By BETTY CAPEHART
“We who have come here to Washington have come here because we feel we have to be winter soldiers now. We could come back to this country; we could be quiet; we could hold our silence; we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country, the fact that the crimes threaten it, not reds, and not redcoats but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out.”
John Kerry, 1971
Reminiscent of 1971 during the “Winter Soldier” testimonies on the atrocities of the Vietnam War, the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) will stage a similar event at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Md., on March 13 to 16. Veterans will expose the criminality of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations, giving testimonies about their experiences and urging an immediate end to the occupations.
In preparation for Winter Soldier, the organization is holding fundraising events around the country, one of which will take place on Vashon on Feb. 17, hosted by the Green Party of Vashon-Maury Island on behalf of the Seattle
chapter of the Iraq Veterans Against the War. Chanan Suarez Diaz, veteran of the U.S. Navy, will lead the discussion. According to Diaz, “It’s the GI movement that will end the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. I also want to give a shout out to the Iraqi and Afghan people who have suffered the most from these racist, imperialist wars for profit.”
The IVAW was formed in 2004 under the auspices of Veterans for Peace. The organization believes in:
An immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces in Iraq;
Reparations for the destruction and corporate pillaging of Iraq so that Iraqi people can control their own lives and future; and
Full benefits, adequate comprehensive health care and other supports for returning service men and women.
Today, IVAW members are in 48 states, Washington, D.C. and Canada and on numerous bases overseas, including Iraq. Its main objective is to educate the public and the media about the realities of the Iraq war. Members also dialogue with students about the realities of military service. IVAW supports all those resisting the war, including conscientious objectors and others facing military prosecution for their refusal to fight. The organization advocates for the Veterans Administration and full quality health treatment and benefits for veterans when they return from duty.
We know that while the U.S. carnage has reigned over the Iraqi people for almost six years, it has produced resistance from many places over the violation of human rights and the destruction of an immensely rich culture.
Vashon Island veterans are divided about the Iraqi occupation. Here are three veterans’ opinions about Iraq.
Fred Hanson, an Island resident and outspoken supporter of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, served in the Navy from 1980 to ’84 in Okinawa and stateside. He never saw military action. Hanson believes the role of the United States is a good one in Iraq and that the military strategy is going well. “Someone had to have the guts to say that Saddam had to live up to international agreements,” he said, adding, “If Middle Eastern Islamists believed that the U.S. was a ‘paper tiger,’ someone had to strike.”
When asked about the falsehood under which the U.S. invaded Iraq — its erroneous claim that Iraq housed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) — Hanson laid out all of the United Nation resolutions that Iraq had violated and stated that it was a certainty that Iraq had at one time possessed WMD and may have gotten rid of them. Hanson says the Iraq soldiers with whom he has spoken all support the occupation. He supports the right of the IVAW to express their opposition but believes the occupation is necessary.
Harley Miedema served in Vietnam as a Navy radio equipment technician, and the job of his crew was to rescue pilots. He tells the story that while on a stopover in Hong Kong at a Christmas dinner he was queried by Europeans from Holland and Germany about why the United States was in Vietnam. Miedema naively replied that the United States was “fighting communism.” The Europeans roared with laughter, Miedema said, adding that it was the first time he witnessed such ridicule of U.S. policy.
This experience led Miedema to begin analyzing U.S. foreign policy. When asked if the Winter Soldier event would make a difference, Miedema replied that if veterans can focus attention, more people would be energized to end the occupation. Miedema felt that unlike the stigma and guilt that Vietnam veterans felt, the Iraq veterans have more support.
John Burke served in Vietnam in the Marine Combat Intelligence Unit. He was sent on three tours of duty because of his Vietnamese language skills. When he returned, Burke became one of the founders of Vietnam Vets for Peace, as he was disillusioned that soldiers were dying for someone else’s economic gain. Burke opposed the Iraq invasion from the onset and believes that Iraq veterans are uniquely positioned to end the occupation. When I asked Burke what can be done to escalate a pullout, he said the U.S. government needs to admit to its wrongdoing, must be willing to talk to everyone and must be willing to support those Iraqis who have assisted the Americans.
As dissenting soldiers step forward to denounce the occupation, we must embrace their bravery by doing all that we can to ensure the United States disengages from Iraq.
— Betty Capehart is an Islander and political activist.
The Iraq Veterans Against the War’s Winter Soldier fundraiser will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, at the Land Trust Building at 10014 S.W. Bank Rd. Danny and David Salonen’s classic rock band will perform, and refreshments will be served. Donations will be welcomed. For more information, call Betty Capehart at 463-1676.