Monday, October 11, 2004
Article from Mother Jones (extract):
MIKE HOFFMAN would not be the guy his buddies would expect to see leading a protest movement. The son of a steelworker and a high school janitor from Allentown, Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1999 as an artilleryman to “blow things up.” His transformation into an activist came the hard way—on the streets of Baghdad.
When Hoffman arrived in Kuwait in February 2003, his unit’s highest-ranking enlisted man laid out the mission in stark terms. “You’re not going to make Iraq safe for democracy,” the sergeant said. “You are going for one reason alone: oil. But you’re still going to go, because you signed a contract. And you’re going to go to bring your friends home.” Hoffman, who had his own doubts about the war, was relieved—he’d never expected to hear such a candid assessment from a superior. But it was only when he had been in Iraq for several months that the full meaning of the sergeant’s words began to sink in.
“The reasons for war were wrong,” he says. “They were lies. There were no WMDs. Al Qaeda was not there. And it was evident we couldn’t force democracy on people by force of arms.”
When he returned home and got his honorable discharge in August 2003, Hoffman says, he knew what he had to do next. “After being in Iraq and seeing what this war is, I realized that the only way to support our troops is to demand the withdrawal of all occupying forces in Iraq.” He cofounded a group called Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and soon found himself emerging as one of the most visible members of a small but growing movement of soldiers who openly oppose the war in Iraq.
Dissent on Iraq within the military is not entirely new. Even before the invasion, senior officers were questioning the optimistic projections of the Pentagon’s civilian leaders, and several retired generals have strongly criticized the war. But now, nearly two years after the first troops rolled across the desert, rank-and-file soldiers and their families are increasingly speaking up. Hoffman’s group was founded in July with 8 members and had grown to 40 by September. Another organization, Military Families Speak Out, began with 2 families two years ago and now represents more than 1,700 families. And soldier-advocacy groups are reporting a rising number of calls from military personnel who are upset about the war and are thinking about refusing to fight; a few soldiers have even fled to Canada rather than go to Iraq.