Former US marine and anti-war activist Vincent Emanuele is making his second speaking tour of Australia during June and July. A member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Emanuele is speaking to audiences about the US military machine.
At a meeting in Melbourne where Emanuele spoke on July 4, the film On the Bridge was also screened. The film is a series of interviews with Iraq war veterans opposed to the war, including Emanuele.
The veterans interviewed reveal the extent to which the Iraq war has destroyed the lives of returned veterans through post-traumatic stress disorder. Emanuele said 100,000 veterans are homeless because the US government “doesn’t look after veterans”.
Emanuel said after the film: “When you first come back [from the Iraq war] you get radicalised, then you have to work out how to become a human being.
“Veterans are trying to work out how to cope with this amount of trauma. These people in the film have been able to put their lives together again though political activism [in Iraq Veterans Against the War].”
However, Emanuele also said that if the Iraq war veterans have had their lives destroyed after taking part in the war, as well as physical injuries, just imagine what it is like for the Iraqis who don’t get to leave.
He said as a result of the war: “A million Iraqis are dead; 7 million Iraqis are displaced; a whole generation is lost because when you have a war for seven years, kids don’t go to school; and the country is full of depleted uranium.”
He does not know why he joined the military. “I grew up in a working-class family in Chicago — a family of blue-collar unionists, but that was not enough to break the patriotism. Patriotism is firmly entrenched in American culture.”
In 2002, Emanuele finished high school and joined the US Marines Corps. He was deployed to Al Qaim in Iraq in August 2004.
On his blog, Emanuele says that during his deployment, he and his fellow soldiers were “constantly patrolling the streets, looking for snipers, IEDs [improvised explosive devices], landmines, ‘insurgents’ or anyone else that wanted to engage us”.
“This along with shooting at innocent civilians, destroying their property and beating up prisoners along with the occasional guard time made up the majority of what I saw and did during my eight-month deployment to the Sand Box.”
Emanuele told the audience in Melbourne that, in Iraq, his unit went on house raids.
“Everyone knows you can’t win a counterinsurgency war.
“If someone looked like an insurgent, you could do what you liked to them. In the news, it’s reported as a few bad apples [that mistreat or torture Iraqis] but it is the culture. Some of it is coming from the high command and some is taken on by the soldiers themselves.”
Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who served in units all over Iraq, have compared experiences, said Emanuele, and found that mistreatment took place throughout Iraq.
Emanuele regards the military as a “monstrosity” that creates further monstrosity. He told the audience that boot camp is dehumanising. It doesn’t teach any skills. It just “trains you to be a killer and to kill on command”.
He said marines aren’t even referred to as people in the military. Instead, the military describes soldiers as bodies — “bodies on the ground” or “boots on the ground”.
One in three female veterans coming back have reported sexual trauma, said Emanuele. This isn’t surprising, he said, when the military culture is based on brutalising soldiers. He said Western culture is based on robbing and torturing.
War veterans from Afghanistan are also very active in Iraq Veterans Against the War. One in five soldiers that have fought in Afghanistan are on psychotropic medication — sedatives, anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs.
Emanuele gave some figures about the US and the US military: 400 Americans own more wealth than 155 million Americans combined; among industrialised nations, the US has the highest poverty rate; the US has 900-1000 military bases worldwide; the US spends more on its military than all other countries combined.
This means that instead of a compulsory conscription like what was used during the Vietnam war, these days “you have an economic draft [into the military] in the US.”
Emanuele was scathing about the US military and the unjust capitalist system that it is designed to protect. He said the US ruling class wants people to be passive and are, “the powers that be expect you to go to work, watch TV and die”.
[Emanuele is also speaking in Sydney at the Addison Road Community Centre on July 10 at 6.30pm, and in Brisbane at the Qld Council of Unions on July 12 at 6.30pm.]