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Courage to Resist
20 minutes | 12 days ago
Podcast (VN-E40): “We started to unite” – Cleve Andrew Pulley
Andrew Pulley by Courage to Resist https://couragetoresist.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/CourageToResist_Podcast_Andrew_Pulley_1.mp3 Podcast (VN-E40): “We started to unite” – Cleve Andrew Pulley Cleve Andrew Pulley is a politician, civil rights leader and Vietnam Era veteran. As an army GI, Cleve was one of the Fort Jackson Eight imprisoned in 1969 for opposing the US war in Vietnam. Mr. Pulley went on to run on the Socialist Workers Party ticket for vice president in 1972 and again, for president in 1980. “The anti-war movement among civilians was the key to inspiring the soldiers to feel that they had confidence and was able to use the constitutional rights we have as soldiers, and we did not renounce the use of those rights simply because we were soldiers.” Vietnam Full Disclosure This Courage to Resist podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace — “Towards an honest commemoration of the American war in Vietnam.” Last year marked 50 years of GI resistance, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured. Interview and edit by Matthew Breems. Jeff Paterson, Executive Producer. Help Keep These Podcasts ComingWe need to raise at least $15,000 to produce this two-year-long series of 50+ interviews so that this history is not lost! DONATE Photo of the Fort Jackson 8: Andrew Pulley far left. Transcript Andrew Pulley: The anti-war movement among civilians was the key to inspiring the soldiers to feel that they had confidence and was able to use the constitutional rights we have as soldiers, and we did not renounce the use of those rights simply because we were soldiers. Matthew Breems: This is the Courage to Resist podcast. Since 2005, Courage to Resist has worked to support military resistance to illegal and unjust wars, counter recruitment, draft resistance in the policies of empire. On this episode of the Courage to Resist podcast, politician, civil rights leader and Vietnam vet, Cleve Andrew Pulley. An army GI, Cleve was one of the Fort Jackson Eight imprisoned in 1969 for opposing the war while on base. Mr. Pulley went on to run on the Socialist Workers Party ticket for vice president in 1972 and again, for president in 1980. Matthew Breems: Well, thank you, Mr. Pulley for taking time today to speak with us on Courage to Resist podcast. We’re looking forward to hearing your story of activism from the Vietnam era. Why don’t you go ahead and start off by telling us how did you end up finding yourself in the US military? What was your story? Andrew Pulley: Well, the story began in high school. I was an activist protesting in the killing of Martin Luther King. At the high school, we had a rebellion of sort of black students and the white students fighting it out. It had a history in the change in the neighborhood of which I was a part in Cleveland, Ohio. It stemmed from the fact that blacks were moving into the neighborhood that was unprovable all white and there was battles against us moving into the neighborhood. Andrew Pulley: It took the form of physical attacks on young people who visited the park in the area and they carried over into the high school. The day after they killed Martin Luther King, everything just balled over into attacks. I was a part of that and I had problems with attending schools at the time and was on probation for truancy, et cetera. As a result of that, I went into the army. The probation officer gave me a choice basically to go into the army or to face trial later. I went into the army. There, I began to oppose the racist character of the army and the war in Vietnam and so on. This led me to go on AWOL and then went back to the base within 30 days. That would have been equivalent to a felony as opposed to article 15, which is nonjudicial punishment. Andrew Pulley: I went back ahead of the 30 days limit and then I was sent to Fort Jackson. Fort Jackson is when I met people who had been socialists, who were active against the war in Vietnam and who introduced me to Malcolm X, his speeches. The guy who introduced me to Malcolm X, and to the Militant newspaper, were a Georgian, a white Caucasian gentleman from Georgia. He had heard that the black power punk had arrived. This was a campaign to denigrate me in hopes that there would be attacks against me, violent attacks against me. But instead, I was greeted by a Caucasian socialist with material that really aided me in seeing the world as it really was. Then, I began to listen to Malcolm X. Malcolm X tapes, discussed the war in Vietnam. When other soldiers came back, this is during the Christmas breaks, I was restricted to the base along with the other soldiers because of political differences with the army. Then, afterwards- Matthew Breems: Even at this time, you were pretty vocal with the army about your views and your stands towards the Vietnam war? Andrew Pulley: Well, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Very much so. Matthew Breems: You are a person of interest to them like, “Hey, we’ve got to keep this guy on a leash.” Andrew Pulley: Yeah. Yeah. Matthew Breems: Okay. Go ahead. Andrew Pulley: The thing is I didn’t know anything. I was fresh, but opposed to the war and opposed to the racist character of the army. When other soldiers returned from the Christmas breaks is when GI united against the war in Vietnam started. It consisted of soldiers standing around black and Puerto Rican soldiers listening to Malcolm X tapes. Then repeatedly, we had a meeting after duty on the base and then began to discuss why the war should be opposed and why soldiers, black and white, at a certain point, began to realize that we needed to open the group up to white soldiers, Caucasians soldiers as well because they were against the war. Then, those who were opposed to racist practices of the army was all welcome. We started to unite and inform of… That made it difficult for the brass to divide black and white soldiers. Matthew Breems: Right. This was the early 1969. Is that correct? Andrew Pulley: Yeah. Early 1969. Now, the first campaign we did we sent a letter of petition to demand a place to hold a mass meeting on the base to discuss the legal and moral courses on the war. We collected hundreds of signatures of soldiers and presented them to the base commander. We tried to present them to the base commander. Had a news conference at the gates of the military base. Joe Cole and maybe one or two other who were on a different level of discipline than I was at the time, and so they presented the petition. Andrew Pulley: The army court refused to accept the petition and the ground that petition was a form of collective bargaining. I mean, that’s not recognized collective bargaining as they say. That was that. We had impromptu rally on March the 20th to discuss the victory that they won and to plan for the march on going… We were going to Atlanta to march against the war with the civilian and anyone moving. That was going to be on April 5th and 6th, the anniversary of the killing of Martin Luther King, but it never made it to that point because we were busted at an impromptu rally of 150, 200 GIs, soldiers. We were off duty and this was in the evening. We were busted and eight of us were sent to the stockade charged with breach of peace, disrespecting an officer, demonstrating on a base, demonstrating without permit, failure to disburse. Andrew Pulley: Originally, there were nine of us. One turned out to be an agent. It became the Fort Jackson Eight as opposed to Fort Jackson Nine. We won the case as being in jail for 60 odd days, and myself and others gathered a little later. We won… We were exonerated. All of the charges were dropped against us and so on. Matthew Breems: Basically, the army had nothing against you guys at that point? Andrew Pulley: Right. Matthew Breems: But you were held for 60 days because you gathered together? Andrew Pulley: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, it was 60 days that we were in pre-trial confinement. We ran through court proceedings and things of that nature and eventually the army dropped the charges. It was due to the fact that we had support among civilians. The anti-war movement among civilian was the key to inspiring the soldiers to feel that they had confidence and to have confidence, and was able to use the constitutional rights we have as soldiers. We did not renounce the use of those rights simply because we were soldiers. We were restricted by not being able to operate politically in uniform and on duty, but when we were off duty and out of the uniform, we had the same rights as any other person in the United States. Matthew Breems: What happened after this incident? You’re released. You’re exonerated from all charges. What was the next phase of this point, your military career and your activism? Andrew Pulley: Well, at this point, I joined the Young Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Workers Party about a year later. I went on this speaking tour of the country and the world, speaking about the anti-war movement among soldiers. Then, the anti-war movement in general in United States. Then, in ’71, ’72, I ran for vice president of the United States on the Socialist Workers Party ticket with Linda Jenness who was the president as a candidate. I continue to be fully active in the Socialist Workers Party and the Young Socialist Alliance. Then, in 1980, I ran for president of the United States on the Socialist Workers Party ticket with Matilde Zimmermann as the vice president future candidate. Then, in 1980, I went down to Grenada and I met with Maurice Bishop, who was the prime minister at the time. He was slain later in 1983 after the the coup d’etat, overturning the government, overturning the work of the farmers who were ruling Grenada when the US invaded that country at that time. I’ve been active in the DC area, in the Cuba solidarity movement called the DC Metro Coalition in solidarity with the Cuban revolution. It’s a group that organized to demand into the hostility that US wage against Cuba. I’ve been doing that since 2015 and I’ve been active in the mass action coalition to jail killer cops. It started last year in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and others throughout the country. Matthew Breems: When you think back to your early activism and there was a lot of momentum behind it, not only with GIs, but also with civilians, what’d you think was the greatest legacy of that activism movement? Andrew Pulley: Well, the greatest legacy of it is to recognize the power of millions of people in the streets demanding a change. It was the persistence of people in the streets, of students, to the young people to working people and soldiers over a period of 15 years or so that ended the United States involvement in Vietnam, and of course, without the Vietnamese people fighting diligently and tenaciously to win and control their own country and made it impossible for the United States government to achieve its goal that it’s doing the Vietnamese people and to deny them the right to self-determination. Matthew Breems: But do you feel, from your perspective, that there’s been any progress in America since your time during the Vietnam era as far as how the military conducts itself? Do you still feel it’s a intrinsically racist organization? Andrew Pulley: On the surface, the policies are different. I mean, the diversity of the army armed forces, the integrated character of the office at core and then even the top generals doesn’t change the fundamental character of the imperialist objective of the foreign policy of the United States. It still is still to oppress. It still is to keep its foot on the neck of working people and farmers, the world over, in Africa and in Asia and in Europe with the aggression against the people in Northern Ireland, for example. When that struggle was on the away, it is all designed to maintain the status quo of a handful of people in the biggest country, running the world to benefit the super rich and then to keep the world functioning in that way. The fate of the rest of humanity be damned. Matthew Breems: When you have opportunities to speak to young people now, maybe some of them are thinking of joining the military, maybe it’s an obvious question, but what type of advice do you give them or in which way do you try to change their thinking about their future? Andrew Pulley: Well, the fact is that those joining the military do so… They think they are doing something noble in Afghanistan, for example, fighting for women’s rights, fighting for the worst wars of the US. Some join for those reasons, other join for economic reasons to get ahead, to get some kind of skill to practice when they return to civilian life. But the problem with the army and the armed forces employment is that the fundamental role they play is to police the world and to keep the world safe for the profit of few billionaires who run the world and the conditions of the world basically as it is. Matthew Breems: Well, Mr. Pulley, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us on the podcast today and sharing your story and your experiences. We really appreciate it. Andrew Pulley: Thank you. Thank you. Matthew Breems: This podcast is encouraged to resist production recorded and edited by Matthew Breams, with special thanks to executive producer, Jeff Paterson. Visit couragetoresist.org for more information and to offer your support. The post Podcast (VN-E40): “We started to unite” – Cleve Andrew Pulley appeared first on Courage to Resist.
35 minutes | 2 months ago
Podcast: “What we could do to harness our power” – Jonathan Hutto
Jonathan Hutto by Courage to Resist | Iraq War https://couragetoresist.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/CourageToResist_Podcast_Jonathan_Hutto_2.mp3 Podcast: “What we could do to harness our power” – Jonathan Hutto Jonathan W. Hutto, Sr. is an author, community organizer, and co-founder of Appeal for Redress. Inspired by the Vietnam GI Resistance Movement, Jonathan started Appeal for Redress so that active duty US military personnel could speak out against the second conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their action came to the attention of several members of Congress, as well as laying the groundwork for future active duty military members to voice their concerns over American military operations worldwide. Gulf War @ 30 Years This Courage to Resist podcast was produced to mark 30 years since the U.S. aimed its imperial sights squarely on the Middle East. These are the voices of veterans who’s lives were transformed by that ongoing war. Interview and edit by Matthew Breems. Jeff Paterson, Executive Producer. Help Keep These Podcasts ComingWe need to raise at least $15,000 to produce this two-year-long series of 50+ interviews so that this history is not lost! DONATE Transcript Jonathan Hutto:As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Matthew Breems:This is the Courage to Resist Podcast. Since 2005, Courage to Resist has worked to support military resistance to illegal and unjust wars, counter-recruitment, draft resistance, and the policies of empire. This episode features a guest from the 30 years of current US military intervention in the Middle East. Author, community organizer, and co-founder of Appeal for Redress, Jonathan Hutto, Sr. Is our guest today. Inspired by the Vietnam GI Movement, Jonathan started this organization of active duty personnel to end the second conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their action came to the attention of several members of Congress, as well as laying the groundwork for future active duty military members to voice their concerns over American military operations worldwide. Well, Jonathan, I’m looking forward to our conversation today. With all of our guests, we like to get a little bit of background information on who you are. Why don’t you tell us how you ended up finding yourself in the U.S. Navy leading into the Iraq conflict? Jonathan Hutto:All right. Well, thank you again for this opportunity, Matthew, and to Jeff Paterson and Courage to Resist. I found myself enlisting in the United States Navy, January 2004, as the extension of not having a sustained or serious safety net from which to rely upon in my mid, as I was moving to, my late twenties. In fact, I was already in my late twenties. I was 26 years old. I was three months shy of my 27th birthday. I was a single father, had been a single father for a year to my four-year-old son. I’ve been working at Amnesty International, U.S.A.’s Mid-Atlantic regional office for nearly three years, deeply engaged in human rights work in the Mid-Atlantic United States, with a specific, deep focus on police accountability at that time. Today, the slogan is “Black Lives Matter”. 20 years ago, the slogan being “Enough is Enough”. But within that [inaudible 00:02:37] I was in and in contrast to the middle-class, upper strata, African-American students that I had gone to the university with, that wasn’t my experience. My going to Howard, matriculating through Howard, and then landing within a nonprofit was the direct result of what I would term a Horatio Alger bootstrapping spirit, that by the time I was 26 years old, I hit a wall, a serious wall. Couldn’t maintain that lifestyle anymore being a single parent. And by the fall of 2003, I was in search of some serious relief. Matthew Breems:So it was an economic concern for you primarily that made that look like a good option. Jonathan Hutto:It was economic. It was structural. I had attempted initially to transition from non-profit work to being a full-time teacher. There was a transition to teaching program. I was put into what they would term an urban classroom. And in that situation, I must say I failed miserably. Fell on my face, in fact. On the day that I fell, meaning exited the classroom knowing I would not be back. That was late October 2003. In anguish, I never forget, I was at an Atlanta Bread Company in Greenbelt, Maryland. A Navy recruiter stumbled upon me and made his pitch. And at that moment, if I had had enough strength, I would have just brushed him aside and walked away. But at that moment, I was actually susceptible to the pitch that he made to me that day. Matthew Breems:So it’s just kind of coincidence that it seemed like a good opportunity for you in the condition that you were in, just emotionally and situationally? Jonathan Hutto:Yes. At the time, the main part of his pitch… Because there were things that he was saying that went over my head that wasn’t sinking in. But when he… From the look I had that day, I believe he sized me up as young college graduate. And so, one of the things he said was, “Look, I know you got student loans now.” He says, “We pay up to…” He said, “$50,000 for a four year enlistment.” That’s when I started listening. But unlike my peers, when I hit a wall, as many young people do in their mid twenties. It’s called life. I couldn’t go home on the couch. There was no home to go to. So I had to figure out how to make a way for myself moving forward. Matthew Breems:Okay, so you joined the Navy. Walk us through some of your experiences. Jonathan Hutto:It has to be said that, ideologically, I was opposed to the Iraq War before I enlisted. I actually was on the ground and had participated… When I say on the ground, I mean on the ground within the Antiwar Movement within the United States, had participated in a number of mass marches with the ANSWER Coalition, the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition. Nevertheless, I still enlisted because… In fact, I was thinking about this earlier. As a student leader at Howard University going backwards to come forward here, my watershed moment was when we brought the late Kwame Ture, known to my mother’s generation as Stokely Carmichael on the campus. Within that address, he talks about that contrast between him and Colin Powell. Colin Powell saying “Yes” to Vietnam, and Kwame saying “Hell no” to Vietnam. Within those contrasting ethos, dictum, beliefs, I was operating in the middle, if you will. Ideologically opposed the war, but at the same time, from a practical standpoint, believing the military could give me that structure. To then connect back to your question. My joining the Navy, I was intentional about not being on the ground in Iraq. I wanted the benefits of the Navy, but I did not have any intention of shedding blood or shedding anyone else’s blood. Nevertheless, the ideological struggle and the draconian, hierarchical, ultra authoritative ethos of the Navy certainly rained down upon me. I was very naive to believe that I could join the Navy and somehow navigate it only for my own benefit, and not be confronted by the overall culture and structure. And that struggle really deepened. But once I got to apprentice school, this is where the ideological struggle deepened. This is when I began to receive multiple upon multiple counseling chits for, really, what they deemed to be an unacceptable decorum within the military. I didn’t come off as someone that was afraid. I didn’t come off as someone who was as obedient in their decorum as they should have been. I seemed to be more questioning than some of my other peers. And that’s where the targeting process began. And then once I got out to the fleet, that’s where things really began to intensify and nearly forced me to desert the United States Navy. Matthew Breems:Was there a specific experience that really kind of got you past the line to resisting the war over there? Or was it kind of a gradual process, or a number of experiences? Jonathan Hutto:It was gradual. The linchpin of other resistance, meaning… The linchpin, meaning the one who really intensified it, who really personified, I’ll never forget. He was the First Class Petty Officer E6 within the photo lab of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt when I arrived. [inaudible 00:09:16] personified, this draconian spirit and its draconian ethos of beating any aspects of individualism out of you, any aspects of autonomy out of you, any aspects of free thought, any aspects of having a questioning disposition about anything. And it really came to a head in early 2005. I was… My son was living in New York City with his mom. I was also visiting a girlfriend of mine that lived in New York City. And while I was there actually got trapped in a snow storm and could not get back to the ship at the required time. Usually in a circumstance such as that, if you call your leading petty offs and let them know the situation that you’re in, and if you do it expeditiously early enough, then some leeway will be given. In my case, that is not what took place. They were looking for an opportunity based upon what they perceived to be a challenging disposition to then, for lack of a better framing, rain hail upon me. That’s exactly what they did. They wrote me up to the actual legal department. I then went before what was called a disciplinary review board, DRB, comprised of Chief Petty Officers throughout the ship, who, for lack of a better framing, Matthew. In a Navy way, they chewed my ass. Called me everything, but a child of God up in there. And made me feel like I was the lowest piece of spectacle under the earth. When I came out of there, that’s what I snapped in my mind. I said, “I’m not doing this anymore.” I said, “I don’t know what I’m about to do, but I’m leaving the United States Navy.” Matthew Breems:Okay. So you have this linchpin moment. What was kind of your first steps? So what was your first action of resistance? Jonathan Hutto:Well, I was… I never forget. After they chewed my behind, I said behind. After they chewed my behind at the DRB, I was then taken back to the photo lab by Senior Chief Mills, I never forget. And I’m at attention. And I kind of looked to my left and my right. I didn’t see anybody. I immediately walked out of the photo lab. Hurriedly went to my rack, grabbed a few belongings, threw them in a bag, saluted off the quarterdeck, went to a cab, got to the Enterprise Rental Car, rented me a car. I’m on my way to Washington, D.C. And I called an old mentor of mine named Rodney Green, who at the time was the Chairman of the Economics Department at Howard University, and told him that I was leaving the Navy. He then asked me if I would stop by his house the next day so that we could have a conversation. A conversation that proved very pivotal as to why I’m even able to have this conversation with you today. Matthew Breems:And what was the advice that he gave you in that conversation? Jonathan Hutto:So some background on Rodney Green. Rodney Green is foundational to me knowing that how it is Dr. Rodney Green, retired Professor of Economics. It was with Rod and of coalition that he facilitated in the spring of 1996, right at my 19th birthday that I participated in my first mass agitational demonstration. At that time, as a freshman student at Howard, this was against Newt Gingrich’s contract with America, really the contract on America. Several years later, Rod and I found ourselves within a voluntary, collective, cooperative coalition in Prince George’s County, known as the People’s Coalition, struggling and fighting against police brutality in the county. And it was within that struggle that I learned much more about rod and our relationship deepened. So when I went to see Rod that morning with no intention of going back to the ship, Rod begins to… Or then our conversation, having ideological struggle with me about the necessity of my going back to the ship, which to me at that moment sounded absolutely crazy considering what I had just been through. However, he made some salient points to me, both personal and political, that not only sat with me, but began to penetrate. I began to think more deeply about what Rod was saying. Emotionally, I did not want to go back to the ship, but after another day of being in Washington, D.C., almost felt as though I didn’t have another choice. Matthew Breems:So you ended up going back to the ship. That’s correct? Jonathan Hutto:I ended up going back. And when I got back, they began to rein me in and to bring the full thrust of the legal authority upon me. I was cursed out again very badly in front of the Executive Officer with tears streaming down my face. And the Executive Officer actually had mercy upon me and did not send me to Captain’s Mast. He actually gave me… The word they use at Navy is awarded me. So they awarded me, in parentheses, awarded me what they call 24 extra hours of what they call XMI, extra military instruction. EMI, excuse me. Yeah. Extra military instruction, which is basically me staying at the work for several hours each day, shining brass, shining ladder wells, scrubbing floors. I mean, scrubbing toilets and having this draconian First Class Petty Officer breathing down my neck as this process has commenced. So that was what I had to do, in order to work myself back into the Navy fold and the Navy way of things. But I’m going to bring you up to February 2006, after having been on deployment now nearly five months, I go into the photo lab early one morning. As I get to the back of the photo lab, there’s three petty officers in the back of the photo lab. I’m an E3 three airmen, all three are white males. And one of them reaches up on top of the vent duct and pulls down a hanger’s noose right in front of my face, dangling right in front of my face, February 2006. As I’m sitting there looking at this noose, it took me a minute to even understand what was happening. I didn’t… I then said to them, “Is this a joke? What is this?” The perpetrating Petty Officer then says that one of my African-American friends could use a lynching. At that point, I depart the photo lab in deep disgust and anguish. I then came back to the photo lab about an hour later to retrieve the noose. I was looking for it. No one was there at that point. I untied it and put it in my locker. And then I began to contemplate what I was about to do, because I had gone to the chain of command numerous times before. In fact, within the eval process I had listed down all of the horrendous acts that had been taking place in that shop, especially around this question of racism and xenophobia. Comments, disparaging comments, being made about Dr. King from white Petty Officers. Celebratory comments made about Adolf Hitler, for example. This was pretty commonplace. And the black sailors and the black Petty Officers would not say anything about this stuff. And in fact, when I would voice concerns, I would be treated as if I was not a team player. So I knew at that moment in February of ’06, that the chain of command, the direct chain of command could not be relied upon. I devised a strategy where I would send a letter to the department head over the entire Admin Department, cc the Command Master Chief, who was the highest enlisted person on the ship, cc the Equal Opportunity Advisor, and then hit the entire chain of command with that letter. It was January 12th, at three o’clock in the morning from the Public Affairs Office that I sent that letter that worked on to the total, the entire chain of command of the Admin Department, including the Command Master Chief and Equal Opportunity Advisor. I sent that at 3:00 AM. By zero seven hundred that morning, an investigation had been opened. Within four hours, I had an email stating to me that an investigation had been opened and that I was to report to the Equal Opportunity Advisor. At least a third of the sailors in the shop came forward and said that there were issues that took place in that shop. And they listed what those issues were. That investigator ruled in my favor. It went to Captain’s Mast and that perpetrating Petty Officer was reduced in rank, was restricted to this boat, and ultimately was forced out the Navy. There was some level of restorative justice there. Matthew Breems:So tell us a little bit about the Appeal for Redress organization that you co-founded. How did that start and what was their MO? What was the purpose of that organization? Jonathan Hutto:So we brought David Cortright, the author of Soldiers in Revolt to northern Virginia in the spring of 2006. There must’ve been roughly a hundred people in that audience and about 15, say roughly 15 active duty members of the military that we attracted. One of whom was Liam Madden, who was in town with a few friends from Quantico, Virginia. From there, we then had a smaller meeting with just the active duty folks and began to have a deeper discussion with David about the GI movement and about what we could potentially do to harness our power within the moment we found ourselves in. We wanted to know what we could do. We were a group of active duty that were questioning. We then began to explore GR regs that night. And, and then it went on after the meeting. We began to look at several DOD directors. We began to look at, can we do a petition? When we looked at the regs around petitioning, we saw that active duty military members are forbidden to petition. However, that we did come across this Military Whistleblower Protection Act, which states that any military member without prior command approval and without having to consult the chain on any level, can send a protected communication to a member of Congress on any issue. That right there, the military was the Military Whistleblower Protection Act became the basis for the Appeal for Redress. We began to say, okay, we can’t petition. However, we can send protected the communications, which means ideally we should be able to then collectively bring about these protected communications and channel a way to send them in a bulk way to members of Congress. That right there was the basis that we begin to grapple and come up with language and then began to build out an organization going forward. Matthew Breems:So initially this just started with a handful of active duty military personnel, but it did blossom into several thousand at the peak of its success, if you will. What kind of influence do you feel like you had with members of Congress? Jonathan Hutto:So, and you’re right, from a small group, it was three of us that really pushed it initially, Liam Madden down at Quantico and Lindsey Burnett out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. So as we built the appeal going forward, in terms of influence with Congress, the first Congress person to support us was Dennis Kucinich out of Ohio. I remember a McGovern out of Massachusetts, a Congressman McGovern out of Massachusetts. The late John Lewis was one of the early, early congresspeople to support us as well. But in terms of the influence and the power of the appeal, this is when I knew that the power of what we were doing had a more qualitative aspect than a quantitative aspect. It was not when we had a thousand signatures, even 500 or even a hundred, Matt. It was when we had 65 signatures. We had just started. We launched on October 23rd ’06. Within about the first of November, we had 65 signatures. With those 65 signatures, Tony Snow the point press person for the Bush administration, within one of those press briefings was asked by a reporter about the Appeal for Redress, about these 65 active duty service members. And Tony Snow had to affirm our right to do what we were doing. That it was protected. However, he did attempt to marginalize what we were doing. To state that in no way that we speak for the mass populous of military members, et cetera. But that told me something. 65. By the time we got to almost 700, we were called both by Nation Magazine. And as you mentioned earlier, 60 Minutes wanted to do a story. By the time we got to the fall of ’07, we had nearly all of the progressive caucus within the Congress supporting us. We did a press conference on Capitol Hill with the leading members of the progressive caucus was there with us, supporting us. We were helped immensely in this effort by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., which subsequently awarded us the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award for our work. So that was the power. We were able to marshal and push support from a number of members of Congress. Of course, we weren’t able to end the wars and occupations in Iraq, if you will. But we certainly were able to add our voices and our muscle and to lay a framework and a guide for activism, what we would call frontline activism. Not waiting until you’re separated from active duty, but taking that service, taking that risk right then, right there. And in alignment with our Constitutional oath that we took to protect the Constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic. Matthew Breems:Right? And that’s a very powerful precedent you were able to set for any future military personnel that need to voice their activism against military excursions and episodes across the globe. Jonathan Hutto:Oh yeah, absolutely. And that was what we wanted to do. And we were able to do that due to the genius, and I do call the genius, of David Cortright. As the appeal took off, I saw the genius of what he was doing, what he had advised us to do. David felt that the statement, the initial statement that we put out for the Appeal for Redress should not be as ideologically driven. He felt that the statement should actually be patriotic in tone and should be simple in nature, which allowed us to be able to capture a broad network of folks. We were able to capture people who, like myself were, were against imperialist war. We were able… And I want to read the statement. The statement says, it’s on page 69 of my book that I wrote that was published in April 2008 from Nation Books, Anti War Soldier, which captures that time, how to dissent within the ranks of the military. The statement says, “As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq would not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. Troops to come home.” And so we were able to have a broad base and to show the broad breadth of this struggle. Matthew Breems:You mentioned the memoir that you wrote back in 2008. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Like what was your motivation behind it and what does the book cover? Jonathan Hutto:I never aspired to write a book. I was actually in the midst of struggle, in the midst of the Appeal for Redress doing mass interviews, speaking on campuses, going to mass demonstrations. And in the midst of this work, working alongside veterans and peace organizations, I got a call from a Nation Books. And they made a pitch. They said, “Look, we like for you to capture in a book a little bit about your life. Some autobiographical pieces about you. What inspired you to do this work and what the Appeal for Redress is all about and a way forward.” And what the book seeks to do because it… The Anti-War Soldier is the title, but the real purpose of the book is how to dissent within the ranks of the military. It breaks down anecdotally what we were doing, but it also gives the legal framework and the basis, both legal to what we were doing, but also historical in terms of what inspired it, the GI movement coming out of the Vietnam War and a way forward in terms of how active duty military members can be, not just part of, but integral to the conversation. Matthew Breems:Jonathan, how has your activism changed as you came out of the Iraq conflict era? What is your activism look like now in these more recent years? Jonathan Hutto:In the spring of 2012, I had helped to reconstitute the Prince George’s People’s Coalition. This is a coalition of organizations and lay persons concerning the county where I lived, Prince George’s County, Maryland. So I helped to reconstitute that coalition in the aftermath of what happened in Sanford, Florida to Trayvon Martin, and to leverage our work to a number of local cases that were taking place in Prince George’s County. Within a year of reconstituting our coalition, we were in the streets in direct response to that verdict out of Sanford, Florida, that horrendous verdict in that Trayvon Martin case, which launched and sparked, as you know, what is still moving today, the Black Lives Matter movement. And so that’s what I did coming out of the military, went back to boots on the ground. I was working within a doctoral program at Howard University. I also began to work with a number of nonprofit organizations over the years. I’ve worked with [inaudible 00:31:44] . I’ve worked with Veterans for Peace. I most recently worked with Empower D.C. for housing as a human right for all human beings. In terms of the activism I’ve been engaged in is the nexus between peace at home and abroad, the deep connection between peace at home and abroad. The understanding that the major reason why the United States has this massive military industrial police complex as the late president, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us of… The reason why we have this is because we had the gutting, the serious gutting of domestic priorities at home. We have the public sphere shrinking. We have schools closing. We have cities massively gentrifying. We’re at the lowest union participation ever in the country’s history. While we have this massive military industrial police complex, 700 plus military bases around the world, countries to this day, such as Germany and Japan, 80 plus years after World War Two, still occupied by the United States. Military countries, such as Iran, surrounded by United States Military, 11 aircraft carriers that literally occupied the world. In fact, it is the United States military, and it’s only the United States military, that even makes the United States a superpower in the world today. It’s not a educational system, certainly not. It’s not because of what we produce. The United States hardly produces anything anymore. What it is, it’s our bombs. It’s the bombs of the United States. And sadly it is the complicity, both conscious and unconscious, of the American citizenry. Matthew Breems:Well, Jonathan, thank you so much for taking time to speak with me today. You just have a fascinating story of resistance to war within the military. So thank you so much. Jonathan Hutto:Thank you, Matt. And thank you and Jeff and Courage to Resist. Proud to be here and support this effort. And let’s continue to push ever homeward, ever forward. The more we struggle, the more we know. The more we know, the more we’re able to do. And humanity is going to need us to do until we die. So we press ever forward. Matthew Breems:This podcast is a Courage to Resist production recorded and edited by Matthew Breems with special thanks to executive producer, Jeff Paterson. Visit couragetoresist.org for more information and to offer your support. The post Podcast: “What we could do to harness our power” – Jonathan Hutto appeared first on Courage to Resist.
23 minutes | 2 months ago
Podcast (GW-E03): “Still remember it like it was an hour ago” – Charles Sheehan-Miles
GW-E03: Charles Sheehan-Miles by Courage to Resist | Gulf War https://couragetoresist.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/CourageToResist_Podcast_Charles_Miles_1.mp3 Podcast (GW-E03): “Still remember it like it was an hour ago” – Charles Sheehan-Miles Gulf War Series Podcast, Episode 03: Charles Sheehan-Miles served in the army during Desert Storm, including heavy fighting in Iraq. His traumatic experiences during that conflict led him to become a conscientious objector. “Even though I’d been in combat over the day and a half or so prior to that event, that was the only time that I know for sure that I shot and killed somebody. Again, it’s 30 years ago this month, and I can still remember it like it was an hour ago.” Gulf War @ 30 Years This Courage to Resist podcast was produced to mark 30 years since the U.S. aimed its imperial sights squarely on the Middle East. These are the voices of veterans who’s lives were transformed by that ongoing war. Interview and edit by Matthew Breems. Jeff Paterson, Executive Producer. Help Keep These Podcasts ComingWe need to raise at least $15,000 to produce this two-year-long series of 50+ interviews so that this history is not lost! DONATE Transcript Charles Sheehan-Miles:Even though I’d been in combat over the day and a half or so prior to that event, that was the only time that I know for sure that I shot and killed somebody. Again, it’s 30 years ago this month, and I can still remember it like it was an hour ago. Matthew Breems:This is the Courage to Resist podcast. Since 2005, Courage to Resist has worked to support military resistance to illegal and unjust wars, counter recruitment, draft resistance, and the policies of empire. This episode features a guest with 30 years of current us military intervention in the Middle East. Today I have on the Courage to Resist podcast, Gulf War veteran Charles Miles. Charles served in the army during Desert Storm, including heavy fighting in Iraq. His traumatic experiences during that conflict led him to become a conscientious objector. Charles then started his own nonprofit organization focused on helping veterans receive medical benefits that were currently being denied to them. He is also an established author. More about Charles and his work can be found at sheehanmiles.com. Well, Charles, excited to be speaking with you today as a Gulf War veteran, to hear your story of activism and of being a conscientious objector. With all of our guests, we like to just get a little bit of background information about you and your formative years. Can you just give us a nutshell version of how you came to find yourself in the military? Charles Sheehan-Miles:Sure. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. And my family has a long history of military service. My grandfather was a prisoner of war in Japan, World War II. And my dad served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. So to some extent, as I was growing up, there was… It wasn’t like an expectation or a requirement, but there was an assumption that military service was a possibility. And about a year after graduating high school, I did enlist in the army. Matthew Breems:Okay. So you, you enlisted in the army. What were your early experiences in the army? Charles Sheehan-Miles:I actually liked being in the army. It was fun. I got to the tank range and fire the cannon. And I was originally expecting to go to the second armored division in Germany. My graduation from basic training was scheduled for August 10th of 1990. And as you may know, August 2nd of 1990 was when Iraq invaded Kuwait. And so, the sequence of events was we were, during the last week, getting ready to graduate. Everything’s exciting. And then August 2nd comes, there’s the invasion. On August 8th, they canceled my orders for Germany. On the ninth, they gave me new orders for the 24th infantry division out of Fort Stewart, Georgia. And on the 10th, I graduated. Then they bused us across the base and we got on a plane and flew straight to Fort Stewart. And then a week later, we deployed to Saudi Arabia. Matthew Breems:So that was a pretty fast turnaround for you as far as what you were probably expecting your army career was going to look like. And then all of a sudden you’re in combat. Charles Sheehan-Miles:Yeah, it definitely was unexpected. I probably was better prepared, maybe, than some people, if only because when I was going through the decision-making process of whether or not to enlist, my father did sit me down and he said, “Look we may be at peace now, but if you enlist in the military, you’re going to have to assume that you’re going to get sent to war.” I want to say in January of 1991, which was just as we started bombing Iraq and before the ground invasion, when I actually read in Stars and Stripes and article about a Air Force officer who had applied for conscientious objector status. And it just put the bug in my head because I was curious about it. Didn’t know exactly what it meant. I thought it was interesting. And then subsequently, had these terrible traumatic experiences in ground combat. And not long after returning back to the United States, that article came to mind again. And that’s what I started researching. Matthew Breems:So your personal experiences in ground combat is what really triggered you to become a conscientious objector? Is that correct? Charles Sheehan-Miles:Yes, absolutely. Matthew Breems:And what did that path look like for you to apply to become a conscientious objector? Were you still technically in the military at that time? Charles Sheehan-Miles:Yes, I was. I was still a tank crew man. I was stationed at Fort Stewart after the war. I started talking about it with, actually, our battalion chaplain in the months immediately after the war. I think over that summer. And then in the fall I had talked with my company commander about it and he was surprisingly supportive. And so in January I actually filed the paperwork. So the process took a long time, from originally thinking about it, then all of those discussions, then filing the paperwork, then to actually get in the discharge was a little bit more than a year. And it was a year of fairly extreme stress because my battalion commander at the time was calling me into his office on a near daily basis to talk about it. I didn’t feel like I was being harassed or anything, but it was still… You know, when a PFC is being called in to talk to a Lieutenant Colonel on a regular basis, that is a stressful experience. And it just… Inherently. Matthew Breems:What was his motivation for calling you in on a near daily basis? Was it to counsel and advise you through this process? Or was he trying to talk you out of it? Charles Sheehan-Miles:A little bit of both. The battalion commander had not had the same experiences that we had during the war. And I think that was part of what led to that sympathetic reaction from my immediate chain of command. And also, in retrospect now, I’m a little bit flattered, because here was this guy who was like really trying to engage me. Handing me books to read on like military ethics and stuff like that. It wasn’t a harassment campaign. He was like genuinely trying to get me to look at it from all different angles. And I learned a lot from that process, even though I was very solid in my beliefs and I was ready to make that case. Matthew Breems:Well, that is definitely a unique experience. We’ve heard so many stories from conscientious objectors on the podcast, and their superiors are never supportive of their- Charles Sheehan-Miles:I know. Matthew Breems:… action to become an objector. So yes, consider yourself very fortunate in that regard. Charles Sheehan-Miles:I absolutely do. And I think it had to do with two different things. One was, I was applying for it not in a time of war or conflict. The war was over when I filed for it. So that was the one piece of it. The other piece of it was that my company was involved in some incidents that were very, very disturbing in Iraq, including one in which we shot and killed some people who may have been civilians. And everybody knew about it, and everybody was shaken and traumatized by these events. And I think that had a lot to do with it. My company commander, platoon leader, testified in my discharge hearing, and both of them were very supportive and described all of the events. And so when it came time, when it went up to the conscientious objector review board in Washington, it very smooth from there. Matthew Breems:A lot of conscientious objectors that were veterans have a lot of different reasons for becoming CO’s. If you could pare it down, specifically, what were your reasons for wanting to become a CO? Charles Sheehan-Miles:First, I’m going to relate a specific experience that happened. On February 26 of 91, so coming up on 30 years ago this month, my unit was up in the Euphrates River Valley in Iraq and it was in the middle of the night. We had been in engaged in combat for about 18 hours up to that point and so we were exhausted. Sitting in our tanks, hardly… There was, like, one person in each tank who was awake and looking around and nobody else. And then out of nowhere, these trucks pulled up right in front of our position. And one of the trucks was fired on by a tank and it exploded. And it was a fuel truck and splashed burning fuel all over the area around it, including the other truck that was with it. That was a truck full of people. And they came running out and they were on fire. The humanitarian thing to do, the human thing to do, when you see someone on fire is to put the fire out. Right? Matthew Breems:Right. Charles Sheehan-Miles:It’s to help them. But the appropriate response, the only response, we could take at a time, because of this unknown people, and explosions, and we didn’t know if they were armed, we didn’t know who they were. And we machine gunned them all and killed them. Even though I’d been in combat before that, over the day and a half or so prior to that event, that was the only time that I know for sure that I shot and killed somebody. And again, it’s 30 years ago this month and I can still remember it like it was an hour ago. The short version of why I filed for conscientious objector status was that I never wanted to be in a position to have to do something like that again. Matthew Breems:Okay. So you’ve got your CO status. It’s this year long, nearly a year long, process and it’s given to you. Did you start becoming an activist at this point, or was there sort of a timeout period for you? Charles Sheehan-Miles:It was a timeout period. I drifted for a while. I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself. The moment that became, where I became an activist, was when I was sitting in the VA hospital in Atlanta in a quasi group therapy session with some other Gulf War vets. And one of them had gotten a hold of a copy of a report from the Senate Banking Committee, of all people, on exposure to chemical weapons in the Gulf War. And I was curious, so I read the report, and I get to this page where they’re talking about the testimony of this under secretary of defense, who claimed that Iraq never deployed any chemical weapons in the war zone, that they just worked there. And I knew for a fact that they were, because our unit had come across some and cataloged them, taken pictures, and they were in the logs and all of that. And so here is this case where I knew people who were very sick and nobody could figure out why. And they were getting turned away from the VA and not getting the medical care they needed. And then I found out that the Pentagon had sent officials up to Washington, to the Capitol, to lie in official hearings about why those people were sick. And I ended up moving to Washington, DC, and founded an organization that worked on Gulf War veterans health issues, out of my frustration and anger about the way these people were being treated. And so, that kind of set my activist career. And I was the executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center for several years. And then I served on their board of directors. Matthew Breems:And what were some of the activities… Or, were some of the focuses of that organization? And how did they attempt to make change? Charles Sheehan-Miles:We were primarily focused… Well, I should say exclusively focused on healthcare issues around returning Gulf War veterans. So the different angles were getting the VA to recognize that the illnesses existed, to service, connect them, and treat them. So that was one piece. And then the second piece was to get research funded, to identify what the cause was, and what would be effective treatments. And we had a surprising amount of success at both of those things. And it was mostly through developing relationships on Capitol Hill with staffers and congressmen, like Wayne Evans, who was a Congressman on the Veterans Affairs Committee. Or Senator Robert Byrd slipped an amendment into an appropriations bill in, I want to say 1994, that ended up authorizing what has turned out to be tens of billions of dollars in benefits to sick veterans, that just didn’t exist up until that point. And so that was primarily it. And until September 11th came, and that was when the veterans community that I was part of split in half, because half of them were cheering on kind of this nationalist, “Go America” and “Let’s smash the Iraqis” type of perspective. And the other half, which included me, thought that was a crazy idea and tried to stop it. It was primarily a group of Gulf War veterans who initially organized an organization called Veterans for Common Sense. And we wanted to come at it from what would be seen as a very pragmatic perspective because… I’ve been a member of Veterans for Peace off and on, and I love that organization. But it’s not a particular surprise to the news media if Veterans for Peace is against a war. Right? That just stands to reason. And so we thought if we could come at it from a very centrist national security perspective and make the argument, not that invading Iraq was immoral and would kill innocent people for no reason. That was all true. But making the argument from the perspective that this is strategically stupid, and it will get a lot of Americans killed and cost us a lot of money, and there’s no good reason for it. We thought that that angle would have more practical effect with both the press and on Capitol Hill. And that did turn out to be effective. We did a lot of media. We got veterans to sign on to group letters that we sent to the White House and to the Capitol. And it was all for nothing in the end. Obviously, we did invade Iraq and a lot of people were killed, and everything we predicted came true, and it was a tremendous tragedy. And so now that same organization exists and we primarily do lobbying around the impact on veterans who served there. I’ve dialed back my kind of national activism and gotten very involved locally. And so two years ago, I ran for the school board here in my town, got elected. And so, I’m focused on things like making sure that we are not disciplining students of color at greater rates than white students, which used to be the case here. Focused on things like that. Trying to, at a very, very local level, do what I can to make things a little bit better. Matthew Breems:Charles, did you feel that there was any significant cost to become a conscientious objector on a personal level? Did it affect any relationships with family or friends or anything of that sort? Charles Sheehan-Miles:I was lucky in that respect because I had the support of my parents, many of the soldiers I started with, not all of them. I didn’t feel that I had to pay any terrible cost or have any deep sacrifices to file for it. I have friends who were conscientious objectors who went through much more difficult times. And so I was lucky in that way, that, again, because I had local support from my chain of command and from the other soldiers I served with, it was fairly painless for me. Matthew Breems:How would you encourage veterans to be activists in this time that we’re living in right now in 2021? Charles Sheehan-Miles:I would say the biggest threat that we all face right now is the misinformation, that the information silos, where we only hear the things we want to hear. And then we hear more of the same and more of the same, and it gets more and more extreme. I was really alarmed to see that a way out of proportion number of those arrested and charged in the capital insurrection we’re veterans. Matthew Breems:Right. Right. Charles Sheehan-Miles:We know from work Vietnam Veterans of America has done, for example, that they had a huge research project looking into how Russian intelligence, for example, was actively trying to recruit and targeting American veterans with all kinds of misinformation and stuff. And those weird silos of information and misinformation and confusion and false news, and all of that has… Puts us whole in levels of danger. And so what I would encourage people to do as activists is to just stay engaged in reality. And, what is reality? And to employ critical thinking when you look at some website with a provocative headline. All you have to do is look at the anti mask protests to know that we’ve got some very confused people out there. Right? We are actively radicalizing ourselves. And for me, that… I feel like this is probably one of the most essential things we all face right now, is to, if we know people who are caught up in that stuff, to ask them the critical questions, try to draw them out, and try to get them to look outside of their bubble because it’s frightening. Matthew Breems:Well Charles, thank you so much for your time today and sharing your story of activism with the listeners on the podcast today. Thank you so much. Charles Sheehan-Miles:Thank you. I appreciate you having me on. Matthew Breems:This podcast is a Courage to Resist production recorded and edited by Matthew Breems, with special thanks to executive producer Jeff Paterson. Visit couragetoresist.org for more information, and to offer your support. The post Podcast (GW-E03): “Still remember it like it was an hour ago” – Charles Sheehan-Miles appeared first on Courage to Resist.
18 minutes | 6 months ago
Podcast: Chris Lombardi’s new book “I Ain’t Marching Anymore…”
Chris Lombardi by Courage to Resist | "I Ain't Marching Anymore: Dissenters, Deserters, and Objectors to America's Wars" https://couragetoresist.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/CourageToResist_Podcast_Chris_Lombardi.mp3 Podcast: Chris Lombardi’s new book “I Ain’t Marching Anymore…” Chris Lombardi has been writing about war and peace for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in the Nation, the Philadelphia Inquirer, ABA Journal, and at whyy.org. She joins us to discuss her upcoming (Nov. 10, 2020) book, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore: Dissenters, Deserters, and Objectors to America’s Wars,” from the New Press. Order information here. “It’s not about a matter of being a coward. In fact, like all non-violent action, it takes a lot of rigor.” “[This] country was started by dissent, right? It’s started by people disagreeing with government. At the time, it was England. But, interestingly enough, in the early years, the Continental Army really believed in a sort of democratic situation. They wanted to elect their officers. They looked at their contracts and went, ‘Wait a minute, I’m only here for three years. Don’t tell me I have to keep fighting.'” “Conscientious objectors, most people we talk to they think Vietnam. They think about civilian conscientious objectors who weren’t in the military at all. They don’t realize that in the military there are those who serve unarmed medics, or secure discharge after they change their minds; they don’t realize how long back this stuffs been going on. “ Photos of Chris Lombardi by photographer Kyle Cassidy Gulf War @ 30 Years This Courage to Resist podcast was produced to mark 30 years since the U.S. aimed its imperial sights squarely on the Middle East. These are the voices of veterans who’s lives were transformed by that ongoing war. Interview and edit by Matthew Breems. Jeff Paterson, Executive Producer. Help Keep These Podcasts ComingWe need to raise at least $15,000 to produce this two-year-long series of 50+ interviews so that this history is not lost! DONATE Transcript Chris Lombardi:And it’s not about a matter of being a coward. In fact, like all non-violent action, it takes a lot of rigor. Matthew Breems:This is the Courage to Resist podcast. Since 2005, Courage to Resist has worked to support military resistance to illegal and unjust wars, counter-recruitment, draft resistance in the policies of empire. This episode features a guest in the 30 years of current, US military intervention in the Middle East. Our podcast guest is journalist, Chris Lombardi. Chris has been writing about war and peace for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in the nation, the Philadelphia Inquirer, ABA journal, and at whyy.org. She is with us today to talk about her upcoming book, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore: Dissenters, Deserters, and Objectors to America’s Wars”. Matthew Breems:Well, Chris, we’re here today discussing your upcoming book, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore: Dissenters, Deserters, and Objectors to America’s Wars”. It’s coming out November 10th, 2020. Why don’t we just get started by having you give us a brief overview of what this book is about? Chris Lombardi:It’s about people who’ve had some kind of experience with America’s military who chose to stand up against military policies. Mostly it’s about war. It’s kind of structured like a reverse funnel: it ends up very much focused on people opposing actual wars, but it started with a broader brush. I also cover people who are for opposing military policies. An example, most recently, is the guy, Adam deMarco, National Guardsman, who then testified to Congress about what they did at the capitol on June 1st. All the people that talk to me about this stuff often mentioned values of that “service attitude”; Army values, Navy values, stuff like selfless service, and integrity. The class doesn’t feel that those are being violated by their government. Often, it’s a battle by a war. Sometimes by behavior, like torture, or this kind of stuff. Matthew Breems:How did you come to a place where you were interested in this topic where you wanted to do such a comprehensive book about it? Chris Lombardi:Well, I started out wanting to write a book about the GI Rights Hotline, which is a hotline that’s run by a bunch of nonprofit organizations for people who are actually getting out of the military. I got involved in that because I was working for the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. It’s an organization to help people who think … I was hired by the organization to edit a magazine, but I was answering the hotline going, “Oh, this is really interesting.” The people who were answering the hotline were Vietnam veterans and I had the theory that it’s … going to be anti-war veterans and it was soldiers and veterans. They kind of know what’s going on. Chris Lombardi:Then, I went to journalism school and I was interested in maybe writing a book about it. My professor, Sam Freedman, who runs the Book Seminar at Columbia said, “You know, why aren’t you blogging this? Why don’t you writing a narrative history of soldiers who dissent. And I was like, “Okay!” I knew it would be a big book, didn’t realize it was going to be 15 years book. So that was that. Matthew Breems:Just like that you decided to take on this massive project, this massive undertaking of studying American dissenters. This ended up being a 15-year project of research for you. Is that correct? Chris Lombardi:In research and writing. I wrote many drafts. I kind of ended up going from one publisher to another and it was a long process. Matthew Breems:What did that process look like for you? I mean, if it took 15 years, what did research in something like this? What did that look like? That whole process? Chris Lombardi:I was very lucky. I talked to the people that I worked with at CCCO and it got me started. I put out a call for people. Of course, when I wrote it, it was in the Bush administration and my original deadline on this was the ’08. It would have just been about history of the country up until ’08. A lot has happened since then, so things kept changing. But by that point, I was doing some freelancing and had a name for myself that way. Research? That’s just the usual stuff that people do. Archives, a lot of amazing archives that I went to both online and in person, and I discovered things that I had no idea were there. You know, I went to the Hoover Institution and found out about these soldiers in Alaska, in Russia or Alaska, who were deployed in Russia in 1919, and a bunch of people who dissented that have no idea about that. So, you find some things in archives too. Then, the most recent stuff, I’ve been very lucky because I got a little bit of a rep from the activists who are representing people like Chelsea Manning and Reality Winner and then she talks to people. Matthew Breems:So, some contemporary profiles in dissenters that you were able to speak with firsthand? Well, Jeff Paterson, who started Courage to Resist was one of the big boosters of the Chelsea Manning support network, and without his work I would not have had a chance to learn minute by minute what’s happening with her. Let’s talk about the book itself a little bit. I had a chance to look at it. Not surprisingly, the dissenters started right from the very beginning of our country and the Revolutionary War. What did it look like from day one for us, for dissenters in the American army? Chris Lombardi:Well, of course a country is started by dissent, right? It’s started by people disagreeing with government. At time, it was England. But, interestingly enough, in the early years, the Continental Army really believed in a sort of democratic situation. They wanted to elect their officers. They looked at their contracts and went, ‘Wait a minute, I’m only here for three years. Don’t tell me I have to keep fighting’. They kind of resisted almost initially. My favorite story from that, it’s not the story I start the book which is a very nice story about conscious objection, is the story of Matthew Lyon. He was in Canada because his troops were ordered to guard some farms in Canada, that were owned by some landowners and they went, “Nope! Nope! We’re going to leave.” They just left and they made him follow them and they all got court-martialed. Matthew Breems:One of the things that really stood out to me in your description of a lot of the early conflicts, Revolutionary War or War of 1812, was the pivotal role that the Quakers played in conscientious objection in the United States. Explain their role in even how it affects us in modern day, conscientious, objection, thoughts, and processes. Chris Lombardi:You know, it’s funny because I’m also writing a chapter about conscientious objection for a textbook with somebody and looking at the Quakers, from the very beginnings, when they got themselves clear about resisting conscription, it starts from the first communities that resisted slavery. When they got clear on that, they also got clear on not wanting to commit violence against authority. They sorted it out, they were actually pretty conservative, but by the time the Revolution came out they were very supportive of people who were just determined to enact their beliefs against violence. The way that they resist is very calm and very unbreakable and one of the first characters that I work with was a young man who was actually taken prisoner of conscientious at a British-run prison in Philadelphia, a prisoner of war. He got out because his family knew some Quakers who helped him get out. So, they simultaneously can negotiate with authorities and they can be a bedrock resistance to things they have determined un-Christian. They were sponsors of the organization that I work. Center on Conscience & War founded an inter-religious… there are peace churches and the Quakers are the most famous peace church. Matthew Breems:Well, the other things that stood out to me about some of the early American conflicts was some of the level of desertion in those conflicts, like the Mexican-American War saw a lot of deserters. Can you talk us through some of the conflicts throughout US history that had really high levels of desertion? Chris Lombardi:Well, the Mexican War was one of these wars where it was controversial from the start. They didn’t have any conscription so it was all volunteers. When you have volunteers who would realize that they’re in a seriously intolerable situation, they’re more likely to desert. There’s also the famous story of the St. Patrick’s Battalion that you have these Catholic troops who realized they’re in a Catholic country. So, the Mexicans said, “Come, fight for us,” and there’s a whole contingent of soldiers who defected to Mexicans, and they were called “San Patricios”. This is in the title because the desertion really is a sign that something’s wrong. It isn’t always a sign of dissent, but it’s a sign that something’s going on, or that this is not what the military authorities who started it meant to happen. So you can tell, in any war, if desertion is going up higher there’s something going on. Matthew Breems:Does the army keep any sort of statistics that you were able to find on desertion rates or dissenter rates in their ranks? Chris Lombardi:They do keep them. I can’t give you exact numbers on what’s going on right now. The military does not want to go to the trouble of prosecuting somebody for desertion. They will find other charges to do it instead. Matthew Breems:Right, because obviously it reflects badly on them if their own soldiers aren’t towing the propaganda behind whatever current conflict we find ourselves in. Chris Lombardi:And it’s more work than they want to do. Matthew Breems:And through your research, did you find that there was any common thread between soldiers that decided, ‘No, I can’t do this’. You know, whether they were deserting or whether they were objectors? Chris Lombardi:A lot of different, common threads. I have a couple of threads. One is the cost. This is about paying us enough or realizing that the cost is too much. There’s also the trauma. There’s a whole sense of understanding that this is painful for me and for the people that I’m doing this with and people understanding that, what we call “moral injury”. There’s desertion that’s mostly someone just unhappy with a unit, but there’s also desertion realizing that what’s going on in the war was wrong, or that command has behaved badly. Chris Lombardi:It’s often a mix. It’s almost always a mix. Jeff Paterson:Okay. I need to jump in here for a second. If you don’t already know me, I’m Jeff Paterson, the director of Courage to Resist, an organization dedicated to supporting the troops who refuse to fight. As a Marine, I publicly refused to fight in the 1991 Gulf War so this work is personal for me. These podcasts are possible only because of supporters like you. It’s your tax deductible donations that allow us to ensure our collective people’s history of resistance to war and empire is not lost. Please visit couragetoresist.org to make a donation today. There you’ll also find our entire podcast library going all the way back to 2007. Finally, like and follow us on Facebook at couragetoresist. Thanks for listening, and back to today’s episode. Matthew Breems:One particular story of a deserter that you feel is really a snapshot, or resonated with you, that you’d want to share? Chris Lombardi:I’m thinking about actually the Korean war, but Clarence Adams, who was drafted into the Korean War and captured. He ended up trying not to let himself be returned. He said he he would not go back to Jim Crow. When the Vietnam War happened, he did a broadcast from China to soldiers saying, “You know, maybe you don’t want to be fighting on behalf of the United States.” And, of course, some say he was brainwashed. He said, “Oh, I was brainwashed by the Americans. I was not brainwashed by the Chinese. He’s an interesting story about standing his ground for a very long time and then coming back to the United States. I always say that his survival living in Mississippi most of his life was his last dissent. He just wouldn’t talk to the committee on Un-American Activities and he said to them:. “No, this is not, I was not brainwashed.” Chris Lombardi:That was just around the Vietnam War started. I also think about William Apess, from the war of 1812, who was African-American-Indian. He was recruited for this reason that all recruits do it, he needed a roof over his head. He had racist harassment when he was headed to Canada and finally he got out. After the war, ended up a preacher fighting for the Mashpee in Massachusetts, which is a tribe that was not even his. He became a big activist. His dissent against the military was mostly private. This dissent against government was before the Civil War. When the most recent stuff around the Mashpee happened, I thought, my God. William Apess would be really concerned about this. Matthew Breems:Do you think in general, the attitude towards conscientious objectors and war dissenters has changed in the American culture, or has it remained mostly the same? Chris Lombardi:Conscientious objectors, most people we talk to they think Vietnam. They think about civilian conscientious objectors who weren’t in the military at all. They don’t realize that in the military there are those who serve unarmed medics, or secure discharge after they change their minds; they don’t realize how long back this stuffs been going on. I’ve even talked to a couple of newer objectors who, within five years ago, realized that this was something they would like to apply to them. I didn’t know until I worked at CCCO that conscientious objectors are still going on because you’re in the military and can decide that they don’t believe in war, that the military allows for that. And that’s an interesting thing. People don’t know that it’s a living thing. It’s not a past thing. It’s not about a matter of being a coward. In fact, like all nonviolent action, it takes a lot of rigor. Matthew Breems:I think of dissenters, or conscientious objectors, during World War II, when the whole nation seemed like it was in favor of war. Once we had declared war, what a brave action it would be to go against that whole tide of culture pushing against what you feel you need to do in your own conscience and how much bravery that does take. Speaking of World War II, what were some stories of conscientious objectors and in that conflict? Chris Lombardi:Well, my favorite one is Bayard Rustin, of course, who’s kind of sui generis. He worked for a peace organization before World War II, and then he could have become a conscientious objector in one of those camps that was run there, but he said, “No, no, no. I have to resist the entire system.” He spent some time in prison, came back and, of course jump-started the civil rights movement. The other story that I tell, of course, is Lew Ayres who had starred in a movie called “All Quiet on the Western Front”. It made him think about what he thought about war so when World War II happened what he had decided he was CO. He became a medic. He went to the Pacific. At one point he was there, but William Kunstler was there who later became lawyer for the 1960s anti-war movement. He often said, remembering, looking at Lew Ayers that day, he went, “That’s really interesting.” He knew about the movie. They were not resisting service in that civilians, of course, who instead went to the Civilian Public Service camps. They both were not in uniform who were in those camps. They did experiments. They did work on farms. They did whatever they could do, but they didn’t want to do nothing for war. The thing is that ever since I worked a lot of COs, the investigating officer always says, “What would you have done about Hitler?” That’s always the thing. If I mention to my mother that I’m on the board of the Center on Conscience and War, she goes, “But Hitler!” Matthew Breems:And what would a CO respond to that? Chris Lombardi:A CO says, “I don’t respond to theoreticals. Can’t tell you what I would’ve done then, I can tell you what I’d do now.” Matthew Breems:For someone who maybe wouldn’t take the time to read your book, what would be the main thing you would want them to know about dissenters, deserters, and objectors to our wars in America? Chris Lombardi:That these are people that are an important part of our discourse. Soldiers and veterans have understanding of how the government works and how society works in ways that we don’t. Their dissent is worth listening to. Matthew Breems:Well, Chris Lombardi, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. Really looking forward to seeing your book out there in the public. Again, the book is, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore: Dissenters, Deserters, and Objectors to America’s Wars” It’s going to be due out to the general public, November 10th, 2020. Thank you so much, Chris, for taking the time to do this today. Chris Lombardi:Thank you so much. Take care. Matthew Breems:This podcast is a Courage to Resist production recorded and edited by Matthew Breems, with special thanks to executive producers, Jeff Paterson. Visit couragetoresist.org for more information and to offer your support. The post Podcast: Chris Lombardi’s new book “I Ain’t Marching Anymore…” appeared first on Courage to Resist.
34 minutes | 6 months ago
Podcast (GW-E02): “How did our oil get under their land?” – Stephanie Atkinson
GW-E02: Stephanie Atkinson by Courage to Resist | Vietnam Full Disclosure https://couragetoresist.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/CourageToResist_Podcast_Stephanie_Atkinson.mp3 Podcast (GW-E02): “How did our oil get under their land?” – Stephanie Atkinson Gulf War Series Podcast, Episode 02: Stephanie Atkinson was in the Army Reserves when her unit was activated for the upcoming Persian Gulf War. Stephanie went AWOL and refused her orders to deploy, making her one of only a handful of soldiers to do so during that conflict. “I’m going to be like, ‘Look, I’m not going to wherever we’re activating to. You can just take me to lock up now because I’m not going to do this.'” And I thought, “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” But I’m stumbling the whole way here. I don’t know if you see a pattern in this, but from the very moment where it’s like, “Yeah, I’ll join the army.” To, “Yeah, I’ll go AWOL.” It’s just this… I don’t want to say it’s uninformed, but it’s just I’m reacting. At no point during this time am I really taking control of my decision-making. This was the point in my life where I really had to make a decision. There wasn’t any more bumbling.” “It was really empowering. And to talk to people who had thought things out. I mean, there were different reasons, but it was really great that we were all on the same page. It’s a very personal thing that all of us are having, but we’re also having it together. So everybody’s reason about why they want to be a war resister or conscientious objector is different, but there’s also this connection of like, “This is not right.”” Gulf War @ 30 Years This Courage to Resist podcast was produced to mark 30 years since the U.S. aimed its imperial sights squarely on the Middle East. These are the voices of veterans who’s lives were transformed by that ongoing war. Interview and edit by Matthew Breems. Jeff Paterson, Executive Producer. Help Keep These Podcasts ComingWe need to raise at least $15,000 to produce this two-year-long series of 50+ interviews so that this history is not lost! DONATE Transcript Stephanie Atkinson:People found my actions personally offensive. Somehow my not going to the Gulf War would affect their patriotism. Matthew Breems:This is the Courage to Resist podcast. Since 2005, Courage to Resist has worked to support military resistance to illegal and unjust wars, counter recruitment, draft resistance, and the policies of empire. This episode features a guest on the 30 years of current US military intervention in the Middle East. The podcast episode today features Stephanie Atkinson. Stephanie was in the Army Reserves when her unit was activated for the upcoming Persian Gulf War. Stephanie went AWOL and refused her orders to deploy, making her one of only a handful of soldiers to do so during that conflict. Matthew Breems:Well, good morning to you, Stephanie. I am thrilled that you have agreed to talk today about your experiences in the first Persian Gulf War. One of the few resisters for that conflict. I’m just very excited that you have agreed to share your story with us today. Stephanie Atkinson:Thank you. Matthew Breems:Why don’t you start off telling us a little bit about how you ended up in the military. I know from reading about you, you were 17 at the time and you volunteered to join. In your young adolescent mind, what was your thought process behind that decision? Stephanie Atkinson:Oh god. Not a lot. It just seemed like a great idea at the time. I had gone with my mom and her younger husband to a recruiting center in the area where I grew up in Southern Illinois and he wanted to be a Navy Reservist. And we went there and I think that he had some charge for weed or something that he couldn’t be in, and before we left the recruiters turned to me and they’re like, “Well, how about you?” And I’m like, “How about me what?” And they’re like, “Well, have you ever thought of joining the military?” And I’m like, “Oh, not really.” Stephanie Atkinson:Within a really short amount of time, these recruiters got that information from me and I had a parent with me who was eager like, “Gosh, this could be so great for you. You could travel the world and you could do this and this.” And these guys are chiming in and they’re like, “Yeah, we could do this and this.” So within a really short span of time, it was an easy sell. I’m a 17 year old girl and I don’t have a lot of prospects in rural Midwestern America. So, “Yeah. Great. Sure. Why not?” I didn’t have any resistance to that or any really deep thought about it. It was just, “Oh, this is an escape. This is an opportunity.” It just seems so easy for everybody involved. Matthew Breems:Well, right, and at 17, what can you really expect from a young person at that age other than to- Stephanie Atkinson:I know. I couldn’t vote and I couldn’t have gone down to a furniture store two doors away and purchased a couch on a layaway plan. I couldn’t have gotten credit, you know? But, man, I could sign up for the next years of my life. I remember thinking 1990 seemed really far away in 1984. I was just starting my senior year of high school. Matthew Breems:After your senior year in high school, you joined the army? Stephanie Atkinson:So I signed up for the delayed enlistment program as a senior in high school in 1984. And I would go to weekend drill with a unit that I would eventually be assigned to, which was an administrative services or an adjutant general, pretty much support service. My job description was 71 Lima, which is just administrative personnel, whatever you would call us, client services, relations, or… Just back of the house kind of stuff. It wasn’t even like I was anywhere close to being in Airborne or anything where it’s combat. It seemed like a great idea at the time. All of a sudden I had this life plan. My family life was kind of disrupted. My mom had been married and divorced a couple of times. And when it came time to return for my senior year of school, I changed high schools. I just dropped out. I only went to high school half a day. I worked a job. And then I was enlisted, so I started showing up at the weekend drills for this unit. So for me, that was a transformative point. It’s like, “No, I’m going to be a grownup now” Matthew Breems:Right. Stephanie Atkinson:So after my high school graduation in June of ’85, I was home for about a week or so. And then I shipped out to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. And when I got to the basic training, it was just like, “Wow. Oh boy.” Yeah, that didn’t take long to realize that I was definitely not suited for the reality of military lifestyle. So I was in basic the summer of 1985. I graduated at basic and then stayed there for another few months to go to occupational school. And after that, I came home in October and just hid out at home. It had changed me as a person. I was scared and reticent and quiet and just my whole manner of how I interacted with people changed. Matthew Breems:You’re saying that the basic training changed you as a person? Stephanie Atkinson:Oh, absolutely. I mean, it changes everybody as a person. I don’t know anybody who hasn’t been transformed by that because you’re taken away from everything that you know. When you eat, where you eat, how you eat, when you sleep, when you go to the bathroom, everything about your life has changed, disrupted, controlled. And you’re cast in with hundreds of other people who are experiencing the same thing. And it’s a real big adjustment. It was just ugly. The crazy thing is the more that I wanted to get out, the more they wanted to retain me. Because as you’re going through this whole cycle where they’re making you this lean mean fighting machine, you just become that. You are transformed. If you’re not, then they recycle you. And I remember one of my drill sergeants saying, “Well, if you just like us so much, we can always recycle you.” Which means going through basic training again. And it’s like, “Oh, fuck this.” You know? Matthew Breems:So you come out of basic. You’re a pretty changed person. But you’re continuing in… You were in the Army Reserve, correct? Stephanie Atkinson:That’s correct. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Matthew Breems:So this is a six year contract. As time goes on, you have some other training experiences and some of those were overseas. How did some of those experiences start to really change your perspective on the military? Stephanie Atkinson:You know, at the same time that I was in the Reserve, I had started college and I went to SIU in Carbondale. And when you start learning things about how the world works through either a formal education or who you’re hanging out with or what you’re reading, that transforms you as well. And so I was at this place where I was really at odds with who I was in all these multiple roles. Through the week I’m a student and I’m learning and I’m writing and I’m reading and finding about things politically that I wasn’t aware of. And then on the weekend, once a month, or sometimes twice a month, I’m putting on this uniform and I’m going to participate in a drill weekend. And then two weeks a year we would go somewhere. And when we went, I was just like, “Oh, I have to go do this thing.” It was just like, :I have to go do this.” Stephanie Atkinson:I can remember we went to Operation Team Spirit in South Korea. And then I also went to another training later on in Japan. By the end of my enlistment, I was hip to what was going on in the world. One of our places that we were supposed to go to, my unit went to Honduras. I refused that trip. I made up some excuse to not go because at this time I was a short timer. Part of it is sort of the ugly American, just paying attention to how we interact with people from different cultures. It was really an opportunity to see how people conduct themselves. And I have to say, we didn’t conduct ourselves very well and it wasn’t just me or my unit. It’s just the culture that Americans take with them to other countries to support a military base. Stephanie Atkinson:Yeah, what we call, “Good old boy.” Yeah, “Titties, beer, guns. Woo.” Just when you establish a military base in somebody else’s country, you want all of those elements there. But realizing that’s just part of the culture. There was resentment, people thought I was a smart ass because I was a college student and they didn’t like my music and blah, blah, blah. But also I would hang out with people in my unit when I was up there and it was fun. We would always have a good time. Some people I was close to. It was just a hot mess. And I just was not compliant. I was really a pain in the butt. Matthew Breems:Let’s fast forward just a little bit. It’s now 1990 and your six year stint with the army is set to expire in September of 1990. Correct? Stephanie Atkinson:Right. Matthew Breems:So what happens in August of 1990 that changes that? Stephanie Atkinson:Sometime during that year they were like, “Our unit is going to Honduras and we’re going to be part of making an airstrip, supporting the efforts for an airstrip.” And by this time Iran-Contra has already hit and I’m becoming aware what it means to be involved in Central America, countries that are adjacent to these other ones. And it’s just like, “I don’t know the details of everything that’s going on here, but I do have enough wherewithal to know that I don’t want to be involved in anything in a Central American country.” Prior to that, had been Noriega and the invasion in Panama. And it’s like, “Oh man.” Because I missed that Honduras trip, I got assigned to another unit and they were up in Wisconsin and it was late summer. And I was just like, “God, I’m almost done with this. What am I doing with my life now?” Stephanie Atkinson:And on the last day of summer camp, this guy was like… The commander was getting ready to dismiss this unit and he’s like, “I hope you’ve reinforced your skills here because Iraq just invaded Kuwait. And we don’t know what’s going to happen.” And I’m thinking, “I’ll tell you what’s not going to happen. I’m not going to be here. So, bye.” But my reality changed because a month later, it was around late September, October, my unit called me and they were like, “Don’t leave town. Let us know where you are. We’re on standby for activation.” And I’m like, “What? I don’t know who you’re talking about.” It’s like, “Yeah, we’re on standby.” And I found out that I was activated. Matthew Breems:And that was because President Bush had signed a stop-loss order in August. So the month before you were supposed to get out, he had signed this stop-loss order, basically preventing anyone from leaving the military until further notice. Stephanie Atkinson:Right. No attrition, because, “Hey, something’s getting ready to happen here.” So were you going to retire or… And at this point too, they’re also thinking about calling in IRR, which are irregular reserve units. People who had been separated but still an inactive reservist. And so I’m not aware of it and some other people are not aware of it, but they’re getting ready to activate people for an effort. And at that point it’s like, “Wow, well, whatever I want or whatever I think or this feeling of being detached or not wanting to play anymore, it’s totally irrelevant. What am I going to do?” And at first I was like, “I guess I’m going to have to go.” I didn’t know really what else to do. I would talk to people and they’d be like, “Oh, you should say you’re gay.” This was before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. And that sounded so immoral to me because I have a lot of friends that were gay and was really in the LGBTQ community of Carbondale, and that didn’t seem honest to me. So that was out. Stephanie Atkinson:Someone else had suggested to me that I get pregnant. I thought that was like one of the worst ideas that I’d heard. Nothing anybody was proposing to me was the right answer. And so it’s like, “Well, I’m just going to have to suck it up.” And so I had got a hold of a paper, an alternative newspaper, and then I got this other one and it was talking about war resisters. And I’m like, “What is…” And so that was the first time I heard of Jeff Paterson. And there was that picture of him sitting on the tarmac and that little sort of Buddha lotus pose. And just with the thousand yard stare. And it’s like, “Wow, who’s this guy? What did he do?” When I read about his experience and then also another Marine, Eric Larson, I was just like, “This thing that these guys are, I connect with this.” I didn’t know how to articulate it. Matthew Breems:So these were two Marines that were refusing to participate in the Iraq war? Stephanie Atkinson:Right. It’s like, “I don’t know who these guys are, but I understand this, this thing, this feeling.” Then I decided, “Okay, I’m going to go to my unit. I’m going to take care of all my gear. I’m just going to pack everything up and I’m just going to report to my unit and I’m going to be like this guy. I’m going to be like, ‘Look, I’m not going to wherever we’re activating to. You can just take me to lock up now because I’m not going to do this.'” And I thought, “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” But I’m stumbling the whole way here. I don’t know if you see a pattern in this, but from the very moment where it’s like, “Yeah, I’ll join the army.” To, “Yeah, I’ll go AWOL.” It’s just this… I don’t want to say it’s uninformed, but it’s just I’m reacting. At no point during this time am I really taking control of my decision-making. This was the point in my life where I really had to make a decision. There wasn’t any more bumbling. Jeff Paterson:Okay. I need to jump in here for a second. If you don’t already know me, I’m Jeff Paterson, the director of Courage to Resist, an organization dedicated to supporting the troops who refuse to fight. As a Marine, I publicly refused to fight in the 1991 Gulf War. So this work is personal for me. These podcasts are possible only because of supporters like you. It’s your tax deductible donations that allow us to ensure our collective people’s history of resistance to war and empire is not lost. Please visit couragetoresist.org to make a donation today. There you’ll also find our entire podcast library going all the way back to 2007. Finally, like and follow us on Facebook at Courage to Resist. Thanks for listening. And back to today’s episode. Stephanie Atkinson:I got in touch with this group called Citizen Soldier in New York, and it was run by a man named Tod Ensign and his attorney partner, Louis Font. Louis Font was a conscientious objector from Vietnam, and then established his life as an attorney representing people who wanted to get out of the military. He does other law too, but that was a big one. And meeting them, they were like, “No, we suggest that you don’t that because we’ve heard of people getting shipped out anyway.” And they’re like, “We’d like you to come to New York and we’d like to meet you and help you through this process.” So I went AWOL, essentially, and I met with Louis Font in Boston. And I went to New York and I met all of these other war resisters. Suddenly there was this community of people. I met a guy named Patrick Colclough who was a West Point graduate, and just all these other resisters that were from New York and New Jersey and surrounding environments. Just the density of people, you’re going to have more resisters, right? Matthew Breems:And were these people that were resisting the Persian Gulf crisis or they were from previous wars, like Vietnam? Stephanie Atkinson:No, these are people who are resisting the Persian Gulf crisis. And I had no idea that there were all these other people, Matthew Breems:Well, it had to be incredibly empowering to feel like you weren’t alone. Stephanie Atkinson:Oh my God. Yeah. It was really empowering. And to talk to people who had thought things out. I mean, there were different reasons, but it was really great that we were all on the same page. It’s a very personal thing that all of us are having, but we’re also having it together. So everybody’s reason about why they want to be a war resister or conscientious objector is different, but there’s also this connection of like, “This is not right.” Matthew Breems:What specifically about this conflict, the Persian Gulf conflict, were the resisters most adamant about, was just wrong in their opinion? Stephanie Atkinson:It all seemed pretty transparent to all of us that it was a war for oil. It was a war for resources. It was a war for control of, “How did our oil get under their land?” Matthew Breems:“How dare they.” Stephanie Atkinson:How dare they. This is not realizing that post World War II, the great cutting up and carving out of the Middle East, essentially a tribal area, and making these false boundaries of, “Okay, we’re going to reward this group of people this territory and we’re going to do this to protect Western interests to protect the automobile industry and, and essentially a Western lifestyle for Western Europe and the United States.” I know that now. I can articulate that now. But back then, it was just like, “This is a war for oil.” It wasn’t a stretch. Matthew Breems:So you weren’t buying the narrative that we were protecting an ally? Stephanie Atkinson:Not at all. Matthew Breems:That we were protecting an ally? Stephanie Atkinson:No. Matthew Breems:Okay. Stephanie Atkinson:And even if I did think that I was like, “That’s…” Yeah. And then there was the stretching [inaudible 00:20:49] like, oh, well, if it’s Kuwait, then next, it could be they want to bring in Israel and they’re coming at all these different directions. And when you’re sort of a… I mean, not that I wasn’t educated because I was, I just finished this degree, but not to the depth that I am now, like understanding decades of history of what went on in the world and how we got to this place. Yeah, I just wasn’t buying that narrative. Matthew Breems:So you’ve gone AWOL now. Stephanie Atkinson:Right. Matthew Breems:What happened next? What did you decide to do with the advice of these lawyers? Stephanie Atkinson:Well, it became very public. There’s something about me being the first female war resister, and there’s this word conscientious objector. To say conscientious objector I feel like isn’t really appropriate to describe me. Being formally recognized as a conscientious objector you have to jump through all of these assorted hoops. And it’s really a lot of hard work. It’s about proving the sincerity and conviction of your beliefs, presenting evidence, having witnesses, interviews with military chaplains, psychiatrists. So I was already AWOL. So had I submitted a conscientious objectors application it would have been denied anyway. Stephanie Atkinson:I am interviewing with people. I’m not terribly articulate. I’m not very media savvy. And this is getting written about in my small newspaper back home, and suddenly everybody knows who I am. And I remember freaking out like, “Why does anybody care?” It seemed so personal to me. It’s like, “Why does anybody care whether I do go there or go to jail?” Because at this point, it’s becoming real to me, it’s like, “Oh, guess what? These are your options. Now you’re looking at possibly five years in confinement.” Why does anybody care? People care greatly. It felt like I was attacking their patriotism. Matthew Breems:Well right. And it brings up something very uncomfortable. It’s a sacred cow that if you’re finding fault with our actions there, it forces other people to assess for themselves if what we’re doing there is right. Stephanie Atkinson:Right. Matthew Breems:And they don’t want to have to think about it. They just want to be part of the parade and cheer on America and not really think through the steps of what we’re doing, is it right or not. Stephanie Atkinson:Right. And plus, for me too, being from this very conservative part of the country, that’s a red state, or at least that part of it is, and where things like Christianity and Patriotism, that’s with a capital C and a capital P, those things are really culturally valued. And there’s not a lot of room for a person to be at odds with that. People found my actions personally offensive. Somehow my not going to the Gulf War would affect their patriotism. After really thinking about it, that choice was not a choice at all. And it felt like I knew what I had to do, and that was not to report. So I was eventually picked up. I was arrested at my home by a state trooper, an Illinois state trooper. He took me down to Jackson County jail in Murphysboro, Illinois, where I lived. Was trying to figure out how to charge me because I was wanted on a military warrant. Stephanie Atkinson:I remember he told me, he was like, “Young lady, you are more trouble than you are worth.” And I was like, “Ooh.” After a while, because I was more trouble than I was worth, I was picked up by Air Force personnel from Scott Air Force Base, which is near St. Louis, Missouri. And they came and picked me up, so I was in their care for a while. And then I finally got my phone call to my lawyer, Louis Font. Because nobody knew where it was. It had been about 24, 36 hours and nobody really knew where I had been taken to. Then I was moved from Scott Air Force Base over to Fort Knox in Kentucky. And I was held in the personnel confinement facility for two weeks, two and a half weeks, while they decided what to do with me. Stephanie Atkinson:What ultimately happened was I was offered, other than honorable in lieu of courts martial, so I was given the lowest administrative separation that you could get without… It was in lieu of a courts martial. It’s like, “If you sign off on this, we’ll let you go, we won’t bother prosecuting you. It’s just not worth it.” I was actually discharged on November 11th, on Veterans Day. I always celebrate on Veterans Day not being enlisted anymore. The town that I lived in was just like… Nobody would hire me. I did have a small job, but when somebody had come in off the street and saw that I was working there, my boss came to me he’s like, “Look, I’m sorry, it’s nothing personal, but I can’t lose my small business because you work here.” And I’m like, “I get it.” Matthew Breems:So the repercussions to you were pretty severe then. Stephanie Atkinson:Oh yeah. I got a lot of phone calls, got a lot of mail that was just threatening or hostile. Matthew Breems:So a lot of negative pushback just from people that you didn’t know. Stephanie Atkinson:Right. Right. Sometimes I’d interview with a person who would be like really sympathetic to me and supported me, or sometimes I’d be put on a program with somebody who’s like, “You’re a piece of shit and I hope all bad things happen to you.” And it’s like, “Wow, okay.” I never knew who I was going to be talking to. Matthew Breems:I was going to say, you ended up doing quite a few interviews with the larger networks, like CNN and those, correct? Stephanie Atkinson:Yeah, yeah. And ABT. Harold Jordan, he works for the ACLU now, but at the time I met him on a program and then he asked me to come to the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia and take on an internship there, which I accepted in January. It was just a good time for me to leave town. I left my place where I’d lived all my life, pretty much, and moved to Philadelphia. That was the first big city I’d ever lived in. And everybody wanted to interview me. When they started bombing, ABC, Ted Koppel’s Nightline was like, “Hey, if we could interview… So your father doesn’t agree with you on this.” My parents had been divorced since I was a toddler. My dad and I kept in loose contact with each other. And they’re like, “Yeah, well, if your dad agrees to go on, will you interview?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” I’m thinking, “There’s never in a million years my dad’s not going to do this.” And he did. And we did. And it was weird. Where it was kind of like, “This is the impact on the American family of the Gulf War.” And it was my dad saying, “Well, I think that we need to support this effort.” And me saying, “I’m not going. I’ve already been discharged. And by the way, I work for Quakers now.” It was a very, very strange incident. Stephanie Atkinson:At this point though I am part of a community of people that genuinely care for me. They’re trying to help me work this stuff out. They’re trying to put my efforts to good use, my experience. And I stayed there for a year and I moved on to Fayetteville, North Carolina, right outside of Fort Bragg, where I was a military counselor at the Quaker house for about eight or nine months. At that point, there’s people coming back. They’ve had the big parade. But I’m getting calls from people who are not okay. And it was heavy trying to do that work there alone, being so close to Fort Bragg, being in a military community. And after nine months, I was like, “I can’t do this. I don’t have enough internal capital to do this job by myself.” I left and moved to Atlanta. And that was where I was for a long time. Matthew Breems:And with the advantage of some hindsight and maturity, what would you tell 23 year old Stephanie right now? Stephanie Atkinson:People say, “Well, if you had to do it all over again, would you do it?” And I would say yes, because otherwise I would not be where I am now. It’s been painful. It’s been transformative, but I would not know the people that I know now who are so important to me. I would not have the education that I do now. I would not have the outlook that I have on the world right now. Something about being an outsider in a small community and then being even more of an outsider and being rejected, you really come to understand what it’s like for other outsiders, what’s it like to move through the world as somebody who is not heterosexual and not white and not Christian. The experiences that I’ve had as a result of that mean so much more to me now. Stephanie Atkinson:So being here in the Pacific Northwest, I worked at the UW for a while, the University of Washington, and I worked in a global health department and we had a visiting professor from Iraq, a man named Riyadh Lafta and he had come to do a presentation about the public health impact of the second Gulf War. Or the never ending Gulf War, I call it. I was really quiet and I’m not out to anybody at this workplace about being a resister. And he shows us this really great PowerPoint and the statistics of the public health implications to infrastructure, clean water, people who died of just secondary results, not even like somebody got their arm or leg blown off or a direct hit of war, it’s like secondary things; cholera, the inaccessibility of clean water or hygiene areas, all of these things that are just the very slow death that lingers after the brouhaha is over. So I watched this and it’s a very moving thing. And my colleagues are crying. And I’m just like, “I got to talk to this man. I have to talk to this man.” The audience had thinned out. Stephanie Atkinson:And I just went up to him and I’m like, “Hi, my name is Stephanie and I used to be in the army and I was activated to go to the first Gulf War, but I didn’t. And I was incarcerated for a really short time, but not… I mean the fallout of my life and the continued fallout of this war, and I just don’t know what to say to you except I’m really sorry. I never thought I would meet somebody from Iraq and you are a living, breathing person from a country.” And he said, “Can I hug you?” And I was like, “Yes. You are somebody that I can look at and know, ‘Well, this guy didn’t die as a result of something that I was a part of.'” And for him to say, “Can I hug you?” That is all I will ever need from that experience. Matthew Breems:This podcast is a Courage to Resist production recorded and edited by Matthew Breems, with special thanks to executive producer, Jeff Paterson. Visit couragetoresist.org for more information and to offer your support. The post Podcast (GW-E02): “How did our oil get under their land?” – Stephanie Atkinson appeared first on Courage to Resist.
29 minutes | 6 months ago
Podcast (VN-E39): “It didn’t make any sense to me” – Mike Wittels
VN-E39: Mike Wittels by Courage to Resist | Vietnam Full Disclosure https://couragetoresist.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/CourageToResist_Podcast_Mike_Wittels.mp3 Podcast (VN-E39): “It didn’t make any sense to me” – Mike Wittels Vietnam Series Podcast, Episode 39: Mike Wittels’ refusal to obey orders to train for Vietnam cost him a court-martial and months in the stockade. Mike was eventually discharged from the Army as a conscientious objector. He went on to be a highly revered draft counselor, writing several books and lecturing on the subject. He is also an artist and sculptor. In about the second week of Basic, we were issued our weapons. There was supposed to be a class on handling your M-1, and the sergeant on the stage was holding the M-1 and saying, “Men, this is your M-1. It can blow a hole the size of a grapefruit in your enemy.” I’m looking at the guy in front of me, and he’s breathing, and I thought, “Why would I want to blow a hole the size of a grapefruit into someone, just because somebody said, ‘Hey, that’s your enemy””? “Vietnam was in the news more and more. And I thought, “You know, I don’t see the reasons for Vietnam. I knew how to read and read the papers and everything else, but it didn’t make any sense to me.” Vietnam Full Disclosure This Courage to Resist podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace — “Towards an honest commemoration of the American war in Vietnam.” This year marks 50 years of GI resistance, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured. Interview and edit by Matthew Breems. Jeff Paterson, Executive Producer. Help Keep These Podcasts ComingWe need to raise at least $15,000 to produce this two-year-long series of 50+ interviews so that this history is not lost! DONATE Transcript Mike Wittels: In about the second week of Basic, we were issued our weapons. There was supposed to be a class on handling your M-1, and the sergeant on the stage was holding the M-1 and saying, “Men, this is your M-1. It can blow a hole the size of a grapefruit in your enemy.” I’m looking at the guy in front of me, and he’s breathing, and I thought, “Why would I want to blow a hole the size of a grapefruit into someone, just because somebody said, ‘Hey, that’s your enemy””? Matthew Breems: This is the Courage to Resist podcast. My name is Matthew Breems. This Courage to Resist podcast is produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace. Mike Wittels is the podcast guest today. Mike’s refusal to obey orders to train for Vietnam cost him a court-martial and months in the stockade. Mike was eventually discharged from the Army as a conscientious objector. He went on to be a highly revered draft counselor, writing several books and lecturing on the subject. Well, hello, Mike, how are you doing today? Mike Wittels: I’m fine, Matt. And you? Matthew Breems: Doing well. Looking forward to hearing your story of activism. Well, why don’t you start off by telling us where you grew up and your mindset leading up to the time that you entered the Army during the Vietnam conflict? Mike Wittels: I grew up just outside of Philadelphia. My mom was an artist. My dad was a freelance writer, so he didn’t have a ordinary schedule. I didn’t like school, didn’t do well in it. I figured out a way to cut school without getting in a lot of trouble, and a lot of days cut and went out in the woods and learned a lot on my own. While I was in high school, the Vietnam War wasn’t in the news yet. I hadn’t thought much about the military. I do remember once thinking to myself, “I wish I were a Quaker so I wouldn’t have to go.” It wasn’t really a religious or an ethical or moral point. It was just, I didn’t want to spend that time. Mike Wittels: Anyway, after I passed my physical, I called the draft board, probably disguising my voice, and probably said I was calling for a friend, and said, “How long will it be before my friend gets drafted?” And the little old lady that ran the draft board, which is pretty much what happened everywhere, I learned later… Anyway, called her. She said I’d be drafted in a couple of weeks. So I thought, “Okay, what the hell? I’ll see the world, meet girls, have adventures.” And I started buying little tubes of toothpaste and so on, figuring I’d be drafted any minute. Mike Wittels: But that went on for a year, and my life as a civilian was getting better. And I thought, “Well, I don’t really want to get drafted.” I heard an ad on the radio, probably misheard it, “Join the Reserves, serve in your hometown.” Sounded to me like I wouldn’t have to go away. So there was a fellow student who I knew went to Reserve meetings, asked him. He said, “Well, I’m in the medical unit. The officers are doctors. We don’t have to wear uniforms. We don’t do anything.” So I went down to join that, and the civilian administrator said, “Oh, that’s closed, but we have a quartermaster unit.” I didn’t know what a quartermaster was, but I joined. Matthew Breems: You were in college at this time. Was there no deferment for you because of that? Mike Wittels: Yeah. I was actually in an art school, which wasn’t a college. Matthew Breems: Okay. So you didn’t qualify for deferment? Mike Wittels: I’m not even sure I KNEW about that. In other words, we were pretty naiive before the Vietnam War. Matthew Breems: Right. So they say, “Hey, we’ve got a quartermaster position open. Why don’t you join and be a part of that?” Mike Wittels: Yeah, they said, “Well, that’s the only unit open.” My point was to get the military stuff out of the way. I finally was ordered to active duty for training in August ’63. I took Basic at Fort Knox. They made me a squad leader. I took it very seriously, but I was not as gung ho as I was, “Hey, I got to help my squad,” people in the squad. Matthew Breems: So at this point you weren’t necessarily opposed to the Vietnam conflict or the military in general; it was just something you were trying to get through? Mike Wittels: Exactly. And we weren’t really hearing about the Vietnam conflict, although it came up soon. But I remember in about the second week of Basic, we were issued our weapons, M-1s. There was supposed to be a class on handling your M-1. So I got there late. There were already about 200 men in there, four companies, so I was way in the back. And in front of me was this whole sea of strangers, all looking about the same. All have drab fatigues, very short hair. Mike Wittels: And the sergeant on the stage was holding the M-1 over his head and saying, “Men, this is your M-1. It can blow a hole the size of a grapefruit in your enemy.” And I’m looking at these guys in front of me, I’m looking at the guy in front of me, and he’s breathing in and out. I didn’t know him or anybody else. And I thought, “Why the hell would I want to do that? Why would I want to blow a hole the size of a grapefruit into someone, just because somebody said, ‘Hey, that’s your enemy'”? Mike Wittels: When I got back to the barracks in the evening, I called my squad together and I said, “Men, you know, if there’s a war, I’m not going. How about you?” So as a squad leader, you’re not supposed to do this, but I didn’t know any better. The responses were interesting. Most of them said, “Nah, I’m not goin’ either,” because this is a basic human thing: you don’t just kill somebody. One guy said, “Oh, I don’t have to worry; I joined to be in the band.” And only one guy said, “Nah, I’d like to do it. I want to kill somebody,” and he mimed shooting a rifle. Mike Wittels: So I thought, “Well, I want to talk to somebody.” But the company commander was a brand new graduate from ROTC, so he wasn’t anybody to talk to. We used to have back then something called character guidance. It was mandatory. So everybody goes and they get a lecture from the chaplain. I thought, “Nah, chaplain’s not the guy to talk to.” So I decided, “I’ll just keep— I’m only in the Reserves for six months; I’ll continue on and deal with my qualms when I get out in six months. So after Basic, instead of sending me to Quartermaster’s, which would be supply, they sent me to Heavy Weapons Infantry, and I was put in a unit with guys who were training to become airborne. Matthew Breems: Any reason given to you why the change in assignment? Mike Wittels: No, it’s the great Army random selection system. So I don’t think it had anything to do with me personally. Matthew Breems: So they start training you for heavy weaponry instead of being a quartermaster. Mike Wittels: Right. Matthew Breems: What happened from there? Mike Wittels: Well, that was serious training. I still have a bad left ear from the 106-millimeter recoilless rifle. So I get through that, and that was really heavy duty training. And then they send me Basic Unit Training, which was essentially war games. And again, running around in the dark with weapons. Matthew Breems: You’d finished your Basic Training, you’d gone on and done Heavy Weapons Training, received your orders. What happened next that made you decide to completely resist going to Vietnam? Mike Wittels: So after six months, I’m out of active duty for training, because that was the obligation. I still had five and a half years in the Reserves, plus two more in the Inactive Reserves. I had vowed in Basic not to go to war, but, you know, this is how people are, “I’m not going to do that.” But it was kind of out of my mind until in spring of ’65, Vietnam was in the news more and more. And I thought, “You know, I don’t see the reasons for Vietnam. I knew how to read and read the papers and everything else, but it didn’t make any sense to me. Mike Wittels: I saw some people demonstrating against it in front of [inaudible 00:11:23] Hall, and I took a brochure but didn’t say anything. I knew my next-door neighbor Margaret was against the war, and she was a very pro Asian, so I went to talk to her, and I said, “Boy, I don’t know what to do. I’ll go,” I said to her, and I thought to myself, “I’ll go if somebody can explain it to me, but so far I’ve heard nothing but the usual cliches: you know, ‘We got to do it or the communists will take over,’ and so on.” So she said— and I said to her, “I wish I had a wise man to talk to.” She said, “Go talk to these people,” and gave me a brochure similar to the one I had. Mike Wittels: So I went over there. Being the idiot I was, I walked in and said, “I’d like to talk to somebody important,” something like that. And so the woman at the desk sent me upstairs to see George Lakey [sp?], Who said, “Well, I don’t have time to talk to you right now,” and he said, “Well, let me give you the Handbook for Conscientious Objectors.” I said, “I’m not a conscientious objector. I would have fought in World War II. I would have fought Hitler.” He said, “Well, I don’t have time to talk about that.” Mike Wittels: I took the book, and I was dubious. So I went home and I looked at the book. The first thing is, I was very impressed by how solid and straightforward it was. There was no proselytizing, no trying to convince; it was just straightforward information. So I read it many times. I didn’t have a regular job at the time. I went to the library, read everything they had on nonviolence and related things, and I slowly came to realize that I probably was a CO. Up until that point, I thought, “Oh, they had to be religious freaks.” Mike Wittels: So I drafted my answers, read the book several times, went to see Arlo Tatum, who George Lakey had made an appointment with, and showed him what I— and talked to him. I was impressed by him too. Talked to him, showed him my answers. We went over them a few times. Finally, I went to my company commander at the Reserve unit. I handed it in, and after about six months of inquiring of headquarters, “What’s going on?” it was turned down. Matthew Breems: So this was an official application to be a conscientious objector? Mike Wittels: Right, because there is, which I hadn’t realized until then of course, a regulation form. So I had made the official application, and I had gotten letters of support. So I got my official denial, let’s say close to a year after I had turned it in. Matthew Breems: And just for some clarity for our listeners, on what grounds do they deny COs? Mike Wittels: Well, there were two qualifications you had to meet, sincerity and religiousness. So I didn’t belong to any organized religion, so I was turned down. They didn’t give me a reason. They just said, “You don’t qualify.” I was told to report for additional training, because I had missed meetings. And again, I had learned enough about nonviolence activities by then to know, it’s a really a good idea to keep everybody in your chain of what you were doing. So I had written the commanding officer of where I was being sent, to tell him I’d be there, but I wouldn’t wear a uniform, and I wouldn’t do anything military. So I get there, and he is polite and sends me to see a chaplain. And there was about three or four days of this, you know, trying to explain to me why I was wrong. They took me to the stockade. Matthew Breems: So this is because you are refusing orders during your training? Mike Wittels: Yeah. And anyway, so I go over to the stockade, walk over there, and they start doing my paperwork. They tell me, “Strip to your underwear and put this uniform on.” I said, “Well, I’m not going to put on a uniform,” because at that point, the uniform meant that I was a soldier, and I was trying to make the point that I had resigned. So a couple of the sergeants and some other men got around me and started pushing me around. So they threw me in the box. The box is a cell about six by six by maybe seven feet high, steel walls, a door with a square hole at about eye level. There was a dull light in the ceiling, very dull, just about enough light to read. Mike Wittels: I was told I had to stand up at all times until breakdown, which is lights out, and had to report with my name and serial number through that opening whenever I was told to. So I had no idea what would happen. On about the fourth day, I looked at the shirt and I realized it didn’t have any insignia on it. It just had a white armband to show I was a prisoner, and “U.S. Army.” So I thought, “Okay, I’ll accept that I’m a prisoner of the U.S. Army but not in it. So I agreed to put it on, on about the fourth day, I said, “But I’ll serve out my term here.” I wanted to show I wasn’t breaking.” And he said, “No, I need the space. Out!” So I go out into a 24-man cell. Matthew Breems: And how long did you end up being in the stockade this time? Mike Wittels: Actually, after about three or four weeks, they put me back in solitary, and I was in there for another six weeks in the second solitary. But my sentence— I was court-martialed, special court-martial, which can give only six months, and they automatically give you a month off. So I was let out after that period of time. So altogether I was in there about six and a half months. And this is when I had no idea what would happen, if you’re discharged or whatever. And I’m taken by a sergeant, which I was—his rank was too high to be driving a prisoner around—but to a new company. I’m given the same orders, “Put on your uniform and report to building such and such.” Mike Wittels: By the way, when they took me out the door, a guard ripped off my prisoner armband, so at that moment I was wearing a fatigue uniform. But I was told to put one on and report to such and such a building. I said to my new company commander, “You know I’m not going to do this.” He didn’t seem real interested in anything; it was just like he had been told to go through this. The company clerk there took me out while they wrote up the charges. I said, “Hey, can I borrow a dime to call my girlfriend?” And he said, “Sure.” And he said, “You know, I agree with you, but it’s too soon.” And my answer was, “Well, better too soon than too late.” So I called my girlfriend, put the word out that I was out, but I was taken back and locked up within 20 minutes of getting out. Matthew Breems: So you’ve been imprisoned a second time here for refusing orders. Take us through this second prison term. Mike Wittels: I was in the max cell. They would take some of us up to the hill, breaking up rocks, chopping wood once in a while, but under heavily armed guard. After just a couple of days being there, I was taken to the JAG, the lawyers’ offices, military lawyers, and my military defense attorney was there. He said, “Well, I can’t help you this time, because I’m now a prosecutor, but I’d like to help you behind the scenes if I could.” And he said, “Would you accept an unsuitability discharge?” and I said, “Sure, anything.” So he said, “We’ll arrange that.” Mike Wittels: There was a series of false starts where I was taken out to the back gate to be taken to be processed from that discharge, and left high and dry. Then the final time I was taken there, he said, “Well, the commanding general won’t approve it. He wants you to have a general court-martial, and so you’re going to get five years.” So when my most recent commanding officer—this guy had never seen me before—but who had been told to tell me these things, “Put on the uniform and go to this building”— So he repeated that, and my attorney says, “Now, what was Whittles wearing when you gave him the order to put on his uniform?” “Well, he was wearing a fatigue uniform.” “Okay. Now, where was he when he was supposed to report at 07:30 to building such and such?” And this poor young officer said, and he was just about sweating, he said, “Well, well, he was in the stockade.” Mike Wittels: So the ACLU lawyer says, “Well, he couldn’t very well just walk out of the stockade and report to work, could he?” So they dropped the charges. So that was another few weeks. And then that attorney had been talking to Washington and found that I had made, unbeknownst to me, a second application for discharge. There were some people working behind the scenes to make that happen, but I had no idea about it, because the confinement officer prevented all mail from any of those people reaching me. Mike Wittels: My original counselor, Arlo Tatum, had known the deputy director of Selective Service, and that guy used to be in charge of CO discharge applications, at least making recommendations. Anyway, unbeknownst to me, Arlo had written a letter of support for me. I didn’t know any of this, but my civilian attorney didn’t know that detail, but he said, “I think they’re going to rule favorably on your application, so please don’t refuse any more orders.” Got the discharge in the mail in July. Matthew Breems: So your conscientious objector application was finally approved, the second one? Mike Wittels: Yeah. Under honorable conditions, which I didn’t care about. I just wanted not to be arrested again. Matthew Breems: You’ve paid a heavy price at this point for your antiwar activism. What did the next phase of your activism look like for you? Did you remain active, or did you just kind of go back to a normal civilian life? Mike Wittels: I had intended to go back to my life as an artist. That was my life, but I went over— I ran into a guy that worked for CCCO, and he said, “Could you come to the office to help out with some paperwork kind of stuff for filing?” And I said, “Fine.” They were clearly overwhelmed with people coming in and calling for counseling, and they asked me to work, and I said, “Okay, part time until you find somebody else.” Matthew Breems: So these are gentlemen that are looking to apply to be conscientious objectors? Mike Wittels: Or anything to do with the draft and the military. Matthew Breems: Looking for advice and counseling on how to avoid being drafted or avoid doing military service? Mike Wittels: Yeah. I think the “avoid” is implied, but they would help anybody. So yes, yes. So that was implied, and they were all war resistors. I was there for, well, more than five years, working day and night. To me, it was an emergency. And I counseled hundreds if not thousands, because I’d become, without trying, an expert on military laws and regulations. Well, the first thing I did was, I had been invited to Chicago to give a workshop, and people had come, lawyers and lay counselors had come from miles and miles around. And I talked for 12 hours straight. Mike Wittels: And I wrote a book called “Advice for COs in the Armed Forces,” in an effort to get all of my knowledge on paper. I started writing something called “The Military Counselor’s Manual” and a newsletter, which updated that. And these got to— again, for the same audiences. And these started being used by those people, and I kept getting invited to places to do workshops, from San Diego State Law School to Harvard and all stops in between. And again, I just said yes and I just kept doing stuff, until the war wound down and until the draft was stopped. Matthew Breems: This is quite an unexpected adventure for you, as far as becoming an antiwar counselor? Mike Wittels: Absolutely. Matthew Breems: Any final thoughts on military service that you’d want to share? Mike Wittels: Well, first of all, I remain completely anti-military. I think my basic philosophy is, try to make the world better. The other thing— advice I would give, based on my experience in the stockade and elsewhere— so I think my advice is to people who want to say what they believe, is to do it. Matthew Breems: Well, Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story of activism. Quite a trial by fire that you went through, so thank you for sharing that with us. Mike Wittels: Thank you, Matt. Matthew Breems: This Courage to Resist Podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace. This year marks 50 years of GI resistance to the U.S. War in Vietnam, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured. This episode was recorded and edited by Matthew Breems. Special thanks to Executive Producer Jeff Paterson. Visit vietnamfulldisclosure.org and couragetoresist.org for past episodes, more information, and to offer your support. The post Podcast (VN-E39): “It didn’t make any sense to me” – Mike Wittels appeared first on Courage to Resist.
25 minutes | 7 months ago
Podcast (GW-E01): “We were sick as dogs” – Dennis Kyne, Gulf War vet
GW-E01: Dennis Kyne by Courage to Resist | Vietnam Full Disclosure https://couragetoresist.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/CourageToResist_Podcast_Dennis_KyneV2.mp3 Podcast (GW-E01): “We were sick as dogs” – Dennis Kyne, Gulf War vet Gulf War Series Podcast, Episode 01: As a medic, Dennis Kyne became increasingly concerned with military personnel’s exposure to toxic chemicals and depleted uranium. As Dennis did further study on depleted uranium, he became a vocal activist and educator. He has traveled and lectured extensively on what became known as Gulf War Syndrome. “We got up there, we were sick as dogs, people were tipping over, so they got us home, but there was a whole nother group of American soldiers that went in there to clean up the battlefield before the cameras got there. Those soldiers are the ones who actually got the sickest from breathing in the particles. They got internalized radiation.” “I got there in August of 1990 and we stayed in Cement City. Before we had deployed in that August, this is how fast that happened, they injected us with vaccines, anthrax and vaccines that were loaded with squalene. Squalene’s an adjutant that’s supposed to speed up the process of the vaccination. We were sick as dogs. We got on these planes and flew over to Saudi Arabia. We were vomiting and diarrhea-ing all the way there.” Gulf War @ 30 Years This Courage to Resist podcast was produced to mark 30 years since the U.S. aimed its imperial sights squarely on the Middle East. These are the voices of veterans who’s lives were transformed by that ongoing war. Interview and edit by Matthew Breems. Jeff Paterson, Executive Producer. Help Keep These Podcasts ComingWe need to raise at least $15,000 to produce this two-year-long series of 50+ interviews so that this history is not lost! DONATE Transcript Dennis Kyne: We got up there, we were sick as dogs, people were tipping over, so they got us home, but there was a whole nother group of American soldiers that went in there to clean up the battlefield before the cameras got there. Those soldiers are the ones who actually got the sickest from breathing in the particles. They got internalized radiation. Matthew Breems: This is the Courage to Resist podcast. Since 2005, Courage to Resist has worked to support military resistance to illegal and unjust wars, counter recruitment, draft resistance, and the policies of empire. My name is Matthew Breems. Matthew Breems: Former Gulf War medic Dennis Kyne is the episode’s guest. As a medic, Dennis became increasingly concerned with military personnel’s exposure to toxic chemicals and depleted uranium. As Dennis did further study on depleted uranium, he became a vocal activist and educator. He has traveled and lectured extensively on what became known as Gulf War Syndrome. Matthew Breems: Dennis, thanks for joining us from New Orleans today. I’m looking forward to our conversation. I know your story of activism’s different than many that it is coming out of the first Persian Gulf War. Why don’t we start off with a little bit about you. Just give us some background on Dennis. Dennis Kyne: Yeah. I grew up in the heart of the Silicon Valley, the beast of disposable income. Ever since I was born, really, there was people around that were so rich, I’d get a pair of socks and a tee shirt for Christmas and they’d get a motorcycle. When it came time to decide, I was getting out of high school and I wanted to go to college, I wasn’t overly academic or anything, but I didn’t have any money for the college, so I bought off on the Army GI bill and the Army College Fund and enlisted when I was 17 years old. Matthew Breems: So, it was purely just an economic move for you. Dennis Kyne: Purely. Purely. Yeah. Matthew Breems: You weren’t idealistic any sort of way. Dennis Kyne: I had no notions, I had no idea that… I watched the commercials. Be all you can be was the theme. Every morning, when you were watching whatever, you’d see, “Army. Be all you can be. We do more before 9:00 than most people do all day.” That was the advertising, that was the medium I was watching, was that you go in the military, they say you learn a vocation. You could learn a vocation, get out and have a job, which nine out of 10 that never happens for. You could go in the military, use your GI bill and get the Army College Fund, and nine times out of 10, the soldier never uses that either. The Army College Fund and the GI bill are the least used government benefits that are ever given to a soldier. Dennis Kyne: I figured that my bet was I was either going to have a skill or I was going to go to college. That was my bet, so I became a medic. I went in and they taught me how to do CPR, shoot IVs, and take care of heat casualties and be an army medic. So I thought I had a nice play. I thought I was going to do okay no matter what happened. I’d get out, I could be a paramedic, or I could get out and I could go to college. So I really felt like I was a sharp kid making a wise choice. Matthew Breems: About what time was this happening for you, that you joined the army? Dennis Kyne: That was 1987. I was a senior in high school. Matthew Breems: Okay. So, we fast forward a few years. It’s 1990. Things are heating up in the Middle East. Kuwait gets invaded. Where are you as far as your commitment with the military? Dennis Kyne: Well, December of 1989 was the Panama invasion, so we were on Fort Benning for that. I didn’t deploy with them, but I saw that craziness. Then, that following summer is when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. We are the first unit off of Fort Benning. The first battalion, 34th Medical Battalion, is deployed to Saudi Arabia immediately in August. We become, basically, the front line of the base camps and moving everybody forward to the front line of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Dennis Kyne: I got there in August of 1990 and we stayed in Cement City. Before we had deployed in that August, this is how fast that happened, they injected us with vaccines, anthrax and vaccines that were loaded with squalene. Squalene’s an adjutant that’s supposed to speed up the process of the vaccination. We were sick as dogs. We got on these planes and flew over to Saudi Arabia. We were vomiting and diarrhea-ing all the way there. Dennis Kyne: After you get vaccines, you’re supposed to lay down in bed for a couple of days. They put us on planes and sent us over to the Middle East where we sat in a place called Cement City. It was an old cement factory. The reason we had to sit there was because all of our vehicles were on ships and we were there waiting for them, so we waited there for months, man, it seemed. It was probably like six weeks, but we were there and a lot of people got exposed to heavy metals and cement particles that we were breathing in. That was when we got our vehicles, and then we started moving forward. So we were already all beat up physically before we ever started our move to the front line. Dennis Kyne: Somewhere in October, November, we start moving forward a little bit. As you’re moving through these camps and we’re setting them up, what they do is they lay down insecticides and herbicides all over the scene, so that’s what you’re going to set your camp up in. The rodents and the vipers over there, they’re all poisonous, nothing’s going to survive in the desert if it’s not poisonous, so they were buying insecticides, herbicides and pesticides. They were buying it off the black market in the Middle East and just spraying it all over the place, and we were walking into that all day. We were all sick from the vaccines, the food, and the heavy metal particles, and then we start walking through herbicides and pesticides and we’re really getting wiped out. Dennis Kyne: Then, as we move a little bit further forward, there’s this fear of a chemical war, so the United States Army issued all the soldiers a box of PB tablets, which were pyridostigmine bromide tablets. Bromide’s like rat poison itself, but they were supposed to close off our synapses so if we ingested a chemical attack, the synapses themselves would block off our nerves from being ripped through. It was crazy. It was made in Holland and it had never been FDA approved. We were basically Guinea pigs. I projectile vomited immediately from eating them, so I stopped eating them, but some of the soldiers were so afraid they said, “Doc, let me eat yours.” Man, some of these kids ate three packs of these things, so they were eating, basically, rat poison and they got brain damage. Dennis Kyne: Then the war started and we bombed them for 45 days with depleted uranium from January 17th till late February, and then we went ahead and walked into the uranium we had just bombed. So you’re talking about a human being that had been vaccinated way back in the US, gone through all that human exposure and being basically tested on, and then walked into a radio active battlefield. That was when people just started tipping over like cheap suits and they got us out of there and flew us home on commercial aircraft like TWA. Matthew Breems: Explain for some people that aren’t familiar with the depleted uranium. Why was that even in the field of operations there? Dennis Kyne: Depleted uranium is a byproduct, basically, of the nuclear industry, if you will. The depleted uranium is non-fissionable. The plutonium that is made out of uranium is fissionable. Uranium has what’s called uranium-238, and it makes up most of what uranium is. There’s a couple of percentages of what they call the radioactive… the nuclear part of it that you can go and put into a plutonium breeder and start breeding plutonium. Dennis Kyne: What they did was they took the depleted uranium… It had a former name. I know we discussed the military’s love of wordsmithing. Depleted uranium had an acronym that went capital D-capital U-capital L-capital L-capital R-capital A-capital M, DULLRAM, and that meant Depleted Uranium Low-Level Radioactive Material. By the time they were using it on the battlefield, they just called it DU and took the low-level radioactive munition part off at the end of it. It’s still radioactive. Depleted uranium has got a 4.2-billion-year half-life, it’s as longer than the human experience, and it’s armor piercing so when you fire it, it’ll go through the tanks. Matthew Breems: So it’s an extremely dense metal that they’re using for armor-piercing rounds. Dennis Kyne: It is, and there are metals that’ll do the job. There are other metals that will do the job, but, remember, this is basically our radioactive waste: we’ve got to do something with it. What was interesting about that experience is the French, who later in 2003 when we reinvaded would say things like, “That stuff you sent over there was killing our troops”… If you look at the historical context of all these years we’ve been in Iraq, only one country supported us on the reinvasion in 2003 and that was Poland. No other country backed us up when we reinvaded Iraq in ’03 because their soldiers had all been exposed to the uranium too and they knew it, and they weren’t going to put their soldiers back over on that battlefield again. The whole international community was well aware that we were slopping our radioactive waste all over the place. Dennis Kyne: But the fact of the matter is the United States Army, guys like Colonel Daxon, will say that low-level radioactivity is not harmful to the human experience and that low-level radiation comes in lower than background radiation. It’s radioactive. It doesn’t come in lower than background radiation, it comes in in addition to background radiation, so now you have background radiation and depleted-uranium radiation together. Not one’s lower than the other; they’re together now. It’s an insane logic they use. Dennis Kyne: Then what they’ll tell you is that you can just put a piece of paper in between you and a uranium particle. This is the big kicker here. It emits alpha, beta and gamma radiation. Gamma radiation is the radiation that comes out and irradiates your chromosomes externally from the outside in like a microwave oven. That’s why you don’t wear a pacemaker near a microwave, because it emits that, it’s just not radioactive. The microwave isn’t radioactive, but it’s emitting high energy and that energy aberrates the chromosomes and alters the cellular makeup of a human being. Dennis Kyne: What happened was the dust from the bombs. When the bomb goes off, it leaves radioactive particles. They call it the particulate effect. The particles are so small they go down to submicron levels. You can’t even see them without a submicron microscope, which I think Stanford University and the big Ivy Leagues are the guys that have them. Most universities can’t even afford one of them. When you get down to that level, those particles were going through anybody’s protective masks they were wearing out there as well. Dennis Kyne: So, we all left. Remember, we got up there, we were sick as dogs, people were tipping over, so they got us home, but there was a whole nother group of American soldiers that went in there to clean up the battlefield before the cameras got there. Those soldiers are the ones who actually got the sickest from breathing in the particles. They got internalized radiation; different than external radiation, it’s in your body. So, when they’re saying you can take a piece of paper and put it in between one of these particles and block the radiation from it, once that particle gets down into your lung, it doesn’t have a piece of paper in there to protect you from it, so it’s just beating radiation with a 4.2-billion-year half-life. Dennis Kyne: It aberrates a chromosome or it aberrates a cell, and then you have mother cells and daughter cells, so your daughter cell is basically created with aberrated from the mother cell. Then the radiation is also hitting the aberrated daughter cell, so you basically have genetic mutations. Life magazine covered it. They put the cover story. It says, “The tiny victims of Desert Storm.” It’s got JC on there, little boy from the soldier, and he’s got no arms; he’s all mutated. We were birthing mutated babies in the ’90s and Life magazine was covering it, but the government made them pull all that stuff. Matthew Breems: Was this something you were realizing while it was happening, you’re seeing these different symptoms in the soldiers, or is this all kind of coming after the fact; you’re putting two and two together? Dennis Kyne: Well, I’ll tell you this, man. We had guys whose skin melted down to their bones, no joke, in Martin Army Community Hospital in Fort Benning. We were told that somehow a flesh-eating virus must’ve been the cause of it from the desert, a flesh-eating virus, but it would be years later when I put two and two together. You know what I’m saying? When it was happening, they didn’t even mention depleted uranium. Most soldiers, even now, over there will go, “I never heard of it.” It’s not as if we were ever aware then. Dennis Kyne: The tragic thing about the depleted uranium is it has more than one use. It’s not just used in the bombs, it’s also used in the M1A1 Abrams tank because, that dense metal, it’ll protect anything from piercing it as well. It’s through the roof. Tankers dying and they never even really had anything to be afraid of, and it was their tank that caused their cancers. Matthew Breems: Courage to Resist relies on the contributions of people like you to produce these podcasts and, more importantly, to carry out our mission supporting military resistance, counter recruitment, and draft resistance. Join us in supporting the troops who refuse to fight. Follow us on Facebook and donate at couragetoresist.org/donate. Matthew Breems: Okay, back to today’s episode. Matthew Breems: Your tour over there ended and you had come back home, but you’re still part of the military. What started to take place that really made you start to become an activist and a war resistor? Dennis Kyne: Well, I’ll tell you. The first alarming thing that happened to me in that area, we got the George Bush–Al Gore election of 2000. You have the Supreme Court making a decision that was totally un-American. That’s not the way politics works. You don’t elect a president on a Supreme Court decision. My awareness turned right then in 2000. I wasn’t really into war, of course, but what I really became was very politicized. I was like, “Whoa. We just had our democracy stolen.” I got very, very aware then, and, by the time that it happened again in ’04, I was on the scene. I was out there in the world in ’03. Back in ’03, I had already started moving because… Dennis Kyne: When George Bush stole the election and then reinvaded Iraq, I went nuts because we were done in Iraq. We had finished up in Iraq in 1991. While, although, we put sanctions on them and did Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch and Operation Desert Fox way before ’03, it was the stealing of the democracy and the reinvasion of Iraq by George Bush, Jr. that was what really fired me up. That’s where the hijacking of America started. That was the setup for Trump, way back then. Matthew Breems: Okay. What did your activism look like at that time, then? Dennis Kyne: Remember this. Now, remember this, man. I still didn’t know what depleted uranium was in 2000, either. I didn’t even know that depleted uranium was the cause of the death of my guys until I started to become active and go out and protest the invasion of Iraq. So that’s what my first action was, was to go out and protest the invasion of Iraq in San Francisco. It might’ve been before March 17th because that’s the day they invaded, so I’m thinking March 3rd or something. They held the biggest rally ever in San Francisco. There was like 300,000 people out there. I was trying to get local in the local Peace Center and getting up there in San Francisco. International ANSWER was hot back then. Dennis Kyne: Then that was the day. That same day they had that huge protest I was handing pictures out of melted human beings that I had taken in Iraq from the depleted uranium. This guy looked at it and he goes, “Whoa!” He goes, “That’s what the depleted uranium did, huh?” I go, “What? What’s that?” He goes, “Oh, man, you don’t know about it? Then you got to learn about it.” Dennis Kyne: Well, here’s the kicker: one of my childhood friends, [Nelan McFetridge 00:15:44], who’s a Yugoslavian, he knew what it was. He’s not even a soldier, but they had used depleted uranium all over Yugoslavia. We used the NATO forces to bomb Yugoslavian, and we used depleted uranium. It was one of my best friends’ little brothers, who was like three or four years younger than me, who’s the one who educated me on the uranium. That all started the day I basically stepped out in the streets to protest the reinvasion of Iraq. Dennis Kyne: Well, there’s two things that have to happen. I have a college degree and I’m pretty smart, I guess, but I didn’t know nothing about… I didn’t take chemistry or any of those classes, man. I didn’t know anything. All I knew was the result, which most people have no idea. I was in there reading Chemistry For Idiots in the bookstore and I was just trying to figure out how I could establish some credibility to understand the subject. I understood what the result was from the subject, but I didn’t really understand how we got to using this munition. Dennis Kyne: So I spent a lot of time. I hung out with Doug Rokke. He was basically a major in the army, and he was on the depleted uranium study team. I hung out with Leuren Moret. She’s a geoscientist. She knew all kinds of stuff. She took me out to the Lawrence Livermore Lab. A lot of it was studying and writing. I’d write a lot of articles. I wrote a lot of articles, and then I started going out and speaking. I’d speak and write an article, speak and write an article, and I just kept doing that until I was basically the subject-matter expert, if you will, out on the road. I’d get picked up in a documentary like Beyond Treason or Soldiers Speak Out or something like that. I just really became the voice of the depleted uranium from experiential knowledge, having watched what happened. Just being too young and not really knowing what it was, but I was able to articulate it. Dennis Kyne: I spent years out there, right in front of university professors with PhDs from Union College, the home of the radiation, and nobody could ever disprove what I was telling them. Like I said, they buried the Life article, but you can’t disprove what I’m saying. That sure was never ever done. Matthew Breems: The soldiers’ exposure to DU and all the other chemicals and pesticides over there, that cocktail of chemicals was collectively known as Gulf War Syndrome, or the effects of it is known as Gulf War Syndrome. What has the official response been to Gulf War Syndrome? Dennis Kyne: Well, the later days, these clowns like Colonel Daxon and a few of them have even stated back then, back when it was a hot topic, there’s no such thing as Gulf War Syndrome. One of the things they did to us was they started giving us benefits. Here’s the deal: I got tested for ionizing radiation twice by Dr. George [inaudible 00:18:31] at the VA, so they have an ionizing radiation study group that I’m a part of. They’re not even denying that it’s going on. They got me and they’re just using me as a Guinea pig. That’s just Josef Mengele and what he did to the Jewish people. He was in there poking and prodding them during the Holocaust. That’s all they’re doing to us now. They got soldiers in study groups that have embedded depleted uranium fragments in their body, and they’re just studying them, leaving the embedded fragments in their body. Colonel Daxon wrote the report. I got a copy of it off amazon.com one time. Dennis Kyne: They’re basically trying to use us to study us to prove there’s nothing wrong with it, and they’ll say, “Well, there’s a couple of urines coming out on the bioassay, the urine samples, and there’s a little bit of uranium in there, but not enough to be harmful.” No, man, that just is unreasonable to even say that, man. The human being is the least resistant creature to radiation there is on Earth. That’s basically from the soldier’s experience. I’ve gone all the way through the VA system in it now, and I’m part of an ionizing radiation study group. Matthew Breems: Do you feel like there’s been any progress on that front as far as… Well, I don’t even know what progress would look like, but any positive change that you can see there? Dennis Kyne: No. No, the VA works like any other health insurance company: they’re trying to curb their costs. The studies are not intended to heal or treat somebody who’s been irradiated, they’re intended to disprove that there’s anything wrong with the radiation. Luckily, I never went down that road with them once I understood that. I’ve always treated myself. I really do believe you can excrete the particles once they’re in your body with the right foods and the right nutrients. Dennis Kyne: Linus Pauling said you could cure radiation exposure with vitamin C. He said the human being doesn’t create its own vitamin C. Well, us and the Guinea pig are the only two creatures that don’t create our own vitamin C. Vitamin C is the number one repairer of the cells, it’s what repairs the cells, so I’m a clinical-dose vitamin C guy. Matthias Rath and Linus Pauling were talking about genetic determinism is a bunch of nonsense and that you can repair your cells. I’ve been on that ever since I understood that, so almost two decades now. Matthew Breems: A lot of what your activism looks like is educational in nature. Do you feel like you’ve made an impact in that regard? Dennis Kyne: Yeah. Well, the subject matter is the one that you’re going to catch the intellectual body of people who want to talk about stuff like radiation and uranium. When I got busy, that was just what enraged me, the fact that we would that and I finally figured out how my guys died. But when we reinvaded Iraq, remember, that’s what got me motivated. I was able to use the depleted uranium subject in the Ehren Watada trial to help defend him because he refused to deploy to Iraq. He’s the only officer who did resist deployment to Iraq in ’03, and I was able to support him by saying, “Hey, man. He’s absolutely right, man. He’s walking into a radioactive battlefield. He shouldn’t go over there.” Dennis Kyne: I was antiwar, too. Remember, I became heavy duty an antiwar guy, not just a depleted uranium expert or whatever, but I was like, “Nah, we can’t be in war no more. We’ve gone way too far.” So one of the things I always tried to do was help this younger generation of veterans who was a little more awake than I was. They were resisting, they were like, “Man, we’re not going,” so I just tried to be a… I’m a noncommissioned officer, I got a little bit of rank, I got a big uniform that’s all decorated, so I just tried to support guys. Darrell Anderson, Camilo Mejia, and a lot of these younger IVAW guys, Michael Hoffman, Alex Ryabov, and support them and just be like, “Hey man. You’re doing the right thing, man. This is Sergeant Kyne telling you you guys are doing the right thing. Follow Lieutenant Watada, listen to what I’m saying, stay away from that place.” My real purpose was just to try to make sure nobody else got hurt too. Matthew Breems: What does your more recent activism look like in the last few years here? Dennis Kyne: One of the things that I’m really, really trying to focus on in this country is this race struggle we have. We have an incredibly rampant race situation, so I find myself always trying to be somewhere in a place where I can help white people understand what white privilege really means. It doesn’t mean you didn’t have a hard childhood. It doesn’t mean that you had a bad life and you didn’t struggle or anything like that. It just means that you’re lucky you’re white. My father told me that when I was a kid. He [inaudible 00:23:11] Sacramento. He said, “I went to Chicago one time, son, and I’m telling you, man, you’re lucky you’re white. So don’t ever think you’re better than nobody, but just remember you’re lucky.” Dennis Kyne: That’s what the privilege is. The privilege is that you’re lucky just by the fact that you got some white skin on you. If you’re down here where I am right now in New Orleans… and there’s a race situation that just can’t get cleaned up, so there’s just some things that we’ve been to have to get in touch with as a civilization. Most people are just drunk on prosperity. They just want to get out there and have a lot of fun, and the next generation is going to curse us, man, if we do not get in front of how we’re going to act as a community and how we’re going to address these environmental concerns. Dennis Kyne: War is the most destructive thing to the environment, so I’m antiwar. In our environment, the glaciers will probably be gone before you and I are dead, and we might not even be able to go outside for more than a couple hours a day in our lifetime if we do not get on top of this stuff. Matthew Breems: Well, Dennis, thank you so much for taking time to share your activism on the podcast. Really interesting insight and information into the whole DU debacle the military is taking part of, so thank you for sharing that. Dennis Kyne: You bet, my man. I’m glad you called and I appreciate talking to you. Matthew Breems: This podcast is a Courage to Resist production recorded and edited by Matthew Breems with special thanks to executive producer Jeff Paterson. Visit couragetoresist.org for more information and to offer your support. The post Podcast (GW-E01): “We were sick as dogs” – Dennis Kyne, Gulf War vet appeared first on Courage to Resist.
26 minutes | 8 months ago
Podcast (VN-E38): “You’ve got to bear witness” – Mike Hastie
VN-E38: Mike Hastie by Courage to Resist | Vietnam Full Disclosure https://couragetoresist.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/CourageToResist_Podcast_Mike_Hastie.mp3 Podcast (VN-E38): “You’ve got to bear witness” – Mike Hastie Vietnam Series Podcast, Episode 38: Army medic and Vietnam War veteran Mike Hastie gained recent notoriety when a video of him being pepper sprayed by police at a Portland protest went viral on social media. Mike has been a long-time anti-war activist and photographer. “You know, and you just continue to put more and more of the puzzle pieces together, and then you realize that you’ve got to bear witness. You’ve got to tell the truth about the entire war being a total, complete lie.” “We all had our M16s, and I think after a while, the officers began to be a little suspicious as to whether those weapons might be turned on them. So, things were pretty intense about that, because people started to see through the war and started to see through the lie of the war, especially the black soldiers. I think the black soldiers really educated me about racism and those kind of things.” “I believed that the United States had a right to be anywhere in the world, that we are spreading freedom and democracy around the world, and all of the sudden, I realized that is an entire lie. And I just felt like a stranger in a strange land.” Vietnam Full Disclosure This Courage to Resist podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace — “Towards an honest commemoration of the American war in Vietnam.” This year marks 50 years of GI resistance, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured. Interview and edit by Matthew Breems. Jeff Paterson, Executive Producer. Help Keep These Podcasts ComingWe need to raise at least $15,000 to produce this two-year-long series of 50+ interviews so that this history is not lost! DONATE Transcript Mike Hastie:You know, and you just continue to put more and more of the puzzle pieces together, and then you realize that you’ve got to bear witness. You’ve got to tell the truth about the entire war being a total, complete lie. Matthew Breems:This is the Courage to Resist podcast. My name is Matthew Breems. This Courage to Resist podcast is produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace. On this Courage to Resist podcast, army medic and veteran Mike Hastie. Mike gained recent notoriety when a video of him being pepper sprayed by police at a Portland protest went viral on social media. Mike has been a long-time anti-war activist and photographer. He shares his story of activism with us today. Hello, Mike. Great to have you on the podcast today. With all of our guests, we like to get some background information on them. Why don’t you start off telling us about where you grew up and your time leading up to your military service? Mike Hastie:Okay. Well, my father was a career military officer and combat veteran in World War II, so I was born in the military and so I spent the first 11 years in the military. We traveled to Japan in 1947, and we were the first dependents to arrive in Japan after the war. So, my father retired in June of 1956 after 20 years of military service. He retired as a major. And so my story’s a little bit different, and I’ll tell you what it was. I was going to a community college. As long as you took 12 hours and maintained a C average, you could stay in school. I had what they called a 2-S classification as a student. What would have happened is I dropped a class and so I was down to nine hours. So, I got my notice to appear in Spokane to take a physical for possible introduction into the military. Matthew Breems:So, growing up in a military family, what were your thoughts about the Vietnam conflict and possibly being drafted? Mike Hastie:Well, I have to say that I wasn’t very politicized at that point. I was around 21. I had been in the college for a couple of years, community college. I’d played in a rock and roll band. I was a lead singer in a rock and roll band. So, I was watching the Vietnam War on television, but I was still sketchy about what the war was about. Obviously my father was a military officer and I grew up in a very conservative family, so I think in the back of my mind, I was probably thinking that there was probably a reason for us to be over there. And I’m sure I believed, to a certain degree, about the domino theory, that communism had to be stopped in Vietnam, or that it would eventually permeate all of Southeast Asia. So, in a way I think I probably believed that, but I wasn’t an adamant supporter of the war. And then what happened when I took my draft physical in 1966, I had had a history of asthma as a child, and I almost died when I was in Japan. I was in an oxygen tent for about a week. And so I told the doctor, I said, “Listen, I have a long history of being an asthmatic.” They gave me a deferment, a 1-Y deferment, which meant that I didn’t have to go into the military unless the Viet Cong landed on the Oregon coast. So, fast forward a few years, and for some reason I decided that maybe I should… I was at a point where I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. So, I called a recruiter and told him that I had failed the guidelines for going in, but I felt like that I had outgrown my asthma. So, that’s all. I was cleared to go in the military. So, I went into the military in March of 1969. Matthew Breems:Which unit and service did you end up in? Mike Hastie:Well, the unit that I wound up in in Vietnam was, I was with the 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry, and I was attached to the 4th Infantry Division, and I was in An Khe in the Central Highlands, and I spent a year in there. We had 155 mm howitzers, eight-inch guns. We had the M48 tanks with 90 mm guns, armored personnel carriers. We had a lot of firepower on those bases. So, as a medic, I spent time on those bases. I would travel back and forth on a highway and would do some resupplying and that kind of thing. Matthew Breems:And how did you end up becoming a medic instead of just a regular GI? Mike Hastie:Well, I’ll tell you the reason why, I think, was because my sister was a registered nurse. She was about three years older than me, and I thought maybe that would be a good thing for me. I wasn’t crazy about going into villages with the M16s and possibly killing people. One of the things was, was that I was older. I was more mature. I wasn’t an 18, 19, 20-year-old. I turned 25 in Vietnam. Okay? So, that’s one of the reasons why I thought that from a humanitarian standpoint, I could treat the wounded. And so that was the main reason why I decided to become a medic, and then when I finished my medic school, I applied for an advanced medic school, which was a 41-week course in Denver, Colorado. Matthew Breems:Okay. So, you find yourself in Vietnam as a medic. What begins to happen that changes your view or shapes your view of the war there? Mike Hastie:I’ll tell you what was happening. I was involved in Vietnam during the rapid disintegration of American involvement in Vietnam. So, we would typically, like a lot of bases, we’d get hit with incoming, maybe a rocket or a border attack or a sapper attack. Those kinds of things, and we were getting a few casualties in from the field, and we would do as much as we could to stabilize them, and then we would send them to a facility that had a hospital. I was seeing homicides, suicides, rampant heroin addiction. I was seeing some racial violence. I was seeing accidents. And it just seemed like everything was falling apart around us. I had only been in my unit a short period of time, and a soldier walked up to a captain who was the captain of one of our firebases and he shot and killed him with his M16. And another time, we unzipped the body bag and another soldier had taken a pistol and he shot himself in the head. So, we never knew what was going to happen within our own ranks. That was the main thing. There was just a lot of internal stuff going on. We all had our M16s, and I think after a while, the officers began to be a little suspicious as to whether those weapons might be turned on them. So, things were pretty intense about that, because people started to see through the war and started to see through the lie of the war, especially the black soldiers. I think the black soldiers really educated me about racism and those kind of things. Matthew Breems:So, this was a gradual process for you as you were in Vietnam for the weeks and months. Mike Hastie:Yes. Yeah. Matthew Breems:And when did you start actively resisting the war? While you were still in Vietnam, or did that begin later on for you? Mike Hastie:I didn’t actively resist the war while I was there, and I think the main reason was that I had a lot of responsibility. I was the chief medic in my unit. We had about 1200 people in my unit. So, I stayed really busy. I felt I had a deep compassion for them, and so that was my goal, was to meet the needs of all of the people that I was around. Matthew Breems:Oh. Your time in Vietnam is coming to an end and you end up back in the States. What does the next leg of your journey look like for you? Mike Hastie:Well, I returned in September of 1971, and I got orders for Fort Hood, Texas, and I still had almost a year left… I think I had under a year left of service. So, I get into Fort Hood, and so I was assigned to a unit, and I wound up working at Darnall army hospital in the emergency department, because I felt comfortable with that. So, we’d get people in that were involved in accidents, those kinds of things. Some people were injured, and all that, and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to take my training that I had won, and especially in Vietnam, and put it to use. And then what happened was that I got an early out. I got a six-month early out, and so I was discharged from the service, and I think on March the 2nd, 1972. So, I had been in the military just under three years. Mike Hastie:And so I left there and then I wound up moving to Eugene, Oregon, and so we wound up moving to Eugene in ’72. I went to a community college there, Lane Community College, for a couple of years, and so in the back of my mind, I dealt with the question of, why was I in Vietnam? Why was I there? What was the purpose? And then, as I did more in-depth reading about what was going on in Nicaragua, I thought to myself, “My God, this is exactly the same thing that we were dealing with in Vietnam,” and that’s when I woke up. I felt like I was a fish under water. My whole world was under water, and all of the sudden, I jumped out of the water and I said to myself, “Wow. There’s another world up here other than the water I was swimming in.” And that’s when I had my epiphany, and that’s when I began to realize that the United States government was a global empire, and that’s when I began to realize that lying is the most powerful weapon of war. Matthew Breems:So, with this new epiphany, what did you decide that you, as one individual, could or should do about it? What actions did you start to take then? Mike Hastie:Well, I think that’s when I got involved in some of the things that was going on in Central America. I was meeting other Vietnam vets in Portland, and I was starting to dialogue with them, and then that’s when I simply began to realize that I was the enemy in Vietnam, and it was just that simple. What happened when I realized that and had that powerful epiphany is that it dismantled my core belief system, because I was raised in the military. I believed that the United States had a right to be anywhere in the world, that we are spreading freedom and democracy around the world, and all of the sudden, I realized that is an entire lie. And I just felt like a stranger in a strange land. I became very afraid of the United States. I felt like I was in enemy territory living in my own country. So, I got involved with people that were involved in what was going on in Central America, certainly in Nicaragua, and you just continue to put more and more of the puzzle pieces together, and then you realize that you’ve got to bear witness. You’ve got to tell the truth about the entire war being a total, complete lie. And so I became obsessed with trying to educate the next generation of soldiers, and so I got heavily involved in the anti-war movement, especially around 1990, when the US got involved in Iraq, and so I joined a group in Portland called Northwest Veterans for Peace. Matthew Breems:Can you share some of the ways your group was able to protest or educate, especially during the Iraq War that started in the early ’90s? Mike Hastie:We started speaking out a lot. We were involved in demonstrations. Some of us were invited to speak at major rallies. And, I mean, I was one of them. And the other thing we did, which was so important to me, is that we started to go into the schools and educating the high school students. And there was some pictures certainly that I took in Vietnam and other anti-war art that I created when I got back. So, I’d go into those schools and I would put all of those pictures on the lip of the blackboard. And when I got up to speak, I was prompted by, when I was talking, by the photographs. And then, so I had some really powerful photographs. So, I started telling stories about things that I experienced in Vietnam, and the other thing I started doing is I started telling stories of other vets that had revealed to me things that they were involved in, and that’s when I finally realized that there is no rest for the messenger until the message has been delivered. So, it became an obsession for me to convey to these high school students the truth. Matthew Breems:And for our listeners, you’re able to view your photo essay on vietnamfulldisclosure.org. There is a tab there under media of photography, and your photos are on there. Mike Hastie:I try to use almost sound-bite stuff, like, “Lying is the most powerful weapon of war,” and the other thing I came up was, which this seemed to get a reasonable amount of notoriety because it was simple, I looked at the word war one day, W-A-R, and all of the sudden, I [inaudible 00:16:44] that war, W-A-R, stood for “wealthy are richer.” And that’s what these wars are about. These wars are about United States going into third-world countries and stealing their natural resources. And that’s what it’s about. And a lot of people have come up to me and they look at that and they go, “Wow, I get it. I understand it,” because I said it. These wars have nothing to do with freedom and democracy. We’re going in and stealing national resources and we’re murdering people and we’ve done it all over the world. Matthew Breems:Let’s jump ahead to the last few weeks here and the protests going on in Portland, Oregon, your home city, right now. And Mike, you’ve gained some unwelcome notoriety during those protests because of a viral video of you. Why don’t you go ahead and give our listeners an idea of what’s happening at these protests, why people are protesting? And then we can talk a little bit about the incident that has been just blowing up on the internet right now. Mike Hastie:Well, the main thing, as you know, is everything broke loose, obviously, when George Floyd was murdered. It just broke my heart when I saw that, because I served with black soldiers in Vietnam. I knew many of them well. One of my best friends was a black medic, and of course, when George Floyd was murdered, then of course we all know what happened in every major city across the United States. But for some reason, Portland decided that they were going to continue those protests week after week after week, because we have a lot of progressive people that live in Portland and a lot of young youth. And so we started demonstrating down at the Mark Hatfield Courthouse, which was right across the street from a couple of parks. Matthew Breems:And that’s a federal courthouse in Portland. Mike Hastie:Yeah. It’s the Mark Hatfield courthouse, federal courthouse. And so people would gather in that park and then we were protesting. And so every night there was people showing up that were demonstrating, and we were involved with Black Lives Matter, and so we went at it. And then of course there were some people that were there that were a little bit more aggressive than others, and that’s going to happen. That’s when fences were torn down, and it just got heated, and granted, there was some [inaudible 00:19:38] the protest side. They were trying to tear down a fence that went around the courthouse and that fence would be torn down and then the police reinforced it, and then there were things that were thrown at the police, things like water bottles. And so the police came out in full force and they were tear gassing us. They were firing their projectiles at us. They were taking people down. They were arresting people, and I had a projectile that was fired at me and I just got out of the way as it went whizzing by me. The more aggressive the police became, then sometimes the more aggressive the protestors became. There was about, sometimes, 2000 to 3000 people that would show up, and they were at all different levels of political awareness, okay? And the night that that Navy veteran… I think his name was Chris David. 53-year-old man. He was a graduate of the Naval Academy, and that was his first demonstration. So, he was down there and he wanted to dialogue with police officers. He had a mask on and he just wanted to talk to them about what they were doing. And what happened is he got directly pepper sprayed in the face, and then another officer took a baton and started beating on him. He hit him at least four or five times. And so, and I was in a situation where I could photograph that, when he was being pepper sprayed and beaten, and I’m down there, and I decided to give the cops a lecture as far as to why I was down there, what was the reason I was involved, because they were demonizing us. So, I was educating the police about what I did in Vietnam, that I was over there, and I finally realized that the United States was committing atrocities every single day. Matthew Breems:And how long were you talking? How long were you talking to these officers, educating these officers? Mike Hastie:I think I was on tape for about a minute and a half, which is quite a long time. And so, I was just talking to them about what we did in Vietnam. When you take into consideration- Matthew Breems:And they were just listening to you talk? Mike Hastie:They were listening at an at-ease position. They were staring at me. Nobody was saying anything. They weren’t making any gestures to come at me. They were listening. At least I assume they were, because I was pretty loud. And then all of the sudden, a cop comes from the side. He’s walking along the line of the other cops, and he takes a can of pepper spray and sprays me directly into my eyes. And at that point I had to decide, am I going to stop speaking? Am I going to just go off to the periphery and just kind of lick my wounds? And I said to myself, “No, I cannot do that,” because not only did Mike Hastie speak, but thousands of people that I know, their voices were inside of me, and so that’s when I regrouped and I went back at it and continued with my lecture, talking about the United States government committing atrocities every day in Vietnam. Matthew Breems:Well, you’ve been given a pretty powerful platform… unlooked for, of course… with this viral video to speak that truth. Any thoughts on the next phase of your activism? Mike Hastie:I’m going to continue to be involved in the protests, but I always have to say that things have changed a bit. A lot of people have dropped away from the protests because… We’re not seeing the same intensity that we saw down at the Mark Hatfield Federal Courthouse. There are some demonstrators down there, but it’s more of the younger generation that are down there. I mean, I’m 75 years old. If I were 25 and knowing what’s going on in this world right now, it’s overwhelming. I can’t imagine what these 20-some-year-olds are thinking. What kind of a future do I have? And so they’re adamant about going at the federal government. They’re pretty aggressive because I don’t know if we can stop the American empire with a peace sign. And I’m not saying that we’ve got to use violence against our country, but I know one thing, and this is important. There needs to be more people show up at these demonstrations, and I don’t care whether they’re in Portland or whether in Washington, DC, or whatever, but this empire has to be confronted. Matthew Breems:Well, Mike, thank you so much for sharing your story, for being so vocal in speaking truth to the lies in our nation. Wish you safety and health as you continue to protest in Portland there. Keep it up. Mike Hastie:Well, I just appreciate you taking what you heard today and taking it to the next level because that’s what has to be done, and thank you very much. Matthew Breems:This Courage to Resist podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace. This year marks 50 years of GI resistance to the US war in Vietnam, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured. This episode was recorded and edited by Matthew Breems. Special thanks to executive producer Jeff Paterson. Visit vietnamfulldisclosure.org and couragetoresist.org for past episodes, more information, and to offer your support. The post Podcast (VN-E38): “You’ve got to bear witness” – Mike Hastie appeared first on Courage to Resist.
26 minutes | 8 months ago
Podcast (VN-E37): “The only thing I’m proud of” – Mike Turek
VN-E37: Mike Turek by Courage to Resist | Vietnam Full Disclosure https://couragetoresist.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/CourageToResist_Podcast_Mike_Turek.mp3 Podcast (VN-E37): “The only thing I’m proud of” – Mike Turek Vietnam Series Podcast, Episode 37: Mike Turek joined the Air Force in the middle of the Vietnam War. During his enlistment he had a front row seat to the military’s annual war games in the Pacific. These troubling experiences led him to become a vocal anti-war protester in Honolulu, Hawaii. Mike went on to become an activist for Indigenous Peoples land and hunting rights. “People need to know that there were a lot of us in the military during the Vietnam war that did not support the war and took actions while we were in the service, no matter how limited we could do it. For me, that’s the only thing I’m proud of. Of the three years, 11 months, 11 days I was in the Air Force, the only thing I’m proud of was my involvement with the anti-war movement.” “First-termers had a different view of the military and the world than the career people. And a lot of that was cultural. A lot of it for me, was driven by music. That made me start thinking differently about the military and the war.” Vietnam Full Disclosure This Courage to Resist podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace — “Towards an honest commemoration of the American war in Vietnam.” This year marks 50 years of GI resistance, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured. Interview and edit by Matthew Breems. Jeff Paterson, Executive Producer. Help Keep These Podcasts ComingWe need to raise at least $15,000 to produce this two-year-long series of 50+ interviews so that this history is not lost! DONATE Transcript Matthew Breems: This is the Courage to Resist podcast. My name is Matthew Breems. This Courage to Resist podcast is produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace. Vietnam veteran Mike Turek is the podcast guest today. While serving in the Air Force Mike had a front row seat to the military’s annual war games in the Pacific. These troubling experiences led him to become a vocal protester, which eventually led to an undesirable reassignment to Greenland. Mike went on to become an activist for Indigenous Peoples land and hunting rights. Mike, I’m looking forward to our discussion today and hearing your story of activism. As always, we’re going to have you start off by giving us the background of how you ended up finding yourself in the Air Force during the Vietnam conflict. Mike Turek: Okay, well I’m Air Force Vietnam-era Cold War veteran. And I served from September of 1968 to the last day of August, 1972. I was stationed in Texas for training, Hawaii for two years and then Greenland. And my activism began about 1970 probably, when I began to get really disgusted with the war in Vietnam. And some other events that occurred including being involved with war games while I was serving in Hawaii, that opened up my eyes to the madness of the military command. Matthew Breems: Well, you had initially enlisted in the Air Force, so you were a willing participant in this. What happened to change your perspective on that? Mike Turek: Well, one of the things I think that isn’t discussed enough is that during that period, late sixties early seventies, culturally in our country there were a lot of changes and there was what was called the generation gap. And you really saw that in the military. First-termers had a different view of the military and the world than the career people. And a lot of that was cultural. A lot of it for me, was driven by music. That made me start thinking differently about the military and the war. Actually I was in about a year when I was in tech school and one song in particular, Sky Pilot by Eric Burdon, really started making me think. We also had a little black and white TV in the barracks in tech school, and I believe on Sunday nights The Smothers Brothers television show came on and we’d all gather around that, which also had some very strong political commentary. What was going on, on the outside in the civilian world really affected the military. And unlike what some people like to believe, that the G.I.s didn’t like hippies, or didn’t like the protests, that wasn’t true. That might have been true for the career people, but for the first-termers we identified more with the college protesters and the hippies than we did with being a GI. We didn’t want to be G.I.s. It was not something nice, it wasn’t something popular, it wasn’t something cool. Many of us just wanted to get out as soon as possible. Matthew Breems: You found yourself in tech school, your views on the military and their involvement in Vietnam had started to change because of the popular culture around you. What transpired next that really made you take some first steps of activism? Mike Turek: Well, when I got to Hawaii, I was in the service about a year, and that was in the communications service in the Air Force and top secret crypto clearance. And I worked in a comm center in a Navy facility, the Kunia Tunnel, which was built in World War II after Pearl Harbor. And the idea was they were going to store aircraft in this tunnel, which is right behind Wheeler field. By the time they built the tunnel the war ended, and so it was repurposed in the fifties as a communication center and the alternate command post for the Pacific Theater, so that’s where I worked. And during the worldwide war games every year, the alternate command post would be manned by generals and all the staff from Hickam and Pearl Harbor. And we would get all this communications’ information routed through our comm center. And when I participated in the war games, that’s when I learned about the plan for using the doomsday machine to end the war. And they did this both years that I was involved with the war games. And to me that was just total madness. And I said, “This is wrong. These people are crazy.” And so really that and, like I said, what was happening in Vietnam, the Kent State massacre, the Winter Soldier campaign with the Vietnam veterans against the war. And then just learning more and more about the use of napalm, and just the horrendous effect that our murderous approach to war was having on the Vietnamese, I had to do something. That’s when I became involved with anti-war movement amongst G.I.s. Matthew Breems: And so as you have this front row seat to the military planning and strategy in war games, was there a defining moment that really caused you to start questioning it? Or was this more of a gradual process for you over the course of your time in Hawaii? Mike Turek: It was gradual, but one thing… The music was one thing that really got me thinking, and I would do a lot of reading also. But the movie Woodstock really was a special event for me because… And I saw it a number of times when I was in the service, and I enjoyed the music. But also it showed that there was an alternative to this militaristic, warmongering attitude in our society, there was the peace, love and dope of the hippies. And to me that showed me that there was an alternative way to view the world than what I’d been taught. And that really I think is to me, I tell people that’s the most important movie in my life, Woodstock. Because it began to give me an alternative view of the world that I didn’t have, I couldn’t really formulate to that point. And then for some reason that did it. Country Joe and his cheer, he was a Navy veteran. Jimmy Hendricks and his appearance and playing Star Spangled banner, the national Anthem, and he was an army veteran. He was a 101st Airborne veteran. These guys were veterans, they knew what they were talking about. They weren’t just some campus commando college student, and so that really struck home to me. That these guys, they had been there, they’ve done that. They may not have been to Vietnam, but they went in the military machine and they knew how that all works. Oddly enough, Woodstock was maybe the event that really pushed me over. Matthew Breems: And what was the first action that you took as an activist? Mike Turek: Well I’d go into meetings clandestinely distributing pamphlets on base, since you could get thrown in jail for that. The big event was in May of 1971 when I attended a demonstration at Schofield Barracks front gates. The big military army base on Oʻahu, right across the street from the Air Force base that I was stationed at. And that was the big event. I had attended several meetings at Honolulu, on the University of Hawaii campus or nearby, and these were hosted by the Hawaii People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice. And we worked with them, they worked with us G.I.s to demonstrate against the military. Against the Vietnam war, and against militarism. I went to a demonstration, like I say, in May of 71. It was all active duty G.I.s, Soldiers’, Sailors’, Airmen, Marines’. We weren’t in uniform, we had a permit so we were perfectly legal. And nothing really outrageous occurred during the demonstration. We marched, some holding signs saying hooray for our side, and we weren’t harassed by anybody. We were there for a couple hours, then we all went back to our barracks and ships. And then within several weeks I got orders to the air base Greenland. Matthew Breems: And so that wasn’t coincidental in your understanding? Mike Turek: Correct. I eventually found out how I got sent to Greenland, it was all kind of low level. It was a low level enlisted man who pulled the strings to get me sent to Thule. My NCOIC, Noncommissioned Officer in Charge, a tech Sargent who I was under in the teletype maintenance shop. He had a friend at Hickam who was an enlisted man who just cut the orders for me to go to Greenland and had them signed off by the brass. When I got to Greenland I found out that they had never requested me. The unit I went to in Thule had never requested me. They didn’t even know I was coming until I showed up on the manifest the day I was flying in, so it was a place to put a troublemaker, in the cooler. So- Matthew Breems: Literally. Mike Turek: Literally. Matthew Breems: Thule is a difficult place to cause trouble or cause dissension in the ranks? Mike Turek: Exactly. It’s what was referred to as isolated and remote. If you were married and a career personnel, you couldn’t bring your wife. At the time it was one of the worst assignments you could draw in the Air Force. It was isolated and remote, and in the Arctic. Frontlines of the Cold War, and a lot of people have to remember that during the Vietnam war the Cold War was raging, so we had troops all over the world getting ready for the next World War. Matthew Breems: Being in Greenland, were you able to continue your activism there or did that really have the effect of squelching active participation in resisting? Mike Turek: Yeah, there was nothing I could do, except on a personal level by just being problematic for the military. But there was nothing… Totally cut off from the rest of the world, there was no internet or anything at that time, so the only connection with the outside world we had was mail and then the telephone lines. And so it cut me off from any kind of organizing capability. Matthew Breems: After your stint in Greenland, what was the next step in your military career? Mike Turek: I got discharged. When I left Thule I had my three years, 11 months and 11 days that I had completed. And so I got discharged when I got back to the States. Well one thing that happened right away, this was in 1972, I got out of the service the last day of August, so there was the election in 1972 in November. Nixon was running against McGovern and as you know McGovern got creamed. Only won one state, Massachusetts. And that just indicated to me that it was hopeless to cause any kind of political change in the country. If the American people were willing to re-elect this crook Nixon by a landslide. Essentially I gave up on politics at that point. Matthew Breems: Take us into the next phase of life for you then. You kind of move on, you’re trying to establish a personal life. Walk us through that, and how did that turn into a different season of activism for you? Mike Turek: When I got out of the service I was actually planning on immigrating to New Zealand. I bought a new Jeep when I was in Detroit and I was going to drive that to the West Coast, sell it, and then go to New Zealand. Well I stopped in Denver to visit with a friend and ended up staying in Denver for about four and a half years. Then I decided to go back to college. And I actually went to college a bit in Denver. A community college. Which I liked, there were a lot of veterans there and some of the classes were quite interesting, but nothing really captured me and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Except I had a real interest in indigenous people, which I started when I was in the service in Hawaii. I got interested in the people of Polynesia. And then when I was in Greenland, it was really interesting because this is 1971, 1972, and Greenlanders were still dependent on dog sleds and wearing polar bear garments. And you would see them on base, we were restricted to the base. We couldn’t go off base in Thule, but Greenlanders would be at the post exchange sometimes, or at the hospital and you’d see them around, so that was interesting. And it got me interested in indigenous people. When I got to community college, I continued with that interest in anthropology and reading literature history of Native Americans. And then I eventually, late seventies, 1978, I decided to go back to college and I went to The Evergreen State College in Olympia for a year. So I transferred up to Western Washington University in Bellingham, and eventually went to a department there Fairhaven College, similar academically to The Evergreen State College. And I ended up graduating there with a self-designed degree in Native American studies and Environmental studies. And while I was in college, I worked on the national forest fire crews and then trail crews in the National Parks. And eventually that led to an interest in the history of Native Americans in the National Park service. And I pursued that for about 10 years as an independent scholar, working with a friend of mine who was actually a history professor, Bob Keller, who I became friends with. And he and I ended up writing a book on American Indians and National Parks that was published in 1998 with the University of Arizona Press. And that work led to work with the Yakima Indian Nation, and then where I worked for 15 years at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Subsistence division. A social science unit working with the Alaska natives in Southeast Alaska on hunting, and fishing, and trapping issues. And I retired from Fish and Game in 2010 and then came to Eureka where I worked for the Forest Service my last six years of work in Tribal Relations, so my interest in Native Americans history and studies, and National Parks and National Forests led to a career. I consider myself an activist in that respect, in that world of Native Rights. Matthew Breems: Were you able to play any role as far as Native Rights and how that relates to their interaction with the US government? Mike Turek: Yeah. When I worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Subsistence division, a big part of our work was regulatory development of regulations. We were involved with Alaska State regulations, hunting and fishing regulations, and that’s where we could have some impact, but we were limited because the State of Alaska is very racist, very anti-native. We didn’t have any support, really, from the legislature, but we had the governor’s office support. And he appointed our director, Mary Pete, the late Mary Pete. She was a Yup’ik Eskimo anthropologist, interpreter, and she was our director. And so that gave us some cover to operate within the department with a little bit of power, but not much, but we tried to do what we could to defend Native issues at the Board of Game and Board of Fish in Alaska and had some success. But the department and the legislature really kept a thumb on us, so it was very difficult. It was very politically charged. The whole issue of Native Rights in Alaska in particular Hunting and Fishing Rights is really politically charged. I did it for 15 years and that was about all I could take and I wanted to get out of Alaska, especially after Knowles left, it really started getting bad working for the department, so it was time to leave. And that’s why I was shopping for jobs in the lower 48 in Tribal Relations and was able to get one here, land one in Eureka at Six Rivers National Forest. Matthew Breems: And during this time, were you able to be active at all as far as being an anti-war resistor or an activist in any way, or was your focus just exclusively with Native American Rights? Mike Turek: Well, when I got up to Juneau, Alaska with my job at the department of Fish and Game, it was in 1995, I became involved with the Veterans for Peace, Juneau, Alaska branch. Several 4th of July’s, I was in the parade. We would join in on the 4th of July parade, a group of us anti-war veterans. And that’s really all I did there. But when I came down to Eureka, I got involved a bit with the Golden Rule Project. In 1958, four Quaker activists sailed the Golden Rule, a 30 foot sailboat toward the Marshall Islands in an attempt to halt atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, they were boarded by the Coast Guard in Honolulu, and arrested, and put in jail. But this brought national attention to atmospheric nuclear testing. And years later, it was stopped. The atmospheric testing was stopped and some people contribute the beginning of that… Well, maybe not the beginning of that movement, but the momentum of that movement really picked up after the Golden Rule event. Now, eventually the Golden Rule ended up back down here in Eureka, in Humboldt Bay and it sunk during a storm and some local people, including Leroy Zerlang who has a boat yard here. He lent his boat yard and equipment to the Veterans for Peace chapter in Eureka and dozens of other volunteers. And over about a five year period from 2010 to 2015, she was restored and put a float. I didn’t get involved with the Golden Rule until she was a float and ready to sail. And when I did, when I became involved with the Golden Rule, doing some preliminary research on the possibility of getting the boat on the National Register of Historic Places, because there are ships, and boats, and watercraft listed in the National Register of Historic Places. But what I found from my research was that there are many sites on the National Register of Historic Places that won their significance due to their cultural slash political role in particular, the civil rights movement has a number of locations on the National Register that were the locations and buildings themselves were involved with the Civil Rights, so I was looking at trying to get the Golden Rule perhaps on the National Register through its political cultural history. But what I found from my preliminary research, as far as I could find, there are no ships, boats or watercrafts on the National Register that are there because of their cultural, political significance, so I sort of ran into a wall on that. Matthew Breems: Any thoughts or things you’d like to share with the current generation, especially the younger generations are very removed from the Cold War, it’s a history lesson to them now. Vietnam is just a history lesson to them now. Anything you would want to share with those people from the younger generations? Mike Turek: I’m hesitant to give any kind of advice to young people about the military, because I’m going to be ignored. I figure I’m going to be ignored. I don’t know what to say to them, because they’re not going to believe some old guy, some Vietnam-era veteran. I don’t really have much to say to young people today about this. Essentially I’ve given up, once Trump got elected. I figured, you know, any country that will allow him to assume the presidency is doomed. That and what’s going on with the climate chaos. I don’t see much hope for the future. And I don’t want to tell young people that, but if I’m going to be honest with them, that’s what I would have to say. I just don’t, don’t say anything. People need to know that there were a lot of us in the military during the Vietnam war that did not support the war and took actions while we were in the service, no matter how limited we could do it, to try to at least express our view. I think a lot of stuff that you’re seeing about Vietnam now, doesn’t really portray that accurately. The only time in our history where a large number of people in the military were verging on mutiny. It was a unique experience for us and more Americans should know about it. For me, that’s the only thing I’m proud of, of the 3 years, 11 months, 11 days I was in the Air Force. The only thing I’m proud of was my involvement with the anti-war movement while I was in the military. And although I got sent to Thule, Greenland as punishment. I didn’t get a bad discharge. I didn’t get thrown in jail. A lot of guys that were even less involved in activities than me got in a lot more trouble, so I was pretty lucky that way. Okay. I have one thing I’d like to share. Okay. This is a quote about my military experience. This is from Suketu Mehta in Maximum City a book that he wrote, and this is his quote and it pertains to me. And I think a lot of other G.I.s, and a lot of other veterans. “Each person’s life is dominated by a central event, which shapes and distorts everything that comes after it and, in retrospect, everything that came before.” Matthew Breems: Well, Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, to share your story of activism, your involvement in resisting. Thank you so much. Mike Turek: Thank you. Matthew Breems: This Courage to Resist podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure Effort of Veterans For Peace. This year marks 50 years of G.I. Resistance to the US war in Vietnam in and out of uniform for many of the courageous individuals featured. This episode was recorded and edited by Matthew Breems. Special thanks to executive producer, Jeff Paterson. Visit vietnamfulldisclosure.org and couragetoresist.org for past episodes, more information and to offer your support. The post Podcast (VN-E37): “The only thing I’m proud of” – Mike Turek appeared first on Courage to Resist.
23 minutes | 10 months ago
Podcast (VN-E36): “I wanted to forget about it” – Mike Tork, Vietnam Veteran
VN-E36: Mike Tork by Courage to Resist | Vietnam Full Disclosure https://couragetoresist.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/CourageToResist_Podcast_Mike_Tork.mp3 Podcast (VN-E36): “I wanted to forget about it” – Mike Tork, Vietnam Veteran Vietnam Series Podcast, Episode 36: Mike Tork joined the Navy before turning 18 and served in Vietnam with the Mobile Riverine Force (1966-1967). Today he serves as treasurer and liaison for School of Americas Watch and on the board of CIS [Centro De Intercambio Y Solidaridad / Center For Exchange and Solidarity], in Central America. Mike is an active member of Veterans For Peace. “We picked up a bunch of prisoners and we’re transporting them downriver. I remember, first of all, how really terrified they were. I could see it in their eyes, and that blew me away and really got me thinking. I thought— I didn’t understand why they were so afraid! I thought we were— you know, “We’re Americans; we’re not going to hurt you. We’re.—We’re great!” But I sure didn’t see that in their faces.” “I think the hardest thing though for Vietnam veterans was to admit that the people I knew in Vietnam died in vain — My friends that died there, it was in vain. I think that’s very difficult for veterans to come to grips with. “ Vietnam Full Disclosure This Courage to Resist podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace — “Towards an honest commemoration of the American war in Vietnam.” This year marks 50 years of GI resistance, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured. Interview and edit by Matthew Breems. Jeff Paterson, Executive Producer. Help Keep These Podcasts ComingWe need to raise at least $15,000 to produce this two-year-long series of 50+ interviews so that this history is not lost! DONATE Transcript Mike Tork: We picked up a bunch of prisoners and we’re transporting them downriver. I remember, first of all, how really terrified they were. I could see it in their eyes, and that blew me away and really got me thinking. I thought— I didn’t understand why they were so afraid! I thought we were— you know, “We’re Americans; we’re not going to hurt you. We’re.—We’re great!” But I sure didn’t see that in their faces. Matthew Breems: This is the Courage to Resist Podcast. My name is Matthew Breems. This Courage to Resist Podcast is produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace. On this episode of Courage to Resist, veteran Mike Tork shares his story of activism. Mike is a lifelong member of Veterans For Peace. He serves as treasurer and liaison for School of Americas Watch and on the board of CIS [Centro De Intercambio Y Solidaridad / Center For Exchange and Solidarity], in Central America. Hello, Mike. It’s great to be talking to you today. I am excited to hear your story of activism, how the Vietnam conflict affected you, how you responded to it. How did you find yourself in the midst of the Vietnam conflict? Mike Tork: Thank you, Matt. I’m glad to be here. Well, I grew up in Southern California, which at the time was very conservative. A lot of John Birch folks around, which was a very, very conservative group. And I think I was very naive. I wasn’t very politically aware, and living in Southern California, I was a surfer and sadly I really didn’t pay attention. So I joined the military. I voluntarily joined the Navy. I didn’t like high school a lot. I didn’t really fit in, and I think I was looking for something to— some place where I could fit. So I joined when I was 17 and a half with my parents’ permission, and I joined the Navy Reserve. You can join at 17 and a half. Probably within a year, I was on active duty. You know, I believed USA was the greatest place and they could do no wrong. And you know, John Wayne is from Southern California, and I believed it. Matthew Breems: Tell us a little bit about your years in the Navy. What did your service look like, and in what capacity did you serve? Mike Tork: I was in the Navy active duty. Like I said, I started out in early ’65 in the reserves—or late ’60— yeah, early ’65, and about a year later I went active duty. I didn’t go to all the meetings and do all the things I was supposed to. And again, kind of going back to how naive I was, I didn’t realize how serious it was but… So I was told, “All right, you’re going to have to go on active duty now.” And I said, “Well, I want to go to Vietnam, and I want to be part of a river patrol or river group.” And I remember the chief looked at me and said… He was a little shocked, but he said, “Well, that’s probably not going to be a problem. You’ll probably get your wish.” So I am— ended up in Mobile Riverine Force in Vietnam. So I was actually in Vietnam most of 1966 and part of ’67. Matthew Breems: So what were your first impressions when you got over to Vietnam? Mike Tork: Well, it became apparent very soon that something wasn’t right. It wasn’t what I was being told. Perhaps it was a mistake—I remember thinking that. But the other thing, since I spent so much time on the rivers, was how amazingly beautiful it was, and this was, you know, kind of in the middle of the war, of the American war there and— but I still was able to see how beautiful was. And I used to think to myself, “I’d like to return,” when people weren’t shooting at me. But I guess my early impression was that it wasn’t exactly as I was— had been told. Matthew Breems: Was there an event, or was it a more gradual turning of mind that caused you to come to a place where you realized that what was happening there was not what you had been told? Mike Tork: Absolutely. The first real chink in the armor that I observed was: We were upriver, the Mekong Delta, but we were upriver, and we had to— we picked up a bunch of prisoners, and we’re transporting them downriver. So I was involved with picking them up on the boat and taking them back to our ship. And then part of the folks that were–kept an eye on them while we were transporting them downriver. And I remember, first of all, how young they look. And I was 18 myself, so… And the second thing I remember is how really terrified they were. I could see it in their eyes. They were very afraid. And that blew me away and really got me thinking. I thought— I didn’t understand why they were so afraid! I thought we were— you know, “We’re Americans; we’re not going to hurt you. We’re— We’re great!” But I sure didn’t see that in their faces. And I think that was a moment for me where I really started looking at it from another point of view. Matthew Breems: By the time your military service ended, what were your views about the war, and how did that come about? Mike Tork: It changed radically. I knew it was a big mistake somewhere inside of me, and I wanted to forget about it—I think that was my first…kind of reaction to it. I moved to Northern California, started working in the woods, pretty isolated, and just wanted to forget about the whole thing. But we know that never works. Certain things happen to people and they don’t just go away. And it wasn’t until years later, actually in a relationship with an amazing woman during a big blow-up— I was always fighting with her, not physically, but we would have big blow-ups. She looked at me and she said, “You know what? You should really go talk to somebody about your experience in Vietnam,” and that was good advice. I did that and joined a group and— in Eureka, California. And that was helpful for at least coming to terms. Mike Tork: I think the hardest thing though for Vietnam veterans was to admit that the people I knew in Vietnam died in vain, the— My friends that died there, it was in vain. I think that’s very difficult for veterans to come to grips with. There was three million veterans in Vietnam, and some 850,000 of them are still alive, and I wonder why more of them don’t join Veterans For Peace or speak out against war. But I think for them it’s difficult again to admit that their friends died in vain. They died for lies. Matthew Breems: So the Vietnam conflict ended, you are moving on with life just trying to forget about it. Fast forward a little bit. Take us to the point where you decided that you needed to revisit what happened there in as far as becoming an activist. Mike Tork: Well, like I said, I knew soon after getting home— or even prior to that, I knew it was a mistake. But again, as I said, I kind of buried it. And when I was being released, we were taken to Treasure Island in San Francisco, and I remember a chief telling all of us that it would be best if we just moved on with our lives, forgot about everything, didn’t bother trying to talk to our civilian friends about it. And I thought at the time, “Well yeah, that’s great advice, but how AM I supposed to move on with my life?” So I buried it. But when things flared up in Iraq, I could see the writing on the wall, the same old bullshit, the same old lies, you know, the weapons of mass destruction. I just saw this same thing repeating again. Matthew Breems: And this was the second Iraq invasion? Mike Tork: Yes. And I, you know, just— I figured you know, it’s— I need to do— I need to start becoming a lot more active and start speaking out about this. More lies! They say that the truth is always the first thing to die or the first fatality in war, and it was happening again. You know, the feeling of being betrayed because of Vietnam really was a strong emotion in me, and I didn’t want to see it happen all over to another set of veterans. So I found out about Veterans For Peace, joined them in Boston, the Smedley Butler Brigade. And the same year I— you know, that year, I think it was 2005, I went to their convention, and just very involved since then. Found out about School of Americas Watch, which I’m also involved with, at that convention, and it really got me active. Matthew Breems: So, Mike, why don’t you give us a little bit of information about some of the ways that you are active, like you said, with the School of Americas Watch. You were the treasurer there. That’s correct? Mike Tork: I am the treasurer, yes. And I’m also involved with an organization called CIS [Centro De Intercambio Y Solidaridad / Center For Exchange and Solidarity] in El Salvador. I’m a treasurer on that and a board member. And all those things happened at the 2005 Veterans For Peace convention, the first convention I went to. I met Roy Bourgeois, who’s the founder of School of Americas Watch, and right away wanted to become more involved. And one of my veteran friends, an amazing man, Wayne Whitman, was also at the convention and organizing a delegation to El Salvador as an observer during— an election observer, which also appealed to me. So I jumped in both of those things. And again, it was because my association in— with Veterans For Peace. Matthew Breems: So what are some of the other activities that you have been able to participate in with the School of Americas and with CIS? Mike Tork: Well, with School of Americas Watch, they’re very involved— Of course, they’re— you know, closing WHINSEC [Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas] on the base in Fort Benning is a priority, and it has remained so for 30 years. Many of the people trained at that facility end up terrible human rights violations throughout Central America and South America. Typically, once a year, they would meet at Fort Benning, at the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. But the last three years they moved to the border and had an encuentro in Nogales, Arizona, because of the border issues—and because of the direct connection between the training that happens on Fort Benning and the violence and disruption and intervention we see in Central and South America. So there’s a direct correlation. So they went and moved to the border, which School of Americas felt like that was kind of the— the trenches. Mike Tork: So I’ve been very involved in the organizing committee on all three of those encuentros. It was a gathering on both sides of the border, both in Mexico and in Arizona, and I’ve been very involved with deported veterans who I met at the encuentros. And I’ve remained involved with the deported veterans since then. So that’s— And we’re currently planning an action in Tucson, Arizona, around immigration justice and immigration rights. Trying to get as much water out into the desert as we can, both because water is life saving for those crossing the inhospitable desert, but also to stand up against Border Patrol, who’s just being— using intimidation to try to scare folks that want to provide humanitarian aid away. So it’s kind of a twofold goal there: get the water out in the desert, show Border Patrol that we’re not going to be intimidated. Mike Tork: As far as CIS, which is in El Salvador, they’re a solidarity group. They’ve been there for 30 years, standing in solidarity with the Salvadorans and providing amazing aid. The work they do down there is nothing short of incredible. They give lots of scholarships, high school and college; they support women’s businesses. I mean, it’s a very, very long list. They’re an amazing organization and I’m very proud to be part of it. And in fact, next week I’m headed down there for the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero. So I’m the treasurer and a board member of that organization. And like I said, I’m happy! I’m busy with all three organizations. Mike Tork: I just want to mention this, because it’s something that really sticks out in my mind and an indication to me that I knew something was afoul. When I came back to Treasure Island to— I flew back from Vietnam. I remember the pilot tilting the wing and going, “Okay, there’s Vietnam. Say goodbye to it, you guys. You won’t have to see it again.” And of course everybody, all kinds of military people, cheered, but the rest of the flight was really quiet actually. And when I arrived at Treasure Island, you would think it would be a time that I’d be elated or happy. But looking back at it, I was probably the most depressed I’ve ever been in my entire life. It was… It was miserable. It was— I remember, it was foggy, everything was gray. It was very, very depressing, and I really didn’t know why, but looking back at it, I do know now why it was so depressing. Matthew Breems: Explain a little bit why that was depressing. You think after being in conflict like that, coming back home would be a joyous occasion. Mike Tork: Well, I knew in my soul or deep inside that— what a mistake it was. I knew many, many people had died, both— on both sides. And I think it’s kind of a common theme, but I think I felt kind of guilty and worried about my friends still in Vietnam. I mean, the one thing the military does is, they can build deep relationships pretty quickly, and so I was worried about them. When we were in Vietnam, I used to— again, being naive, every time a boat went out on patrol, I wanted to make sure that I was on board as an engine man. Because again, being naive, I thought, if something happened, I’d get everybody back, and I didn’t want my friends out there without me being there. So I think that’s pretty much the nutshell of why I found the return to Treasure Island so enormously depressing. I remember being so excited to see all my friends once I got home, and as soon as I did, it was just like, “Oh, my God, you guys haven’t changed at all! You’re still like in high school.” And I felt like I was way past that. Matthew Breems: Mike, you’re very active currently with Veterans For Peace. What are the most important ways that veterans can be involved in the peace movement? What are the most important ways that non-military people should be involved in the peace movement? Mike Tork: Well, I like doing actions, and I’ve got several friends, probably some of them that you’ve interviewed. So I like doing things, whether it’s protesting somewhere or blockading something, or— That’s what I like to do, is action. Overall, I see Veterans For Peace as providing support to other groups. I see our role more as, instead of trying to always be out in front of the parade and all that, a role more of support. And so, I mean, that’s kind of what I try to bring to other groups and try to get veterans involved with, whether it’s School of Americas or CIS, is to join a support. Matthew Breems: And what about those who have never been in the military, but this is a cause that they feel strongly about, seeing wars and seeing America not be the aggressor? How do they need to get involved? Mike Tork: Well, there’s many ways. I wouldn’t want to tell somebody one organization or one way they should be involved, but I would tell people, “You need to get involved in something certainly around ending war.” And I think it’s important that they join and that we all join together. I see— So I would tell them to get involved. There’s many, many groups doing great work, and I think those groups need to come together and form an alliance. I think— You know, it’s nothing new—or not a new idea, but if we want to really build capacity in our ability to make change, we have to come together. All these different groups need to form an alliance and start combating this. It’s crazy. Matthew Breems: And, Mike, one last question for you. How do you stay hopeful in trying to resist the military-industrial complex that’s calling the shots currently in our political climate? Mike Tork: That’s a tough question. I don’t know if I’m having any effect on all that. I mean, it’s such big money and it’s political support and for the— all that is so strong. I don’t know! I think I don’t try to… I would love to see that, but I think I try to break it down in smaller pieces and try to do things that I know I have a pretty good chance of being successful at. I mean, getting rid of the military-industrial complex or changing it or switching it around, that’s going to take a lot of people coming together. That’s huge. And it’s huge money. I don’t know. You ask me how I remain hopeful, I guess I try to look at things I know I have a good chance of accomplishing or being successful and try to focus on those. Knowing that the end game is really to change, maybe turn the whole system around. Matthew Breems: Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story of activism and the ways that you’ve been involved. And it’s greatly appreciated. Thank you for all that you do and all the ways that you serve in the peace movement. Mike Tork: Well, thank you. And thank you for all you do too. Matthew Breems: This Courage to Resist Podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace. This year marks 50 years of G.I. resistance to the U.S. war in Vietnam, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured. This episode was recorded and edited by Matthew Breems. Special thanks to executive producer, Jeff Paterson. Visit vetnamfulldisclosure.org and couragetoresist.org for past episodes, more information, and to offer your support. The post Podcast (VN-E36): “I wanted to forget about it” – Mike Tork, Vietnam Veteran appeared first on Courage to Resist.
29 minutes | a year ago
Podcast: “What am I doing here? This is crazy!” – Brian Willson
S Brian Willson by Courage to Resist | Vietnam Full Disclosure https://couragetoresist.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/CourageToResist_Podcast_Brian_Willson.mp3 Podcast: “What am I doing here? This is crazy!” – Brian Willson As a US Air Force officer in Vietnam, he observed the needless bombing of numerous civilian villages, causing him to become vocal about his opposition to the war. Brian went on to be an anti-war author and activist. The price for his dedication to activism was high, eventually costing him the use of his legs. “I’d probably seen somewheres between 700 to 900 dead Vietnamese, most of whom were children or very young people. I was both shocked and sickened, and I thought, “Maybe these are mistakes. Or maybe I just don’t understand the intelligence enough.” I already was beginning to think that these people are just Vietnamese people just trying to live their lives, and I didn’t quite know why we were there…yet. I mean, I needed to intellectually understand it. Emotionally, I was distraught.” “I had a little Volkswagen Beetle with flower decals all over it, which was a flower-power car, which was very— In that day and age in the military in Louisiana, it was very extraordinarily unusual to have a car like that.” Vietnam Full Disclosure This Courage to Resist podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace — “Towards an honest commemoration of the American war in Vietnam.” This year marks 50 years of GI resistance, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured. Interview and edit by Matthew Breems. Jeff Paterson, Executive Producer. Help Keep These Podcasts ComingWe need to raise at least $12,500 to produce this year-long series of dozens of interviews so that this history is not lost! DONATE Transcript Brian Willson: The Vietnamese base commander one day asked me to determine whether airstrikes were successful at hitting their targets. We went to five different target areas. Everything that I observed were inhabited, undefended fishing villages, completely wiped out. Matthew Breems: This is the Courage to Resist Podcast. My name is Matthew Breems. This Courage to Resist podcast is produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace. Vietnam veteran and author Brian Wilson is the guest today. As an air force officer, he observed the needless bombing of numerous civilian villages, causing him to become vocal about his opposition to the war. Brian went on to be an anti-war author and activist. The price for his dedication to activism was high, eventually costing him the use of his legs. Matthew Breems: Brian, it’s exciting to take this time to hear about your story of activism. I know you grew up in New York State. Why don’t you start us off with what life was like growing up in New York for you? Brian Willson: I grew up in a very rural upbringing, conservative parents, conservative relatives, conservative friends. I didn’t even know what “conservative” was at the time. It was just the way it was! Even though I didn’t live around black people, there were a lot of comments in my family and among my friends over the years growing up that were very derogatory about African Americans but also Italian Americans and Catholics and Jews. So it was a very white, Eurocentric, Northern European community, as with all my relatives. My parents were also very religious in the Baptist Church. My father was a deacon. But I was an athlete. So my life pretty much revolved around sports, which took me out of the house a lot, so— and I was a good student, good enough. After high school, went into junior college. Brian Willson: After junior college, I went to a four-year college. I did not have what you might call “politics.” It was just, growing up in America was the greatest thing. It’s American exceptionalism. I mean, as a white male who was six foot three inches, a good athlete, fairly good student, I knew growing up in the ’50s and early ’60s that if I got a college degree, life was going to be a bowl of jelly. I would get a degree, get a good job, and have the American dream. That’s kind of the mindset I had growing up even into college years. Brian Willson: I started college in 1959 to— undergraduate, so I graduated in 1964, before Vietnam was… I mean, it was definitely heavily in swing, but it wasn’t much in the news yet in 1964. We did not have any mainline troops. We had advisers. Interestingly enough, when I graduated from college, I originally was going into seminary, but I decided that maybe it would be better to get my military out of the way first. Brian Willson: So I actually enlisted into an air force program— I tried to, in 1964, and I was rejected for a very simple medical condition called Pes Cavis, which means high arches in the feet. So I said, “Okay.” Then I decided to go to law school instead of seminary, and I wasn’t going to be in the military. And by the time I got to being a second year law student, fourth semester law student, I wasn’t so excited about going into the military at all at that point. I mean I wasn’t interested in enlisting like I had been in ’64. And when I got drafted, I told them that I had been turned down by the air force in 1964; and by that time, in ’66, they needed the bodies too badly, so they said that was a waiverable condition. Brian Willson: So that’s why I enlisted in the air force in 1966, when I was 25 years old. So I was already old to get— to start with. Went through officer training school, became a second lieutenant, and was sent to headquarters, Washington, to write regulations about security regulations. And then in ’68, I got my orders to go to Vietnam by way of 12 weeks of training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in a new air force program that was, they called, a Ranger program, to protect air bases in hostile areas. They even said that we might be going to Guatemala, and I had no idea what was going on in Guatemala. Of course, I had no idea what was going on anyways, really. Brian Willson: When I was in that Ranger training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, with 558 other airmen, I was one of the 21 officers in the squadron. We all had to do bayonet training, but I found it so repulsive I didn’t do it. But I didn’t know that I felt repulsed until I actually got in the exercise itself. I hadn’t thought about it. But when you’re fixing the bayonet on your M-16, and you’re plunging it into a dummy, and you were to plunge that bayonet 100 times while screaming “Kill!” as loud as you can—-and you were never screaming loud enough for the trainers. They kept saying, “Louder, louder.” There was something about it that I felt so [repulsed]. I was trying to overcome my resistance because I really didn’t want to get in trouble. I did not do the bayonet training, and I did get in trouble for that, and that was in my first month of training. So that was the first clue maybe. that— Maybe that was a clue there was some other part of me that was trying to emerge. At any rate, it didn’t keep me from graduating. Matthew Breems: After your initial training, tell us about some of your first experiences in Vietnam. Brian Willson: Well, actually, before I actually got on the plane, there was a possibility in my mind that I wasn’t going to get on the plane. Because by this time, I was very disgruntled about the training, about my being picked for the training, not being motivated. If you’re going to be a Ranger, so-called, you’ve got to be motivated. And I thought, “Wow, I’ve got 42 men under my command, and if I’m not motivated and we’re going to be in hostile areas, I don’t think I’m the right person for the job.” So I had those kinds of discussions with our superior, but I didn’t have the courage to not get on the plane. Brian Willson: My opposition to the war was not very strong yet, but I was suspecting that it was probably not such a noble cause. But more than that, I was worried about whether I could be a good leader. But I got on the plane, we landed at Cam Ranh Bay, and then we went to our headquarters in Phan Rang the same night. Our squadron was broken up into 10 different places, and my unit, we were called Flights—we were sent to a small bay, Binh Thuy down in the Mekong Delta. So there I was assigned to supplement an already… air base security force. Brian Willson: Binh Thuy was the most heavily mortared base in Vietnam at that time. And they made me the night security commander at that base, so I would basically work from 8:30 to 6:30, 8:30 at night to 6:30 in the morning. And my men were mostly on the perimeter. We were not operating as Rangers, which was very refreshing—for me at least. And so basically we were just protecting the base from sapper squads and mortar attacks, although there’s not much you can do with a mortar attack except try to identify where the mortars are coming from and start shooting our outgoing mortars in that direction. Brian Willson: I was very anxious and nervous in that job. And because I’d been a graduate student, when I was anxious, what I did was study,
29 minutes | a year ago
Podcast: “What did I do that you’re thanking me for?” – Camillo Bica
Camillo Bica by Courage to Resist | Vietnam Full Disclosure https://couragetoresist.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/CourageToResist_Podcast_Camillo_Bica.mp3 Podcast: “What did I do that you’re thanking me for?” – Camillo Bica Dr. Camillo Bica was a Marine Officer in Vietnam. Today, he’s an author, activist, and professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Dr. Bica is a longtime activist for peace and the Coordinator of Veterans for Peace in Long Island. “I didn’t do anything that should be remembered. I did things that I have to make restitution for and live with. And plus, their gratitude and their appreciation does not in any way help my healing. I don’t need people’s gratitude and appreciation to heal. I don’t need people’s forgiveness certainly to heal. I have to do that myself, and I have to do that with other veterans. I believe that in order to heal, we have to go to those places, those deep, dark, nasty recesses of our unconscious or our conscious and face these demons face-on, head-on, and together they can explore these issues in a safe environment. And that’s another important problem with mythology, I think, is that we would certainly rather think ourselves heroes rather than murderers or dupes.” “I didn’t go to Vietnam with the understanding that I was going to be killing human beings. As naive as I was, I thought I was going there to exorcise demons. So I bought on to the official position. Ultimately, however, it was a disaster, a quagmire, an immoral, illegal and unnecessary and divisive war that few chose to fight.” Photo of Dr. Bica speaking at rally by Matt Farrara Vietnam Full Disclosure This Courage to Resist podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace — “Towards an honest commemoration of the American war in Vietnam.” This year marks 50 years of GI resistance, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured. Interview and edit by Robert Raymond. Jeff Paterson, Executive Producer. Help Keep These Podcasts ComingWe need to raise at least $12,500 to produce this year-long series of dozens of interviews so that this history is not lost! DONATE Transcript Camillo Bica: I remember thinking in Vietnam that, “When I return home, I’m just merely going to pick up where I had left off.” All this horror was going to remain as a dream, a bad dream. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. When I returned home, I really felt a stranger in my own home. Matthew Breems: This is the Courage to Resist podcast. My name is Matthew Breems. This Courage to Resist podcast is produced in collaboration with the Vietnam full-disclosure effort of Veterans for Peace. Vietnam veteran Dr. Camillo Bica is the guest today. He is an author, activist, and professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Dr. Bica is a longtime activist for peace and the Coordinator of Veterans for Peace in Long Island. Well, good morning, Dr. Bica. Just to get us started, why don’t you give us a little bit of background on your growing up years, where you grew up and what life looked like for you leading into your military service. Camillo Bica: I was born in Brooklyn—Brooklyn, New York, and my parents are immigrants. And like most immigrants at the time, I think they were very grateful to be living in what they regarded as this land of unlimited opportunity. Camillo Bica: I was influenced by, I guess, Catholic school education and of course John Wayne movies. And John F. Kennedy as well, I guess, his admonishment that we should ask what we can do for our country. I really grew up stridently patriotic, I think, with a strong sense of duty to God and the country. Camillo Bica: My father, though an immigrant then, not yet a citizen, served in the American army as an interpreter and fought through the villages of Sicily, the land of his his birth. I remember growing up probably as a teenager listening to his stories a few times when he was probably, after a couple of glasses of wine, when he was willing to talk about it, and how he then described in great detail how the American artillery bombed and devastated the village in which he was born. He spoke about how he was torn between strong feelings of patriotism for his adopted homeland and a deep sense of shame and guilt he felt for the deaths of innocent villagers, some of whom had been his neighbors. I guess, in my youth, I was fascinated by war, exhilarated by war, but because of what I learned from listening to my father, I was also as aware of the kinds of effects it will have, that could happen, does happen. Camillo Bica: When I graduated college in 1968, America was at war, and communism was the menace du jour, and Vietnam was the focal point. As I come to understand, to the Vietnamese, however, it was a continuing struggle against another, in a seemingly endless series of colonial occupying powers. To us, it was portrayed as a grassroots struggle between North and South. Camillo Bica: Well, when I went to Vietnam, I didn’t go to Vietnam with the understanding that I was going to be killing human beings. As naive as I was, I thought I was going there to exorcise demons. So I bought on to the official position. Ultimately, however, it was a disaster, a quagmire, an immoral, illegal and unnecessary and divisive war that few chose to fight. So men were conscripted. Matthew Breems: And what was your role in that conflict? What branch of the armed services did you serve in? Camillo Bica: Yeah. I was in the Marine Corps and I was an officer in Marines. The way I looked at my job was that I had one purpose and that was to keep alive the people who I was responsible for. It was, as you can imagine, being an officer, at least I took it that way. It was an awesome responsibility for people’s lives, and that became my focal point. That became my focus, responsible for some 30-some Marines, average age around 20. Keeping them alive inevitably was through the deaths of other human beings who happened not to be Americans. So it wasn’t all that fun. Matthew Breems: And after your time in Vietnam, what was the next leg in your journey? Camillo Bica: I came home, and I had to deal with the issues of service and there were— Anyone who is touched by war is tainted. I remember thinking in Vietnam that when I returned home, I’m just merely going to pick up where I had left off. And all this horror was going to remain as a dream, a bad dream. I was going to go on with my life. I thought that was the way it was—that’s the way it would be. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. When I returned home, I really felt a stranger in my own home. I was disoriented and kind of adrift between the world that I did recognize as my place of origin, although now it was quite alien, and the world of killing and destruction of which I had become part. So things were different, and I remember, I was engaged to be married, but unfortunately that didn’t work out all that well as of itself. Camillo Bica: I guess that’s a result of my service. I remember what was supposed to be my mother— the person that was supposed to be my mother-in-law, telling me how different I had become, and I really didn’t understand that. I just thought things were different. They change, you change—that’s all. It took me a while to figure out that maybe it was that maybe I changed. And as much as I had come to hate the war, there at least I felt I belonged. Back home, I was a misfit, an aberration, isolated and alone. So I think Vietnam had become the defining experience in my life. Physical wounds heal, but I think emotional, psychological, and moral injuries linger, and unfortunately they fester. Camillo Bica: Sadly I think Vietnam forever is part— pervades my existence. And I feel like, for them to continually relive and question what I did and who I became— It wasn’t what I thought I was going to become—that’s for certain. But I think those are inevitable concerns of those who participated in war that are required to take life and cause others to die. Inevitable blame, we are told and urged by well-meaning friends and loved ones that, “Well, put it behind you” and, “Go on with your life.” No, again, the war is over, but I don’t think that’s possible. No one truly recovers from war, and I guess that’s the best that we can hope for … But choose some sort of benign acceptance of who we are. Did that end? I strive to forgive myself and absolve myself of guilt. Matthew Breems: Can you share with us the process of how your experiences in the Vietnam War began to lead you to become an activist against war? What did that process look like for you? Camillo Bica: Well, at the time when I— It was clear from the get-go, I think, that this was not what I was told I was going to be doing. I felt rather early on that I was misled, and that there’s insanity in this. And it fails to accomplish anything other than death and destruction, making us into killers and having to deal with that. Camillo Bica: Unfortunately, I— Unlike others, I lacked the courage to just walk away. So I persevered and continued on. I wasn’t quite so enthusiastic. I wasn’t quite so, I guess, good a Marine. When I returned from Vietnam, I was still in the military, and for whatever the reas
40 minutes | a year ago
Podcast: “Very jarring and brutal and dehumanizing” – Gerry Condon
Gerry Condon by Courage to Resist | Vietnam Full Disclosure https://couragetoresist.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Gerry_Condon.mp3 Podcast: “Very jarring and brutal and dehumanizing” – Gerry Condon Gerry Condon was a Green Beret when he publicly spoke out against the US war in Vietnam. In 1969, he deserted the Army in order to avoid a long prison sentence. Gerry lived in Sweden and Canada for six years, organizing for amnesty for fellow exiled war resisters. Today, he serves as the National Board President of Veterans For Peace. “Veterans coming back from Vietnam were telling me stories about US soldiers committing atrocities against Vietnamese civilians. And I was hearing these stories from veterans who were very upset at what they’d seen or done, and I was also hearing it from soldiers who were bragging about it, but they were both telling the same stories … I saw the writing on the wall, and I had an opportunity to escape.” “We consider ourselves exiles… [I lived] in Sweden and Canada for a total of six years. And so I returned to the US in 1975 as part of the campaign for amnesty … We learned how to organize, and we learned what victory tasted like, and knew that we had the power to win if we organized well.” Vietnam Full Disclosure This Courage to Resist podcast was produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace — “Towards an honest commemoration of the American war in Vietnam.” This year marks 50 years of GI resistance, in and out of uniform, for many of the courageous individuals featured. Interview and edit by Robert Raymond. Jeff Paterson, Executive Producer. Help Keep These Podcasts ComingWe need to raise at least $12,500 to produce this year-long series of dozens of interviews so that this history is not lost! DONATE Transcript Gerry Condon: Basic training for me was kind of brutal to my gentle spirit, if you will, and reinforced all the doubts I had about the war to begin with. It was racist. It was sexist to the max, and this was before I’d even heard the word sexism. It was all very jarring and brutal and dehumanizing, and just, as I said, reinforced my doubts about the war. Robert Raymond: This Courage to Resist Podcast is produced in collaboration with the Vietnam Full Disclosure effort of Veterans For Peace. My name is Robert Raymond, and we’re on the line with Gerry Condon, a Vietnam-era veteran who deserted the army in 1969 as a Green Beret and later became involved with the international movement for amnesty for anti-war resisters. Robert Raymond: Hi, Gerry. Welcome to the Courage to Resist Podcast. I’m wondering if to start, you could give us a bit of background on yourself and then maybe tell us the story about how you first deserted from the US Army in 1969. Gerry Condon: Sure. Thanks. Appreciate the opportunity to share my story. I was born and raised in San Mateo, California, in a suburb of San Francisco. I was the first son of an Irish Catholic family. My father and both his brothers fought in World War II, and they were all police officers in San Mateo. Gerry Condon: So you know, fairly conservative, patriotic family. They voted Democratic, except like a lot of Democrats, they voted for Eisenhower. And you know, my father kind of took a dim look at protests ,to say the least. I remember when the free speech protests were going on all across the Bay in Berkeley. He told me, “If you ever participated in one of those protests, I wouldn’t let you back in the front door of our house.” And I was kind of shocked because, first of all, it never occurred to me to participate in any kind of protest. I was a junior in high school and didn’t have any political ideas. And I was also shocked that he would lock me out in the house for doing so. Gerry Condon: But at any rate, that’s kind of a little bit of background where I come from. I went to Catholic schools kindergarten through eighth grade and then into a Catholic seminary. Thought I wanted to be a priest. For a year and a half, I was in St. Anthony’s Franciscan Seminary in Santa Barbara, California, right next to the Mission Santa Barbara. And then puberty happened and I changed my mind about being a priest, but still ended up in to an all boys Catholic school in San Mateo, [inaudible 00:03:03]. And then to a university of San Francisco, which I started in the year 1965, graduated from high school that year. University of San Francisco, despite the secular sounding name, is also a Catholic school. It’s a Jesuit university, and I was there for about a year and a half. Gerry Condon: And of course, now we have the Vietnam War coming on, and you know, I was living in the Haight Ashbury there, which is pretty close to the University of San Francisco. And there was a lot of counter-cultural stuff happening, but not very much anti-war stuff. Wasn’t really exposed to anti-war or peace activists and didn’t get too much information about the war, but I was having doubts of my own, because I realized that I could end up being drafted or forced into that war. And I really had kind of a… I would say spontaneous pacifist response; I didn’t want to kill anybody, especially just for reasons that I didn’t understand. So I actually wrote a letter to my draft board asking to be classified as a conscientious objector. Gerry Condon: And then they sent me a whole… seemed like an inch thick bunch of papers to fill out, asking very specific questions about my religious training and beliefs, because at that point in time, if you’re going to be a conscientious objector, it had to be based on your religion. Actually, if it was narrowly interpreted, it had to be based on a traditional pacifist church, which the Catholic church was not. It was tough for Catholics to become conscientious objectors because of the so called “just war theory” of the Catholic church. But at any rate, they wanted me to answer all these questions. And frankly, I was going through a crisis at that same time about my religious beliefs and was questioning everything I had been taught and was unable to fill out those questions and just kind of threw them in the wastebasket before long. I had lost my student deferment. I had dropped out of school for a month, for a semester to work, and I knew I was going to be drafted. Gerry Condon: So I jumped before I was pushed, and a buddy of mine who was in the seminary with me and then at University of San Francisco with me, we joined on the buddy system. And I went in the Army on April 10th, 1967, two days after my 20th birthday. So I actually signed up originally for a four year enlistment. The normal enlistment in the Army is three years, but I signed up for Army Security Agency, which would require language training, and so they asked for that extra year. So, I had a four year enlistment. But not long after I went to basic training… Gerry Condon: Well, I should say that a basic training for me was kind of brutal to my gentle spirit, if you will, and reinforced all the doubts I had about the war to begin with. It was racist. We were running around with our rifles, yelling, “Kill the gooks, kill the gooks,” and this I found very disturbing. It was sexist to the max. And this was before I’d even heard the word sexism. If we didn’t perform up to our sergeant’s desires, then we would be called cunts or something like that, you know? So it was all very jarring and brutal and dehumanizing and just, as I said, reinforced my doubts about the war. Gerry Condon: But nonetheless, I still didn’t have any information to really base a strong decision to refuse to participate on. I didn’t trust the pro-war politicians as far as I could throw them, but I also didn’t track the anti-war movement, because I’d been seeing all this propaganda against the anti-war movement. You know, “They’re just a bunch of communist sympathizers,” and this kind of language. So… and I hadn’t really been exposed to them, so I didn’t know whom to believe. Gerry Condon: And that was, you know, part of the reason I went into the Army, and part of the reason also that I later, when I was approached by special forces recruiter to go in to become a Green Beret, I chose that for a number of reasons. And one of them was, I thought, I maybe naively thought that if I was going to go to Vietnam, I would be closer to the people in Special Forces and I’d be able to understand what was really happening. Of course, there were other appeals to be in Special Forces, to the whole elitism of it. You know, we were all confused young men and being pushed and pulled a number of different directions. Gerry Condon: So at any rate, my decision to join Special Forces turned out to be a really good one for me, in the sense that it kept me in training for a long time. I ended up in the medic specialty. The Special Forces medic specialty requires a year long training just for the medical part, because they make kind of a jungle doctor out of you. You have to be able to do quite a few things, from diagnosing diseases, prescribing treatments and drugs, doing tracheotomies, amputations, and a lot of things. Gerry Condon: So it’s a year-long training, and that training kind of saved me in a way, because if I had just gone around regular infantry or something, I would have already been over in Vietnam gett
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