Joe recently spoke at Artspace Charter School in Asheville. Here is his report:
My first experience sharing the realities of American militarism with students went mostly well. The event in general, and my two minutes per question, was too short to do justice to the discussion topics, and the other veteran speaker, an Air Force veteran of Desert Storm, basically presented her motivation to join the military and her coordinating missile strikes on Iraq from a post in Saudi Arabia as a noble effort to protect America, saying nothing about the devastation to civilian life caused by the US airstrikes, or the fact that her and other US military presence in Saudi Arabia motivated Osama Bin Laden's role in 9/11. She also described her service in the Air Force, with implications about military service in general, as being like a typical 9-5 job.
Though there were some good questions asked of us by the students following our remarks, which afforded me the opportunity to deliver more talking points, there was certainly much left unsaid, which I plan to address with the coordinators of the event, in hopes that we can develop a plan to deliver the imperative background information pertaining to US-Iraq-Saudi relations that was missing from the conversation .
The questions and my responses are as follows, with the exception of the line about Hitler and Nazis, which I omitted when speaking.
1) Please tell us about your introduction to the concept of joining the military and what made you decide to follow through and join.
My introduction to the concept of joining the military was playing with G.I. Joe action figures and other military toys as a child, and was nurtured by TV shows and movies that glorify the military and war; video games, recruiting commercials on TV, in magazines, and billboards; military glorification in parades, at sporting and other events, in holiday celebrations, and by teachers at school; and of course by military recruiters, who tell young people and their parents anything—including lies and half truths—to get them to enlist, all of which instilled in me a perspective of military service as being an honored national tradition, that despite being responsible for terrible destruction and millions of deaths, somehow makes the world a safer, better place.
My decision to join the military came during my junior year of high school, when after years of being a less than diligent student, I felt unready for college, and saw the army as a productive way to bide my time while I figured out what to do with my life. Sadly, at seventeen years old, I was naïve of the fact that biding my time in the army would entail aiding and abetting the killing of hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million, Iraqi civilians, including children.
2) How long did you serve and what were your primary duties?
I served for 6.5 years, from July 2003 to September 2009. My primary duty as a Unit Supply Specialist in the 10th Mountain Division was supplying soldiers with the weapons that some of them would use to kill innocent people. I also supplied Iraqi police with brand new AK-47 assault rifles, which to this day, I do not know the origins of, how they were paid for, where and how they were used, why we transported them in U.S. Army vehicles, and whether or not they contributed to making the world a safer place; I suspect not. While stationed in Japan with the 83rd Ordnance Battalion, I was involved in the storage and maintenance of vast stocks of munitions, which if used in the event of a military conflict in the pacific theater, would undoubtedly result in the loss of innocent life.
3) Compare and contrast your preconceived ideas with your reality of military life.
My preconceived idea of military life was one of comradeship, honor, and respect. The reality I experienced was a class society, wherein junior enlisted soldiers are the lower class, deprived of certain freedoms and respect afforded to the upper class of senior ranking soldiers, and who, often at the will or complicity of the senior class, suffer from racism, sexism, dehumanization, sexual assault, unfair punishment, public humiliation, indoctrination and orders that can lead to physical, mental, emotional, and moral injury, and death. I learned that institutional racism and dehumanization are also tools used my military leaders to make it easier for their soldiers to overcome the moral instinct against killing. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis used them to make it easier for Germans and their allies to kill Jews, gypsies, and others, and Americans continue using them, because many soldiers care more about their careers, i.e. money and power, than respecting and protecting human life.
4) What valuable lessons did you bring home/incorporate into your life due to your time of service?
Due to my time in the military (I use the term “military” rather than “service” because “service” glorifies the military, and implies that it’s primarily helping people rather than endangering people), I learned that Marine Corps Major General and two-time Medal of Honor recipient Smedley Butler’s book titled “War is a Racket” refers to what five-star general and 34th president of the United States Dwight Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex,” or the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry.” I learned that every U.S. military action since WWII has been motivated and influenced by the arms industry and other profiteers, who amass great wealth from the annual U.S. military budget of what is now just under $700 billion. These actions include but are not limited to dropping bombs on
§ Korea and China 1950-53 (Korean War)
§ Guatemala 1954
§ Indonesia 1958
§ Cuba 1959-1961
§ Guatemala 1960
§ Congo 1964
§ Laos 1964-73
§ Vietnam 1961-73
§ Cambodia 1969-70
§ Guatemala 1967-69
§ Grenada 1983
§ Lebanon 1983, 1984 (both Lebanese and Syrian targets)
§ Libya 1986
§ El Salvador 1980s
§ Nicaragua 1980s
§ Iran 1987
§ Panama 1989
§ Iraq 1991 (Persian Gulf War)
§ Kuwait 1991
§ Somalia 1993
§ Bosnia 1994, 1995
§ Sudan 1998
§ Afghanistan 1998
§ Yugoslavia 1999
§ Yemen 2002
§ Iraq 1991-2003 (US/UK on regular basis)
§ Iraq 2003-2015
§ Afghanistan 2001-2015
§ Pakistan 2007-2015
§ Somalia 2007-8, 2011
§ Yemen 2009, 2011
§ Libya 2011, 2015
§ Syria 2014-2015
And by extension, Israel’s repeated bombing of Palestine, which is paid for by an annual $3+ billion of U.S. aid to the Israeli government.
I have learned that these attacks result in countless civilian injuries and deaths, which promotes hatred of America, and endangers us rather than protects us.
Finally, I have learned that if we are going to change our government’s propensity for perpetual war, and we can, we must take nonviolent action toward a more compassionate and humane society, for as president Eisenhower said, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”