"Service Members Rally Against the War in Iraq."
That's the banner in the on-line edition of Air Force Times, detailing yesterday's protest against the war by active-duty military personnel in Norfolk, VA. The event was held in a local church and attended by "about" 80 persons--not including reporters, as the Times reporter carefully points out. As a reformed member of the fourth estate, I'm guessing that the crowd size was slightly inflated, and you'll note the estimate offers no breakout of the number of actual, active-duty protestors, versus the "veterans and academics" who showed up in support. By any measure, the event was miniscule, and received far more press attention than it actually deserved.
The MLK Day protest was the latest media event of an organization called Appeal for Redress, which has collected the signatures of about 1,000 military personnel who oppose the Iraq War. The signatories reportedly include active-duty military members, as well as national guardsmen and reservists. As far as I can determine, no one has verified the military status of everyone who has signed the petition, although the group's primary spokesman, Navy Mass Communications Specialist Third Class Jonathan Hutto, is assigned to the Norfolk-based carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.
Hutto, who deployed with the carrier to the Persian Gulf in 2005-2006, says his group is not "anti-war, we're anti-Iraq War." Similar thoughts were expressed by Marine Corps Sergeant Liam Madden, who also served in Iraq as a communications specialist. Madden described the protest as "my generation's call to conscience."
Whatever. As someone who wore the uniform for more than 20 years, I find it a bit odd that this "call to conscience" is largely led by first-term personnel with limited military and combat experience. In return, they would probably argue that, as relatively "new" members of the armed forces, they are less affected by the values and experiences that form over a longer military career. My response? If this protest is indeed, a generational call, why haven't more members of the armed forces responded, particularly those who have experienced the trauma of combat in Iraq. If all the names on their petition are legit, the number of military signatories represents less than one-tenth of one percent of those currently wearing the uniform. If opposition to the war is mushrooming--as Air Force Times and the protestors would have us believe--then, where's the groundswell?
In fairness, there are more than a few signatories who are genuinely troubled by the War in Iraq, and want to make their voices heard. But for those who are protestors of consicence, there are others who are using the movement as a vehicle to get back at the military, for job or duty location promises that were broken, for personal issues relating to military service (say, a recent divorce), or for general dissatisfaction with life in the armed services.
Other signatories seem more influenced by media reporting than personal experiences or plain, old-fashioned thinking. During a recent visit to their web site, I noticed that one signatory appeared to be a first-term airman, who was stationed about 8,000 miles from the combat zone. There was no indication that this individual had deployed to the Middle East, or was slated to go anytime soon. The "anti-war" comments listed by the airman were simply a rehash of media talking points. So much for protest based on independent thought.
In fact, if the protestors who gathered in Norfolk are so upset over the Iraq War, why don't they simply leave the military? Afterall, it's a volunteer force; no one twisted their arm to sign up, and no one is pressuring them to stay in. With a little effort, they accelerate their return to civilian life by claiming conscientious objector status (a bit difficult, but it can be done). Or if they prefer the "fast track," the protestors could simply walk into their commander's office and announce that they're gay (a tactic long used by disgruntled enlistees to expedite their exit from the military).
But this current group of protestors-in-uniform appear determined to hang around, at least until their current hitch is up. With post-Vietnam "whistle blower" protection, they have little to fear from their chain of command, so it's easier to pull your duty, then change into civvies for the next anti-war media appearance. In fact, some of the Norfolk protestors planned to be in Washington, D.C. today to deliver their petition to Ohio's nutball Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who once advocated creation of a U.S. "Peace" Academy, and is now threatening to cut off funding for the war.
Given the recent change of power in Washington, it wouldn't surprise me to see some of these military "protestors" eventually testify before Congress, following in the footsteps of a certain Massachusetts Senator. Participating in anti-war protests while in service won't help your military career, but it does look good on your resume if you have ambitions along the "activist" track, or in Democratic Party politics.