Support the GIs Who Refuse to Fight!

by Philip Watts

Revolution #002, May 15, 2005, posted at

May 10 is a National Day of Action for GI Resisters. This is the day before sailor Pablo Paredes and soldier Kevin Benderman are scheduled to go before military court martial tribunals for their opposition to the Iraq war. Both men applied for conscientious objector status and both were denied. They are facing jail time as well as financial penalties. The May 10 actions in support of GI resisters are being called by Courage-To-Resist, which can be reached at

Pablo Paredes, a Navy petty officer, refused to board his ship in December 2004 as it left the San Diego Naval Station. In a public act of conscious opposition to the war, he wore a T-shirt which said, "Like a cabinet member, I resign." At the time of his refusal, Pablo said he hoped his protest might inspire other GI’s to refuse to take part in the war.

On January 5, 2005, Sgt. Kevin Benderman refused to deploy for a second tour of duty in Iraq with the Army’s Third Infantry Division after being told to fire on children by a chaplain. Seventeen other soldiers from his unit went AWOL, two tried to kill themselves, and one asked a relative to shoot him in the leg so he could avoid deploying.

In light of all this, and wanting to support those GI resisters who refuse to partake in the U.S. war for empire, I was reflecting on some discussions that I had this past March in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

I went to North Carolina on the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. As part of a worldwide day of action, anti-war veterans and military families organized an anti-war event drawing thousands. During this trip I was struck by a theme, relating to the question of courage, that came up in many conversations I had with GI’s who had gone to Iraq and came back opposed to the war.

Kelly Dougherty was one of those who brought this point out. Kelly was in Kuwait and Nasiriya, Iraq, from 2003 to 2004 working as a military police sergeant. She escorted Halliburton fuel trucks from Kuwait to Iraq. We talked about the horrible conditions of the Iraqi people living under the U.S. occupation. We also talked about the process of GI resistance. Kelly had questions going into the war and became increasingly opposed to the war during her time in Iraq. When she came back to the U.S. she met IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War) and started actively speaking out against the war.

Kelly said, "I would be thrilled if everyone getting ready to go over to Iraq said, ’No, I’m not going. This war is wrong. I won’t continue to fight it,’ ’cause obviously you can’t fight a war without soldiers. But I know that’s not going to happen. I think what a lot of people who haven’t been in the military or who don’t know friends or family in the military might not realize is how difficult it is to speak out.

"You know what people are calling the resisters or those going to Canada or filing for Conscientious Objector status—they’re saying that they’re cowards. But what I would like people to know is that it takes more courage and more bravery to refuse to go fight in the war in Iraq than it does to actually go. Because you face legal repercussion, you could go to jail, you get ostracised from your community—and for people especially in active duty the military is their family. And if they refuse it is like losing your family. They also might receive opposition from their own real family."

What I also got from numerous conversations with Iraq war veterans in North Carolina was a picture of the mindless and unquestioning culture in the U.S. military. They talked about how group-think is imbued, starting from basic training, so that while soldiers may have questions, they don’t dare raise them. They’re trained not to stand out, especially if they disagree with what is going on, because there are "repercussions."

I’ve also heard from a number of GI’s who are not necessarily anti-war activists though they had questions about why the U.S. was in Iraq. A common theme among them is, "You have a job to do, you signed up, so you do your job and get home safe." But what does it mean if your "job" consists of taking part in a rape of a whole country and degrading and murdering ordinary Iraqi people as part of war for empire? What is the right and honorable thing to do—to go on doing such a "job," or to take a stand and refuse?

This goes to the heart of why it is so important that there are GI’s who are refusing to take part in the war and resisting orders to go back or go at all. This war and occupation of the Iraqi people have very serious consequences. We could start with the fact that over 100,000 Iraqi lives have been taken so far. And I keep thinking about Kelly’s point— that it takes more courage to refuse to fight on principle than to go along with the war.

Just look at the lives of the Iraqi people under U.S. occupation. Take something as basic as language, for example. As in every other war the U.S. government has waged on the people, racist language is used against a whole people. In Vietnam it was "gook," in Somalia it was "sami," and in Iraq it’s "haji." This is a way the military dehumanizes the Iraqi people so that U.S. troops can more easily kill them. It feeds a culture of fear and hatred for the Iraqi people that has been brought to light by a number of troops who have returned from Iraq.

One of them is Aidan Delgado, who returned from Iraq in 2004 after serving six months in Nasiriyah and six months at Abu Ghraib. Aidan grew up as a diplomat’s son and spent his teenage years in Egypt. Because of this he had a deeper understanding of Arab culture than others. Sometimes he was asked to translate for the military. After seeing the increasing brutality of the U.S. troops, he turned in his weapon and filed for conscientious objector status. They didn’t let him leave, however, and his unit ended up being stationed at Abu Ghraib where he was a mechanic. While there he witnessed all kinds of horrors that the U.S. troops were committing against Iraqi prisoners and documented it with gut-wrenching photographs that can be seen on the internet.

Aidan was recently quoted in a New York Times column by Bob Herbert. Aidan said that he "witnessed incidents in which an Army sergeant lashed a group of children with a steel Humvee antenna, and a Marine corporal planted a vicious kick in the chest of a kid about 6 years old." Aidan told Herbert, "There were many occasions when soldiers or marines would yell and curse and point their guns at Iraqis who had done nothing wrong."

Aidan said, "Guys in my unit, particularly the younger guys, would drive by in their Humvee and shatter bottles over the heads of Iraqi civilians passing by. They’d keep a bunch of empty Coke bottles in the Humvee to break over people’s heads." When Aidan opposed and questioned this, his fellow troops answered, "Look, I hate being in Iraq. I hate being stuck here. And I hate being surrounded by hajis."

The experience at Abu Ghraib was even more harrowing and revolting for Aidan. The grotesque inhuman treatment of Iraqi prisoners has been exposed for the world to see. But only a few low-ranking military have even been indicted for the torture and abuse which was sanctioned at the highest levels of the military and government.

Aidan witnessed the shooting of unarmed prisoners by U.S. troops. Herbert wrote, "Mr. Delgado confronted a sergeant who, he said, had fired on the detainees. ’I asked him,’ said Mr. Delgado, ’if he was proud that he had shot unarmed men behind barbed wire for throwing stones. He didn’t get mad at all. He was, like, ’Well, I saw them bloody my buddy’s nose, so I knelt down, I said a prayer, I stood up, and I shot them down.’"

It is exactly this kind of treatment of the people—the brutality and the murder that is being carried out—which makes it so important for U.S. troops who are becoming conscious to break ranks and dare to resist. Such resistance has consequence. And not to resist when you understand this war is wrong, unjust, and immoral has consequences too. And this is why people very broadly must support those GI’s who do dare to resist—especially those being persecuted by the military and the government.

I’ve never been in the military. But as a communist I’m well aware of the importance of acting on principle and going against the grain when necessary to do the right thing, including putting my life on the line for it. Dreaming about a world without oppression can be controversial these days, not to speak of fighting for such a world. But if you’re right, it matters deeply to act on principle. It matters to the world, it matters to humanity—and it creates space for others to act as well.

Jeremy Hinzman, the first public conscientious objector to go to Canada rather than return to the U.S. war in Afghanistan summed up his experience in a recent article: "My only regret is that I didn’t just take off my uniform and refuse all orders."

More info about Pablo Paredes:

More info about Kevin Benderman: