We will reclaim our armed forces!

January 19, 2005

Stan Goff

The following is an abridged version of a speech given on December 11 at a public meeting in New York City sponsored by Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out (MFSO). It first appeared in the GI Special email bulletin. Goff is a retired US Army Special Forces master sergeant who participated in US military interventions in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama and Somalia. Now an active socialist, he is a member of the coordinating committee of Bring Them Home Now!, a campaign of US military families, veterans, active duty personnel, and reservists against the war in Iraq. He will be a feature speaker at the Easter 2005 Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference in Sydney.

I want to thank the organisers for this very important defibrillation of the anti-war and anti-empire work that was put on hold by the recent elections. I want to thank my fellow speakers and presenters, and I want to thank everyone who is here for your tireless and stubborn refusal to confuse setbacks with defeats.

I tend to think of resistance politics these days as if they were a Charles Dickens novel. There is always a happy ending in the last chapter, but every chapter leading up to that ending is sad.

George Bush didn't start this war. This war was waiting at the end of a road that we stepped onto decades ago, and by continuing to walk down that road we have inevitably encountered what is at its end. How many Iraqis did Bill Clinton kill? Why did we not want to hear during this last electoral folly that the anti-Bush candidate selected for us by Wall Street and the DLC [Democratic Party Leadership Committee] did not promise to end the war, but to expand it?

The communities of the military are in a unique position — they have a special standpoint — to say we were there. We were not on CNN. We were not in the New York Times. We were there when you rained dioxin on us 35 years ago as you killed 3 million Southeast Asians. And we were there in our family hothouses when we carried the dioxin and the death back into our living rooms, into our relationships, into our children who were the hostages of our pathologies.

We have a special capacity and a special pedagogical responsibility to stop others from taking the air for granted, because that air is contaminated. It is poisoned by the criminality at the very genetic core of this whole system, that needs Agent Orange and depleted uranium to enforce its will on those it would dominate and those who refuse to surrender their own humanity to this criminality.

Who we call statesmen are often as not thieves. Who we call statesmen are often as not vandals. Who we call statesmen are often as not mass murderers, and who better to out them for what they are than those of us who have been held closest to their criminal hearts in their time of need.

Our demands have a special force, and so we have a special responsibility.

The movement demanded that we not invade Afghanistan to kill 4000 civilians as vengeance for the 2800 killed on September 11. The movement demanded that we not invade Iraq — where our government had already overseen the destruction of over a million human beings, half of them not having reached the age of majority — and Iraq has never been any kind of threat to the United States.

Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out held out in the face of faint-hearted anti-Bush resistance and never listened to the siren call of compromise and chauvinism that led many of our allies to tell us to drop the word "now" from our campaign to Bring Them Home Now!. We were clear about the system, and we knew that the vandal that destroys your home is not the right person to decide who will rebuild it.

We stuck to our demand, and time is proving us grimly correct. We were correct to demand that this criminal class cease and desist. Now the elections that put a mask of legitimacy on this system are past, and we have to reiterate that demand.

Now we all know that demands are the glue that holds movements together, whether or not the powerful meet them. One of our pedagogical tasks in the next period is to educate the public about the difference between a demand and an assertive request.

I already have my post-election bumper stickers to impeach. But I also know that these little provocations, like that bumper sticker, which is intended to be provocative, are useful mostly to further polarise our society — which I think is a good thing, because as long as we stay polite we never seem get to the point. A Congress of the criminal class is not going to impeach a fellow criminal, unless a scandal is so out of control that it threatens the whole structure.

I say that because while my bumper sticker says impeach, what I really want to see for these people who are presiding over yet another generation of our kids being sent abroad to do their criminal wet-work, what I really want to see is George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin and Condoleeza I-forgot-who-I-am, Paul Wolfowitz, and cabinet members, old and new, slammed up against a wall, searched as roughly as an Iraqi detainee, put in handcuffs, and their sorry asses thrown into a cell at Guantanamo Bay — after we give it back to Cuba.

Our job is not to be conciliatory. We are not diplomats. Our job is not to comfort the comfortable by reinforcing their denial. Our job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Because we were there. We know what these people have sent our children to do, and what they have sent our children to become.

And I'm not whining about that. I'm not going to cry about what was done to me, because the upside to it is that I'm grateful to the dominant class for my military career. I'm grateful for my education. I'm grateful to be a soldier — I'm just not their soldier any more.

On my 19th birthday, I left McCord Air Force Base to begin my international studies program in northern Bin Dinh province. My professors were a black buck sergeant named Eaves, a professional con-man named Westmoreland, and the courageous and patriotic soldiers of the NLF [National Liberation Front] and NVA [North Vietnamese Army] who taught me what it looks like to say No!

I learned that a person can put one foot in front of the other for a long time. I learned that mosquito clouds and thirst and sleeping in the mud won't kill you. I learned to accept my own mortality. I learned that what most of suburban America thinks is extreme and exceptional hardship is the daily reality of most of the world — and I began the process of learning that the comfort of those suburbs comes at a price often paid by those we never see and whose hardship we cannot comprehend.

What the Bushes and the Rumsfelds have failed to understand about soldiers, old soldiers and new soldiers, and the families of soldiers who learn these things from and with us, is that when we learn that there are different experiences in the world, and when we learn to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and when we learn that we can survive extreme hardship, and when we learn to accept our own mortality, and when we learn to recognise con-men, and when and if we finally learn that everything they say is a lie, and every mission is vandalism and murder, then what is left behind is still a soldier, but he or she is not their soldier any more.

Those troops are our armed forces, and we have to reclaim them no matter the cost.

Movements start with those who are not afraid, and they grow with those who are only a little afraid.

The veteran just back from Iraq, and the veterans of past conflicts, who have snatched their humanity back from this system are not going to fall for every bullshit story. We are not going to fall for their appeals to criminality cloaked in patriotism. We are not going to be intimidated by their with-us-or-with-the-terrorists rhetoric.

I hope they are listening, and I expect they are. George and Dick and Don, you are not going to shut up these veterans, and these families, and these soldiers by shaking your Patriot {USAPATRIOT] Act in our faces.

Some of us worked pretty hard and risked everything to fight for lies. Don't you know that we will fight harder against you now that we know the truth?

Those troops are our armed forces, and we have to reclaim them no matter the cost.

Patriot Act! We are the ones who have the responsibility to teach the rest that the patriotism of someone defending their home is not the same as the patriotism deployed to take our children away from home. The patriotism of the invader is not the same as the patriotism of the invaded.

We can teach that, because we went there, and we are going to bear witness now.

Man, they hate witnesses, don't they? They hate witnesses the way all criminals do.

And I've got something to say to those soldiers and veterans who are not with us yet, but who are wandering in the wilderness of post-combat shock. Witnessing will heal you. PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] is not the outcome of violence. PTSD is the recognition that you have been betrayed and that you were helpless when it happened, because you couldn't do any better or you didn't know any better.

Do people know what the single most common cause of PTSD in the United States is? Rape. Rape victims report that confronting their attackers — and not just in court where the system tries to rape women again — but confronting one's attacker with a support group and outing that attacker are highly therapeutic. It is a way to recapture that lost agency from a former state of helplessness and standing back up in the world.

For combat veterans, we have a group right here for you, and we will stand beside you when you out the authors of the crime by describing what it really looked like.

We know that some cling to denial, that some are broken in body and spirit, that some rage, and that some turn their anger in on themselves and crawl into a needle or a bottle or the chamber of a pistol. But there's a way out of that wilderness, and it's the path of the witness.

Imperialism has staked a claim on our children in uniform, and that's why we will never relinquish our claim on them. We will never surrender in the struggle for the souls of this and future generations. Never.

Those troops are our armed forces, and we have to reclaim them no matter the cost.

I'm a grandfather now. Those of you who are grandparents know what I mean when I say, Dick Cheney don't put yourself between me and my grandbaby and expect me to retreat.

We're not only not going anywhere, we are coming after all of them.

The veterans of this war are already organising against it. Troops in Iraq write to us. The whistleblowers are emerging from within the service.

The MFSO family list is growing. The number of conscientious objectors is growing. The mutinies have already begun. We are going to court with stop-loss suits, and to defend military refugees in Canada. Soldiers-in-theatre are setting up blogs that bypass the Centcom censors. There is a Camilo Mejia or a Mike Hoffman or a Kelly Dougherty in every squad waiting for us to invite them into the light.

George Bush, we are going to fight you for every last one of them.

Those troops are our armed forces, and we have to reclaim them no matter the cost.

To those troops who are not yet ready, we'll be there when you are. We don't go away. We put one foot in front of the other. We will never stop. When you decide that it's time to see what's on the other side of all those taboos, it's us you'll find there. Veterans and military families.

I made that Dantean journey you are on for two decades, separated from the very people who most wanted to confirm my humanity when I thought I had abandoned it along the road through eight conflict areas as a servant of this Ivy League mafia.

But when I made the leap, they were there to catch me, and they catch me when I fall to this day. This movement is your family, and the door to that home will always be open.

If we're not home, look for us in the street.

That's where we're headed now. One foot in front of the other, until we get where we gotta go, because those troops are our armed forces, and we have to reclaim them no matter the cost. And those people in Iraq are not our enemies, and they have to reclaim their children no matter the cost, and we are reclaiming them from the same criminal clique.

Look for us in the street, and don't think we are making requests any more.

We are going to delegitimate this war and this system. And if that's not enough, we will disobey. And if disobedience is not enough, we will disrupt that system. We slept in the mud and did their dirty work, and we brought their wars back into our homes to be the burdens of our families.

They made us soldiers, so that's how we are going to act. We are not afraid of poverty. We are not afraid of prison. We are not afraid of death. So now what are they gonna do? Without our fear, they have no power, and in movements, those who are not afraid will show those who are a little afraid the way.

We are not making a request. We are making a demand.

That demand is to let the Iraqis be the architects of their own future, and bring the troops home now.

You want a compromise, turn on Judge Judy. You want a retreat, go book a cabana in Hawaii. You want a surrender, go visit Appomattox and read the plaques.

We ain't goin' nowhere.

From Green Left Weekly, January 19, 2005.
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