Neela Banerjee – 2005-01-27 00:31:01
(January 23, 2005) — Dean Huze enlisted in the Marine Corps right after the Sept. 11 attacks and was, in his own words, “red, white and blue all the way” when he deployed to Iraq 16 months later. Unquestioning in his support of the invasion, he grew irritated when his father, a former National Guardsman, expressed doubts about the war.
Today, all that has changed. Haunted by the civilian casualties he witnessed, Corporal Huze has become one of a small but increasing number of Iraq veterans who have formed or joined groups to oppose the war or to criticize the way it is being fought.
The two most visible organizations — Operation Truth, of which Corporal Huze is a member, and Iraq Veterans Against the War — were founded only last summer but are growing in membership and sophistication. The Internet has helped them spread their word and galvanize like-minded people in ways unimaginable to activist veterans of previous generations, who are also lending help.
“There’s strength in numbers,” Corporal Huze said. “By ourselves, we’re lone voices, a whisper in a swarm of propaganda out there. Combined, we can become a roar and have an impact on the issues that we care about.”
Those who turn to the groups are generally united in their disillusionment, though their responses to the war vary: Iraq Veterans seeks a quick withdrawal from Iraq; Operation Truth focuses on the day-to-day issues affecting troops and veterans.
Iraq Veterans Against the War, which started in July with 8 people, now has more than 150 members, including some still serving in Iraq, said Michael Hoffman, a former lance corporal in the Marines and a co-founder of the group.
Operation Truth, based in New York, began with 5 members and now has 300, with an e-mail list of more than 25,000 people. Its Web site is a compendium of soldiers and veterans’ stories, a media digest on the war, and a rallying point on issues affecting troops.
Iraq veterans are keenly aware of the need to argue for their interests, given the struggles of veterans of Vietnam and the Persian Gulf war. The older veterans have offered a reservoir of knowledge and compassion to help Iraq veterans avoid the mistakes they made.
It took Vietnam Veterans of America almost 15 years to have an effect on government policy, said Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, an advocacy group for gulf war veterans. Mr. Robinson said his group did not come into its own for about eight years, despite help from Vietnam Veterans of America.
Mr. Robinson is working closely with Operation Truth, which he said had already surpassed his operation in raising money.
For Corporal Huze, the transformation began when he returned home in fall 2003. Unable to forget the carnage he had seen in Iraq, he began to grapple with the justification for the war, he said.
“By sometime in December 2003, I came to the conclusion that W.M.D.’s weren’t there and that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, and now I’m left with all that I’d experienced in Iraq and nothing to balance it,” Corporal Huze said, emphasizing that he was speaking as a citizen, not as a marine. “When I came to that conclusion, I felt this sense of betrayal. I was full of rage and depression.”
That rage has since fueled Corporal Huze, a native of Baton Rouge, La., who is awaiting a medical discharge for a head injury. With the consent of his commanding officers at Camp Lejeune, he speaks regularly to the media and others as a representative for Operation Truth.
“Who I was before the war, who I was in Iraq and who I am now are three very different men,” Corporal Huze said. “I don’t think I can ever have the blind trust in the government like I had before. I think that my being over in Iraq as an active participant, I’m a bit more responsible than others for things there. And I think by speaking out now, it’s my amends.” He added, “I don’t know if it will ever balance.”
Operation Truth does not address the necessity of the war. David Chasteen of suburban Washington, a former Army captain in the Third Infantry Division and a member of the group’s board, said Operation Truth hoped to stake out a nonpartisan position on aspects of the war that could realistically be changed, as opposed to tackling the administration’s Middle East policy.
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