March 19: Five years since “Shock and Awe”
Five years ago today, we gathered ’round our TV’s and watched bomb-flashes searing Baghdad’s night skies.
And today, veterans of that war gathered in Washington, D.C. Saying “We’re not radicals, we’re your military, and you need to hear our stories,” they came to tell the truth; to burn away the heartless haze of the view from a distance. Video captures of the stories they tell are available at their IVAW web site. Here are a few excerpts, quoted from In These Times:
Last Memorial Day, Sgt. Kristofer Goldsmith tried to kill himself. He had just been stop-lossed along with 80,000 other soldiers as part of the surge of U.S. forces to be sent to Iraq in the Bush administration’s last-ditch attempt at victory. Goldsmith already suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), though Veterans Affairs (VA) refused to diagnose him. His contract with the army was almost up, and he couldn’t bear the thought of an 18-month deployment. […]
Goldsmith hails from Long Island, and a day after watching smoke pour out of the collapsed World Trade Center towers, he had told friends that he “wanted to kill everyone in the Middle East.” Goldsmith arrived in the sprawling ghetto of Baghdad’s Sadr City at age 19. […]
His unit harassed the local population, and stopped cars, even as someone’s wife was going into labor in the back seat. And one day he trained his weapon on a six-year-old Iraqi boy pointing a stick at him as if it were an AK-47. “We were so desensitized. … The U.S. government put me in that position,” he said. “It took a lot of thinking not to kill the boy that day.”
Veterans like Kristofer Goldsmith discovered first-hand how the government sent them ill-prepared into a war under false pretenses, changed their rules of engagement with every deployment, brainwashed them into dehumanizing the Iraqi population, and brought them home without adequate means of caring for those for whom the war still rages on. […]
Jason Hurd, an Army National Guard medic who served in Baghdad in 2004-05, said his unit regularly opened fire on civilians. After taking stray rounds from a nearby gunfight, a machine gunner fired 200 rounds into a nearby apartment building. “Things like that happened every day in Iraq,” he said. “We reacted out of fear for our lives, and we reacted with total destruction.”
“Over time, as the absurdity of war set in, individuals from my unit indiscriminately opened fire at vehicles driving down the wrong side of the road,” Hurd continued. “People in my unit would later brag about it. I remember thinking how appalled I was that we were laughing at this, but that was the reality.”
Vincent Emanuele, a rifleman during his second tour in Iraq in 2004, described facing no repercussions for shooting at cars or indiscriminately firing into towns, releasing prisoners out in the middle of the desert, punching, kicking and throwing softball-sized rocks at them. Emanuele says he saw decapitated corpses in the road and drove over them, as well as shooting men in the back of the head for allegedly planting Improvised Explosive Devices. “These are the consequences for sending young men and women into battle.” […]
Jason Washburn, who served three tours with the Marines, described opening fire “on anything we saw in town.” He recalled a woman carrying a huge bag walking toward his unit. They killed her with a grenade launcher. It turned out she had groceries in the bag. Washburn also reported that his unit carried shovels (which would implicate someone digging IEDs) and weapons to plant on a body in case they shot an innocent civilian. He testified that the practice was encouraged behind closed doors.
Jon Michael Turner, a Marine from Burlington, Vt., offered the most dramatic—and most graphic—testimony. He stood and tossed his medals into the crowd, yelling, “Fuck you, I don’t work for you no more.” A machine gunner in Anbar Province, Turner showed videos of a 500-pound laser guided missile hitting Ramadi and of his unit machine-gunning the minaret atop a mosque. He showed digital photos of a mutilated body in a car after it had been shot up by a 50-caliber machine gun, with a close-up image of brains; part of a human face on a Kevlar helmet at Abu Ghraib; and a gruesome picture of the open skull of a boy he had just shot in front of the boy’s father—Turner’s first confirmed kill on April 18, 2006. For that, Turner was personally congratulated by his commander, who then offered a four-day pass to anyone who killed the enemy with a knife in hand-to-hand combat. “I am sorry for the things I did. I am no longer the monster I once was,” Turner concluded as he closed his eyes to suppress tears.
Thank you, soldiers. Telling these stories must take immeasurable courage. As with so many patriotic endeavors, telling the truth risks turning one’s friends into enemies. Yet only truth brings freedom. Thank you.
What is it about our zeal, that allows us to see war as strategy and flashes in the night, rather than little boys murdered in front of their fathers and decent young Americans turned savage?
I can’t tell. But the idea that doing more of it will somehow make it right strikes me as awfully strange.
By what logic can horror perpetrated reduce horror perpetrated? How is it that continuing an unjust war will make it just? Why will tyranny – government by force – turn into freedom?
Tags: Winter+soldier,, five+years+Iraq,, Iraq+veterans+against+war,, war+stories,, stop+war,, soldiers+stories,, veterans+stories, Monte Asbury