Jeff Paterson: Resisting the War Machine

Revolutionary Worker #1009, June 6, 1999

On August 7, 1990, the 22-year-old Marine Cpl. Jeff Paterson refused to board a military plane in Hawaii that was heading to the war zone of the Gulf War. He was the first active-duty military resister in the U.S.-led attack on Iraq. Now, Jeff Paterson has been speaking out against the current U.S./NATO attack on Yugoslavia. He gave the following talk at a program held May 20 in Berkeley's Revolution Books.

Escape from Hellister

Way back in 1986 I graduated from Hollister High. I liked punk music and tagged "Fuck the Government" and "Question Authority" on the walls. But a couple months into my first summer as an adult I still hadn't found a job. Me, my mom and sister lived on a ranch house about eight miles out of town and I didn't have a car. How was I going to get to work every day anyway?

One afternoon a buddy stopped by on his way to Salinas. He was going to talk to the military guys about signing up--and we would check out the record stores after. That afternoon I decided I'm not going to "sell out" and cut my hair and wear collared shirts just for some shit job in Hollister. I wanted something different--I joined the Marine Corps that day. Later I found out that 11 other guys from my graduating class also signed up for the corps--nearly 10 percent. This is not even including those who joined the Army, Navy and Air Force.

When asked what type of training I wanted, I told the recruiter to stick me wherever I was most needed--I figured the Corps would appreciate my gesture. After boot camp I was trained as an artillery controller, and after a couple of years I was trained in nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. That may sound pretty important, but it wasn't.

Part of why I joined up was to "Escape from Hellister." And that I did. I spent the next four years stationed in South Korea, the Philippines, Okinawa, and Hawaii.

It was rather slowly during these four years that I started putting together the pieces. Why were "the Japs" (as we were taught to call them) always protesting at the gate in Okinawa? OK, so another Marine was busted for raping a 12-year-old girl, but what did that have to do with me? In Korea, why were we ordered to stay out of town during the student demonstrations that I wanted to see? Instead we were restricted to the red light zone. "Don't be messing with the officer prostitutes" we were warned--the division between officers and enlisted cannot be allowed to break down even in the brothel! And finally the Philippines, where we were twice as condescending to the "little brown fucks"--what we called our "hosts." A standard conversation among the guys was how much their girlfriend cost, "I had to give her family a washing machine, man. I got ripped off!"

This shit was making me sick--no matter how much dirt-cheap PX beer I slammed. And it wasn't only what I was seeing up close either.

My "buddies" were doing tours in El Salvador and in Honduras --coordinating efforts to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. One night, during a regularly scheduled drinking binge, my sergeant told me how he had captured a teenage boy "sneaking" around the Embassy grounds in San Salvador. He took the kid to the basement where he "fucked with him." But it was nothing compared to the shit the Salvadoran police did when they go there. I think he felt a little guilty--he was pretty sure the kid became another corpse in the dump outside of town. But he "was just doing his job," that was what we are trained for, that is what we are paid to do.

"This Third World stuff sucks," I'm thinking. I want to go back to the states. But when I get to Hawaii, I find some native Hawaiian guy who lays on me the history of U.S. occupation and how the Marines helped overthrow their Queen. Not to mention the U.S. bombing Kahoolawe that was going on at the time. The native Hawaiians considered the small island the birthplace of their people, the U.S. military saw it for almost 50 years as a target to drop every imaginable type of bomb.

Resisting the War Machine

So it is now August 1990. I'm hanging out with a few activists and troublemakers at the University of Hawaii during my off-duty time, trying to jump-start my brain and relearn how to interact with humans. I'm counting the days till the end of my four-year contract. And out of nowhere I find myself being ordered to pack my gear for the Middle East.

By then I knew about U.S. support for death squads in El Salvador--I was against that. But I didn't know much about Iraq and Kuwait. I knew enough to know the U.S. was not going over there to "make things right." During a troop pep talk the Major explained "We'll be home by Christmas--not to worry, if anything at all goes wrong I promise we will nuke those ragheads!"

I started to figure out that the point of "Questioning Authority" was not mainly about what the authority was doing to me--but the masses of people. And the government wasn't principally fucked because I had it bad--but because it was willing and able to kill many people of the world for its own narrow, bloodthirsty interests. And hold the rest hostage to its threats.

So, instead of following the orders that had dictated the last four years of my life, I chose to try something different. I publicly stated that I would refuse to fight. And when they tried to drag me onto a transport plane, I sat on the runway at Marine Air Station in Hawaii.

Seeing Through the Lies
of the War Machine

Well, today most of us are not experts on the Balkans--but we can't let that stop us from seeing the obvious: the U.S. War Machine is at it again: first Iraq, then Sudan, then Afghanistan, and now Yugoslavia--the fourth country in the last year!

What's so humanitarian about massive air strikes against a country no larger than Tennessee?

In response to the near daily TV images we see of U.S. destruction--blown up bridges, trains, factories, foreign embassies, busy market places, apartment buildings, and even a refugee camp--the U.S. replies, "But they kill even more!" These are not mistakes being made--they are coldly calculated decisions based on a triangle of: military targets-infrastructure-innocents.

Since the Gulf War I've been a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War Anti-Imperialist, and again we have a message to the troops. Many of us know "a troop," maybe she is your sister or brother, or maybe your nephew: You are being called upon to attack the sovereign country of Yugoslavia. Your officers, politicians, "free" press and maybe your friends and relatives are telling you that your mission is for humanity--to stop the very real brutality against the people in Kosovo. But you are being ordered to take lives to save lives.

Supporting the Troops Means Supporting the War. Supporting GI Resistance Means Being Real About What Can End These Unjust Wars.

But from personal experience I can tell you that before GI's will step forward, they need to know that:

1) They would be doing the right thing.

2) That we will be there to have their back.

3) And it will make a difference--what this meant to me was that others would hear about what I did, I wouldn't be dragged away to the brig silently.

I remember many people were confused prior to the U.S.'s first bombing on Iraq, during the buildup of U.S. forces in the Middle East. I heard more than a few times: "Jeff, you have a point, but something needs to be done."

Well, eight years later and over a million and half Iraqis are dead due to the bombing and continuing U.S. sanctions. And thousands of U.S. troops are suffering from Gulf War Syndrome that this government has decided doesn't really exist. This was the only "something" possible coming from this war machine.

How many of us really believe this carnage is for the people of Kosovo? Read between the lines and you'll see that the Kosovars are being used as pawns in a big chess game.... The plan is for continued Serbian domination of the region with foreign monitoring.

I hope the Kosovars followed how the U.S. played the Kurdish people of northern Iraq during the war.

If NATO is so concerned about humanitarian rights why have they done nothing to stop the "ethnic cleansing" of the Kurdish people by NATO member Turkey for the past 15 years? And what about the "ethnic cleansing" of Black people in America who are being imprisoned or murdered by cops on a grand scale?

To me these things are not separable, it is the same system that runs that shit over there, and here.

I believe not nationalism, but internationalism is the solution. And people can unite and fight for their real interests. The proof that this is possible is in the truly revolutionary and liberating movements being fought today by the peoples of Peru, Nepal and Philippines--they are serious about finally doing away with all oppression.

No U.S. Troops Anyplace/Anytime! Stop the War in Europe!
Not everyone can be a GI resister, but everyone can and should resist the U.S. War Machine!

To contact Jeff Paterson, call: 415-719-0573.

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