Sunday, October 22, 2006

Editorial: Kyle Snyder's return to the US is part of a movement of resistance

"I saw my friend completely change into this demon. I saw his soul die right in front of me." That's how Kyle Snyder explained to Mike Howell (Vancouver Courier) watching his friend shoot an Iraqi who was raking rocks. Snyder's time in Iraq was supposed to be spent rebuilding, as he has said in many forums, that's what he signed up for. That wasn't what he saw. There was no reconstruction going on. There were prostitutes being brought to the base, there was a massage parlor right across from Camp Diamond. Possibly that's how the US administration intends to provide opportunities for work to the women of Iraq who have lost most, if not all rights, since the illegal war began?

What does the US administration and the US military intend for young Americans? That's a key question because Kyle Snyder, like many others, signed up with the promise of education and health benefits. As he explains in Michelle Mason's documentary Breaking Ranks, the recruiters were after him. Even attending the five-foot four inches Synder's high school graduation: "I had just recieved my high school diploma. I get off of the stage and here's another recruiter right outside the door -- waiting for me. I look back at it now and everything that I'm going through, everything that I've worked through I can retrace down to that moment that I signed that fucking contract."

After he joined, his fiancee became pregant while he was on leave. He had been given lots of lofty promises about the health care she'd recieve. That never happened. The baby was never born. Synder blames the military for not providing health care. As he told Karen Button (New Orleans Voices for Peace), "The military took my child."

The military didn't do much. They didn't investigate the incident where the Iraqi raking rocks was shot (and lost a leg) which sent a message that Synder shared with Gary Mason (The Globe & Mail), "Basically, what my commanding officers were telling me was I could get angry with anyone in Iraq and, because it was war, it didn't matter what happened. That was not the right answer." This was demonstrated in another incident, recalled in Mason's Breaking the Ranks, where he led a blindfolded Iraqi "into the building into city hall and within five minutes of him being in city hall I heard a BANG."

"I wanted to start a family, I wanted to go to college," Synder said August 13, 2006 speaking to the Veterans for Peace who'd come to the Canadian border. "Basically, the same things I want to do now."

It's a pretty simple dream, nothing big, nothing grandiose -- what many Americans would see as as a basic life, not even "the American dream." Synder's dreams of a simple life were in contrast to his own childhood, as he told Button, "I wasn't a good kid. I didn’t have a good background. I was in foster homes from thirteen to seventeen, then when I was seventeen, I went through a government program called Job Corps. So, from thirteen all the way up, I didn't have parental figures in my life really. My parents divorced; my father was really abusive towards my mother and he was abusive toward me. I've still got scars on my back. I was put in Social Services when I was thirteen. I was an easy target for recruiters, plain and simple."

Which is the story for too many young Americans and those gas bags who want to scream "Volunteer military! Volunteer military!" might do well to look at the economic realities for so many who sign up -- what is "choice," what is "volunteer," when, as Jessica Lynch and many others have demonstrated, there are no other choices?

Gold Star Mother and member of Military Families Speak Out Doris Kent is one of many mothers who can share the sad reality of this war. Her son, Jonathan Santos, died in Iraq October 15, 2004. As she explained to Mike Howell, his main reason for enlisting was to pay for college, ideally to USC or UCLA in California. As she told The Seattle Times, "When he was in Iraq he gathered about 75 books, so somebody named him 'the librian'." [Books for Soldiers is a service that will allow you to select books and to avoid the trip to the post office to mail them.] There is something very sad when the basic, not "the American dream," is untainable for so many in this country.

As Doris Kent told Athima Chansanchai (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), "His junior year, a recruiter got hold of him, and he said, 'Mom, I'm going to earn my own college money.' I said, 'No. I'm going to pay for it.' We argued about it for three months." Earning college money becomes even harder when the current administration has cutting funding to student loans and grants. It's a rush to the economic bottom for the country and one of the few benefitting are military recruiters who prey on the innocent and promise things that they know will never have to be delivered. As Eileen Brennan's character tells Goldie Hawn's Judy Benjamin in the film Private Benjamin, "I don't care. I don't care what your lousy recruiter told you." So it is, and so it always has been. But each generation of Americans faces fewer and fewer opportunites and real wages have remained, at best, stagnant for the last thirty years. In such a reality, in a nation that doesn't manufacture but does do 'service,' the term 'volunteer' becomes another useless, prettied-up term like 'termination' (for firing) and 'downsizing' (for lay offs).

Bully Boy truly is "the CEO" leader. Just like other CEOs, he is awarded while everyone else gets screwed. While the court's fool (not even jester) John Tierney sees the Wal-Mart model as a 'model for peace,' the reality is far different. In Friday's New York Times, Paul Krugman again noted the huge rewards for the top and the neglect of the middle and bottom: "In the 1960's and 1970's, C.E.O.'s of the largest firms were paid, on average, about 40 times as much as the average worker. . . . In the 1990's, executive stock options proliferated -- and executive pay soared, rising to 367 times the average worker's pay by the early years of this decade."

As Naomi Klein documents in the groundbreaking book No Logo, the 'service economy' is built upon high turnover, little pay and transition but not promotion. True in the country's production is outsourced, true in the countries that are outsourcing. In such an economy, words like 'choice' and 'volunteer' have little meaning but they do provide cover as they sugar coat reality.

So with "choice" meaningless, the recruiters prey. In April 2005, Kyle Snyder followed the examples of Jeremy Hinzman, Brandon Hughey and who knows how many others and self-checked out. In Canada, he applied for asylum. No war resister has been granted asylum during the Iraq war (a direct contrast to the Vietnam era). Hinzman and Hughey's appeals are supposed to result in a verdict any day now.

Like Darrell Anderson before him, Kyle Snyder has made the choice to return to the US. Staying is a valid choice and a brave one. It means knowing you may never be able to return to the United States. Even attending a funeral leaves you open to arrest. Snyder's plans currently are to return in November. All summer long the resistance went public and it should have been the story of the summer. You should have read articles, heard and seen reports. That didn't happen. Maybe that's changed. Maybe now the media can grasp that this is a movement and it does deserve coverage. (And, sadly, when we say "the media," we mean independent media. Even The New York Times covered Ricky Clousing's court-martial and sentencing -- click here for Laurie Goodstein's article.)

During the Vietnam era, these actions got more attention and more coverage from the mainstream than they have been getting from independent media. (For a chronicle of the resistance during Vietnam, check out the documentary Sir! No Sir!) Last Thursday, The Nation posted Staughton Lynd's "Soldiers of Conscience" (The Nation) and Amy Goodman interviewed Lynd on Friday's Democracy Now! We'd like to see those two actions as encouraging signs but we're aware that that's just two independent media outlets. When no one else seemed interested, Amy Goodman established that she would try to interview each war resister who went public. (Mark Wilkerson hasn't been interviewed yet.) That was great for 2003, 2004, 2005 and probably early 2006. But this is no longer a case of one person stepping up and then, awhile later, another. This is becoming a movement. And it needs to be covered like one. Goodman and The Nation, by highlighting Lynd, demonstrated that they grasp it is a movement so we'll slap gold stars on both of them for last week. But the coverage needs to be there and it needs to be coming from more than just two outlets. Translation, if you've got time for a write up of a sit down with the Dalai Lama, you've got time to do a write up on war resisters.

Unless you just don't care and if that's the case, you need to be upfront about it. Not hiding behind, "I had to skim four books for a review this week!" If you just don't care, then absolutely, the coverage you provided this summer cuts it.

But some people don't have that luxury. For many who are standing up, for many who are gone, for family and friends of all, the war has come home. Maybe not to your gated communities. But it has come home. On Friday, C.I. noted Max Bootsy's inane comment:

". . . the impact here is more isolated because so many soldiers come from military communities which are clustered in a handful of states." Oh really?
American troop fatalties? Alabama: 47; Alaska: 10; Arizona: 66; Arkansas: 35; California: 284; Colorado: 34; Connecticut: 22; Delaware: 12; Florida: 117; Georgia: 83; Hawaii: 13; Idaho: 16; Illinois: 107; Indiana: 56; Iowa: 33; Kansas: 31; Kentucky: 46; Louisiana: 63; Maine: 12; Maryland: 52; Massachusetts: 45; Michigan: 97; Minnesota: 39; Mississippi: 35; Missouri: 48; Montana: 12; Nebraska: 29; Nevada: 24; New Hampshire: 14; New Jersey: 47; New Mexico: 21; New York: 132; North Carolina: 63; North Dakota: 13; Ohio: 125; Oklahoma: 47; Oregon: 46; Pennsylvania: 135; Rhode Island: 10; South Carolina: 39; South Dakota: 17; Tennessee: 58; Texas: 245; Utah: 14; Vermont: 18; Virginia: 83; Washington: 53; West Virginia: 18; Wisconsin: 60; Wyoming: 7.

Whether the number is 7 (Wyoming) or 284 (California), it's not isolated to a 'few' states. And those are just the fatality numbers. The war has come home.

Speaking in August, Kyle Snyder noted, "I am a 22 year-old combat veteran from the Iraq war." He is one of many who have been touched by the war and he's speaking out. His story matters, his stand matters.

He is not alone and shouldn't be covered as if he is or given the impression that he is. He's part of a movement that includes Camilo Mejia, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Aidan Delgado, Jeremy Hinzman, Brandon Hughey, Patrick Hart, Corey Glass, Ricky Clousing, Mark Wilkerson, Kevin Benderman, Joshua Key, Ivan Brobeck, Robin Long, Ryan Johnson, Clifford Cornell, Katherine Jashinski, Agustin Aguayo, and many more.

For information on war resisters in Canada, War Resisters Support Campaign is the site. And
more information on war resisters who have gone public can be found at Courage to Resist. The latter of which recently noted of Ricky Clousing:

Ricky is currently being held in a military brig at Camp LeJune in North Carolina and it is urgent that he receive your words of encouragement and support! Please write to Ricky today!
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