get money for college, to better yourself. And I kind of had a naïve take on it all that I think so many people do.
Depression Returns in Basic Training
Just the first week, I was experiencing a lot of the same deep depression I dealt with for about five years solid before I went into the military. I was farther away from my support group and my therapist than I'd ever been, and having just a phone call once a week for support and it was really a shock to my system.
I saw a counselor, well, I think, two times and the first time I was basically told that I had already made a commitment to the Army and my feelings at this point were just something that I needed to get over and I needed to push forward. I know they were just trying to motivate me, but I did not feel that my best interests were being looked out for.
I felt very alone. So the next time I could, I called my grandmother and asked her to have some of my medical records sent from my therapist and from the week that I spent as an inpatient. Even though those records were faxed to the counselors, the counselor told me at our next meeting that it was not an option for me to use that as a way out. The way she put it to me was, "How am I supposed to believe that this is true if you lied just to get into the military?" It was hurtful to me because I knew that the recruiter had told me not to put that stuff on the application. It should have been a red flag to me, but I believed that I was in such a vulnerable state that I pushed forward.
Making It through Basic
I also was dealing with a pelvic injury that I got the first week of Basic and was on and off of crutches and so I was disheartened through that. I didn't know if I was going to be "recycled," as they say, having to repeat Basic all over again. That was my biggest fear. I thought if I could just make it through that maybe it would be easier to find a way to get help or to get out when I made it to AIT.
I did make it through Basic. I gave it all I had. I am proud of myself for pushing through that. Then for AIT, I went to the Defense Information School to learn how to be a print journalist. The training was fourteen weeks. However, I was held over there because I was unable to pass the physical test due to the pelvic injury that was still following me from Basic. That kind of made it worse.
Excerpted from About Face by Buff Whitman-Bradley, Sarah Lazare, Cynthia Whitman-Bradley, Jeff Paterson. Copyright © 2011 Buff Whitman-Bradley, Sarah Lazare, and Cynthia Whitman-Bradley. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
About Courage to Resist xi
The Courage to Resist Audio Project Buff Whitman-Bradley
Commonly used acronyms and terms xv
Introduction Sarah Lazare 1
Resistance to Wars of Empire An Interview with Noam Chomsky Sarah Lazare 5
Part I Refusing to Go Back
Benji Lewis 18
Samantha Schutz 25
André Shepherd 33
Bryan Currie 42
David Cortelyou 48
Hart Viges 62
William Shearer 72
Kimberly Rivera 80
Part II Rejecting Military Culture
Ryan Johnson 93
Brad McCall 100
Robin Long 105
Part III Looking Deeper
Part IV Resisting Military Abuse
Dustin Che Stevens
Part V Collateral Murder, WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning
The Courage to Reveal the Truth An Interview with Daniel Ellsberg about WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, and Official Secrets Buff Whitman-Bradley
An Open Letter of Reconciliation and Responsibility to the Iraqi People Josh Stieber Ethan McCord
Operation Recovery Sarah Lazare
Supporting Gl Resistance Cynthia Whitman-Bradley
What People are Saying About This
“It was a privilege to read this book. As a veteran, it was especially meaningful to me because I know some of the participants personally. It certainly opened my eyes and heart to their struggle. I know that it will have the same impact to everyone who reads it. It is especially compelling because it gives a wonderful cross section of veterans in their struggle with the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. I think that it has the potential of getting people involved in the anti-war movement. Together we can make a difference in a world that seems engulfed in war.” Dennis Lane, executive director, Veterans for Peace
“This book documents the resistance of American heroesresistance to illegal wars, to immoral wars, and to government secrecy, that threaten the very foundation of our democracy. A must-read for every American.” Marjorie Cohn, co-author, Rules of Disengagement
“When new soldiers swear to support and defend the U.S. Constitution by following lawful orders, what are they to do when they are given unlawful orders? About Face provides raw examples of precisely what soldiers are doing who take their oath seriously.” Dahr Jamail, author, The Will to Resist
“During this time of war it is vital that every American take a moment to listen to the firsthand accounts of those who have served on the front lines and those who refuse to fight.” Aaron Glantz, author, The War Comes Home
“About Face gives us important insights into the consciences of women and men who volunteer for the military but find they cannot obey orders to fight in illegal wars. These are brave and loyal Americans who are willing to challenge the U.S. government and perhaps go to jail rather than betray their inner voices that say NO to these wars!” Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army colonel and author, Dissent
"We highly recommend this book. It is must reading for young people who are being targeted by military recruiters and for all who wish to better understand what led these young men and women to enlist and then to resist." —Z Magazine (October 2012)
"This book is a collection of interviews about resisting militarism and empire. They are organized into five sections on the refusal to go back to the military, rejecting military culture, thinking independently in military and how the military suppresses it, and resisting flagrant abuse." —Book News Reference & Research (January 2013)
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