Pat Hynes & Frances Crowe: When veterans speak out about truth of Iraq war

Last modified: Monday, May 06, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — On March 20, 2003, the United States launched a mammoth aerial bombardment of missiles and bombs on Baghdad in what then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld described as a “shock and awe” onslaught the likes of which the world had never seen.

The war was expected to be brief, surgically smart and victorious. It was none of these.

As many as 174,000 Iraqis and foreign combatants died in the war, according to the group Iraq Body Count; most were civilians. Other estimates of deaths, including work by researchers at MIT and Johns Hopkins cited by the British journal Lancet, run as high as 1 million and are based on work with Iraqi partners.

At least one sixth of Iraqi citizens became war refugees, fleeing violence to other parts of the country and to other countries. Baghdad ranked last in a May 2010 international study of most livable cities because of the war’s destruction of power and sewage treatment plants, factories, schools, hospitals and museums.

Between 4,000 and 5,000 American soldiers were killed and more than 32,000 were wounded — many with serious brain and spinal injuries.

Up to 30 percent of Iraq War veterans treated by the Veterans’ Administration have PTSD, with higher rates among veterans multiply deployed. The full costs of the debt-financed war are estimated to be more than $3 trillion — a significant contributor to the federal deficit

Why go to war against Iraq when we were already at war in Afghanistan pursuing the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks?

The reasons changed like a chameleon does color. First, to eliminate non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Next, because the tyrant Saddam Hussein might support terrorists. Then, to herald democracy in Iraq.

When state-building by gunpoint failed, we occupied Iraq to stabilize the country de-stabilized by our war. Nearly nine years later at the war’s end, Iraq was a country in ruins and a humanitarian disaster.

Our soldiers fought in a war embedded with U.S. media and covered on news channels by ex-generals, determined to cast the armed services as true patriots, warriors and heroes, no matter the baseless claims and venal motives of the war.

Even so, thousands of them turned against the war and declared themselves conscientious objectors, went AWOL, refused to deploy, published on blogs, spoke out and turned in their medals in a defiant public act of conscience.

Some speak of seeing their children’s faces in the faces of terrified Iraqi children. Others speak of being changed by witnessing the crushing grief of Iraqis losing loved ones to American bullets. Their voices have a uniquely moral tenor.

In May 2012, nearly 50 uniformed members of Iraq Veterans Against the War led tens of thousands of protesters in Chicago, where NATO was meeting. At the police barricades that separated them from generals and politicians summiting about their version of Afghanistan’s future, the veterans spoke about why they were returning their global war on terror medals and war ribbons.

U.S. Army Sergeant Allejandro Villtoro opened the speakout and said: “Some of us killed innocents. Some of us helped in continuing these wars from home. Some of us watched our friends die. Some of us are not here, because we took our own lives. We did not get the care promised to us by our government. All of us watched failed policies turn into bloodshed. Listen to us, hear us, and think: was any of this worth it?”

Zach LaPorte, an Iraq war veteran from Milwaukee, Wisc., said he was giving back his medals “because I feel like I was duped into an illegal war that was sold to me on the guise that I was going to be liberating the Iraqi people, when instead of liberating the people, I was liberating their oil fields.”

Aaron Hughes, who served with the Illinois Army National Guard from 2000 and 2006, spoke of his decorations: “This medal right here is for Anthony Wagner. He died last year. This medal right here is for the one-third of the women in the military that are sexually assaulted by their peers. ... And this medal right here is because I’m sorry. I’m sorry to all of you. I’m sorry.”

Those who fomented this war were blinded by ambitions of American control of Middle East oil, by American superpower status and, ultimately, by their need to win.

Those who paid the price — soldier and civilian casualties — live with its futility, its failure and its injustice.

Pat Hynes directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice in western Massachusetts. Frances Crowe is a lifelong peace activist and lives in Northampton.


When state-building by gunpoint failed, we occupied Iraq to stabilize the country de-stabilized by our war.


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