By John Catalinotto
Published May 24, 2008
Veterans groups and individual GI resisters and their supporters have
taken the lead in the U.S. anti-war movement. In mid-May there were
multiple reports of war refusals and one mass protest at a major
military training base for troops headed for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Near Fort Drum in upstate New York, the Watertown-based Different
Drummer Café joined with the Iraq Veterans Against the War and peace
activists who had marched from the upstate cities of Rochester,
Ithaca and Utica to hold a festival on May 17, Armed Forces Day.
Drummer organizer Tod Ensign told Workers World that as the official
Armed Forces Day Parade ended outside the Dulles Federal Building,
Col. Kenneth Riddle, Fort Drum's garrison commander, found himself
surrounded by IVAW members in their black T-shirts.
When asked about the failure of the command to address Iraq veterans'
problems with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), all Col. Riddle
could say was, "I just got here two weeks ago." Though the vets
requested a meeting, Riddle begged it off.
The festival, scheduled for a campsite and including five popular
musical performances, moved inside to the Different Drummer when rain
started. One observer described the scene: "Veterans and
anti-warriors from at least four U.S. wars mingled happily together.
The Drummer was bursting at the seams, as festival participants
spilled on to the mall walkway outside while over 50 danced and
An African-American veteran read a poem dedicated to his wife, a
soldier who has been called up for a second tour of duty in Iraq. She
was in the audience holding their 7-month-old son. The couple
received a tremendous outpouring of sympathy, including assurances of
legal, moral and practical support, whatever choice they make.
Ensign noted the atmosphere of mutual understanding between the
upstate peace movement and the soldiers just now beginning to
question the war. Another good point was the marchers' reception in a
traditionally conservative areaa local American Legion chapter
hosted the marchers for dinner and let them stay in their hall for
the night. Plus the marchers got relatively good publicity in both
local upstate press and in the New York Times. (May 15)
Ensign told how Gen. Michael Oates, commander of Fort Drum's 10th
Mountain Division, had released a conciliatory statement during the
week that he "welcomed" the peace marchers, saw "no problem" with
their demonstrating on base if they didn't block traffic, and said
active-duty GIs could join in if they didn't wear uniforms.
Support for resisters
Other signs of the disenchantment with the wars were the growing
number of war resisters.
One is Army PFC Ryan Jackson, who was formally charged with multiple
counts of being absent without leave, stemming from his attempt to be
released from the Army prior to Iraq deployment. His special court
martialwith a maximum one-year prison sentenceon these charges is
set for May 30 at Fort Gordon, Ga.
"Since I joined up with Courage to Resist and Iraq Veterans Against
the War, my life has changed. I plan to write a book about all of
this, and to make positive change in my community when I get out,"
said Jackson before turning himself in at Fort Sill, Okla., on April 4.
Dianne Mathiowetz, the Atlanta coordinator for the International
Action Center, told WW, "Support for Ryan Jackson is building with
activists in the Augusta area near Fort Gordon. Also, the Georgia
Peace and Justice Coalition and the IAC are mobilizing to attend the
vigil the night of May 29 and the court martial. All members of the
military who refuse to participate in this illegal war of occupation
deserve our full support."
IVAW member Matthis Chiroux announced on May 15 in Washington, D.C.,
his refusal to report to active duty. Sgt. Chiroux, who is originally
from Auburn, Ala., has done tours in Germany, Afghanistan and the
Philippines since his June 2002 enlistment.
"As an Army journalist whose job it was to collect and filter service
members' stories," Chiroux said, "I heard many stomach-churning
testimonies of the horrors and crimes taking place in Iraq. For fear
of retaliation from the military, I failed to report these crimes,
but never again will I allow fear to silence me. Never again will I
fail to stand."
Chiroux announced his courageous decision in the Cannon House Office
Building rotunda, after fellow IVAW members testified before the
Congressional Progressive Caucus.
During a court martial May 13 at Rose Barracks in Vilseck, Germany,
U.S. Army conscientious objector Robert Weiss was sentenced to seven
months confinement. Weiss pled guilty to charges of desertion and
missing movement. Weiss had learned in December 2007 that his
conscientious objector application was denied.
Bryan Currie says he joined the Army in November 2004 because "I
thought it would be a good thing to fight for my country." He was
trained as an Infantry Grenadier and was deployed to Afghanistan in
2006 for 11 months. He describes what he experienced when he got injured:
"We were on a convoy to pick up another soldier. I was the driver. On
the way back my truck got hit by a land mine. ... I got burned, I
lost four teeth, broke my jaw, got shrapnel on my hands, I was jolted
forward so my knees are all swollen and my back's always sore." He
was treated in Afghanistan, was out of combat for three weeks and
then was sent back to drive trucks.
When he returned to the U.S., he saw several military psychiatrists
who treated him for PTSD. "They'd give you a bag of pills and they'd
say, 'Here, try these and if that one doesn't work try another and if
you find one that does, stick to it.'" Ordered to redeploy despite
his injuries, Currie packed his bags and left. He is currently AWOL
and says he is now "100 percent against the military. I've done a
For more information on aiding resisters, see couragetoresist.org,
ivaw.org and differentdrummercafe.org.