'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Appeal for Redress: An Important Development 

UPDATE: Organizers said the number of signatories has climbed from 65 to 219 since the appeal was posted a few days ago and Wednesday when it was publicly launched.

INITIAL POST: Dissent to the war has now entered the enlisted ranks:

More than 100 U.S. service members have signed a rare appeal urging Congress to support the "prompt withdrawal" of all American troops and bases from Iraq, organizers said yesterday.

"Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home," reads the statement of a small grass-roots group of active-duty military personnel and reservists that says it aims to give U.S. military members a voice in Iraq war policy.

"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 American military forces and bases from Iraq," it reads. The group, which aims to collect 2,000 signatures and deliver the "Appeal for Redress" to Congress in January, is sponsored by antiwar activists including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out.

The statement, and the effort to solicit more signatures, evokes memories of the suppressed history of resistance to the Vietnam War within the US military, as summarized by Matthew Rinaldi:

. . .The feeling spread among U. S. troops that they were fighting this war all alone. These experiences created a mood of despair, disgust, and anger, as GIs turned increasingly to dope and played out their time with the simple hope of survival. As one GI put it, "Our morale, man ? Its so low you can't even see it."

This situation led to the rapid decay of the U. S. military's fighting ability in Vietnam. The catchword was CYA ("cover your ass"); as one GI expressed it, "You owe it to your body to get out of here alive." Low morale, hatred for the Army, and huge quantities of dope all contributed to the general desire to avoid combat. One platoon sergeant stated, "Almost to a man, the members of my platoon oppose the war . . . The result is a general malaise which pervades the entire company. There is a great deal of pressure on leaders at the small unit level, such as myself, to conduct what are popularly referred to as 'search and avoid' missions, and to do so as safely and cautiously as possible." The brass watched these developments with general helplessness. As a brigade commander in the 25th Division put it, "Back in 1967, officers gave orders and didn't have to worry about the sensitivities of the men. Today, we have to explain things to the men and find new ways of doing the job. Otherwise, you can send the men on a search mission, but they won't search."

While this malaise seriously affected the war effort, the spectre of open mutiny was even more startling. In 1968 there were 68 recorded incidents of combat refusal in Vietnam. By 1969 entire units were refusing orders. Company A of the 21st Infantry Division and units of the 1st Air Cavalry Division refused to move into battle. By 1970 there were 35 separate combat refusals in the Air Cavalry Division alone. At the same time, physical attacks on officers, known as "fraggings", became widespread, 126 incidents in 1969 and 271 in 1970. Clearly, this army did not want to fight.

The situation stateside was less intense but no less disturbing to the military brass. Desertion and AWOL became absolutely epidemic. In 1966 the desertion rate was 14.7 per thousand, in 1968 it was 26.2 per thousand, and by 1970 it had risen to 52.3 per thousand; AWOL was so common that by the height of the war one GI went AWOL every three minutes. From January of '67 to January of '72 a total of 354,112 GIs left their posts without permission, and at the time of the signing of the peace accords 98,324 were still missing. Yet these figures represent only the most disaffected; had the risks not been so great, the vast majority of Vietnam era GIs would have left their uniforms behind.

There is a common misconception that it was draftees who were the most disaffected elements in the military. In fact, it was often enlistees who were most likely to engage in open rebellion. Draftees were only in for two years, went in expecting the worst, and generally kept their heads down until they got out of uniform. While of course many draftees went AWOL and engaged in group resistance when it developed, it was enlistees who were most angry and most likely to act on that anger. For one thing, enlistees were in for three or four years; even after a tour of duty in Nam they still had a long stretch left in the service. For another thing, they went in with some expectations, generally with a recruiter's promise of training and a good job classification, often with an assurance that they wouldn't be sent to Vietnam. When these promises weren't kept, enlistees were really pissed off. A study commissioned by the Pentagon found that 64% of chronic AWOLs during the war years were enlistees, and that a high percentage were Vietnam vets.

Significantly, there are no draftees in Iraq, just enlistees. Of course, we are nowhere near the level of resistance that emerged during the Vietnam War, although it is entirely possible that the combative readiness of the military has been comprised more than has been publicly reported. After all, morale is low, reminiscent of the malaise of evasion of combat acknowledged by the officers quoted by Rinaldi. Frightening episodes of grotesque torture and violence inflicted upon Iraqis have become commonplace.

Troops were sent into Baghdad in June to contain sectarian conflict, but, earlier this month, coalition forces acknowledged that this endeavor, Operation Together Forward, has failed. With 91 dead Americans, and six days remaining, October is the deadliest month for US forces since January 2005, and we may see the first month with more than 1000 wounded since November 2004.

Iraqi dead bodies are being exported for burial, and rumors abound. The US is engaged in secret negotiations with Sunni insurgents; The US has offered amnesty to these insurgents to bring them into the poliical process; The US is meeting with Iraqi officers to plot a coup against Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. Increasingly, many believe that the US and the British recognize that the war is lost, and are therefore seeking an exit strategy for extricating themselves from Iraq.

Soldiers have Internet access, and can draw similar conclusions, which don't motivate them to dedicate themselves to the mission. As they return home wondering how this could have happened, lenin has identified a related malaise, a beneficial one:

Precisely as the loss in Vietnam opened up possibilities for revolutionaries in US-supported regimes like South Korea, Nicaragua, Iran, Angola, even Portugal and Spain. It reduced the US scope for direct military intervention for decades. Imperial malaise is not something the Bush administration wants to accomplish. Yet, if the army is increasingly unwilling to fight, and if the local surrogates will not do as they are told, no other outcome is available.

But there could be equally important domestic consequences. One wonders the extent to which Kevin Tillman, the brother of Pat Tillman, and a veteran in his own right, speaks from them:

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.

Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.

Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.

Somehow this is tolerated.

Somehow nobody is accountable for this.

The Appeal for Redress statement is a profoundly important event, one that may be remembered as foreshadowing a new politics in America. But what will it be? It may depend upon how soldiers returning from Iraq respond to the eclectic fusion of patriotic and progressive sensibilities expressed by the signatories.

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