For the first time since Vietnam, an organized, robust movement of active-duty US military personnel has publicly surfaced to oppose a war in which they are serving. Those involved plan to petition Congress to withdraw American troops from Iraq. (Note: A complete version of this report will appear Thursday in the print and online editions of The Nation.)
After appearing only seven weeks ago on the Internet, the Appeal for Redress, brainchild of 29-year-old Navy seaman Jonathan Hutto, has already been signed by nearly 1,000 US soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, including dozens of officers–most of whom are on active duty. Not since 1969, when some 1,300 active-duty military personnel signed an open letter in the New York Times opposing the war in Vietnam, has there been such a dramatic barometer of rising military dissent.
Interviews with two dozen signers of the Appeal reveal a mix of motives for opposing the war: ideological, practical, strategic and moral. But all those interviewed agree that it is time to start withdrawing the troops. Coming from an all-volunteer military, the Appeal was called “unprecedented” by Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice.
The Nation spoke with rank-and-file personnel as well as high-ranking officers–some on the Iraqi front lines, others at domestic and offshore US military bases–who have signed the Appeal. All of their names will be made available to Congress when the Appeal is presented in mid-January. Signers have been assured they are sending a communication to Congress protected under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act. The Pentagon is powerless to take official reprisals and has said that as long as active-duty personnel are not in uniform or on duty, they are free to express their views to Congress.
There are of course other, subtler risks involved. The military command exercises enormous power through individual reviews, promotions and assignments. But that hasn’t kept a number of signers from going public with their dissent.
Navy Lieut. Cmdr. Mark Dearden of San Diego, for example, enlisted in 1997 and is still pondering the possibility of a lifetime career. “So this was a very difficult decision for me to come to. I don’t take this decision lightly,” he says. But after two “tough” deployments in Iraq, Dearden says signing the Appeal was not only the right thing to do but also gave him personal “closure.”
“I’m expressing a right of people in the military to contact their elected representatives, and I have done nothing illegal or disrespectful,” Dearden adds.
Other interviews with active-duty soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who have signed the Appeal for Redress reveal an array of motivations. Here are excerpts:
“Lisa”–20 years old, E-4, USAF, Stationed at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii
I joined up two weeks after I turned 17 because I wanted to save American lives. I wanted to be a hero like any American child.