About Face | The Nation


About Face

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A few of the antiwar dissidents lean more toward resistance than re-enlistment. Marc Train, 19, is an Army grunt stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and a signer of the Appeal. A native of Salina, Kansas, Train joined the Army right out of high school, convinced that he had no other real career prospects.

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Marc Cooper
Marc Cooper, a Nation contributing editor, is an associate professor of professional practice and director of...

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At the biggest Democratic event of the campaign season, Obama argued that the coming election is a choice between the past and the future rather than a referendum on his first two years in office.

He'll probably fend off J.D. Hayworth, but in order to win he's lost most of his principles.

Some of his comrades in the Third Infantry Division are scheduled to deploy to Iraq for a staggering third tour of duty. For Train, it will be his first--if he doesn't refuse. He says he wasn't very political before enlisting, but now he's been radicalized. He realizes now he joined the Army only to get a job and that he's grown suspicious of the Administration's motives for war in Iraq. "I think it's all about oil," he says. Train has made clear to his superiors that he's not happy about deploying to Iraq and might refuse to step over the line when the mobilization order becomes effective in January. He's already lost the security clearance for the intelligence job he was trained for, and he's now enmeshed in a series of official investigations. "I want separation from the Army because I don't want to be just a cog in the machine. I've registered as a member of the Socialist Party USA."

Asked whether he will refuse duty if not given the discharge he seeks, Train answers: "That's a very strong question for me, a very strong consideration. Right now, I'm about 70 percent leaning toward not going."

Some expert observers of military affairs, like Robert Hodierne, senior managing editor of Army Times Publishing, argue that the numbers of active-duty soldiers and sailors who have signed on to the Appeal and expressed some sort of public dissent aren't impressive. "Dissent of that nature represents but a small percentage of the people in uniform," Hodierne says, pointing out that 1.4 million serve in the armed forces. "What we are sensing is a great deal of disenchantment with the way the war has been fought, not whether it is or is not an unjust war."

But Kelly Dougherty, co-chair of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who served with the Colorado Army National Guard in Iraq in 2003-04, says that critics like Hodierne are underestimating the level of dissent in the ranks. "Critics will say 800 or 1,000 signers isn't significant. I think it is," she says from her Philadelphia headquarters. "For everyone who has heard about the Appeal there are so many dozens of others who agree with it but have not heard about it or agree with it but are intimidated by the military." The military, meanwhile, has so far taken a hands-off approach to the Appeal. None of the active-duty personnel interviewed for this piece reported any reprisals. "The only official word I've gotten came from my public affairs officer," said Appeal founder Hutto. "He told me the rules: Don't do anything while in uniform or while on duty. And that was that."

Commander Chris Sims, spokesman for the Atlantic Fleet Naval Air Force, says that Hutto violates no military regulations if he's off-duty when speaking out. And Pentagon spokesman Maj. Stewart Upton, when asked about the Appeal, said: "Members of the armed forces are free to communicate with Congress in a lawful manner that doesn't violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

Lawyer J.E. McNeil at the GI Rights Hotline is convinced that the benign response from the higher command reflects the level of doubt that currently permeates the military. "There are enough people in the military who agree with these guys is why they are not getting much flak," she says. "I think there's a lot of sympathy among officers. We talk to them all the time. And while a lot of them don't want to stand up publicly, we know they admire those who have signed the Appeal. Admire them and support them."

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