Marine Benjamin “Benji” Lewis served two tours in Iraq and was honorably discharged in 2007. Recently, he received notification that he was a candidate to be recalled to active duty. Two weeks ago at a Winter Soldier event in Portland, Oregon, Lewis publicly announced his intention to refuse reactivation from the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). This is an article he wrote about his experience in the Marines.
By Benjamin “Benji” Lewis for ZNet. November 5, 2008
An imperative exists within United States Marine Corps dogma that states it is necessary to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the indigenous population. Though seemingly amicable, the rationale for this statement translates into control through direct influence. For the Corps, this is parallel rhetoric: to accomplish this goal it is first necessary to control the minds of the Marines that are chosen to execute this task, an indoctrination that goes to the very roots of American society.
This information isn’t taught in public schools and isn’t attacked by mainstream media, or even usually discussed around the dinner table, which is perhaps why I found myself in March 2003, at the age of seventeen, in a large auditorium studying Marine Corps history at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego, CA. At this time I knew very little about the war in Iraq, except that someday after my training I may be ‘fortunate’ enough to serve my country in a war zone.
After all, that is what Marines were born to do. Boot Camp is full of this unwavering devotion to Flag, God, and Corps. Often we would start boot camp classes by watching footage of Iraqi buildings and people being destroyed to the tune of Drowning Pool’s ‘Let the Bodies hit the Floor.’
Immediately after the longest basic training of all the military branches, where drill instructors broke me down in order to build me back up, the Marine Corps way, I found myself in Camp Pendleton, CA, at the School of Infantry (SOI). Here sleep was rare, though at least we weren’t ordered to put all our tent stakes into the squad bay’s running laundry dryers and sleep at attention on top of our blankets. Order was still strictly enforced. Inspections of all our personal belongings were common, and reprimands were more severe under the citation that our disobedience would not get us killed in Iraq, but by the persons to our right and to our left.
By now, unwavering obedience to the orders of our superiors, for fear of retribution, was by far commonplace. And weekends off, our only salvation, was just the first of many things jeopardized as a consequence of insubordination.
After hearing that we would probably all go to Hawaii I found myself with orders to report to 3rd Battalion 4th Infantry, 29 Palms, CA, as a mortar man. I had no idea what 29 Palms was, but 3/4 had a reputation of being one of the best and most active battalions, translating into less time off and more time over seas. Bummer.
Still, either exhausted, punished for god knows what, completing one menial task or another, or enjoying a comforting bottle of bourbon, I had never given much thought to Iraq. Now, six months into the Marine Corps’ system of indoctrination, all I knew of Iraq was that Saddam was evil and participated in the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. was righteous and bringing peace to the world, and that the enemy was killing my Marine Corps brothers who needed to be avenged. All lies.
Upon arriving at 29 Palms, I had already developed a significant dislike for the Corps, which I thought encouraged stupidity and blind obedience on all levels to accomplish tasks which were trivial at best. Over the next three and a half years these sentiments would do nothing but become reinforced.
Our first steps off of the bus were greeted by a corpsman who let us know that any adverse reaction to the extreme desert climate should quickly dissipate. It was a desert so akin to Iraq that in the near future I would cease to delineate the two as separate and simply consider one an extension of the other.
Reporting to a new unit as a ‘boot’ is not an experience anticipated by a new guy. Still, it was better than the constant pressures applied to us in boot camp and SOI. My ‘generation’ of eight or so proved to be significantly above average in our respective military skill sets, if not in military regulation, to keep us from most of the heartache. Time dragged, but soon enough we were told that we would be deploying to Okinawa, Japan and not to Iraq. Typical of military procedure, most likely due to our battalion or base command, the order was fought, and we received orders to Iraq while overseas already.
I was sent home with a few other marines, all of whom significantly outranked me, to attended language training, thanks to my perfect score on the ASVAB. Two months later I continued my training in the Haditha Dam completely voluntarily, my resolve being that if I was going to help anybody in anyway this was to be my tool. It was with these translators that I began to take an interest in Iraqi culture and customs. Being someone prone to read and write, I was particularly impressed with their language. But, my education was soon cut short.
After a short time operating as a provisional rifle squad in Haditha, where we accomplished nothing but getting hit by an IED on our first patrol injuring a couple marines and reservists, we received orders to break out our mortars and head to Falluja in retaliation for the hanging of four U.S. contractors. This was it, we were mortar men and this was going to be what we were trained for!
Few were excited, save for some officers and higher-ranking enlisted. Most looked at this as just another way we were getting screwed over by the “green weenie” as we affectionately referred to our beloved corps.
What we were not told was that the four U.S. contractors were hung in retaliation for an assassination of a quadriplegic Cleric named Ahmed Yassin by Israel utilizing an American attack helicopter in the Gaza Strip. The Marine Corps does not find this information pertinent to disseminate to us lowly grunts. This attack was sadly just a prelude to the bloody future of Falluja. In which I would be back in the next year following the aftermath of the attacks against the city in November by the Marine Corps which were in stark violation of the Geneva Convention’s laws of war.
The rest of my time overseas was just like that. Go here, go there, no sleep, mail’s late. Between training and deployments we never really thought about Iraq, we simply did. If a reporter was around we were giving a quasi-skeleton script to blurt out. Something along the lines of: I love the Corps, we are freeing Iraqis and they are glad we’re here, God bless America. It made it easier to be told what to think, that way we could concentrate on not thinking about it.
It wasn’t until after my second deployment (in barely missing the cut off for a third) that I started thinking about my time in the service. I transferred out of my platoon to a unit called Mojave Viper were I became an instructor of Urban Combat. In my crude reflections at that time it did dawn on me that one, marines are dumb, including myself, and two, far too many Iraqis die because of this. Being a naturally gifted instructor I was given a pick of the classes I wanted to teach. I stuck with what I was teaching, Vehicle Check Points and Escalation of Force. Still vainly thinking that I could help some Iraqis out in this manner.
After leaving the service entirely I finally realized that know matter what I did in the Marine Corps, just by affiliation, I caused harm and mayhem to thousands of people around the world. The Marine Corps is merely a small cog in a very big political/military system that uses words not common to popular vernacular, words like geostrategic positioning and acceptable losses.
Many people join the military for some noble gesture of another. I joined because I wanted to help people. At the time I didn’t understand that the sole function of the military is the utter destruction of the individual. Furthermore, the fact that one is more likely to be punished than rewarded is a thick woolen blanket of oppression that stifles all humanitarianism, all creativity, and all individual thought. Because of the way individuals are chastised in the military it makes it all but impossible to stand against the stream.
That is the monster of the projected framework. No matter how hard you try to make a difference within it, it can only be changed from operating outside the constraints of the framework. This is evident with the amount of former military that find themselves in activism work within months of their discharges. Many find that at this juncture the sheep’s wool is merely voluntary.
We are misled into thinking that the military was formed on noble intent. Indeed, the infrastructure of the military is inherently corrupted by the politics it works for. Like a rusty bucket full of holes an inherently corrupt system still leaks, regardless of patchwork. The foundations must be swept away and laid anew.
Benjamin Lewis can be reached at corvallisivaw -at- gmail.com