On July 23, my son, who is assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, was told along with the rest of his company at morning formation, to get his affairs in order. They are going to replace the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq.
Jessie spent his first thirteen years around the military, from which I retired just seven years ago right there in Ft. Bragg. It's no surprise, then, that in the face of all my protests he joined the army anyway. The military is ‘normal’ to him.
His mother and I have been scrupulously ‘normal’ for the last few days, self-consciously so. We show great attention to detail in our day-to-day activities. We stay busy.
I reassure her and myself that he is a light wheeled vehicle mechanic, that he won’t be participating in convoys when his unit goes to Iraq in September, that Baghdad airport, where the motor pool probably is, has by now been turned into an impregnable fortress, that perhaps there wasn’t as much depleted uranium fired there as in some Baghdad neighborhoods, that he won’t be obliged to take lives and lose that little piece of his soul, that he won't fall into the habit of calling Iraqis ragheads or hajjis, that he can just save some money, do his job, and stay busy and out of harm’s way.
This is what people say to each other who are in our position, because there is no alternative way to think and still go to work, still attend to the needs of other children, still manage relationships, and still maintain some modicum of self-control.
On July 3, I wrote a piece for Counterpunch expressing my reaction to George W. Bush’s remark about “bring ‘em on.” I went after this remark for its counterfeit courage, for its puerility, for its utter hypocrisy and insensitivity. But now I am reminded, now that my son is going to go there (at his age I was already in Vietnam), that George W. Bush and his coterie are more than offensive. They are obscenities with a lot of blood on their hands, and their wretchedness is something far more terrifying and unspeakable—viewed as a parent—than this bit of schoolyard mouth.
The Counterpunch column about this Texas preppy’s remark elicited a stunning reaction. My email was hit by a tidal wave, hundreds of responses an hour at first, reactions of empathy and outrage that told me there is a vast reservoir of doubt, fear, and rage filling up beyond the ken of the cringing institution that calls itself the press. Around 40 percent of those responses came from troops, military families, and veterans. There is a great well of sullen anger smoldering out there against these pop-opera generalissimos.
Now, as parents facing our son’s first combat tour, we are even more part of that burning.
The recent news stories about the Bush adminstration’s mountain of lies was not news to those of us who learned long ago to seek sources outside offcialdom.
Millions of us said they were lying over a year ago. And we parents—many of us—know that our enemies are not in Iraq. Our enemies are in office, and they have the blood of children—some of them ours—on their hands. Everyone is someone’s child, even when they are grown. Even when they take paths we don’t approve of.
Even when they become soldiers, and are sent to pay for lies with their bodies and hearts and the blood of others.
I replied to every email, most perfunctorily, some at length. I skimmed at first, until I realized I had overlooked a letter from a woman whose son struggled for four years with post traumatic stress disorder before he took his own life. Not long after, his young wife did the same. This bereaved mother wrote to say thanks for giving her a voice. But it was she and others like her who are giving us a voice.
I made calls, and the people I called made calls, and within four days a small group of activist veterans and military families had formed a coordinating committee to figure out how we might find those other voices and amplify them. We bought a web domain, made more calls, wrote statements of purpose, developed outreach literature, conferred for two hours at a time on the phone from the west coast to the east. We did more
organizing in two weeks than I have seen with most initiatives in six months. As the word has leaked out, we are getting phone calls and email. What is this thing you are doing? Military Families Speak Out, Veterans for Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Citizen Soldier, and others—these dissident military communities have networks!
So we are going to give troops, their families, and critical veterans a voice. That’s the reason-for-being of “Bring Them Home Now!” We are using our web site www.bringthemhomenow.org as a communications clearinghouse to publish the voices of military communities and to link them to the networks and resources they will need to organize themselves. When military families rebelled recently at Ft. Stewart, the brass didn't hesitate to issue veiled threats that criticizing the war might impact on their loved ones’ careers. The brass will have no control over us, however, and those same people (mostly courageous women) will be able to say what they want, when they want, and we'll protect their identities if that’s what they need. Through them, we will communicate with the troops in combat zones, whose recent public dissent brought a swift and clear injunction from the CENTCOM commander threatening retaliate with the full force of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
We are going directly to those upon whom our would-be emperors depend to carry out their grandiose and deadly vision—the military. A friend of mine who passed away this year once said, “Soldiers [and their families] are political scientists. No-one cares as much as they do about what it is they are asked to die for.” For these political scientists, ‘Bring Them Home Now!’ will be a conference room, a classroom, and a loudspeaker.
We will turn up the volume and the political pressure to bring our loved ones home, NOT ‘replace’ them with more of our children and spouses, and to leave the people of Central and Southwestern Asia to determine their own futures without Bush’s bombs and bullets.
Stan Goff is the author of “Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti.” He is a member of the BRING THEM HOME NOW! coordinating committee, a retired Special Forces master sergeant, and the father of an active duty soldier.