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