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You Can't Wage Peace with the Barrel of a Gun
By Paul McGuire
Thank you for inviting me this evening and allowing me to speak on behalf of Iraq Veterans Against the War. My name is Paul McGuire and I am an Army Veteran, former officer in the 82nd Airborne Division, and was an unfortunate participant in the initial invasion of Iraq. I am sure you have heard and seen your share of veterans talk about their experiences in Iraq and if you have not then let me be the first to tell you that I too did not find those "weapons of mass destruction." So if you were expecting some vindication on my part of our current administration, you are not going to find it in this speech. I should also mention that I was not among those who were greeted as liberators, I cannot recall ever being handed a flower for my involvement in the war, and I do not remember my unit or any of the surrounding units every running into Al Qaeda, and the only aluminum tubes I ever saw were the ones we were using to set up tents to shield us from the scorching heat and suffocating dust storms...but don't you worry about those things called facts and reality because you have the "Decider" as president who has our military spreading democracy...so there's not time to discuss or second guess the fabricated pretext for going to War or its subsequent aftermath especially when you are fighting yet again the re-declared "war on terrorism."
I hope you detected my sarcasm because for me speaking about Iraq does not always come that easy. You see, satire is sometimes necessary for those to understand the truth when their so called leaders habitually avoid it. I spent a year in Iraq and now some are doing 15 months. This is nothing short of torturous or should I say, nothing less than an "extraordinary rendition" of a deployment. This "surge" will no doubt increase the deaths of American service members and Iraqis, and pilfer more tax dollars all in the hopes of creating a client state, with privatized oil that we can use as leverage to start more war and conflict aboard and "blowback" here at home. However, the question remains, "Who will bear the largest brunt of this?" Well I can answer that question unequivocally; it will be our military, its veterans, and families.
I look back and wonder how could this all happen? Why was their no disclaimer on my infantry or Ranger school graduation certificates that read, "will prepare you for intense combat" but not liable for draft dodging presidents, their multiple war deferment vice presidents, their crooked crony politicians and warmonger pundits – should they get you into a war. Well, as I found out all it takes is an administration's fear mongering, and an insatiable appetite for war and a natural resource in a region that was once called "the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment." Couple that with one-sided news and pundits spinning even the vaguest of "intelligence" and you have a full out invasion and war that has now left over 3,700 Americans killed, over 27,000 wounded, and some estimates of more than a million Iraqis killed with millions more as refugees.
That being said, troops are coming back with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injuries in what the DoD is now calling the "signature injuries of the Iraq War." Depleted Uranium is now thought to be the cause for cancer in some veterans as well as a contributing factor to the five fold increase of cancer among Iraq children and an overall increase of 38 percent for all Iraqis dating back even to the first Gulf War. I suppose we shouldn't worry though because depleted uranium only remains radioactive for 4.5 billion years. At any rate the tragedies continue, with a recent report that suicide rates among Army soldiers are at the highest levels since 1980. In fact, one IVAW member has already committed suicide so this tragedy is real and hits close to home for IVAW. There is also a crisis in mental healthcare with 38 percent of soldiers reporting psychological symptoms and that number increases to 49 percent among National Guardsman after having served in the Middle East. There is also the Walter Reed scandal. Finally, researchers have established for the first time a clear link between returning veterans' depression and family problems. This is not just their problem, it is America's problem, and we are all complicit in letting it continually fester to a point where we may be overwhelmed as a country.
IVAW's unity points are quite lucid, we want:
1.Immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces in Iraq not in six months or a 10 years or some other plan that leaves thousands of troops in Iraq or that redeploys them to Pakistan or to fight another hegemonic battle in Iran; But Now!
2.Reparations for the destruction and corporate pillaging of Iraq so that Iraqi people can control their own lives and future;
3.Full benefits, adequate healthcare including mental health, and other supports for returning servicemen and women. A majority of Americans have proven they can blindly follow their leaders into war but now as statistics show overwhelming opposition to the war and its surge, how about for once proving we as a majority can lead and end this war and bring our troops home now.
A week and a half ago IVAW held a successful second annual convention. At IVAW, we now have over 500 members, 24 chapters, including one at an active duty installation at Ft. Drum, New York. The unity, teamwork, and passion amongst the IVAW members is unmatched and would make any high ranking officer or NCO happy, because hey we were all trained by the best, right? We seek to reinvigorate the anti-war movement, a movement that does not pander to politics but puts service men and women first by eliminating the root cause of their grief and distress...and that is unjust, unsolicited, mismanaged, profit making, imperialist War.
Let me be clear there is nothing masculine about war, and those who glorify it under an umbrella of piety, tacitly approve or normalize it are not showing bravado but ignorance beyond reproach. These "pro-War hawks" as they are called are either so insecure or bloodthirsty their displays of apathy for those in uniform, the American people, and other countries citizens are reprehensible. The absurdity of being "Pro-War" and for the troops is about as ludicrous as saying I'm pro crime, arson, and fire and yet support our police officers and firefighters. Those authoritarian personalities that hold the highest offices in this country and push militaristic doctrine and policy, along with neoconservative ideals and political agendas are hurting our military and its veterans. Among the few responsible intellectuals, journalists, and common citizens of the US, they know that the easiest way for a president and many politicians to take this country to war is by talking about peace but documentation and their actions have proven without a doubt to be the exact opposite. I too helped wage peace with the barrel of gun along with many others and I'm here to tell you...IT DOES NOT WORK!
I would like to leave you tonight with a quote I came across a while back that draws some ominous parallels to what I have seen prior to invading Iraq and to what I see happening again. Unlike most speakers who end with a quote from one of our founding fathers, presidents, poets or philosophers, tonight I will not. It's actually from a former top official and military leader sentenced to death during the Nuremberg Trials. In a candid conversation this official told an intelligence officer:
"Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
These eerie words resonate in my head as it appears to have happened already in the 21st century in our United States...a supposed democracy! The question is, will we let it continue and escalate...or put a stop to it because God forbid it should ever happen again. Thanks for you time.
Paul McGuire is a member of the Central Illinois chapter of IVAW.