Winter Soldiers Gather to Share Stories of War
On March 14th, 15th and 16th hundreds of military veterans and active duty military personnel of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars/occupations gathered outside of Washington, D.C. at Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan to share their first hand experiences from the occupations with each other and with the media. The event took its name from a similar event held 27 years ago by Vietnam Veterans Against the War. This recent gathering was organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, and it was their largest event to date. The things that these soldiers did while in Iraq and Afghanistan, the things that they had done to them, the things that they were ordered to do and how they have been treated since their return to civilian life were all covered in the three day gathering that was largely ignored by the mainstream press.
The essence of the message that they conveyed was that strategy in an occupation such as the occupation in Iraq is not relevant, strategy only goes so far as you delve down into the murky waters of war, for when a single mind enters this space there are far to many variables and the variables themselves are far to complex for any single person involved not to act on a primal survival level. This reality is what most soldiers face in Iraq and Afghanistan; they do what they need to do to survive.
Some of the most moving testimony of the weekend came during the panel discussion on the Rules of Engagement. The message conveyed over and over by soldier after soldier’s testimony was that the fear experienced by the soldiers in Iraq virtually eliminates the Rules of Engagement, they also stressed that it was not a lack of leadership but the violence that was carried out, often against innocent civilians, was simply the nature of the occupation and nobody in the region was immune to the nature of the occupation, not the occupiers and not the occupied.
In a time when the war has become a political football and thrown around using statistics and numbers in political battles it is important that when Americans talk about the Iraq war that they talk about the horrific tragedy of real blood and violence carried out by real people against real people, not only for the American men and women but also for the thousands and thousands of Iraqis who never asked for this occupation.
With all the talk of victory or lack of victory Americans have to be willing to admit in this country that there will be no victory in Iraq because the hope of human decency has already been defeated.
In the text of human history the brutality and tragedy of the U.S. occupation of Iraq has already been entered but with the testimony of its participants in their own country, hope has been injected into a seemingly hopeless situation. America pays their soldiers and veterans bravery lip service, but abandons them when they dare to speak the truth and shatter the comfort of traditional heroism.
These soldiers are complex heroes who have taken the first step in bringing to an end a brutality that they at one time helped to perpetuate, but it is becoming clear that they were not alone in pushing this war forward, the civilians in this country have helped greatly with their greed and complacency.
Perhaps John Michael Turner summed it up best at the end of his incredibly moving testimony
“I am sorry for the hate and destruction that I have inflicted on innocent people and I’m sorry for the hate and destruction that others have inflicted on innocent people. At one point it was ok, but reality has proven that it is not and that this is happening and until people hear about what is going on with this war it will continue to happen and people will continue to die. I am sorry for the things that I did, I am no longer the monster that I once was.”
You can watch and listen to testimonies from last weekends Winter Soldier here: