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Camilo Mejia, member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, author of Road From Ar Ramadi. Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejía became the new face of the antiwar movement in early 2004 when he applied for a discharge from the Army as a conscientious objector. After serving in the Army for nearly nine years, he was the first known Iraq veteran to refuse to fight, citing moral concerns about the war and occupation. His principled stand helped to rally the growing opposition and embolden his fellow soldiers.
Despite widespread public support and an all-star legal team, Mejía was eventually convicted of desertion by a military court and sentenced to a year in prison, prompting Amnesty International to declare him a prisoner of conscience.
Now released after serving almost nine months, the celebrated soldier-turned-pacifist has written his story, from his upbringing in Central America and his experience as a working-class immigrant in the United States to his service in Iraq—where he witnessed prisoner abuse and was deployed in the Sunni triangle—and time in prison. Far from being an accidental activist, Mejía was raised by prominent Sandinista revolutionaries and draws inspiration from Jesuit teachings. In this stirring book, he argues passionately for human rights and the end to an unjust war.
Michael Wong, member of Veterans for Peace. He also contributed to the book- Veterans of War- Veterans of Peace and is featured in the film Sir, No Sir. He was a first lieutenant in high school Army ROTC who believed fervently in the Army and our government leaders. Then came the real Army. His story in Veterans of War- Veterans for Peace: “Honor’s Death,” tells of his Army experience and why he turned against the Viet Nam war and deserted to Canada; “To Take a Street,” tells of one small protest. He was a member of a hippie counterculture community known as Rochdale College.
He wrote in Maxine Hong Kingston’s Fifth Book of Peace: “We were a world unto ourselves, with our own government, a free medical clinic, a movie theater, a library, a health food restaurant, a store, a dance studio, and a host of other features of a community. We even had our own hippie ‘police force,’ Rochdale Security ... ”
"A war of attrition by the Canadian government and police against Rochdale formed for me a counterpoint to the war in Viet Nam. The war hawks lost the war to control South Viet Nam. We hippies lost the war to save Rochdale College. I deserted the U.S. Army, only to serve on Rochdale Security. I never faced the guns of the Viet Cong, but I faced—unarmed—the guns of the Toronto Police Department. My closest comrade, Cindy Lei, was one of those who died for Rochdale. I was never the same."
During a protest against the first Gulf War, he met a group of Viet Nam veterans who welcomed me him with open arms. he joined them and has been an active member of Veterans for Peace and the Veterans Writing Group ever since.
Jeff Patterson 1991 Gulf War military resister. Marine Corporal Jeff Paterson was the first public military objector who sat down on the runway to refuse deployment. He has tirelessly spoken out and organized against war since then and is actively involved with www.couragetoresist.org
On the frontlines of the resistance to war, our guests will share their experiences and insights.
David Solnit and Aimee Allison wrote this in Army of None:
What are the key pillars of support—the sources of power without which the war and occupation could not continue? Three key pillars are soldiers, corporations, and media disinformation...
Pillar of War: Troops
The United States government can't fight war or maintain an occupation without enough troops—or without obedient troops. Nor can it begin new wars.
This pillar could be weakened if we:
—Counterrecruit to reduce the military's ability to recruit young people
...Student and community members across the United States have taken spirited action and waged legal and political challenges that have driven military-recruiters from their campuses and communities. Massive countereducation of students and youth, mounting protest and direct action at recruiting centers, and increasing resistance in the army reserves have contributed (along with the losing war in Iraq) to low military recruitment.
—Develop campaigns that support troops and National Guard (or private or government employees) who refuse deployment or orders, in compliance with international law
GI resistance within the military, together with mass desertion and draft resistance, is widely credited with being a key element in forcing the United States out of Vietnam. David Zeiger, director of the recent Vietnam GI resistance movement film, Sir, No Sir!, and active organizer in the antiwar GI coffeehouse related solidarity efforts, describes the movement:
Like the Vietnam War itself, the GI Antiwar Movement started small and within a few years had exploded into a force that altered history. And like the times from which it grew, the movement involved organized actions and spontaneous resistance, political groups and cultural upheaval. Between 1966 and 1975, groups of soldiers—some small and some numbering in the thousands—emerged to challenge the war and racism in the military. Group action and individual defiance, from the 500,000 GIs who deserted over the course of the war to the untold numbers who wore peace signs, defied military discipline and avoided combat, created a “Fuck the Army” counter-culture that threatened the entire military culture of the time and changed the course of the war.
Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq, asserted the power of GI Resistance to stop the war and occupation in Iraq and the importance of civilian support to enable this, at his speech to the August 12, 2006 annual Veterans for Peace gathering in Seattle:
I speak with you about a radical idea… The idea is this: that to stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers can choose to stop fighting it… Those wearing the uniform must know beyond any shadow of a doubt that by refusing immoral and illegal orders they will be supported by the people not with mere words but by action… To support the troops who resist, you must make your voices heard. If they see thousands supporting me, they will know. I have seen this support with my own eyes… For me it was a leap of faith. For other soldiers, they do not have that luxury. They must know it and you must show it to them. Convince them that no matter how long they sit in prison, no matter how long this country takes to right itself, their families will have a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs, opportunities and education.
For refusing to deploy to the illegal war in Iraq and for engaging in free speech, Lt. Watada already faces a maximum of eight years in jail for a series of charges, including: missing movement, contempt toward officials (saying Bush lied about the war), conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman (speaking out against illegal war). To counter this kind of crackdown, we can, as Lt Watada explains, build support “not with mere words but by action” in our communities and in antiwar and counterrecruitment movements that will help to take a stand or refuse deployment.
—Resist the draft and draft registration by supporting young men who refuse to register for the selective service and preparing for mass resistance to a possible draft
If our counterrecruitment efforts successfully cut into the military’s recruitment numbers, it could mean the government will have to bring back a standard military draft, "national service," or a special medical-worker draft, all of which may open a space for massive public resistance.
According to 1980 draft registration resister and current antidraft organizer Ed Hasbrouck, massive draft registration non-cooperation may have been key in preventing a draft over the last the 25 years. He said the last General Accounting Office audit of the Selective Service found that they did not have current information on the whereabouts of as many as 75 percent of potential draftees.
We can begin educating medical professionals, who may be the most likely to be drafted, and young draft-age and younger men about the possibility of a draft and how to resist it. Instead of waiting until draft induction begins, peace-and-justice groups and individuals can begin now to help make a draft unworkable later. Young men can refuse to register, refuse to tell the selective service their whereabouts when they move, and urge their parents or those at the registration address (if you did register) not to accept or sign for an induction or other Selective Service notice, or give out any information about current whereabouts. People who did register can actively publicize their commitment to refuse a military draft.
Together counterrecruitment, GI resistance and draft registration resistance can cut off the supply of troops and help to stop wars for empire. However, to be effective we also have to be prepared for U.S. military innovations that circumvent the need for conventional military troops.
These innovations include:
- Privatization of the military—mercenary and private corporations getting paid for traditional military roles.
Increased mechanization of war, or air wars and bombing campaigns that involve fewer troops and reduce U.S. military deaths, though often resulting in more civilian deaths among the targeted country or area.
Recruitment, training. funding, arming, and directing of proxy armies, guerrillas, terrorist groups and death squads to do U.S. bidding without involving large numbers of U.S. troops—examples include the anti-Soviet guerrilla Army in Afghanistan in the late 1970s and 1980s, and the “Contra” Army against Nicaragua in the 1980s. Use of clandestine or CIA operations to disrupt, repress or destroy governments, movements, organizations, and individuals the United States government objects to.
We can prepare for these other forms of war and intervention that do not rely on large numbers of troops by breaking out of the limitations of single issue organizing. If we educate ourselves, our groups, our communities, the public and our movements about the history of United States interventions and war, we will see why it is important not to organize simply against a particular war, like Iraq, or a particular component of militarism, like recruitment. We can’t afford to create new organizations or movements every time the government finds new ways to assert its policies of war for empire.
Many groups and movements develop an understanding of underlying systemic problems and include them in their goals and mission statements, so it is not a stretch when the U.S. government wages war on another country or resorts to forms of intervention that do not depend on troops. For example the GI Resister support group Courage to Resist, instead of just opposing the Iraq war and occupation, has adopted a mission statement that includes opposition to “war and occupation and the policies of empire.”
Pillar of War: Corporate Profiteers
Another of the most obvious pillars of war are the corporations that play an essential role in the Iraqi occupation, and in the motives behind it. Corporations are essential to continuing the war and occupation in Iraq. Forcing them to withdraw their participation would shut down essential components of and motives for the war and occupation—while opening up tremendous opportunities to Iraqis to define and create their own economic future.
Corporate media's steady stream of lies, distortions, and repetition of the United States government "war on terror" rhetoric was essential in propagating the pretense for the invasion of Iraq and is key to maintaining some level of public support for the war and occupation. If people were given the right information, they would be more likely, and better equipped, to resist. Independent Iraq and Middle East journalist Dahr Jamail explains that creating reliable independent media and optimizing access to it, “will be a better path to ending the occupation than continuing to react to the disinformation and the lies put out by the corporate media and the Bush administration.”
We can weaken this pillar by creating and supporting independent media and running media accountability campaigns to educate the public to become critical of media bias, and to curb some of the most outrageous lies and distortions. Additionally, independent media advocacy campaigns could set goals of switching over large numbers of people from watching/listening/reading corporate media to watching/listening/reading more alternative media.
A final key ingredient for a successful strategy is our ability to frame our own struggles, or tell our own story. If we are acting defensively within the framework of the United States government and their "war on terror" story, we will always be on the defensive. If we allow them to define reality, we will always lose. If we limit ourselves to defensively arguing that there are no nuclear weapons in Iraq, for example, without challenging the legitimacy and cost of the U.S. being an empire, then we are operating in a reality defined by those in power. We have to be able to understand, fight and win the "battle of the story."
The courage of young people in the military, on the campuses and in the streets are showing us how to assert our people power. It’s clear that more and more folks in the U.S. and around the world have the courage to resist. Can we can find what lies in the root of the word courage—le Coeur, or heart—to assert our power as communities, as movements and as people to reverse the policies of empire and build a better world?