Winter Soldiers Open Dialogue, Hold Up Mirror

“The assumption is that obedience is normal—the president is king.”

–Hunter S. Thompson, in an interview and hashish session with Marty Beckerman1


“And then September 11th happened.  I began to hear new words like ‘towelhead,’ ‘camel jockey,’ and the most disturbing, ‘sand nigger.’  These words did not initially come from my fellow soldiers but from my superiors: my platoon sergeant, my company first sergeant, battalion commander.  All the way up the chain of command these terms—these viciously racist terms—were suddenly acceptable….  These are the words the American people used when they allowed this government to sanction Iraq.  This is something that many people forget, and you can’t forget.”

–Mike Prysner, speaking at the Winter Soldier Hearings2




How free am I?  The citizen of a federal government that imposes its will outside of its own borders, in the name of its own citizens and esteemed principles.  The federal government has taken my name—and yours—in vain!  That’s serious shit, citizen.  But I disassociate myself from that, call shenanigans on it, shout that I called it all quits years ago, in high school, when the absurdity of ticky-tacky American home suburban corporate business dreams presented itself as what it is: false, stale, lifeless, facsimile of an outdated fantasy.  Yet that somehow doesn’t make me any less accountable.


America is still riding moments of inflated triumph, fetishizing genocide and occupation as manifest destiny and foundations.  We don’t own the land we stand on, busying ourselves with wasting and spending, on endless hi-fi connections.  We treat life like a game of football: end zone, touchdown, extra points.  Achievement.  All the while, some unknowable magnetic cosmic force—the closest name we have for it is love—spins us all around the sun.  How arrogant we can be, with our building and wasting.


Yet we can also be brilliantly creative.  We can be courageous.  I am amazed by the resilience and integrity displayed over the weekend by the Winter Soldiers, the Iraq Veterans Against the War.  Their testimony breaks my heart once more (but who’s counting, anyway?) and gives me hope at the same time.  After being dehumanized, being programmed and indoctrinated by corporate/governmental/military powers-that-be to kill, hate, and destroy—against impossible odds all bent on using them as dehumanized bodies, tools for murder—these men and women are not destroyed; damaged yes.  But damaged, they struggle to reclaim their humanity.  It never left them, actually, but was subdued by dull drilling, loud insistences on the reality of the enemy, the conspiracy against America and life as we know it.  Their fear was tapped and they signed the contract to defend, not knowing that the signature sold them to do awful, incomprehensible things to other human beings.  They have shot civilians, tortured, interrogated, witnessed torture, torn down sovereign nations at the urging of their own nation.  The patriotic clamor was deafening, riling otherwise sensible people to bloodlust, duping 90% (more? less?) of the American population to demonize the “Other:”  terrorists, insurgents, ragheads, sand niggers.


And yet soldiers the world over are still doing horrifying things.  Our country’s soldiers.  United Nations peacekeeping soldiers.  African soldiers, Afghani and Iraqi militias.  When will we crucially understand that warfare is a self-inflicted wound, is suicide revisited over and over again in billions of instances?  Man shoots man.  Man shoots woman.  Woman shoots man.  Woman shoots woman.  Man shoots child.  Child shoots man.  Woman shoots child.  Child shoots woman.  Child shoots child.  Man tortures man.  Man tortures woman.  Woman tortures man.  Woman tortures woman.  A tortured child.  Everyone is a child.  And in all these variable instance of children indoctrinated or reacting to kill, ultimately it’s suicide.  Human kills human.  Self kills self.  There is no “Other” here.  Self-inflicted gunshot wound.  Self torture.


Why are we torturing ourselves?  For economics?  Reasons of state?  Vengeance?  To maintain our freedom?  To maintain order?  Can a killer ever be free?  Seems to me that murderers mostly still have a conscience.  The murder is revisited daily, hourly, always: the torture of conscience protesting against inhumanity, struggling to reclaim integrity, dignity, humanity.



“I tried to be proud of my service, but all I could feel was shame….  These were people, these were human beings….  We are told we are fighting terrorists.  The real terrorist was me, and the real terrorism is this occupation.”

–Mike Prysner, speaking at the Winter Soldier Hearings2


“A year becomes a month, a month becomes a day, and a day becomes a second—a second that you repeat over and over and over again, not just for your tour, but for the rest of your life.”

–Geoff Millard, Winter Soldier Hearings2




In America, we must begin to see.  We must see what we are doing, what we justify and condone, what we are complicit in by simply being tax-paying citizens of America.  If America had integrity, the nation would be collectively cringing, mourning, asking forgiveness, praying for absolution, turning restlessly through the night.


Are we morally bankrupt?  Or are we, after all, human?  Iraq Veterans Against the War have held up mirrors, portraits and self-portraits, videos, commentaries, quotes, and transcripts of atrocities.  They are looking squarely at these images.  They are claiming responsibility and pushing their superiors to do the same.  They are asking us to look at them, knowing that they are us, and that the crimes that they have been forced to commit are our crimes, all of us living here in affluence and ignorance.  We cannot let them stand alone on trial and in protest.


Millions of Iraqis have died violently in the past five years alone.  We have stood by, worked our jobs, listened to the media-spun sanitized reports.  We have slept, ignored and invalidated their suffering, taken vacations, even cheered as our president and congress cut budgets, rights—both civil and human—and funneled incomprehensible exponents of unreal, unminted, intangible cash to create tanks, drones, planes, missiles, bombs, bases, barriers, battleships, guns, weapons of mass destruction.  All this we have been either willingly or unwillingly complicit in, while government officials, media, and each other have urged us to “support our troops.”


Here we have it: the troops are not being supported.  The VA hospitals are cut, corrupted, underfunded, horrible insults to soldiers who have been maimed, amputated, psychologically traumatized, and disfigured.3  These same troops have shot children, mothers, fathers, for us.  This is how the federal government protects us: by destroying life, stripping liberties, burning the cradle of civilization, all the while brazenly and incomprehensibly promoting these actions as civil, necessary, altruistic, as a defense and promotion of freedom.


Yes, we have been duped.  More correctly, we haven’t been paying attention; haven’t been doing our jobs as citizens of a democracy; more bluntly: we’ve been stupid.  We have repeatedly refused to entertain the possibility that war is wrong.  We can no longer refuse to face ourselves: our fear, our guilt, our greed, our sense of entitlement, our hatred, our complicity and stupidity, our misplaced deference to authority and power, our meek acceptance of lies and distortions.  We have not behaved as people who believe in democracy.  We have not displayed any value for freedom, much less human life.  While we’ve busily and obediently hunkered down, shoulders to the grindstone, affirming our allegiance to capitalism, convenience, packaging, and sound bites, we’ve missed the point of the destruction of the World Trade Centers:


Economics is not worth the wasting of lives.






  1. “My Chat (and Hash-Smoking Session) with Hunter S. Thompson, Gonzo Journalism Legend” by Marty Beckerman: http://www.getunderground.com/underground/features/article.cfm?Article_ID=1073
  2. Winter Soldier, March 14th-16th, 2008: video: http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/79865/
  3. See “Military Doctors Withholding Treatment from Soldiers with Mental Health Problems” by Maggie Mahar http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/77867/

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