By Kevin TillmanWinter Soldier 2008: Who Supports the Troops?Mon Mar 17, 2008 16:23188.8.131.52Winter Soldier 2008: Who Supports the Troops?
By Kevin Tillman, AlterNet. Posted March 14, 2008.
f I were a far better writer, I might -- might -- be able to convey the intensity of these Winter Soldier hearings.
On the way in were a few dozen right-wing protesters organized by the "Gathering of Eagles" -- a spin-off from the "Vietnam Vets for Truth" started during the 2004 campaign to go after Kerry. I've seen them at antiwar protests, and what struck me was that their messages were unchanged -- 'support the troops.' The concept that those giving testimony inside were the troops -- several with chests weighed down with decorations and metals -- was the definition of cognitive dissonance.
There was a heavy police presence surrounding the site of the hearings -- the campus of a local college in Silver Springs, Maryland. Snipers watched from rooftops, a mobile command post was set up and cops outnumbered protesters 2-1.
The panels were heart-breaking and gut-wrenching. Many of these vets are so young, and yet they've seen more than most of us can imagine. We talk about what the military is doing in our names, but to hear from people who were there doing it themselves, is something quite different. They talked about getting their first "kill," of having no clue what the mission was, of being in a cluster... of unbelieveable scope.
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Winter Soldier: America Must Hear These Iraq Vets' Stories
Penny Coleman, AlterNet. March 15, 2008.
If America listens to what they say, the war would be over tomorrow.
I missed the Winter Soldier Investigation in 1971. At the time I was married to a vet who desperately wanted to put his war behind him -- and he wanted me to help him do it. We were supposed to pretend it had never happened. It didn't work.
Daniel refused to talk about Vietnam. "Talk to your old lady? No ...ing way," his friend Bobby Lanz shot back when I said I thought that maybe Daniel wouldn't have killed himself if I had been able to get him to talk about whatever it was that was causing him such pain. "With other vets, you can say, 'shit man, I did all this horrible stuff. You're not going to believe the stuff I did', and someone who has been there will say, 'Yeah, so did I, so did we all.' But with your woman? You start to talk about having ...ed some folks up bad, doing awful things, killing people, maybe, and she starts to cry and you don't go there again. You think, ... me, man, I don't need to hurt her. This is psychological abuse, so I am going to shut up."
Maybe I wouldn't have understood. Completely. But not knowing was far worse. For decades, I took responsibility for his death. I thought it was my fault. And even if I hadn't been able to understand exactly what he was talking about, I would have understood that he was in a kind of lethal pain. Whether it was that he thought he deserved to die or that he deserved to be put out of his misery, either way, execution or euthanasia, I would have understood that he had been injured in the war. And I would have known where to focus my grief and my rage.
What I kept thinking today, listening to all those who testified at this new Winter Soldier investigation sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War at the National Labor College in Washington, DC, is that so much grief and pain for the past 30 years has been mis-directed, so much energy wasted, blaming ourselves and the soldiers we loved for the injuries that we couldn't see. Joyce Lucey, the mother of a soldier who took his own life after returning from Iraq, said that when he left he gave her a coin and told her to hold it like an amulet to keep him safe. She did, but she now understands that even though her son had been returned to her, his soul had been destroyed. "I should have been holding that coin after he came home."
But, she continued, "His voice is silenced. Ours is not." And she quoted Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil in America is for good men to do nothing."
Everything I heard today spoke to that challenge, to the challenge of channeling our combined grief and rage into a focused fight that will really, finally make a difference. Clifton Hicks began his testimony by saying that all of the men he served with in Iraq were there for love: love of country, of ideals, of comrades, and "for that they are beyond judgment. I am here," he added, "to judge the war itself."
One after another, veterans told conflicted stories, some with tears, some with rigid control, some with visible shakes, but all with hard-won moral courage and deep sorrow. John Michael Turner began his testimony by telling the audience that as far as he was concerned, "Once a Marine, Always a Marine" was history. For him it is now "Eat the apple and ... the corps." Then he tossed his dog tags into the audience saying, "... you, I don't work for you no more." Turner's first confirmed kill was on April 18, 2006. He shot an Iraqi boy in front of his father. It took a second shot to kill him. He had a photograph of the boy's open skull. Turner was personally congratulated by his commanding officer, who proceeded to offer a four day pass to anyone who got a kill by stabbing one of the enemy. Turner ended with, "I am sorry for the hate and destruction that I have inflicted on innocent people. I am sorry for the things I did. I am no longer the monster that I once was."
Hart Viges told of having an insurgent, armed with a rocket-propelled grenade, in his sights during a firefight and not being able to pull the trigger. He was frozen by awareness that the fear and confusion he saw on the Iraqi kid's face was exactly what he imagined was on his own.
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