Source: The Stony Brook Press, Stony Brook University
The day after September 11, 2001, 16-year-old Kristofer Goldsmith stood at the front of a Long Island pizza parlor and delivered a speech that won a standing ovation from the patrons of the restaurant. His recommendation was a variation on what many politicians and media pundits were suggesting during the nationalist hysteria following 9-11: "vaporize" the entire population of the Middle East with biological weapons, then move in and take the oil.
After enlisting in the Army, Kris was deployed to Sadr City in Iraq in January 2005. The first time he manned the machine gun on a tank, Kris remembers, he thought of it "basically like a big video game" with the objective of killing as many Iraqi "cockroaches" as possible.
Yet Kris is not a naturally malicious person. Much of his original disdain for Iraqis sprang from his lack of understanding about what "war" really involved—a characteristic common to most of our society that is reinforced daily by the news media—combined with the military’s efforts to transform him into a cold, emotionless killing machine. "If you dehumanize the enemy it’s easier to kill them," he says, so "that’s what the military trains you to do." Kris’s attitudes took a 180º-turn after seeing the death, injury, and suffering that was being inflicted on both Iraqis and US soldiers. During his twelve months in Iraq he was forced, among other things, to take up-close photographs of mutilated Iraqi corpses as "the smell of human bodies" and the human sewage in which the corpses festered outside Sadr City penetrated his nostrils. He quickly became desperate to leave Iraq.
But Iraq was only the start of Kris’s troubles. After coming home in late 2005 he began suffering from chronic depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and alcoholism. When President Bush announced the "surge" in January 2007, Kris was unexpectedly "stop-lossed" and ordered back to Iraq for an additional fifteen months. Preferring to die rather than go back, on Memorial Day 2007 Kris wrote "Stop-Loss Killed This Man" on his arm and swallowed twelve Percocet tablets and a bottle of vodka. After his unsuccessful suicide attempt, the Army still refused to discharge him, instead charging him with "misconduct" and alleging that he had "faked a mental illness" to avoid duty.
Kris now describes himself as "one of those guys the Army’s trying to hide." Last year he joined Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and has since spoken out tirelessly against the Iraq occupation, telling audiences all around the NYC and Long Island area about the suffering he witnessed in Iraq and the misery he himself has endured since enlisting in the Army. For the most part, though, the Army has been successful: unless you’ve spent hour digging around on the Internet with the express purpose of finding the testimonies of antiwar veterans, you probably haven’t heard Kris’s story or the stories of thousands of other US vets who have turned against the occupation. Their stories, like the stories of other dissenting voices, have been silenced by what Kris calls the "American media black-out."
Why are these voices silenced? Perhaps because their stories are so painful, so heartbreaking, and so enraging that if everyone in this country heard them we would force our government to place a permanent moratorium on all US military intervention overseas, and work tirelessly to avoid all unnecessary violence in the future.
To see the video testimonies of Kris and other courageous members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, visit www.ivaw.org.