People, Not Politicians, Will End the War in Iraq
By Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted June 25, 2008.
The author of Antiwar Soldier discusses the GI movement, the election
and why "the military needs racism" to fight its wars.
Active-duty sailor Jonathan Hutto signed up to join the Navy in
December 2003, at the age of 26. Previously a college activist
fighting police brutality in Washington, D.C., and later an organizer
with the ACLU, he was not the sort of recruit one usually imagines
enlisting in the U.S. military. But his experience as an activist
would serve him well as he began to protest unjust practices within
the armed forces, where almost from the start, he battled
institutional racism and the unwillingness of the chain of command to
punish it, while also fighting oppressive and arbitrary disciplinary
practices by his commanding officers. In 2006, he co-founded Appeal
for Redress, one of the only active-duty anti-war groups since
Vietnam, devoted to ending the war in Iraq.
The appeal itself is three sentences long:
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 will not work and is not worth the price. It is
time for U.S. troops to come home.
According to Hutto, more than 2,000 military personnel, 60 percent of
whom have served in Iraq, have signed the appeal.
This month, Nation Books published Hutto's book, Antiwar Soldier: How
to Dissent Within the Ranks of the Military. Part military memoir,
part training manual, it lays out crucial things a soldier needs to
know before resisting. The preface was written by David Cortright,
whose 1975 book, Soldiers in Revolt, is considered the definitive
chronicle of the Vietnam GI movement. With the Iraq occupation in its
sixth year and no real end in sight, Antiwar Soldier comes at a
critical time, and a moment where, increasingly, veterans and
soldiers are revitalizing the anti-war movement.
AlterNet staff writer Liliana Segura recently exchanged e-mails with
Hutto, who discussed, among other topics, why he joined the military;
why he does not support a candidate for president; and what comes
next for the anti-war movement.
Liliana Segura: You were raised in a left-leaning, politically
conscious household and were an activist in college. Plus, in the
book you describe how your mother used to chase away military
recruiters from the house. Did you ever think you'd join the military?
Jonathan Hutto: No not at all. Nothing in my background or history
would have supported me making such a move. The military was not
represented as a proud tradition in my community, given the military
was segregated until the early 1950s, with blacks still experiencing
severe racism and repression throughout the Vietnam conflict. Both of
my parents were born in a segregated/apartheid South, which shaped
and informed my world view.
LS: Why did you choose the Navy?
JH: My mom was the primary reason for my decision. I was looking at
the military at the age of 26, purely for economic and social
adjustment reasons. One of the primary motivators was paying off a
substantial portion of my student loan debt, which was $48,000, in
the fall of 2003. Today, my loans stand at $24,000. I've always
envisioned myself working toward advanced higher education, so the GI
Bill was also seen as an incentive. My mom lobbied for me to look at
the Navy, given the risk associated with service in the Army and
Marines -- plus I had two uncles that were veterans of the Air Force,
one during the Korean conflict. The Iraq War was barely a year old
when I decided to enlist.
LS: What surprised you the most about the Navy?
JH: I guess the word is "shocking" and not so much "surprising."
Nothing really surprised me; however, it was shock treatment to be
exposed to the depths of internalized racism and imperialism. I
vividly remember an instructor at boot camp speaking on the virtues
of Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee in 1964 that ran on an
anti-Civil Rights platform. I remember seeing the Confederate flag as
one of the many flags we marched under. Although I have seen that
flag many times in my life, this is the first time I had to endure it
from an institutionalized setting. Then I remember battle stations,
the last phase of boot camp. This is when you stay up 24 hours
completing different battle scenarios on a ship, in combat, in water,
etc. I can remember the instructors giving these heroic war stories,
many of these stories coming directly from the Vietnam conflict. Much
of this ran counter to my core belief system. You can imagine how
deep the shock treatment was, given that one of my first experiences
leaving home in 1995 was standing in front of Frederick Douglass
Memorial Hall, named in honor of the late great abolitionist on
Howard University's campus, for a student rally.
LS: You describe racism as one of your central grievances regarding
the culture of the military. Can you elaborate on this? How much do
you think it informs U.S. military policy on a larger scale?
JH: The major motivation for the U.S. ruling class missions abroad is
hegemony, power and leverage over its rivals such as Russia, Japan,
China, Iran and countries in Latin America such as Venezuela. The
Iraq War is based on the Carter doctrine, named for former U.S.
President Jimmy Carter. In his 1980 State of the Union address,
Carter stated that any attempt by any outside force to gain control
of the Persian Gulf region would be regarded as an assault on the
vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault
would be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.
This global imperial ideology requires racism, religious intolerance
and xenophobia to justify the mission to the masses of the people,
especially those within the working class and margins of society
needed to bleed and die in these missions. Hence anti-Arab racism is
used as a justifying ideology, along with an anti-Islamic ideology,
both in terms of religion and culture.
The military needs racism, both formally and informally, as an
inherent part of the indoctrination process, especially in boot camp,
because dehumanizing the "enemy" is necessary for GIs to be fighters
for the mission. To be an effective killer, you must see the other
side as less than human. During Vietnam, soldiers, sailors and
Marines were taught to see Vietnamese as gooks. During this current
conflict, soldiers are taught to see Iraqis as Hajjis.
Although the military has made great strides to eradicate
institutionalized racism organizationally, with more people of color
and women within the senior enlisted ranks and officer ranks, the
ideology of white racism is still prevalent within the culture. My
first experience with white racism came at apprentice school,
post-boot camp, for using the term "affirmative action" in my
introduction to the class. All of us were asked why we joined the
military by our instructors. I basically stated that I viewed the
military as the best affirmative action employer in the country. Post
my giving this statement, I was targeted severely by these
instructors. I was told later it was due to my use of the phrase
"affirmative action." My worst experience with white racism would be
having a noose paraded before my face by three noncommissioned white
male officers. The noose incident was the culmination of other
incidents such as some white male non-commissioned officers making
mockery of Dr. King's holiday.
LS: Your book -- and your movement -- is very historically rooted. Is
the average soldier as conscious of U.S. military history, including
the GI resistance movement?
JH: Unfortunately, no -- although many in the ranks do receive the
stories from their relatives that fought in Vietnam. The public
educational institutions in this country, coupled with boot camp, are
not designed to give the rank-and-file soldier the proper U.S.
military history or any notion that there was ever a movement of GIs
within the enlisted ranks. The purpose of boot camp is to break you
down and build you back up as a loyal servant with less capacity to
think for yourself. However, the Appeal for Redress and Iraq Veterans
Against the War (IVAW) are demonstrating another kind of education
taking place. Like Ron Kovic a generation ago, the Vietnam veteran
turned peace activist and author of Born on the Fourth of July, these
Iraq veterans are receiving an education on the ground in Iraq and
within the complex that is changing hearts and minds every day. The
movement will continue to grow.
LS: In a recent interview, you said the biggest challenge confronting
the anti-war movement as a whole "is to build a culture of
operational unity," and you mentioned the National Assembly to End
the Iraq War in Cleveland, Ohio, next weekend. What is the assembly,
who will be there, and what are the goals?
JH: The National Assembly to End the Iraq War, gathering in
Cleveland, Ohio, from June 27 to 29, is a strong attempt to bring
together all elements of the anti-war movement from every
constituency within the country. The major mass organizations
including United for Peace and Justice (UPFJ), the Act Now to Stop
War and End Racism (ANSWER) coalition and the Troops Out Now
Coalition will all be present in Cleveland. The mission is to build
an open … anti-war conference with the capacity and unity to build
the largest mass mobilization against the war since 2003. This
conference will also include proposals for local mobilizations before
and after the November election. The conference is based on five
principles, which are: 1. immediate withdrawal of all troops and
bases from Iraq, 2. mass demonstrations as the central strategy, 3.
unity of the movement in the streets, 4. democratic decision-making
and 5. independence of the movement from all political parties.
LS: Do you support a particular candidate in the 2008 election?
JH:I do not support a particular candidate for president. I was
unprincipled in flirting with the idea of Ron Paul, being that he was
the only anti-war candidate within the Republican Party, which I felt
was strategic, only to be propelled back to my progressive roots
based on his "Ron Paul Letters," which confirmed him as a staunch
racist and anti-Semite.
I do not support a particular candidate and party because I believe
the power resides within the people, not the politicians, toward
ending this war in Iraq, curtailing other imperialist wars of
aggression and building a better, just world. John McCain and Barack
Obama are both committed to continuing the Iraq War, with potential
future military missions in Pakistan and Iran. Obama is the greatest
threat to our movement since JFK and arguably since FDR. He can do
what John McCain cannot do, which is motivate our young to serve as
cannon fodder for U.S. wars abroad while motivating working people in
general to sacrifice for the preservation of corporate power at their
own expense. Obama does not seek to end the Iraq occupation. His
current plan would leave up to 200,000 troops in Iraq with no call at
all for U.S. corporate interests to leave. The anti-war movement a
generation ago could not depend on the likes of Johnson and Nixon to
end the Vietnam conflict; the masses had to bring pressure. This is
our challenge today.
LS: Your book is very much a how-to guide to dissenting within the
ranks. How have people responded to this inside and outside the armed
forces? What did you risk by writing it -- and by forming Appeal for
Redress as an active-duty member?
JH: The response from my colleagues within the Navy has been
enormous. I am asked off base consistently for copies of the book,
which I respond to consistently. The Appeal for Redress has sent out
a little over 100 copies to active duty across the U.S., including
some stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Amazon has been my only
consistent indicator for how we are doing outside the military. We
have consistently been in the top 100 in areas dealing with Iraq,
human rights and race issues.
In terms of risk, one would think I risked being marginalized further
within the ranks. I mentioned earlier the noose incident, which took
place prior to us forming the Appeal for Redress. I certainly endured
minor reprisals during that struggle against the noose in my shop,
which I document in Antiwar Soldier. However, once we went public
with the appeal, the chain of command has been hands-off, with the
exception of the public affairs officer of my ship informing me of my
First Amendment rights as a sailor occasionally. This hands-off
approach is a validation of Frederick Douglass' pronouncement 150
years ago when he stated, "The limits of tyrants are prescribed by
the endurance of those they oppress." It means that oftentimes,
oppressive conditions persist due to the endurance of the victim.
Only consistent agitation and a demand for basic dignity can help to
change an oppressive environment and situation.
LS: What has been your biggest victory thus far with Appeal for Redress?
JH: First, demonstrating there is a base within the armed forces
opposed to this war. It helps to dispel the myth that everyone within
the military is monolithic and supports the mission 100 percent.
Simply because one takes an oath to defend the Constitution does not
mean they have sacrificed their rights embodied within that document.
Second, the appeal being a conduit through which active-duty (troops)
get involved within the broader anti-war struggle such as Iraq
Veterans Against the War. Liam Madden, co-founder of the appeal,
currently serves on IVAW's board of directors.
LS: What are you doing next?
We're going to continue to push the Appeal for Redress and Antiwar
Soldier to all active-duty, reserve and guard troops. I'll continue
to work within the mass movement through the National Assembly to End
the Iraq War. The National Assembly speaks directly to my core
beliefs and gives me the opportunity to work with everyone laboring
to bring the troops home. I'll probably remain within the complex for
at least another three to four years at minimum, although I keep all
my options open. No matter where I am, whether that is within the
complex or teaching in a high school or college classroom, I'll
remain steadfast and committed to bringing about social justice and
transforming this society from being thing-oriented to being
people-based. Kwame Ture (aka Stokley Carmichael) taught us at Howard
that the struggle is eternal and our people, those on the margins,
are going to need us to do until we die. Therefore, we are committed
to eternal struggle.