By Army National Guard Spc. Justin Cliburn. September 10, 2007

“No, I am not going back to participate in that war.”

I had drill this weekend. Drill has been a forever-evolving presence in my life for the past six years. I went from looking forward to drill to hating it to missing it while I was in Iraq and back to looking forward to it when I returned. I used to hate drill, but found myself liking the weekends where I was reunited with those that I spent a year with in Iraq. Over the past few months, that has turned into dread, and I am questioning whether or not I can remain an effective member of the military.

Over the course of our many bullshit sessions at drill, the topic of Iraq inevitably came up. We exchanged stories and shared laughs as the new guys who didn’t deploy looked on with wonder. Stories about clandestine drunken nights, the anger that comes with being kicked out of the chow hall for being sweaty, and getting to the point where you ignore gunfire took up most of the time, but not all of the stories were so innocent. The same set of soldiers that in 2005 said they couldn’t wait to kill “ragheads” were now bragging about times they scared Iraqis, bent the rules of engagement, and generally enjoyed playing bully for a year. I like these guys a lot, but I don’t know why I was surprised. I had thought that maybe being there for a year would eventually change them and open their eyes to how their actions were inhumane, but I was wrong.

Someone who had not deployed before asked if we would go again. “In a heartbeat!” one soldier replied. Others assured him that they would have no problem going back. Now, the eyes were on me.

“No, I am not going back to participate in that war.”

The look of shock and awe on their faces quickly gave way to a flurry of questions about how I would get out, what I would do, how I could do that to my comrades, why I felt the way I did, what I thought I was proving, and why I thought I could make a difference. The question that got me on a roll, however, was none of the above.

“What are you going to do . . . become a conscientious objector?” one soldier and friend said with a smirk and a chuckle.

“In fact, I just may do that. That’s what I am, essentially, isn’t it?”

You could have heard a pin drop as the smirks fell from their faces; this appeared to be the worst thing I could have said. It amazes me how they had just gotten done talking about taking pleasure in bullying Iraqis and I was somehow demonized for stating that I had a moral objection to the occupation and subjugation of a third world nation. I have a conscience, and that upset them more than anything else I could have said for some reason.

I then spent about twenty minutes explaining why I had a moral objection to scaring Iraqis for the fun of it, occupying a country that didn’t attack us, risking my life and the lives of my comrades for a war that does nothing but make the world more dangerous and less stable, and giving complicit approval to policy that has failed on every front.

What stuck out to my comrade, however, wasn’t about killing or risking my life.

“Why do keep talking about how unstable the Middle East has become as a result of the war? I mean, you almost seem to take it personally. Why do you care if wars break out there?”

I was exasperated, but I kept trying to make him get it. I care because where there is war, there are innocent people dying. It doesn’t matter if they’re Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese, Israeli, Palestinian, Iranian, or Turkish; I do not want them to experience the horrors of the war. On a more selfish front, the more unstable the region is, the more chance there is that we’ll have to eventually intervene. The region has gotten worse and worse since our invasion to “stabilize the region”, and constitutes a gross failure of the Iraq War.

“Yeah, but why take it so seriously? I mean, you’ve got to defend your country either way. You’ve got to have the balls to go even if you don’t agree with it.”

No, it takes balls not to go when you don’t agree. The courage to resist is oftentimes more honorable than the courage to enter a foxhole. These same friends of mine told me that they concede that the situation did nothing but get worse in our year in Iraq and that they didn’t see how we could really “win”. One went so far as to say he didn’t believe in the war, but could never “abandon” his country. One said he agreed with everything I said . . . he just lacked the political will to do anything about it. Another stated his agreement with me, but said he was just going to hope that his contract runs out before they ever call us up again. Out of all those sitting there, only one fully supported the war, but all were willing to go back either for some misguided belief in honor or because they were too lazy or scared to do anything about it.

I thought I could this; I thought I could oppose the war and remain in the military. Change from within, I thought. I realized this weekend that that was a pipe dream, for me at least. I spend half my time in that uniform cringing at exaggerated stories, expressed pleasure in other peoples’ pain, and empty, misguided proclamations of honor, integrity, and selfless service.

I am done with the military. I don’t know how exactly I will leave the service just yet, but I know that I will. I entered the army in an honorable fashion and I will leave it that way, but leave it I will.

I leave Friday for Washington DC to take part in the September 15th protests in DC with tens of thousands of other concerned Americans, including representatives of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families, and the ANSWER Coalition. I am taking more and more responsibility within IVAW to end this war, take care of our veterans, and provide reparations for the Iraqi people and it feels right.

I accepted the position of Regional Coordinator-Gulf Coast Region this week and look forward to working with other IVAW Regional Coordinators in the future. I am writing for their newsletter (Sit-Rep), which is being published for the first time this week. If anyone has any questions about the organization or wishes to join, please contact Iraq Veterans Against the War ( ).

In the meantime, I simply ask, “Where is the rage?!”


Spc. Justin Cliburn (right) helps lead march at VFP convention in St. Louis 8/19/2007. Photo by Jeff Paterson for Courage to Resist.