American serviceperson in Iraq,
am a retired veteran of the army, and my own son
is among you, a paratrooper like I was. The changes
that are happening to every one of you -- some
more extreme than others -- are changes I know
very well. So I'm going to say some things to
you straight up in the language to which you are
1970, I was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade,
then based in northern Binh Dinh Province in what
was then the Republic of Vietnam. When I went
there, I had my head full of shit: shit from the
news media, shit from movies, shit about what
it supposedly mean to be a man, and shit from
a lot of my know-nothing neighbors who would tell
you plenty about Vietnam even though they'd never
been there, or to war at all.
essence of all this shit was that we had to "stay
the course in Vietnam," and that we were on some
mission to save good Vietnamese from bad Vietnamese,
and to keep the bad Vietnamese from hitting beachheads
outside of Oakland. We stayed the course until
58,000 Americans were dead and lots more maimed
for life, and 3,000,000 Southeast Asians were
dead. Ex-military people and even many on active
duty played a big part in finally bringing that
crime to a halt.
I started hearing about weapons of mass destruction
that threatened the United States from Iraq, a
shattered country that had endured almost a decade
of trench war followed by an invasion and twelve
years of sanctions, my first question was how
in the hell can anyone believe that this suffering
country presents a threat to the United States?
But then I remembered how many people had believed
Vietnam threatened the United States. Including
that bullshit story about weapons came apart like
a two-dollar shirt, the politicians who cooked
up this war told everyone, including you, that
you would be greeted like great liberators. They
told us that we were in Vietnam to make sure everyone
there could vote.
they didn't tell me was that before I got there
in 1970, the American armed forces had been burning
villages, killing livestock, poisoning farmlands
and forests, killing civilians for sport, bombing
whole villages, and committing rapes and massacres,
and the people who were grieving and raging over
that weren't in a position to figure out the difference
between me -- just in country -- and the people
who had done those things to them.
they didn't tell you is that over a million and
a half Iraqis died between 1991 and 2003 from
malnutrition, medical neglect, and bad sanitation.
Over half a million of those who died were the
weakest: the children, especially very young children.
son who is over there now has a baby. We visit
with our grandson every chance we get. He is eleven
months old now. Lots of you have children, so
you know how easy it is to really love them, and
love them so hard you just know your entire world
would collapse if anything happened to them. Iraqis
feel that way about their babies, too. And they
are not going to forget that the United States
government was largely responsible for the deaths
of half a million kids.
the lie that you would be welcomed as liberators
was just that. A lie. A lie for people in the
United States to get them to open their purse
for this obscenity, and a lie for you to pump
you up for a fight.
when you put this into perspective, you know that
if you were an Iraqi, you probably wouldn't be
crazy about American soldiers taking over your
towns and cities either. This is the tough reality
I faced in Vietnam. I knew while I was there that
if I were Vietnamese, I would have been one of
there we were, ordered into someone else's country,
playing the role of occupier when we didn't know
the people, their language, or their culture,
with our head full of bullshit our so-called leaders
had told us during training and in preparation
for deployment, and even when we got there. There
we were, facing people we were ordered to dominate,
but any one of whom might be pumping mortars at
us or firing AKs at us later that night. The question
we stated to ask is who put us in this position?
our process of fighting to stay alive, and in
their process of trying to expel an invader that
violated their dignity, destroyed their property,
and killed their innocents, we were faced off
against each other by people who made these decisions
in $5,000 suits, who laughed and slapped each
other on the back in Washington, DC with their
fat fucking asses stuffed full of cordon blue
chumped us. Anyone can be chumped.
you now. Just fewer trees and less water.
haven't figured out how to stop the pasty-faced,
oil-hungry backslappers in DC yet, and it looks
like you all might be stuck there for a little
longer. So I want to tell you the rest of the
changed over there in Vietnam and they were not
nice changes either. I started getting pulled
into something -- something that craved other
people's pain. Just to make sure I wasn't regarded
as a "fucking missionary" or a possible rat, I
learned how to fit myself into that group that
was untouchable, people too crazy to fuck with,
people who desired the rush of omnipotence that
comes with setting someone's house on fire just
for the pure hell of it, or who could kill anyone,
man, woman, or child, with hardly a second thought.
People who had the power of life and death --
because they could.
anger helps. It's easy to hate everyone you can't
trust because of your circumstances, and to rage
about what you've seen, what has happened to you,
and what you have done and can't take back.
was all an act for me, a cover-up for deeper fears
I couldn't name, and the reason I know that is
that we had to dehumanize our victims before we
did the things we did. We knew deep down that
what we were doing was wrong. So they became dinks
or gooks, just like Iraqis are now being transformed
into ragheads or hajjis. People had to be reduced
to "niggers" here before they could be lynched.
No difference. We convinced ourselves we had to
kill them to survive, even when that wasn't true,
but something inside us told us that so long as
they were human beings, with the same intrinsic
value we had as human beings, we were not allowed
to burn their homes and barns, kill their animals,
and sometimes even kill them. So we used these
words, these new names, to reduce them, to strip
them of their essential humanity, and then we
could do things like adjust artillery fire onto
the cries of a baby.
that baby was silenced, though, and here's the
important thing to understand, that baby never
surrendered her humanity. I did. We did. That's
the thing you might not get until it's too late.
When you take away the humanity of another, you
kill your own humanity. You attack your own soul
because it is standing in the way.
we finish our tour, and go back to our families,
who can see that even though we function, we are
empty and incapable of truly connecting to people
any more, and maybe we can go for months or even
years before we fill that void where we surrendered
our humanity, with chemical anesthetics -- drugs,
alcohol, until we realize that the void can never
be filled and we shoot ourselves, or head off
into the street where we can disappear with the
flotsam of society, or we hurt others, especially
those who try to love us, and end up as another
incarceration statistic or a mental patient.
can ever escape that you became a racist because
you made the excuse that you needed that to survive,
that you took things away from people that you
can never give back, or that you killed a piece
of yourself that you may never get back.
of us do. We get lucky and someone gives a damn
enough to emotionally resuscitate us and bring
us back to life. Many do not.
live with the rage every day of my life, even
when no one else sees it. You might hear it in
my words. I hate being chumped.
here is my message to you. You will do what you
have to do to survive, however you define survival,
while we do what we have to do to stop this thing.
But don't surrender your humanity. Not to fit
in. Not to prove yourself. Not for an adrenaline
rush. Not to lash out when you are angry and frustrated.
Not for some ticket-punching fucking military
careerist to make his bones on. Especially not
for the Bush-Cheney Gas & Oil Consortium.
big bosses are trying to gain control of the world's
energy supplies to twist the arms of future economic
competitors. That's what's going on, and you need
to understand it, then do what you need to do
to hold on to your humanity. The system does that;
tells you you are some kind of hero action figures,
but uses you as gunmen. They chump you.
so-called civilian leadership sees you as an expendable
commodity. They don't care about your nightmares,
about the DU that you are breathing, about the
loneliness, the doubts, the pain, or about how
your humanity is stripped away a piece at a time.
They will cut your benefits, deny your illnesses,
and hide your wounded and dead from the public.
They already are.
don't care. So you have to. And to preserve your
own humanity, you must recognize the humanity
of the people whose nation you now occupy and
know that both you and they are victims of the
filthy rich bastards who are calling the shots.
are your enemies -- The Suits -- and they are
the enemies of peace, and the enemies of your
families, especially if they are Black families,
or immigrant families, or poor families. They
are thieves and bullies who take and never give,
and they say they will "never run" in Iraq, but
you and I know that they will never have to run,
because they fucking aren't there. You are.
skin and grin while they are getting what they
want from you, and throw you away like a used
condom when they are done. Ask the vets who are
having their benefits slashed out from under them
now. Bushfeld and their cronies are parasites,
and they are the sole beneficiaries of the chaos
you are learning to live in. They get the money.
You get the prosthetic devices, the nightmares,
and the mysterious illnesses.
if your rage needs a target, there they are, responsible
for your being there, and responsible for keeping
you there. I can't tell you to disobey. That would
probably run me afoul of the law. That will be
a decision you will have to take when and if the
circumstances and your own conscience dictate.
But it's perfectly legal for you to refuse illegal
orders, and orders to abuse or attack civilians
are illegal. Ordering you to keep silent about
these crimes is also illegal.
can tell you, without fear of legal consequence,
that you are never under any obligation to hate
Iraqis, you are never under any obligation to
give yourself over to racism and nihilism and
the thirst to kill for the sake of killing, and
you are never under any obligation to let them
drive out the last vestiges of your capacity to
see and tell the truth to yourself and to the
world. You do not owe them your souls.
home safe, and come home sane. The people who
love you and who have loved you all your lives
are waiting here, and we want you to come back
and be able to look us in the face. Don't leave
your souls in the dust there like another corpse.
on to your humanity.
US Army (Ret.)
Goff is the author of "Hideous Dream: A Soldier's
Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti" (Soft Skull
Press, 2000) and of the upcoming book "Full Spectrum
Disorder" (Soft Skull Press, 2003). He is a member
of the BRING THEM HOME NOW! coordinating committee,
a retired Special Forces master sergeant, and
the father of an active duty soldier. E-mail for
BRING THEM HOME NOW! is firstname.lastname@example.org.
can be reached at: email@example.com
Posted: November 19, 2003