Brian Lenzo and Tristan Brosnan report from local Winter Soldier
events held in New York and Massachusetts.
October 8, 2008
ACTIVISTS ARE taking the testimonies of Iraq and Afghanistan war
veterans on the road with a series of "Winter Soldier: Iraq and
Afghanistan" events in several cities.
Inspired by the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) hearings held in
Maryland earlier this year, the Northeast Winter Soldier turned out
more than 200 people at Monroe Community College (MCC) in Rochester,
N.Y., on October 4.
The hearings are modeled on the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigations
organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which made the case
that atrocities weren't aberrations but the logical consequence of
war and occupation.
The seven-hour event drew 250 people and featured Elliot Adams,
national president of Veterans for Peace and a former paratrooper who
served in Vietnam, Japan and Korea; Tod Ensign, director of Citizen
Soldier; and Michael Schwartz, author of War Without End: The Iraq
War in Context.
Some 15 local peace and justice groups, including Military Families
Speak Out (MFSO), Veterans for Peace, Campus Antiwar Network (CAN),
Students for a Democratic Society, the International Socialist
Organization (ISO) and Rochester Against War, had tables at the
event. IVAW members also offered sessions on how to support war
resisters and counter-recruitment.
The main event of the day featured IVAW members who talked about
their experiences and the lessons they have drawn from participating
in our government's wars. IVAW board of directors member Adrienne
Kinne, the MC of the day, opened the session with Rochester IVAW
member Tim Braley, who silenced the crowd with his description of
combat conditions in the middle of a densely populated Iraqi city.
Chris Grohs, a former medic with the 82nd Airborne Infantry, spoke of
the horrors he witnessed in Iraq.
"The things soldiers do, the things they have to do, are not the
fault of individuals or bad apples," Geoff Millard of Washington,
D.C., told the crowd, to thunderous applause. "It's the occupation
itself that's to blame." Geoff also described the state of veterans'
health care, saying, "The military medical system isn't there to heal
us, they're there to get us well enough to fight their wars."
Robynn Murray of Buffalo, N.Y., gave compelling testimony about her
experience as a young woman who was supposedly deployed as Civilian
Affairs, but ended up a machine gunner in Iraq. Bringing the audience
to tears, she talked about her anguished decision to refuse to fire
in a civilian-populated area, despite being under fire herself.
The panel ended with IVAW regional coordinator and Rochester chapter
president Bryan Casler, who explained the indoctrination soldiers are
subjected to, and the dehumanizing behavior that is encouraged daily.
He also expressed how influential the antiwar movement has been in
bringing veterans together and giving them the courage to stand up
against the war.
Following Casler's testimony, the crowd stood up from their chairs
and chanted "What do we want? Troops home! When do we want it? NOW!"
IVAW members led the crowd out of the auditorium on a march to a
local Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic, which is closed on weekends
due to limited funds.
Marchers carried signs that read "No Iraqi ever gambled away my life
savings," "Bail out our troops," "Banks are open, but the VA is
closed" and "No Afghani ever denied me health care." Protesters
chanted, "We support war resisters. They're our brothers, they're our
sisters!" and "Support Walter Reed, not corporate greed!"
Outside the VA hospital doors, war resister Mathis Chiroux urged
continued actions to support soldiers who refuse to fight. "We'll be
sure to see more just like me in the future," he said. MFSO member
and Vietnam veteran David Dornford expressed his anguish in seeing
our government send his son to fight an illegal and brutal war.
Roberto Resto spoke about the U.S. government's long history of
negligence when it comes to war veterans, stretching back to the
famous "Bonus Army," who marched on Washington to demand benefits
after the First World War. They were fired upon and driven out by a
military contingent led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Major George S. Patton.
Protesters marched back to MCC, at one point taking over five lanes
of traffic on a major roadway, with motorists honking in support,
some even waving out of their cars and slapping hands with protesters
as they swarmed through traffic.
More than 15 local groups joined together to organize and staff the
event. The combination of amazing guest speakers, powerful and moving
testimony from IVAW members and the participation and energy of the
crowd was a glimpse of what our movement could be like.
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IN AMHERST, Mass., over 100 community members and students gathered
on October 1 for a Winter Soldier event at the University of
The event was organized by the Western Massachusetts chapter of IVAW
and the Pioneer Valley Antiwar Coalition, and was co-sponsored by
numerous local groups, including the Western Massachusetts chapter of
CAN, the Northampton Committee to Stop the War, the ISO and the GI
Ted Goodnight, an IVAW member who served in the National Guard for 15
years, talked about his experience in Afghanistan. "I turned against
the war in Afghanistan when I found out I was being used as a tool
for someone else's economic gain," he said.
In 2005, Goodnight was sent to Mississippi as part of a humanitarian
aid mission in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. "Instead of doing
humanitarian aid work, we were marching up and down the streets with
loaded rifles and shotguns, supposedly to prevent looting in rural
Another IVAW member, Daniel Blain, spoke about his ongoing struggle
to receive status as a conscientious objector. Blain explained how,
after his child was born in 2005, "The first thing that came to my
mind was not 'Wow, I'm a dad,' but 'How can I train to kill someone
Also featured was Natalia Tylim, a member of the Western
Massachusetts CAN chapter, who explained the importance of getting
involved in local antiwar organizations.
"No one protest alone will be able to bring these occupations to a
close," said Tylim. "What is needed is a strong, consistent antiwar
movement at home that recognizes the right of Iraqi people to resist
occupation, and is able to give confidence and support to veterans
and active-duty soldiers to galvanize resistance within the military."
UMass Muslim Student Association member Zamil Akhtar talked about the
rise of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism in the U.S., drawing
connections between the wars abroad and the wars at home.
The following day, the Western Massachusetts chapter of CAN, in
coordination with IVAW, organized an antiwar speak-out at the UMass
Student Union, which 70 people attended. Students new to the movement
as well veterans all took to the megaphone to speak out against the wars.
Dan Keefe, a member of the Justice for Jason campaign, connected the
racist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the racist hate crime
committed against Jason Vassell last semester at UMass.
This was a step forward in organizing an antiwar movement capable of
ending the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.