Hundreds of veterans who gathered outside Washington
last weekend to testify about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan are
returning to their communities across the country with the goal of stoking resistance
to the Iraq war from inside the US military.
The so-called Winter Soldier gathering organized by Iraq Veterans Against the
War was designed to demonstrate that well-publicized incidents of US brutality,
including the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the massacre of an entire family
of Iraqis in the town of Haditha, are not isolated incidents perpetrated by
"a few bad apples," as many politicians and military leaders have
claimed. They are part of a pattern, the organizers said, of "an increasingly
"We have the power to bring the troops home, when they throw down their
weapons and refuse to fight," said Phil Aliff, a recently discharged combat
veteran, who helped start the first active duty chapter of Iraq Veterans Against
the War at Fort Drum in upstate New York.
Aliff founded that chapter after serving a year in Iraq from August 2005 to
July 2006, a tour that included stints in Abu Ghraib and Fallujah, some of the
most dangerous parts of Iraq for a US soldier. He participated in roughly 300
patrols and was hit by so many roadside bombs that the entire unit became demoralized
and started to seek out ways to avoid combat.
In April 2007, after returning home, Aliff began talking to other soldiers
at Fort Drum who shared his opposition to the war. He refused a second deployment
to Iraq, noting he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from his first
tour, and started organizing with other soldiers on the base.
"Instead of relying on media exposure as a quick fix to gaining members,
we began weekly face to face meetings as a way to create transparency from the
chain of command," he said. "We had two main tasks: to educate our
fellow soldiers and win victories for them. And we did win victories."
For example, Aliff noted, one of their members, Specialist Eugene Cherry, was
discharged without a court martial even though he had gone Absent Without Leave
(AWOL) for 16 months after being refused treatment for post-traumatic stress
Other veterans at Winter Soldier noted that soldiers seeking to oppose the
war from inside the ranks need not break Pentagon regulations to do so.
Garret Rappenhagen, a former US Army scout sniper, who served in Baquba near
the Iranian border from 2004 to 2005, helped found a military blog called Fight
to Survive, which he and other like-minded soldiers posted to throughout their
"When you're in the military, you are a citizen soldier," Rappenhagen
said. "You still retain your rights as a citizen and you're able to use
To critics of his activities, Rappenhagen said: "It'll be a shame if the
actual use of your first amendment right [to freedom of speech] becomes unpatriotic."
These increasing calls for GI resistance came amid an almost complete media
blackout from the large US news organizations.
Though the gathering was timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the
invasion of Iraq and was held in Silver Spring, Maryland less than 10 miles
from the White House, the personal testimonies of hundreds of Iraq and Afghanistan
war veterans garnered only a small article in the metro section of the Washington
Post. The New York Times¸ CNN, ABC, NBC, and CBS ignored it
Five years into the war, the country appears to be back where it started in
terms of media coverage. A study by the Pew Research Center last week revealed
only 28 percent of respondents correctly said about 4,000 US citizens have died
in the war. Most thought the number was closer to 2,000 or 3,000.
According to the same survey, overall media coverage of the war dropped from
an average of 15 percent of stories in July 2007 to just 3 percent in February
But the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who spoke at Winter Soldier could take
heart in another survey released Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal
and NBC News which found 53 percent of respondents think the US goal of achieving
victory in Iraq is not possible.
Many members of Iraq Veterans Against the War see a parallel between that kind
of polling and the history of GI resistance during the Vietnam war. They note
that when Vietnam veterans held a similar forum on war crimes in 1971 it was
also roundly ignored by the mainstream press. But that did not cause the story
to go away, because word got out through military and veteran circles that resistance
within the ranks was building -- a development most members of Iraq Veterans
Against the War see as even more important than mainstream media coverage and
lobbying on Capital Hill.
"We may be smaller in number than the Vietnam Veterans Against the War
were," Rappenhagen said, "but when they held their Winter Soldier
event in 1971 it was three years after the Tet Offensive. Hopefully, by speaking
here today we can end this war before there is a Tet Offensive in Iraq."
(Inter Press Service)