Iraq Veterans Against The War (IVAW) recently voted to launch a campaign to encourage US troops to refuse to fight. Garrett Rappenhagen, himself a former US Army sniper who served in Iraq for a year, said that the organization had decided ‘to make support of war-resisters a major part of what we do. There’s a misconception that they’re cowards… most have seen the war first hand and have come to the conclusion that it’s morally wrong. This is something we should all support’.
The veterans’ group also elected as chair of its board of directors Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia, who in 2003 was the first soldier to refuse to return to fight in Iraq after the completion of his first tour of duty there. He went AWOL rather than return, and ultimately spent nine months in prison after the military denied his demand to be discharged as a conscientious objector.
‘There’s a sort of revolution taking place in the streets,’ Mejia said. ‘It’s not being reported in the mainstream media but… there is a rebellion going on in the ranks of the military’.
According to Mejia, more than 10,000 soldiers have deserted since the start of the Iraq War, with the numbers increasing year on year. Last October, anti-war soldiers launched a legal petition to Congress, and it has already been signed by more than 2,000 people who support its call for ‘the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases in Iraq’.
Throughout the US, IVAW members are organizing alongside active-duty soldiers on military bases, touring the country in buses and holding barbeques outside base gates. Near the Fort Drum base in New York state, IVAW and the group Citizen Soldier have set up a soldiers’ rights coffeehouse called A Different Drummer, which has become a hub of anti-war organizing. Twenty soldiers based at Fort Drum have become members of IVAW.
According to historian and anti-war protester David Cortright, these ‘are the ones who are courageous enough to speak out, but behind them are many others who sympathize and agree… There’s a tremendous pressure from the command to conform, to obey, to keep your mouth shut. So the fact that there are a couple of dozen who are willing to speak out signifies that there is a base of sympathy and support and opposition to this war’.
IVAW also plans to step up efforts to undermine military recruiting in the coming year, by launching a ‘truth in recruiting’ campaign. This will include anti-war outreach into high schools and community colleges, protests at recruitment stations and efforts to take up recruiters’ time with bogus expressions of interest, preventing them from signing up others. The US Army is struggling to meet its annual goal of 80,000 recruits in an increasingly difficult recruiting environment, made more so by the Bush Administration’s insistence that troops must stay in Iraq. More than 3,700 soldiers have died there in the last four years.