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Youths say no to Pentagon wars

Recruiters pushed out of many schools

Published Mar 30, 2005 11:07 AM

Young people’s passive resistance to the Iraq occupation is driving Army recruiters into early retirement, depression and thoughts of suicide. In addition, active resistance is growing at all levels, from pickets at recruitment centers to troops refusing orders to Iraq. Individual military resisters are becoming spokespersons and role models for other troops.

The Pentagon faces a serious dilemma: either retreat from Washington’s global offensive or consider bringing back military conscription—the hated draft.

It fears such a step because a new draft would bring millions of youth into political life. A movement to fight draft reinstatement is already underway, with actions planned March 31 and a conference on April 16.

News of this growing struggle has hit the media since the March 19 protests marking the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Reports from Fayetteville, N.C., say that 20 active-duty GIs joined the protest there March 19. (GI Special, March 25) The resistance is beginning to reach new layers of the population every day.

The hottest point involves military recruiting. A March 27 article in the New York Times was entitled, “For Army recruiters, a hard toll for a hard sell.”

Recruiters are notorious for exaggerating the benefits and options of enlisting in order to reach their quotas. Now, no matter what the recruiters promise, young people and their families are saying “No.” Caught between this hostility and the Pentagon’s orders to lure in youths, the recruiters are on the verge of a “nervous breakdown,” says the article.

One lifer sergeant and ex-paratrooper named Latrail Hayes found out last year that a cousin he recruited returned from Iraq with psychological trauma. Hayes filed for conscientious objector (CO) status last June, trying to shift out of recruiting work. His appeal was rejected.

Now Hayes plans to get out in December after 10 years instead of staying for 20.

Another recruiter told the Times reporter that pressure from the brass to meet quotas during the Iraq War has given him searing back pain and stomach problems, and that he has considered suicide.

Even though the military sent out an email asking the recruiters not to speak to the Times reporter, 10 did. Only a “handful” defended the military.

According to a March 24 article in the Washington Post, the Army missed its active-duty recruitment target in February and will do so again in March and April, and the Marine Corps also failed for January and February.

Students doing counter-recruiting are complicating the recruiters’ already futile efforts. In early March students at San Francisco State College drove military recruiters off campus. On March 5 at City College in New York, the administration called in security and cops to beat up counter-recruiters who chanted outside the recruiting office.

The economic draft

Military recruiting relies upon the absence of worthwhile civilian jobs. To anti-war organizers the “volunteer army” is based on this economic draft, promising jobs and education to youths who otherwise face a bleak economic future.

Sgt. Carl Webb joined the Army Reserves to escape a desperate situation when he was 16 in 1981. Though he has been an anti-war activist since the 1980s, he rejoined the Texas National Guard in August of 2001. “Being idealistic didn’t pay the rent,” Webb said. “I thought at the time it was relatively peaceful so I took a chance and sold my soul to the devil. It turned out to be very bad timing.”

In August of 2004, Webb, needing only one weekend drill to complete his service, was called by a sergeant in his Texas National Guard medical unit with the bad news. “She told me I was going to Iraq. I had been called up, reassigned to a different unit and they are going to Iraq.”

Webb considered his options. He rejected the choice of exile. With his politics—he would fight a war for liberation, for example in the Union Army against the Confederacy—he knew applying for CO status would be futile.

Instead, he has chosen to resist by going around the country and speaking out against the war. Webb now asks other soldiers to “follow my example and use any means necessary to avoid going to Iraq.”

Petty Officer Third Class Pablo Paredes is in a similar situation as Webb, but is in military custody. Paredes refused to ship out to Iraq last Dec. 6 from San Diego. He expected a ruling on his CO application in April. Now he faces a court martial.

The son of immigrants from Latin America, Paredes grew up in the Bronx and admits he “was ignorant about what was going on in the world. I thought of the Navy as a nine-to-five arrangement, to get money for education and training for an electronics job. I never believed I’d be involved in an occupation,” Paredes said on the radio show “Democracy Now!” on March 28.

‘I took sides with humanity’

The Navy sent him to Japan, and there he learned more about the world and politics and the role of the U.S. military. “As a Latino, I got interested in the U.S. role in Latin America. Then I began to feel a need to take sides with humanity.” Now Paredes is speaking publicly, when he can, against the war and occupation.

Army Pfc. Jeremy Hinzman took another of the options open to military resisters. When his paratrooper unit at Ft. Bragg, N.C., received orders to Iraq, Hinzman left for Canada. On March 24 Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board ruled against him. For Hinzman, the war in Iraq is illegal, and if he participates he will be a war criminal.

The ruling was expected said Hinz man’s lawyer, Jeffrey House, but still a disappointment. House said that as many as 100 U.S. troops who have fled to Canada have been waiting for this ruling before coming forward. Hinzman will appeal the ruling.

Another of the military resisters, former Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejía, was released from prison in February after serving nine months for his refusal to return to Iraq while on leave after five months on duty there. Like Webb and Paredes, Mejía is speaking at public meetings and to the media about his decision to refuse duty in Iraq.

Mejía says he disagreed with the war from the beginning. “I was very much in disagreement with the war, but I didn’t really want to make a stand, because I was terrified, because I didn’t want to go through a court-martial, because I didn’t want to go to jail, because I was a squad leader in an infantry unit, and I didn’t want my friends to think I was a coward or a traitor.”

When you’re in Iraq, “you’re in so much danger. And I guess the survival instinct kicks in and pretty much all you care about is to get out of there, to get out of there alive with your comrades.” (“Democracy Now!,” March 28) Now both his war duty and his prison time are over and Mejía has joined Webb and Paredes and Hinzman as active spokespersons against the occupation of Iraq.

‘Resisters deserve support’

For some perspective on all these levels of resistance, Workers World spoke with Andy Stapp, the founder of the anti-war American Servicemen’s Union during the war against Vietnam and one of the key organizers in the military at that time.

“I think Carl Webb is terrific for what he is doing. Also Mejía and Paredes and Hinzman. They deserve the support of the entire movement. The same types of resistance happened during the Vietnam War, when guys refused to get on their airplanes.

“Draft resistance, demonstrating, going to Canada, soldiers in Vietnam and stateside refusing duty. Some even attacked their own officers, some held strikes or mass meetings to vote out their commanding officers. Some had been drafted, others were volunteers. Many were Marines. Some first thought the war was just. They went to Vietnam and learned the truth.

“I saw in the newspapers this week,” Stapp said, “that the government was bragging that 60 percent of the troops said they support the war. To me, that means 40 percent are willing to say they don’t support it. That’s not very good news for the Pentagon.”