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The NotoriousRRZ Shuts Up for Once

2004-10-21 - 10:10 a.m.

Today, I'm going to do something a little different. I hereby do solemnly swear that my next entry will be a fun one on guilty pleasures.

What I want to do is post my notes taken during an event held by Berkeley Stop the War Coalition on Wednesday, October 20, 2004 beginning at 7pm in 105 North Gate Hall. The speakers included a veteran of the Vietnam War and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Quotation marks indicate a line transcribed directly from the speakers.

“Jeff”

Berkeley alum, returned to Berkeley after war, worked as a TA, strategist for Veterans Against War, founded Veterans for Peace, involved in the bombing of Laos, has worked on reconciliation (key word for him) with Laotian woman on Jhai.org

Asked us how we were, wanted us to be honest, “Get out of your own denial.” Said we must “be able to mourn,” Iraq was a “horrid situation,” “I have veteran friends who think troops there will have to fight their way out of the country,” says we must mourn because, “out of morning comes real energy,” says that those who want to work with veterans must “learn how to listen” and “remember to laugh,” described spending time with fellow vets: “What got us through was our ability to laugh at ourselves and each other.” “We’d get so stoned we couldn’t get off the floor,” friend talked about getting tank and going through White House, friend knew where tanks were, said, “He was venting it so he wouldn’t do it,” had advice for those who wanted to work with veterans: “Don’t ever ask us if we killed anybody. Don’t tell us what to do. Don’t ever give us orders . . . Remember that we’re not really veterans, we’re people.”

On how to work with military coming home: “Listen to the jokes—they’re going to be really dark,” “Be informed about their issues,” many are poor, wanted education, “They’re going to have real issues” “Watch out for your own class stuff . . . (on being middle class Berkeley kid joining army) I had to learn how to swear. I learned so well!” “People aren’t looking for you to be something you’re not, just don’t be prejudiced.”

For vets talking to military coming home: “Don’t relate to them if it makes you nervous. Do if they help you feel more human and at home.”

Talked about value of friends treating him the same way that they had when he left: “Some of my friends just saw me as me even though I acted pretty weird. People shut up when I came into the room. They thought I was so old.” “When I acted silly they said, ‘You’re acting silly.’ They treated me like a person.”

On why veterans should speak, and why others should turn to veterans to speak: “When we speak out against war, people believe us.”

“This country is more polarized than I have ever seen it.” Anti-war activists should listen to others, “Maybe they’re really scared because they’ve got a kid over there, or there brother’s over there, or there sister’s over there.” “Say something like, ‘Wow, that’s an interesting idea. Why do you believe that?” “Look for similarities so you can have a conversation.” Tells of friend who, when surrounded by people who disagreed with him and who were angering him, kept writing on paper, “I will not speak.” On Berkeley: “It was great to be here during the Vietnam War.” It’s not as much important that Berkeley kids “get it.” “It’s more important that kids facing the draft get it.”

“Listening is almost always more important than speaking.”

“Ruth”

On the situation in Iraq: “The only way you’re going to get accurate information is from us.” Joined military in 1986, became an MP, joined national guard in 1996, became MP again, became helicopter mechanic, dedicated to military, “It changed my life.” Said of war in Iraq, “It really changed my life.” Emphasis on word “really” I read as dark humor. Went to Iraq in June of ???? “If I have to stop to collect my thoughts please bear with me.” On Jeff: “Everything he said is pretty much true.” Spoke of incident while in Abu Ghraib, was talking to locals to find out who was firing on US troops, Iraqi men came up to her and those she was with, “very well dressed” in Western clothing, wanted to know when sewage would be cleared out of their canal, danger of sewage leaking, she thought, “Wow, we’re really not doing anything.” Could not understand why people were not cleaning this up, Iraqis fully capable of rebuilding their own nation, “What we’re using them for is to build our structures.” When watching CNN, thought to herself, “That’s not what’s happening . . . but then it’s a different part [of Iraq than she was in?]”

[I lost track of much of the speech about following incident] Spoke of incident on patrol at night, did not have lights on in order to keep Iraqis from identifying them by their lights, “Something exploded next to my vehicle” “I adjusted my weapon” Mark 19 grenade launcher, Saw (SAW?) automatic machine gun, “I see a pink glow” “And I . . . I . . . (sigh)” “We killed a two year old Iraqi girl and a seven year old Iraqi girl” Iraqi rebels: “They shoot and they run”

“I may be ending sooner than I think.”

“We didn’t have armored humvees until five months into our tour.”

On Abu Ghraib: “What happened at Abu Ghraib is more than just the private’s responsibility.”

Q&A

“Jeff”

On prisoner abuse: happening other places. “It’s Rumsfeld and his people; that’s my opinion.” [second phrase more conciliatory], protests in Iraq, 700,000 out of population of 3.5 million, on trip to Ireland, response against US prison abuse: “I’ve never heard people there ask me the kind of questions they asked me last summer.”

On John Kerry: worked with John Kerry in veteran anti-war organizations, “Most enlisted people think most officers don’t deserve all the medals they get.” Campaigns against Kerry by fellow veterans: “vindictive move by conservative vets that’s been going on for 35 years.”

“Ruth”

On soldiers’ stories getting out: “Soldiers are doing it. If they want to do it, they’ll do it.” Majority believe they are doing good, are there barriers to soldiers stories getting out “I don’t think there are barriers” has heard of isolated incidents of soldiers statements being suppressed, they have “latest, greatest internet” “I think they’re expressing what they want to express.” There are security issues that could censor soldiers.

On Abu Ghraib: “The Abu Ghraib prison, well (pause) All I’ll say is that the private who’s getting her butt handed to her (pause) it needs to go all the way to the top.” “If I had known about that, that is wrong” these people were in the care of MPs

“Nothing we’re doing over there is liberating those people. The only people who are liberated are the dead ones.”

On morale: “In my unit, it was pretty low. It’s hard to say” “Supporting them is understanding what’s going on over there and getting as much information as possible.”

Tries to speak only of what she knows.

On stories of soldiers wanting violent engagement: “Most of the guys I was with were scared to death.” “Not in my platoon” “There was a lot of big talk, but it was mostly talk.”

On being a woman in the military: “I’ve been treated, actually, pretty well. I just had to assert myself.” “I take charge of whatever” On speaking out against war: “I’ve been in it so long it’s very conflicting.” “That’s why it’s so hard.” “I don’t blame the military. The military is like a computer: you tell it what to do.” Thought Iraq would be a humanitarian mission, had done humanitarian mission in Dominican Republic.

Speaking with them afterwards, I asked them if they had encountered people who didn’t believe them. “Jeff” spoke of having to walk away from certain situations. “Ruth” says no one has yet to disbelieve her. This is the first time that “Ruth” has spoken out in a public forum against the war. She was a “liberal Democrat” before the war. I obtained their e-mails in order to speak with them more.

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