William Rivers Pitt / truthout.org – 2004-07-26 10:45:51
Sunday (25 July 2004, 4:10PM) — I am finished scouting out the convention center and the press pavillion, both of which are still works in progress. I think a lot of contractors are going to get a lot of overtime pay between now and tomorrow morning. The halls of the convention center are festooned with photo essays describing the lives and careers of Kerry and Edwards. As I worked my way through the building, a children’s chorus sang ‘This Land is Your Land’ from the podium where Kerry will accept the nomination. Their voices echoed all through the place. The Secret Service is all over the convention hall, but they are friendly enough and answer questions if they can. This is going to be a very interesting week.
(Sunday 25 July 2004 2:45PM) — I am inside the convention hall. Workers are still scrambling to finish assembling everything, but all in all the place looks good. Media billboards line the luxury boxes, and the stage is a massive multi-staged wall with a huge video screen dominating the view. Security is super-tight. The whole area around the Fleet Center is one big cage, and the helicopters are roaring overhead. Uniformed soldiers perch on the high spots, the bridges and overpasses by the building. The city is a clenched fist. I have never seen security like this anywhere, ever. Once more unto the breach, dear friends.
(Sunday 25 July 2004, 2:15PM) — I am standing inside the now-infamous Free Speech Zone outside the convention site. It is every bit as intimidating and confining as the pictures make it out to be. Any liberal protesters coming in here tomorrow are in for an added surprise. Right now, the protest cage is filled with anti-choice protesters. They are scrawling anti-abortion slogans all over the ground in chalk. If it doesn’t rain, all the messages will be here in the morning.
(Sunday 25 July 2004,1:43PM) — There is a mid-sized protest taking place in the Public Garden downtown right now. Nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly not threatening. Which is why the 50 cops in full body armor and face-shield helmets lining up outside the park seemed a bit ominous. These guys looked ready for some hard business. They had bunches of those plastic handcuff strips attached to their belts. There are regular uniform cops all over the city. Boston is locked down right now. These guys didn’t come for the chowder.
(Sunday 25 July 2004,12:37PM) — I have lived in Boston for pretty much my whole life, and it has never looked like this. Boylston Street is swarming with out-of-towners with all sorts of credentials around their necks: DNC, CNN, MSNBC, etc. They all look lost. I am glad I know this town, because it can be hard to find your way. What’s that old New Englandism? “You cahn’ get theah from heah.” And then there are the… interesting folk. The Larouche brigades are squadroning down the streets, and a massive Falun Gong demonstration has taken over the quadrangle outside the Copley Square church. May you live in interesting times.
(Sunday 25 July 2004,12:20PM) — I just got back from getting our credentials at the Copley Westin office where the Congressional credentials folk have stationed themselves. There was a bit of a line, but no problems. After getting the creds, I went to grab the complementary bag of goodies they were handing out upstairs. The bag had maps, restaurant guides, a little thing of coffee, and razors. Good stuff. I rummaged deeper into the bag, and found two folded sheets of paper. Unfolding them, I saw that it was a computer printout of the exchange between Rumsfeld and Scheiffer from ‘Face the Nation’ several weeks ago, when Scheiffer clobbered Rumsfeld on his ‘Immediate threat’ rhetoric before the Iraq invasion. I’m guessing this little note wound up in all the gift bags, which the entire press corps was getting. The guy ahead of me in line was from the National Review. I wonder if he was amused. I was. We’re in.
(Saturday 24 July 2004, 3:15PM) — [Former US Weapons Inspector Scott] Ritter has taken the stage. Calls veterans for peace repetitive, that any who survive service and combat are for peace, for life, and violence should be the last recourse.
As an intelligence officer with the Marines and a weapons inspector, he says he was given the opportunity to witness the disarmament of Iraq. Conclusions were reached: we still had a process of inspections to complete to make sure Iraq was disarmed. Due process was needed – no illegal searches, no violations of the law.
We had a secret policy, he says, one of regime change instead of disarmament. The US could never certify Iraq as disarmed, because the sanctions would have been lifted and regime change would have been derailed. We are humiliated before the world now, he says, and the viability of our democracy is now in doubt. It is up to we the people to make it right again. It is a tragedy for us, for the world, because of our failure to live up to our ethics of justice and the rule of law.
(Saturday 24 July 2004, 2:00PM) — I have been invited to the Vets for Peace banquet tonight, which is thrilling because of the new organization they have put together: Iraq Veterans Against the War, a group of vets from this invasion who now stand against it. I will be speaking to these soldiers tonight, and will have our conversation here on the blog as soon as I can.
(Saturday 24 July 2004, 1:45PM) — I am standing outside the Boston Public Library, and if anyone doubted that national politics had come to the city, the caravan that just passed dispelled the confusion. A series of 18-wheelers just crawled down Boylston Street, covered in photos of aborted fetuses. A man with a bullhorn screamed about hellfire and damnation as this macabre procession rumbled by. Welcome to Boston. I am at the library to cover the fete being held by Veterans for Peace for former UNSCOM weapons inspector Scott Ritter. It is about to start, so I have to head inside.
An Interview with Vets for Peace’s Michael Hoffman
(Saturday 24 July 2004, 7:25PM) — When I got to the Vets for Peace convention, there was a barrel-chested man absolutely collapsing with laughter in the lobby outside the speaking hall. “You won’t believe it!” he shouted to a friend by the door. “I got promoted! I got a letter in the mail! I’m a corporal now!”
I didn’t get the joke at the time, but that was because I had not yet been properly introduced to Michael Hoffman, the newly-minted corporal who is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and now the founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War (www.ivaw.net). I was able to speak with Mr. Hoffman later in the afternoon.
PITT: You were involved in the most recent invasion of Iraq?
HOFFMAN: Yes. I crossed into Iraq in March 2003, when the invasion began, and left Iraq at the beginning of May.
PITT: What branch of the service were you in?
HOFFMAN: I served with the United States Marines, in the 1st Marine Division. I was part of an artillery battery.
PITT: And now you’re a corporal.
HOFFMAN: (laughing) Yes. Surprise, surprise.
PITT: Tell me why you are here at the Veterans for Peace convention in Boston?
HOFFMAN: I’m here representing the Iraq war veterans. Myself and five other Iraq war veterans are here to represent to people what the war was about, to tell the truth about what was going on over there.
PITT: What is the truth, from your experience?
HOFFMAN: The truth, from my experience, is that the war was based on lies.
PITT: Did you know that when you were over there?
HOFFMAN: I did. I looked at the reasons for the war, I looked at the proof, and what was coming out in the press, and by that time I had educated myself about what was going on in the world. I didn’t just look at the U.S. press, I looked at the international press, and I looked at the independent media. I felt the reasons for war weren’t there.
PITT: Was it tough for you to go, knowing what you knew?
HOFFMAN: It was. It was really tough. And it wasn’t just me. My own battery first sergeant – someone with 20 years experience in the Marine Corps – knew what this meant. He’d been in the first Gulf War also. Before we went to Iraq, he addressed all the enlisted men in the unit, about 100 of us. He said, “Don’t think you’re going to be heroes. You’re not going over there because of weapons of mass destruction. You’re not going there to get rid of Saddam Hussein, or to make Iraq safe for democracy. You’re going there for one reason and one reason alone: Oil.”
PITT: How did the men react?
HOFFMAN: It was interesting. The new guys kind of sat there slack-jawed, like “What did he just say?” Guys like me who have been around for a while…in the military, especially in the Marine Corps, you tend to get a strong sense of cynicism. We kind of nodded our heads like, “Yeah, that’s right.” What really hit me, and the reason I went over, was when my sergeant said, “But you’re gonna go anyway. You signed a contract that said you would do as you’re told. Even more importantly, you’re friends are going over. Because they are going, you’ve got to go over and watch their backs and make sure they come home alive.” That is the exact reason I am here now, because the only way to make sure these guys come home alive, to make any good out of what has happened, is to get our troops out of Iraq. They’re not doing a bit of good over there. They’re causing the problem, not solving it.
PITT: Tell me about Iraq Veterans Against the War.
HOFFMAN: Iraq Veterans Against the War is a group we just founded for exactly the same reasons. Just like I said, we’ve got to bring our troops home. We’re here. All the guys who are here, we can speak and they can’t. We’ve got to speak for them and tell their story, so the public really knows what’s going on over there and what the troops over there are facing. No one can tell them that like the guys who are here right now. On top of that, the guys coming back need something to go to.
PITT: Are you working with Military Families Speak Out? (www.mfso.org)
HOFFMAN: Yes, very closely. They actually helped get the whole idea for this thing going. They’re going to be the people who help tell the people serving in Iraq that we are here. Every single member of Military Families Speak Out is in contact with someone in the military.
PITT: Who else is here with you?
HOFFMAN: It’s me and several others. Jimmy Massey is here, and he is just incredible. He was a staff sergeant with the 7th Marines, and served in the same areas I did during the initial invasion. He was part of a unit that killed civilians. Mistakes, miscues, itchy trigger fingers, he saw what was going on, what was really happening, and said “I am not doing this anymore.” He told his officers that, and he was discharged. They put up a fight, tried to get him a BCD (Bad Conduct Discharge), but he wouldn’t take it. He finally got a medical discharge, and he is fighting his own demons now, but he is doing the right thing.
PITT: Are you in a position where they can call you back?
HOFFMAN: Yes I am. I am currently designated Individual Ready Reserve, which is why I got promoted, because I’m still on the books. If they wanted to, they could call me back.
PITT: What are you going to do if that happens?
HOFFMAN: I don’t like to say too much on the record about that, but I’ve still got my own free will.
What to Look for in Boston
Scott Galindez / Truthout.org
(Saturday 24 July 2004, 8:00AM) — The Democratic Party has invaded Boston, and this week they will take over prime time television. The convention you will see on the networks will be an orchestrated show presenting a united Democratic Party with a strong leader to change the direction of the country. All conventions have that goal, the difference this time is it might actually be the truth.
Traditionally the Democratic Party has not always been united. In recent years, the liberal or left wing of the party has felt ignored by the centrist wing. This time however a Liberal has taken back the party from centrists and is not conceding the center to his right wing opponent. Michael Dukakis made a fool himself riding around in tanks, while John Kerry only has to flash his three purple hearts to show that he understands that there is a need for a strong national defense.
While many of Kerry’s distracters point to his vote on the war as an example of him being pro-war, a deeper look at the issue shows that anti-war proponents can count on victories in a Kerry Administration.
First of all lets examine the vote, While Kerry voted to give the President the authority to launch an invasion as a last resort, the vote was not an up or down vote on the war. Kerry in speeches on the floor called on Bush to go to the United Nations and exhaust all diplomatic means available to him before going to war. The Bush Administration ignored that advice and went through the motions at the UN, but were not looking for a diplomatic solution. They wanted the war and nobody was going to stop them.
Now back to Kerry’s record, he was a leader in the fight against Reagan’s Illegal wars in Central America, opposed the first Gulf War when there was a true up and down vote on whether or not to go war. Kerry was a strong supporter of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Kerry also supports honoring the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty. These are encouraging signs for the doves, but what makes Kerry an appealing candidate is there is no reason for the hawks to be afraid of him either.
He will not drastically cut the military and in fact has called for more troops. While he would probably stop production of battlefield nukes he would fund modernizing and upgrading our convention arsenal. Pacifists may think that that is unnecessary but the American people don’t want a President who will tear down the military, they are looking for the right balance and Kerry might just have the right formula.
So a strong leader who can unite the Democratic Party, while still reaching out to the center. A dream candidate? No, but a damn good one…
As you watch the convention this week look for that important balance, it has been many years since the Democratic Party has been as united as they will be this week..