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Sarah Lazare, Courage to Resist. September 9, 2008

Throughout the Republican National Convention last week in St. Paul, John McCain was repeatedly hailed as a war hero. Yet, as his supporters waxed poetic about his service in Vietnam and his time as prisoner of war, McCain turned his back on the very veterans that have served on the frontlines of the ongoing war on Iraq.

On the first day of the RNC, 60 members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) marched to the Xcel Energy Center convention site to deliver a briefing to the McCain campaign explaining why they are opposed to the war. Wearing their uniforms and standing in formation, the former service people were turned away by McCain’s staff, and Wes Davey, Former Master Sergeant and march leader, was forced off the premises after attempting to deliver the letter in person.

 

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For many troops, this was their first time in uniform since returning from Iraq.

"If (the McCain camp) truly did care, they would have at least met with one or two of the veterans and heard them out," said Michelle Tucker, a board member of Military Families Speak Out whose husband is currently serving in Afghanistan. "McCain wouldn’t even listen to the people who would be fighting his wars if he won the presidency."

The IVAW march followed several failed attempts to set up a meeting with McCain, to give veterans an opportunity to voice their concerns about the Iraq War. When the McCain camp refused to commit to a meeting, IVAW decided to take matters into their own hands and march to the campaign headquarters, to force McCain to listen to the troops that he repeatedly identifies as his constituents.

IVAW members attempted to deliver a briefing calling for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq, reparations for the Iraqi people, and full benefits for returning veterans—the three points of unity that serve as the cornerstone of IVAW. McCain is notorious for his ribald support for the Iraq War effort, as well as for his poor voting record on veterans’ rights. As a senator, he has repeatedly voted against improved healthcare benefits and rest periods for veterans, and against adequate armor and safety equipment for troops overseas.

While the McCain campaign refused to meet with the veterans, they stood outside singing anti-war cadences and sharing stories about their experience in the military. One veteran, Kris Goldsmith, told how his deployment in Iraq and subsequent stop-loss drove him to attempt suicide, and how the military refused to give him the support that he needed.

"It is often said that a nation’s character can be judged by how it honors its veterans, a sentiment that members of Iraq Veterans Against the War firmly believe," read a letter written by Kelly Daugherty, Iraq Veteran and Executive Director of IVAW, that veterans attempted to deliver to McCain. "We also believe that the work of honoring veterans really begins after the band has stopped playing and the welcome home ceremonies are over. We honor veterans by offering them full benefits, adequate healthcare (including mental healthcare), and other long-term supports."

The march paralleled an action at the Democratic National Convention a few days prior, in which IVAW members led a 10,000 strong march to deliver the same message to Obama. After a standoff with the police, the Obama camp eventually sent a liaison to speak with the veterans.

 

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The McCain camp’s refusal to meet with IVAW highlights the gap between the camp’s rhetoric and its true priorities. McCain leans on the "support the troops" mantra to garner support for the war. However, a majority of the troops serving in Iraq are opposed to the war; a Zogby poll conducted in 2006 revealed that a staggering 72% of troops serving in Iraq thought that the U.S. should pull out within the year, and the plummet in morale only seems to have accelerated since then. Yet, listening to McCain’s speeches, you would think the troops were a hundred percent behind him, and that he actually listens to what they have to say.

IVAW are not easily bought by politicians’ easy rhetoric. The recent actions at the DNC and RNC show that Iraq Vets are demanding true accountability from those responsible for starting and supporting the war in Iraq. Those who have served on the front lines of the war effort are refusing to be silent about what they have experienced and witnessed. And whoever takes office in November will have this force to contend with.

Photos by Jeff Paterson, Courage to Resist. Additional photos here.