They, Most Of All, Have the Right To Be Heard

by Bill Onasch

The working class grunts in the Army and Marine units occupying Iraq are not happy campers. Pfc. Jason Ring summarized the feelings of many:

“We liberated Iraq. Now the people here don’t want us here, and guess what? We don’t want to be here either,” he said. “So why are we still here? Why don’t they bring us home?”

Referring to the playing cards distributed by the Army featuring the most wanted Iraqi fugitive officials, an enlisted man told an ABC reporter, “The aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Paul Wolfowitz.”

When asked what message the troops might have for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Spc. Clinton Deitz replied, “If Donald Rumsfeld was here, I’d ask him for his resignation.”

Spouses back home are also upset, especially with the extended tours of duty in the face of mounting casualties. Patrick Donahue, the editor of Coastal Courier, the local paper serving Ft. Benning, Georgia, says soldiers’ wives, particularly the younger ones, are “very disappointed—it almost borders on anger and resentment.”

Of course not all of the spouses share this sentiment. Anita Blount fired off a letter to the paper warning that such grumbling “could play into enemy hands and further endanger U.S. troops on the ground.” Ms Blount happens to be married to Major General Buford Blount, who commands the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq.

Major General Blount is not pleased with this carping either: “None of us that wear this uniform are free to say anything disparaging about the secretary of defense or the president of the United States…We’re not free to do that. It’s our professional code. Whatever action may be taken, whether it’s a verbal reprimand or something more stringent is up to the commanders on the scene and it’s not for me to comment.”

I must beg to differ with this stereotypical pompous brass hat.

First of all, from a moral point of view, no one has more right to criticize war than those who have to do the fighting. Bush and Blair, Rumsfeld and Bremer, Rice and Blount, are not sweating out patrols in 100°+ heat, hoping to avoid snipers and land mines. While the brass lounges in Saddam’s palaces the grunts endure boredom and homesickness in spartan barracks or tents. I think this earns them the right to comment.

Fortunately they don’t have to rely on just this moral high ground. The Constitution of the United States also gives GIs, along with everyone else, the right to free speech. We are supposed to have a citizen’s armed forces. The brass has no legal right to reprimand any soldier speaking out on their own time.

GI protests have made an impact at important turning points in our history. When, at the end of World War II, Truman and the military wanted to ship American soldiers from Europe to Asia to intervene in the civil war in China the GIs balked and organized massive “We Want To Go Home” demonstrations. They quickly won solid support from the public back home—including the labor movement. The plans for intervening in China had to be scrapped.

During the Vietnam war thousands of active duty GIs participated in the antiwar movement. Alternative newspapers, such as FTA, and The Bond, flourished among enlisted personnel. This democratic expression by soldiers played a key role in finally getting out of Vietnam.

This new attempt to stifle dissent among men and women in uniform is part and parcel of the larger drive to roll back the democratic rights of all working people. We need to let everyone know we will not be cowed by cynical “homeland security” nor by bullying brass.

Let’s listen to Pfc. Jason Ring. Our troops are not wanted in Iraq and our GIs want to leave Iraq.

We should support democracy for Iraq, and democracy for our troops, by ending the occupation and bringing the GIs home now!

July 19, 2003