Picture a secondhand school bus fixed up with loudspeakers and “Iraq Veterans Against the War” painted on its side. That’s how the Olympia chapter of IVAW gets around.
Last Thursday, the Olympia chapter of IVAW spoke in the Fairhaven Auditorium at an evening with spoken word and musical performances.
I’m still not used to seeing veterans who look like me.
The four men from IVAW looked like any college-aged white men. They wore Carharts and beanies, and had long hair and neat beards. Hearing their stories, I remembered footage I’d seen of Vietnam veterans speaking out against the illegal and immoral.
The Olympia chapter of IVAW is traveling through Washington state right now to rally support for Lt. Ehren Watada, whose court-martial is Monday, February 5. Supporters of Lt. Watada plan to rally outside of Fort Lewis, where the trial takes place, including two carpools from Bellingham organized by Students for a Democratic Society.
Watada is the first officer of the US armed forces to refuse deployment to Iraq. He intended to use the illegality of the war in his defense when he was charged with contempt of a superior officer and conduct unbecoming of an officer, but his charges were recently dropped to refusal of deployment. Watada now may face up to four years in prison instead of six, according to his support campaign website.
Jeff, one member of IVAW, said he joined the army after he dropped out of community college. Like the other members of the Olympia chapter, Jeff went by only his first name.
“I was really naive,” Jeff said of his life before enlistment. “I felt trapped in my hometown in Colorado, I had to get out.”
Jeff said that while he was in the service, his brother sent him Catch 22 and 1984. He then read Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States.
“[People’s History was] an honest account of American history, told through the people who lived through it, really got me motivated,” said Jeff. “From there I read other radical lit[erature]. Those are some of the books that really changed my life.”
Jeff said that while he was in Iraq, he and friends considered going AWOL.
“This proves there was an antiwar mentality in the military even a year after the invasion,” said Jeff. “The whole thing is held together by fear, and it’s a strong fear. The fear of ruining the rest of your life was a tough decision.”
“I decided to stay in so when I got out I could speak out against it.”
Damon, another member of the group, said he joined the Navy in 2001, and served on a submarine.
“I told somebody else that they could have my life,” he said, “and I would operate machinery for them that would destroy other people. I gave up that right for me to choose to do that, or so I thought.”
“We’re about to start World War IV. We’re skipping III, and going to IV. We’re stepping it up in a way that is very dangerous,” said Damon.
“All this is elitism and it’s power-hungry imperial conquest in the Middle East to secure the asset we’re all addicted to and that’s foreign oil,” said Jeff.
Michael, from New Orleans, said that he joined the Army Reserves in 1999 because he was broke and wanted to get back into school.
“It was a pretty good lifestyle for me for three years until 9/11 came... you could definitely notice the switch between the peace time Army and the war time Army even at home,” he said.
He said he felt like a coward when he decided to go to Iraq instead of prison, but his deployment ended up being cancelled.
“When I found out this [the war] was wrong, I felt it was my duty to do something. It was my duty to stop this war.”
“I hear people say students don’t want to get involved because there is no draft right now,” said Michael. “Do you want to wait for the draft? Do you want to be the first one to burn your draft card?”
The Olympia branch of IVAW will travel to Fort Lewis to support Lt. Watada in their bus. IVAW hopes to convert the bus to run on bio-diesel so they won’t be dependent on money to travel.
Michael believes if thousands of people show up in support of Lt. Watada, the judge may give him a shorter sentence.