Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Vietnam, Afghanistan, and GI Resistance


One of the lessons of the Vietnam antiwar movement is this: ALL forms of resistance are valid. It’s okay to advocate one or another form of resistance, as long as you understand that ALL forms of resistance WILL take place. It is a big mistake to play one form of resistance off against another form of resistance. Resisting deployment orders and/or going AWOL, for example, should not be played off against joining the military to organize soldiers against the war. Even if one chooses to re-deploy to Iraq and document the war, some good may well come from that action.

We should especially try to avoid getting too moralistic about individual choices. There is no “pure” or “correct” form of resistance. There is only resistance. Furthermore, the various forms of resistance will form the whole of a multi-faceted resistance movement.

Having said that, I too have been concerned about a culture within the GI resistance movement that says it’s fine to remain part of the war machine. Should we be telling antiwar soldiers they can resist illegal wars while following military orders? Can soldiers resist war while protecting their military careers and their prospects in civilian life? Hmmm...

Resistance generally means taking some risks and dealing with some consequences. It means going AGAINST, not going WITH. In the context of soldiers of imperialism, it generally means withdrawing their participation from, and/or acting against military missions.

What can be more powerful than a soldier saying, “NO, I will NOT participate in this illegal slaughter and oppression of entire peoples.” To roughly paraphrase Arlo Guthrie in his epic anti-draft song, Alice’s Restaurant: If one person does, it, they’ll think he’s crazy, or a coward, or a hero. If two people do it together, they’ll think they are gay. And if three, four, five, twenty or one hundred people do it together, they’ll think it’s a movement. And that’s what it will be – a real resistance movement strong enough, along with the ferocious resistance of the Iraqis, the Afghans, and the Palestinians, to frighten the imperialists into pulling back.

The incoming administration is signaling a HUGE, LONG-TERM commitment to war and occupation in Afghanistan and the surrounding countries. This is a recipe for ongoing death and destruction on a massive scale. What would be a quicker, more effective way to pour water on this dubious mission than the public refusal of U.S. soldiers to deploy to that war? What a strategic victory that would be to build upon!

How many GIs are ready to publicly refuse to go to Afghanistan, individually or together? Maybe only a few at this point. But if they are encouraged, (de-) mobilized and supported, others will follow their example.

I hope I am not guilty of wishful thinking. I know I am impatient. But I think one of our biggest moral failings as an antiwar movement is that we have been way too patient. If organizations can help build the resistance, then we should build those organizations. But the main thing is to build the resistance.

Most of us are not in the shoes of the GIs or even in a position to take their pulse. So, clearly, we must be somewhat humble with our advice. But there are a number of ways that we can demonstrate our support for GI resistance. We can defend every GI resister in every way we can – with money, with publicity, with legal support, political support, and moral support. We can advocate for GIs who are seeking sanctuary in Canada, Germany and elsewhere. We can build communities of sanctuary in the United States that can shelter AWOL GI’s. We can build a political movement that demands amnesty for all war resisters. Soldiers should not be punished for following their own consciences and obeying international law.

Finally, we cannot expect anything approaching massive resistance within the military if there is no massive resistance taking place outside the military, among civilians who have fewer constraints upon them than GI’s, and, generally, less to lose. Are we willing to fully express our right to free speech? Are we willing to take risks for peace and justice? Only when thousands of us are demonstrating our own resistance on a regular basis, will that resistance be reflected within the military.

ALL of us have the responsibility to build an effective movement of resistance to war and imperialism. NONE of us has all the answers, yet TOGETHER we may succeed in building effective resistance. We have all, every one of us, erred by being too cautious. Now, perhaps, we will dare to be bold. The hour is getting late.


Davy said...

I served 5 years Marines and 3 years Army and the way I saw it when I refused to go was, I decided I will just stand still and do what I was doing the day before, they will be the ones who moved, and because I stayed in the company area and simply refused to participate thats exactly what they charged me with "missing movement-by design", I couldnt of agreed with them more, because afterall I just stood still.

Cornelia said...

Great article, Gerry, thanks!

Cornelia said...

We should especially try to avoid getting too moralistic about individual choices. There is no “pure” or “correct” form of resistance. There is only resistance. Furthermore, the various forms of resistance will form the whole of a multi-faceted resistance movement.

Yeah, it's up to each and every person to decide for him-or herself.

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