Heather Cottin / Iraq Veterans Against the War – 2004-08-19 23:27:38
Mike Hoffman saw too much. He was a lance corporal in a Marine Corps artillery battery during the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Now he’s a veteran and a committed opponent of the US war and occupation of Iraq.
Hoffman and nine other Iraq war vets recently founded Iraq Veterans Against the War. The group, in the words of its mission statement, is “committed to saving lives and ending the violence in Iraq by an immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces.”
“We started the group at the Boston convention of Veterans for Peace right before the Democratic National Convention,” Hoffman told Workers World. “We got a lot of encouragement from Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and we knew we were going to be a place for people who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and thought they were alone.
“I talked to VVAW because we thought they had a big effect on the anti-war protests during their day. The Vets for Peace has grown a lot over the past year. They have gotten a lot more active recently because they are really worked up over what is going on in Iraq.”
“So now we have this web site [IVAW.net], and we are getting more contacts all the time, including soldiers who are still in Iraq. And we get referrals from Military Families Speak Out. It’s a grassroots response, and it is growing quickly.”
The web site features a tally of the Iraqi war dead, which it puts at 11,000 to 13,000, and a running report on the latest deadly encounters between occupying troops and Iraqis. IVAW is particularly concerned with Iraqi civilians who are the victims of the war.
One of IVAW’s founders, Kelly Dougherty, served in Iraq as an MP with a National Guard Unit. “I didn’t feel like I was a liberator,” she said. “I felt like I was an oppressor. We burned a flatbed filled with produce in front of Iraqi people who were starving.”
IVAW co-founder Jimmy Massey noted: “Marines are dehumanized from boot camp, desensitized to the killing. … Once you train a person with a warrior mentality… you desensitize them to death, violence and destruction.”
Massey walked away from it. He told his sergeant major, “I don’t want your money anymore. I don’t want your benefits. [We] killed some civilians… and I’m gonna tell the truth.”
‘We Don’t Hear About Them’
“Talk to anyone who’s been to Iraq and they’ve all got these problems, both physical and mental,”Hoffman said. “A good friend of mine came home with stomach problems, but the Veterans Administration isn’t admitting that they are war-related, and he’s been given the run- around.
“More soldiers have been injured than killed, but we don’t hear about them. We don’t know if people are dying when they are med-evacuated from Iraq, and we don’t know whether that is counted toward the total U.S. war dead.”
A Russian military expert says that the actual number of U.S. war dead is twice what the U.S. government is reporting.
“The other crisis is economic. About 40 percent of the people in my unit were married with families, and lots of them came home to no jobs. They sent their pay home, to help their families, so they had no built-up funds to see them through. They are in a real financial crisis.
“That is why we say in our mission statement: ‘[T]he governments that sponsored these wars are indebted to the men and women that were forced to fight them and must give their Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen the benefits that are owed to them upon their return home.'”
But few benefits are forthcoming. The economy is in the dumps, and many veterans return to face poor job prospects, or worse. Many are mentally or physically scarred by the war, unable to function normally. And they are angry.
“We’ve got to bring our troops home,” said Hoffman. “We’ve got to speak for them and tell their stories, so the public really knows what’s going on.”
Hoffman and others from IVAW are doing just that. They plan to testify about military resistance to the war at the Iraq War Crimes Tribunal on Aug. 26 in New York City.