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Sat

02

Dec

2006

Fighting the Iraq War...at Home
Saturday, 02 December 2006 09:05

by Dave Lindorff

I had just gotten to the gym yesterday, and had started on the treadmill, when a barrel-chested young former marine recently returned from a second tour in Iraq walked past. Looking at my shirt, which sports the slogan "No US War on Iraq" on the front, and a peace sign on the back, surrounded with the number of U.S. dead in the war, he stopped and said coldly, "If I see you here again in that shirt, I'll tear it off you myself."


Momentarily taken aback, I looked him in the eye and said, "This is a free country, buddy, and if you touch me or my shirt, I'll have you charged with assault."



As he stormed off, I reminded him that America isn't Iraq, and that here being stronger doesn't mean you automatically get your way. I added that he was insulting all of those who died in Iraq thinking they were defending American freedoms. He didn't turn around.

I started my jogging again, but then found myself getting increasingly pissed off. Who did this guy think he was making threats like that?

I went out and informed the YMCA's executive director of what had happened and said I wanted this guy informed that he couldn't go around threatening people who didn’t agree with him. Although she was reluctant, she followed me back into the weight room.

I went up to the guy, who now was doing arm curls with two 50-lb dumbbells, and said. "You messed up my run. Now I'm going to mess up your exercise routine. I pay for a membership to be able to come here and work out in peace. There is no rule barring the wearing of political statements on shirts, and I wear what I feel like wearing here. If you want to criticize me, my politics or my shirt, that's fine, but you are not allowed to make threats and if you do, you are going to have to leave."

The director backed me up, albeit limply, agreeing that threats were not allowed.

The guy finally grimaced and said, "Okay, I'm sorry."

As I went back to my treadmill, four people in the room came up and thanked me for taking a stand.

Mulling over what had happened, I realized that this guy, who had fought in the bloody US assault Fallujah in late 2004--a pointless massacre that featured the use of prohibited weapons like napalm and white phosphorus, and that leveled one of Iraq's largest cities, with the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians--was really reflecting the frustration of the loser,

Less than a month ago, American voters cast out the Republican leadership in Congress in what was primarily a protest against the war in Iraq. Polls are showing that two thirds of Americans now see the Iraq invasion as a giant mistake, and want exactly what my shirt calls for: an end to the war. Back in 2003, and even 2004, American troops in Iraq were seen almost universally as heroes. Now, like the soldiers of the Vietnam era, they are being deliberately forgotten--an embarrassing reminder to those who once supported the war of the idiocy of that mission (just try finding any of those once ubiquitous yellow ribbon magnets). Reports of rapes, torture and murder by American troops in Iraq haven't helped things.

The would-be bully in the gym has seen his status plummet from hero to, at best, victim.

Clearly, it's not fair to blame the troops--or him--for what's happening. He and tens of thousands like him were sent into Iraq on a lie, told by their commanding officers and by their commander in chief that they were going into Iraq as "payback" for 9-11--even though the 9-11 attackers included not one Iraqi, and even though there was never any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. They were given inadequate equipment, inadequate body armor, insufficient troops, and an assignment--pacifying and establishing democracy in a tribal nation--that was clearly a fools' errand. And they have been left to kill, and to be maimed and killed themselves, in that quagmire now for nearly four years simply to protect the president from having to say he messed up.

Having said that, we are also starting to see the human and social cost of the horrors of that war. People like this former Marine are damaged goods--returned to the U.S. with chips on their shoulders and with an anachronistic militaristic mindset that says the guy with the gun gets to make the rules.

I'm reminded of a similar experience I had back in the late 1960s, when I participated in an event called "Vietnam Summer." Back then, with the Vietnam War going downhill for the U.S., I volunteered as part of a national campaign to go door-to-door in my neighborhood handing out literature about the war and talking about it with people. I knocked at one door of a ranch house down the street a ways from my home. A woman I didn't know answered the door. When I told her why I was there, and handed her a flier, she looked at me funny, and said with some irony in her voice, "Honey, there's someone here to see you."

A big crew-cut man 10 years older than me came to the door and asked what I wanted. I repeated my spiel to him and gave him a flier too. He glanced at it, his face contorted with anger, and said, "Just a second." He walked into the house and returned holding an unexploded mortar round. It was painted red, had a hammer-and-sickle logo, and a set of brass fins. He said, “You see this? It's a Viet Cong mortar. The only reason I'm here talking to you is because it didn't go off when it landed next to me! Some of my buddies weren't so lucky. Now scram before I lose my temper and ram this into your head!"

I split in a hurry! But years later, my father said that the guy, retired from the army, mentioned the incident to him and apologized, saying, "I should not have done that. I was angry at the time, but your son was doing the right thing. The war was wrong from the start."

I don't know what horrors this young man lived through, though I overheard him telling one shocked woman in the gym that his time in Iraq represented "the best years of my life." I do know that what U.S. forces did in Fallujah in late 2004 was a collective war crime, with captured and wounded enemy fighters shown on camera being executed point-blank, residential neighborhoods leveled by bombs and tank fire, innocent men and even boys illegally barred from fleeing the scene of battle, fleeing civilians shot as they swam for safety across the river carrying white flags, and hospitals attacked. The entire assault on Fallujah, for that matter, was a case of collective punishment--something outlawed since World War II as a war crime. No one who participated in that mass atrocity could walk away unimpaired in some way.

The most positive thing I can bring away from this encounter is the recognition that the anger and frustration expressed by this ex-Marine is a sign that the American war in Iraq has truly been lost. Back in late 2003, I wrote a piece about this same shirt, which I bought and began wearing on the day of the Iraq invasion. I had observed that when I first wore it in March 2003, it mostly elicited angry denunciations and hand gestures from people caught up in the blind jingoism of the moment, but that by late September, just six months into the war, the majority of people who saw the shirt had positive comments. Over the years, as the war has become even more of a disaster, the shirt, despite becoming pretty seedy looking from long use, has become increasingly popular, with people now asking where they can buy one like it.

I view this veteran's belligerent response to my shirt and its message as just a corollary of this changed political environment. As the "cause" for which he gave up several years of his young life--and in the name of which he almost certainly lost friends and comrades--goes down the drain, to be remembered as one of America's historic policy disasters and one of its few military defeats, he is reacting in the way he has been trained: by threatening violence.

In that, he is reflecting the mentality of the current administration, both in its failed approach to international affairs, and in its hostile attitude towards American freedoms.

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Winter Patriot said:

Winter Patriot
yep
Good piece, David. Thank you.
 
December 02, 2006 | url
Votes: +0

Chris Cook said:

Chris Cook
...
Greetings again, Dave; I just can't agree Amnericans have learned anything. I also don't believe this Iraq excursion is anything but an extension of long-standing U.S. policies to enrich corporate friends, while thinning the excess populations of colour in both the Homeland, and those places the avenging forces of justice are deployed. Bush, etc. have profited handsomely so far from this, and continue to do so. The domestic economy is in tatters, another plus for the monied classes, and whatever the next administration does, by of contrition to the locals, it will not pay reparations to those wronged, nor whill it hesitate to repeat this grim economic model on the next "Hitler."

I wonder, will the bullet-headed, Saxon mother's son you encountered, and his buddies returned, psychic victims of the crimes they committed, if not willingly, then determinedly, ever put two and two together, a la the Oklahoma City bomber, and target those truly responsible for the deaths of their comrades?
 
December 03, 2006
Votes: +0

Jimmy Montague said:

0
Say what?
You start out by telling us:

"I had just gotten to the gym yesterday, and had started on the treadmill, when a barrel-chested young former marine recently returned from a second tour in Iraq walked past. Looking at my shirt, which sports the slogan "No US War on Iraq" on the front, and a peace sign on the back, surrounded with the number of U.S. dead in the war. . . ."

And you end by telling us:

"Back in late 2003, I wrote a piece about this same shirt, which I bought and began wearing on the day of the Iraq invasion. I had observed that when I first wore it in March 2003, it mostly elicited angry denunciations and hand gestures from people caught up in the blind jingoism of the moment, but that by late September, just six months into the war, the majority of people who saw the shirt had positive comments. Over the years, as the war has become even more of a disaster, the shirt, despite becoming pretty seedy looking from long use, has become increasingly popular. . . ."

So I have a question:

If you bought the shirt and started wearing it on the day the U.S. invaded Iraq, how is it that the shirt has the number of Americans KIA on the back? If you bought the shirt on the day the U.S. invaded Iraq, there were as yet no U.S. casualties to count.

So maybe you should rewrite or rethink what you've written? And you should certainly clarify -- or retract.
 
December 03, 2006 | url
Votes: +0

george hoffman said:

0
You Need Angel Wings To Rise Above The Bullshit.
David,
I'm a Vietnam veteran (31 May 1967 to 31 May 196smilies/cool.gif and served at a medical evacuation hospital in Cam Ranh Bay, which was situated on arid peninsula of towering sand dunes that jutted into the South China Sea. So although I was a non-combatant, I treated a lot of wounded grunts from the major battles ( Con Thien, Dak To, Khe Sanh, Dong Ha Phu Bai, Hue, etc.) in the decisive turning point of the war, the Tet Offensive of 1968.
His response to your T shirt was typical of a jarhead. They're just that way, always have, always will be. Marines are so gung ho for the corps. But I wouldn't worry about him taking off your head the next time in the gym. He's just part of Uncle Sam's lean, green, fighting machine. And you are to his eyes a lowly and cowardly civilian. But that's his problem not yours. He won't get violent with you. He has been potty-trained to respect all authority in a uniform, so he would really be reeling if you decided to call a local policemen to intervene on your behalf.
I could tell the marines on the ward were recovering from their wounds when they would start to pick fights with me. Grunts really look down on fellow soldiers in the rear with the gear. It's part of the pecking order of machismo in their minds. Well, this grunt started to make fun of me in front of the other grunts about this and that. I turned to him and said something like, "I'm really sorry you fell for all that John Wayne bullshit and now you realize that you're holding a big burlap bag of shit labeled Vietnam. I hope you make it through your tour. But I volunteered for the medical corps because I had real misgiving about taking another human being's life. But I'm here and I'm serving. So cut the fucking whining." And if he did violent with me, I would have punched his clock into the middle of nexr week.
He shut up and never bothered me again. That's what grunts respond to, that macho bullshit that they took hook, line and sinker into their mouths like fish caught by fishermen.
So that marine is really whining to you. And even though I am a war veteran, I have to say that I have very little sympathy for him. Some people learn the easy way what life is all about; and some learn the hard way what life is all about. He's in the second category.
All I can tell you, David, is that after my discharge, I am a hardcore civilian, love indoor plumbing and to this day detest camping in the great outdoors. I am so thankful to go out of bed in the morning under my own free will, because my arms and legs are attached to my torso.
I thought the invasion and occupation of Iraq would eventually be a foreign policy debacle like the Vietnam War. In a heated debate in the van ride after work, a woman around my age called me a traitor and told me I should leave the country if I don't love it. I found her attitude rather ironic, given that I am a war veteran and she was one of the baby boomers back home.
And sadly I have been right. I take no comfort in that last sentence. I hate war. I learned the hard way. But at least I learned. Some people never do. I feel sorry for that grunt, but it's a volunteer armed forces. I hope he gets his shit together and goes on with his life. If he has no idea what a disaster this war is after two tours of duty, he may just be beyond hope or redemption. I hope and pray he isn't. But that's all I can say about the matter.
 
December 03, 2006
Votes: +0

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