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March 21 2003


Support Our Troops -- It Depends

A Veteran's Commentary

By Kim Scipes

The idiot has done it: with the encouragement of his closest advisors, George W. Bush has invaded Iraq.

I have many mixed emotions about what's going on. I totally condemn Bush and all his top-level civilian and military leaders/advisors. I consider them war criminals -- each and every one of them -- and want them tried and, if convicted, hung by the neck until dead. The only place I support the death penalty is against state-supported terrorism: and this case certainly meets that test. In other words, impeachment of Bush and his administration is not enough -- it is only a beginning point.

I feel nothing but contempt and revulsion at every elected official -- both Democrat and Republican -- who has supported this war and/or has refused to do everything in his or her power to stop it. To be honest, I'm more pissed at the Democrats than Republicans, if that can be believed. The Republicans chose Bush as their leader and have been true to his policies. The Democrats have overwhelmingly refused to fight Bush, lying over and playing dead. Their intensifying attacks on Bush's domestic policies are not sufficient. The reality is that both established political parties support the U.S. Empire: the Republicans want to maintain if not expand the empire and are willing to do at the cost of everything else; the Democrats want to maintain if not expand the empire, but want to throw a few "bones" to the masses to keep them pacified and to stop some of the most vicious fools put forth by the Republicans. Empire itself is the problem. I will never support the Democratic Party as whole as long as it supports empire, and will consider supporting only those individual Democrats who challenge and/or refuse to support the empire.

The contempt I feel for the commercial mass media is almost at the same level. The mass media have propagated the lie that Saddam Hussein is an exception, that he's one of a kind. Saddam is terrible, and I want him removed from power by democratic Iraqis. Anyone who might suggest that myself or any other person in the anti-war movement supports Hussein is a liar, unless a person specifically takes that position on their own. I consider Saddam, too, a war criminal, and another one who has initiated state-supported terrorism against the population of Iraq.

That being said, the media have propagated a lie that Saddam is an exception -- again, he is not. Saddam Hussein is typical of the tyrants the U.S. has consistently supported around the world. Think of all the dictators that the U.S. has supported: Pinochet, Marcos, Mobutu, a whole line of butchers in Guatemala, Somoza, South African apartheid leaders, Suharto, etc., etc. The list goes on and on. While the U.S. line has changed in the last 15 years whereby it's gotten somewhat more sophisticated -- see William Robinson's excellent book, Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, U.S. Intervention, and Hegemony (Cambridge University Press, 1996) -- it still does not cover up the fact that the U.S. has consistently and continually supported some of the most evil people in the world and has supplied, trained, and helped them dominate their peoples across the "third world" -- and that specifically has included the use of torture, which continues today.

Saddam Hussein was helped into power by the acquiescence if not the actual support of the U.S. government. He continued to gain U.S. government support throughout the 1970s and 1980s. U.S. corporations sold him arms, chemicals, biological agents, and probably nuclear production-related equipment, and all with the explicit support of the U.S. government (during both Republican and Democratic administrations). While there is debate about whether it was Iraq or Iran who gassed the Iraqi population in the late 1980s, if Saddam did it -- and that is even questioned by people who have more access to relevant material than I -- then he did it as an ally of and with the acquiescence of the U.S. government under George HW Bush. The U.S. government only turned against Saddam when he invaded Kuwait, but vague and unclear statements by the U.S. ambassador suggested that an invasion might be tolerated by his U.S. mentors, which apparently led to his decision to invade. But the vehemence that the U.S. government has displayed against Saddam -- far in excess of the actual situation -- is simply this: the U.S. is pissed that their dog slipped his leash and acted against the wishes of his "masters." And they're further pissed because he didn't meekly crawl back into his doghouse and beg forgiveness and pledge continued fealty after the end of the Gulf War, so he's got to be even further punished. And the U.S. is willing -- despite pious press statements to the contrary -- to kill thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians to kill Saddam.

Any talk of "democracy" or of "liberating Iraq" is a blatant and hypocritical lie. That the U.S. is doing it with military power, gross overwhelming military power, makes it even more sickening.

Unfortunately, despite extensive work by pro-peace and popular democratic people and organizations, the U.S. public to a large part still believes the lie that the U.S. is a benevolent country, only doing its best in the maelstrom of an evil world. The heartening thing has been the massive explosion of anti-war forces and actions around the U.S. to try to stop Bush from launching this war.

I think two things have come out of that: (1) Almost everyone in the country who is in any position of leadership in the moral and/or educational fields of our society -- along with artists of all stripes -- seems to oppose Bush's invasion. The opposition is, of course, much broader than this, but the importance is that those who are so important to our understanding of the world and the U.S. role within it seem overwhelmingly against the invasion. As people come to question the war, they will find a ready pool of pro-peace leaders who will help explain the situation in the clearest possible terms. This is good. And (2), although a long way from being "solid" in people's minds, the connection between war overseas (i.e., empire) and increasing social cutbacks and misery in this country, among Americans, is being made to a greater and greater extent among the general population. People are really beginning to understand that money spent for war cannot be spent for schools, health care, Medicare, etc. And we need to encourage and help people to make this connection: the U.S. cannot do both, so which one do you want?

But within all of the complexity, lies, and distortion, we are seeing Americans cry "support the troops." What about this????

What I'm going to say is my own personal opinion as a U.S. military veteran -- I do not claim it represents all veterans or even any other veteran, although I suspect it will resonate with a substantial number of veterans, especially those who fought and/or served in Viet Nam. But unless someone specifically states they agree with me, please do not assume they support my position.

First, some background. At the age of 17, in 1969, I volunteered for active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. Although I didn't go into the Marines to fight in Viet Nam, I bought into the Marine Corps "program" (i.e., brainwashing) and, after finishing my training as an Avionics Technician and learning my trade, in 1971, I volunteered to go to Viet Nam as a door gunner in helicopters. Miraculously, I was never sent -- and I didn't have any clout like Bush, who used his daddy to hide in the reserves, the chickenshit. Eventually, I earned a meritorious promotion to corporal (E-4).

Being later detailed to work in a Human Relations Program, as a white male, I learned about racial oppression and what it meant to people of color throughout our society, both in the military and society. Our program was basically intended to cover the lifer's (career Marines) asses in case a race riot erupted on our base, but the two African-American Marines and I worked to make it a real program, and fought both institutional and personal racism, along with military oppression of young Marines in general. (Some quick background: racial oppression was so present in the Marine Corps that by 1971, there had been a race riot at every major Marine base in the world, except at the base where I was stationed, the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona: in part because of our team's efforts, there never was a race riot at Yuma.) For my part in this work, I was eventually promoted to the rank of sergeant (E-5).

Somewhere in this period, the Pentagon Papers were released by Daniel Ellsburg. For those who don't know, the Pentagon Papers were a top secret U.S. government-commissioned study of the origins and development of the U.S. war in Viet Nam, which was never supposed to be seen by the U.S. public. Ellsburg, himself a colonel in the Marine Corps and who has served at the top levels of U.S. military, decided this study had to get into the "air" of public exposure. At great personal risk and with help, he delivered it to reporters. It was later published by the New York Times and the Washington Post, and in book form. What the Pentagon Papers showed was that the U.S. government had lied to the people of the United States at each and every turn: everything we had been told, from A to Z, was a lie. Among other things, the U.S. government had invaded Viet Nam to prop up a puppet government that the U.S. had established: it was never any fight to defend a democratic government, but was an incredibly brutal effort to maintain a puppet government in power, at the direct expense of millions of Vietnamese lives, as well as ultimately 58,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands of wounded U.S. service folks.

As a young Marine trying to understand what was going on in Viet Nam, I avidly read the Pentagon Papers when they came out. I then knew I would go to Canada before Viet Nam. Fortunately, I was never put to the test, and eventually got out with an honorable discharge.

I say all of this not to brag, but to help people know where I'm coming from.

Regarding the war, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I support our troops: bring them home. I don't want a single man or woman to be killed, wounded, or traumatized. (Traumatization is a big thing: after 30-plus years since the end of Viet Nam, and meeting hundreds if not thousands of U.S. veterans, I have never met a single one who saw any significant level of combat who is completely "back" to where they were before going to Viet Nam -- or the Gulf. And approximately 1/3 of all people living on the streets today across this country are Viet Nam veterans.)

But I don't want U.S. troops to kill, wound or traumatize Iraqis, and especially not civilians. When U.S. troops attack civilians -- especially in any case except in specific self-defense -- I do not support them. I do not support such behavior, and in fact, condemn it. Needless to say, I also condemn any torture -- no matter what the "justification" -- and/or rape, or terrorization. I specifically condemn any bombing and/or launching missiles that target or even have the serious likelihood of hitting the civilian populace -- I know the supposed accuracy of U.S. military weapons isn't nearly as accurate as is claimed.

So, in short, while I support our troops, it is not unconditional support: I want them brought home immediately, but my support does not extend to all of their actions, and it almost never is in support of any attack on civilians.

To give a blank check, unconditional support, is to me just another way of supporting Bush's invasion under the guise of concern for U.S. troops. I don't buy it. Maybe others do -- but I don't.

So, yes -- I support our troops. But this support is determined by the situation: it is not unconditional.

And the best way to support our troops, in my opinion, is to mobilize across this country to such an extent that Bush and the political elite's interests are seriously threatened. As one living in Chicago, I want to quote that great American, Al Capone: Big Al was once said to say, "A kind word and a gun will get your further than a kind word alone." The gun, in this case, is a metaphor, not real: but it is a intensified, expanded, militant, and determined anti-war movement that challenges not only the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but the very existence of the Empire as well.


Kim Scipes, USMC, 1969-1973; Honorable Discharge, Rank of Sergeant. Currently, Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology University of Illinois at Chicago.

Other servicemen weigh in on the same issue: An open letter from the troops you support