My Turn: Taking action on their own

U.S. soldiers may rebel before our politicians find the courage to end the Iraq war

Posted: Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Following President George W. Bush's recent veto of the war funding bill, Democratic Party leaders opted for political comfort by backtracking on a nonbinding withdrawal timeline in favor of even vaguer benchmarks.

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At a time when an ever-increasing majority of Americans believe this occupation to be immoral and unsustainable, this so-called opposition party continues to tolerate the shredding of life and limb while focusing on the 2008 road to the White House. This abdication of responsibility poses a serious challenge to our troops and a civilian population who so desperately want them home safe and sound.

It now appears that if this war in Iraq is to end, it will be our soldiers who will have to bring it about.

Fortunately, history has furnished us with some badly needed lessons from an earlier intervention that can help limit the names on our next black marble wall of sorrow and regret. In the currently available DVD "Sir, No Sir," which details the suppressed history of GI resistance during the Vietnam War, we are reminded of how ordinary soldiers launched a grassroots rebellion that spread from here to the Mekong Delta. Whether it was distributing underground newspapers in the barracks, or holding teach-ins at off-base coffeehouses, or the more extreme practice of "fragging" gung-ho superior officers, rank and file troops routinely defied authority to protest that generation's imperialist folly. At the same time, other soldiers of conscience chose instead to desert or seek political asylum in countries such as Canada and Sweden.

This unprecedented uprising shook the Pentagon command structure so much so that the military brass responded by ushering in President Richard Nixon's policy of "Vietnamization," which was a euphemism for changing the color of the corpses. With U.S. troops refusing to kill or be killed, the puppet-regime in South Vietnam was forced to increase the conscription of nationals whose morale and loyalty were, at best, suspect. This ultimately led to Saigon's collapse and the resulting iconic image of a hastily retreating helicopter from the roof of the U.S. embassy.

Nowadays, our soldiers also know this war is lost. Thankfully, soldiers have begun to take matters into their own hands. From U.S. Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada's refusing deployment to Iraq, to the appeal for redress now circulating among active-duty personnel, to Iraq Veterans Against The War's recent decision to support resisters, we are seeing the initial stirrings of what will likely grow into a movement of soldiers in revolt.

The Defense Department recently admitted that at least 3,196 troops deserted in 2006, with an 8 percent increase already in the first quarter of 2007. Plummeting enlistment standards are unlikely to fill this void.

The life-altering decisions made by these brave men and women are, in many ways, even more difficult than those made by former resisters. Today's volunteer soldier, unlike Vietnam-era draftees, is too often callously scolded by the mostly comfortable for having freely signed a recruitment contract and, therefore, must suffer the consequences. This judgmental attitude reveals a profound disrespect for service men and women who answered their country's call based on a belief that their government spoke truthfully about weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi links to 9/11. We now know that the pretense used to play on their genuine feelings of duty was little more than a pack of lies.

Soldiers are now justifiably concluding that they are no longer duty-bound to obligations based on fraudulent appeals. In a nonmilitary court, similar contracts would be summarily tossed out. We civilians, acting as the court of public opinion, can assist soldiers of conscience by opening our hearts to uniformed family and friends, thereby helping lift the stigma that they are somehow cowardly and unpatriotic.

Concrete action toward this goal can begin right here in Juneau with a ballot initiative declaring our solidarity with them for refusing to fight or participate in the Iraq war. If necessary, we can go further by declaring our villages and cities sanctuaries, and, finally, welcome them home from a nightmare we should never have allowed them to experience.

• Albert Petrarca is a Juneau resident.

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