By Benjamin Lewis and Brandon Neely (photo right), AlterNet. November 11, 2008
On this day, Veteran’s Day, we would like to express to the American public why we, veterans of the Global War on Terror, have chosen to refuse orders to reactivate into military service. We are direct witnesses to the horrors of this war, having experienced its atrocities at their source, and we have decided that we can no longer carry out these illegal and immoral policies.
We believe that veterans and active-duty GIs are in a key position to stop illegal and unjust war, and we are inspired by the resistance of troops who stood against the war in Vietnam. One of the preeminent reasons for the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam was increasing dissent among the active-duty troops stationed abroad and at home. By the end of the war, there were entire units refusing to participate in combat, many going as far as outright mutiny.
The United States learned a lesson from the Vietnam War: that it is unlikely, except in the event of self-defense, that regular civilians will execute the life-threatening orders that are given to them by military authority. The solution of policy makers was to create an all-volunteer force that negated the need for a draft. This translates into a mercenary force composed of America’s disadvantaged: a sector of the U.S. demographic that is particularly susceptible to military recruitment for lack of other options and finding themselves with deployment orders again and again.
To compensate for huge pitfalls in recruitment since the invasion of Iraq, the military has resorted to recalling former service members. This policy is known as "involuntary activation" and utilizes deactivated service members who still have time on their contracts in the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR) to fill shortcomings in specific job specialties. The abuse and misuse of this policy has escalated under the current administration to such a degree that it can now only be viewed as a "backdoor draft" that targets the same disadvantaged individuals the military sought out for enlistment, namely because they are better at not questioning orders.
However, we have now begun to question these orders. We are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and members of the IRR who have refused or will refuse any activation orders that would lead to us serving an unjust and imperial U.S. foreign policy. It is a prevailing notion that this refusal is unpatriotic, but we consider our actions the only choice. Not only did the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan do great harm to the people of those countries, but it undermined the ostensible goal with which the wars were begun: Instead of stopping terrorism, it has proliferated terrorism, an expectation that was predicted well before the war started.
By refusing activation, we are refusing to participate in wars that serve the purposes of furthering the careers of politicians and high-ranking officers. We openly support other IRR members who follow in these footsteps. The military is a force that rules through fear of retribution for disobeying its will. In reality, more than a third of IRRs simply refuse to report to duty. Most of the rest report out of fear that the military will change their discharge status or prosecute them for desertion, but up to this point, prosecution has been rare. Members of the IRR are not under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and thus far, the military has had a practice of not prosecuting them with criminal charges unless they report in some form or function to activate. Very few willingly volunteer for activation.
There can be no promise that President-Elect Barack Obama will stop the stressful and unfair techniques of back-to-back deployments, "stop-loss" or the "backdoor draft" that are damaging the psychology of veterans in irreparable ways. Nor that he will stop encouraging global violence by unlawful uses of force. It is in this vein that we turn to organizations like Courage to Resist, Iraq Veterans Against the War and many other large-scale and grassroots organizations to solicit change in a largely unrepresentative democracy, and to allow the voices of the people to ring through the halls of the Capital.
Benjamin Lewis, former Marine Corps mortarman, Iraq veteran, IRR recall resister, peace activist. Benjamin Lewis can be reached at corvallisivaw -at- gmail.com
Brandon Neely, former U.S. Army Military police officer, Iraq veteran, IRR recall refuser