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Peaceful Warrior

Chris Strohm and Ingrid Drake, Guerrilla News Network
July 18, 2003

Viewed on July 22, 2003

As the U.S. occupation of Iraq extends with no end in sight, and the death toll for both U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians continues to mount, more voices of dissent from military personnel and families are audible every day.

One of the most poignant so far comes from a young Marine who gave an interview with Pacifica Radio's Peacewatch program the night before he was deployed to Iraq. He discussed his strong commitment to peace, and said the Bush administration was violating constitutional principles and misleading the country into an unjust war.

He was killed in late June, fighting a war he didn't believe in.

Because the interview was given under the condition of anonymity, and out of respect for the current wishes of his family, the Marine will be identified in this story only as John (not his real name). John's friends describe him as a passionate, intense person with an insatiable appetite for knowledge and a commitment to peace. He studied philosophy and peace with an emphasis on Middle Eastern affairs, particularly Iraq and Israel.

His friends say he went into the military under the Clinton administration to gain credibility, so that perhaps someday his beliefs on how to build a lasting peace in the Middle East would be taken seriously. In the months before his deployment, he helped organize anti-war campaigns, mainly working behind the scenes.

In his interview with Pacifica, John expressed outrage that a legitimate public debate on the war had not occurred. Many alternatives to combat were available, he explained, such as using money being spent for war to finance a grassroots Iraqi democracy movement that would rival the Baath regime, or promoting democracy throughout the Middle East to show people alternative forms of government.

"It is almost unimaginable to expect that this war is going to create a better peace for anybody with the exception of a very small percentage of people," he said.

He accused the administration of not talking honestly with the American public about potential consequences of a U.S. war on Iraq, such as the potential for urban combat, the psyche of the Iraqi people, the impact on the United Nations and the fate of the Middle East.

"This could have repercussions in terms of the war on terrorism," he said. "It could have repercussions on international diplomacy. It could have repercussions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It could have repercussions in terms of our ability to get anything else done in the United Nations. And even if... everything goes the way it's supposed to go, what does that mean for the world order? It says that we basically can do whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it because we are the world's sole superpower."

But even as he expressed doubts about the Bush administration's decision, he spoke eloquently about his patriotism, and looked to the highest ideals of the country for inspiration:

"I believe in the United States. I believe in the Constitution. I think it's perhaps one of the greatest documents ever written. I believe in the idea that we the people are sovereign and we determine our own destiny. We have a democracy and the Bill of Rights and freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and due process. Until the world is such a place that we can really live without the military, individual Americans have to step up and they have to serve."

The Bush administration, he claimed, had not made a credible case for war with Iraq, and was violating constitutional principles by sending troops into combat. He spoke of the Declaration of Independence, and how its writers vowed to be free of England, where their lives were ruled and determined by one man. "The constant rhetoric of the administration is that there's going to be one person who decides when we go to war," he said, "and that is such a blatant violation of every constitutional principle that our founding fathers came up with."

"But even beyond that, it's 'we the people' that this nation is about," he continued. "It isn't about politics or personal agendas or political agendas or economic agendas. And I believe that this war is not the right thing for America because it hasn't yet been proven conclusively that there is a threat to 'we the people' -- and I think that is the sole determining factor as to whether or not this nation should ever go to war."

With chilling foresight, John predicted that much could go wrong in a war with Iraq, saying the outcomes outlined by the administration were based on highly optimistic and rosy scenarios. He said it was unlikely that Iraqis would cheer the arrival of a U.S. occupying force, and that long-term urban combat could be a likely outcome.

Yet he went to Iraq, believing it to be his duty. And continued, even in the midst of combat, to exercise his belief in nonviolent resolution. One of his commanders wrote a letter after his death explaining a situation in which John negotiated a peaceful settlement to a potentially deadly situation. A group of Baath Party officials were found inside a house. Because he spoke Arabic, John entered the house and talked with the officials until he negotiated a surrender. His actions potentially saved the lives of both U.S. soldiers and Iraqis.

In letters home, John described the peace movement as "awesome," and said he hoped it would grow larger, never relent against the Bush administration, and help bring an end to the war.

Around June 20, those letters stopped.

As of July 14, 32 American soldiers have died from hostile action since Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq on May 1, according to the Pentagon. Forty-three other service members have died in incidents unrelated to hostilities.

Nancy Lessin, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, says more people are becoming outraged now that the war against Iraq has turned into a highly risky occupation.

"Too many U.S. military personnel and way too many innocent Iraqis have been killed," she says. "And what we predicted to be true has come true, that there are no weapons of mass destruction. Everything we said was going to happen is coming to pass, and one of the most frightening aspects of this is that the people of this country haven't completely risen up in opposition to what's going on."

Her words are echoed, and answered, by John's. Before he was deployed, John wrote a final letter as part of his will.

"That I have died means I have failed to achieve the one thing in life I truly longed to give the world -- peace," the letter reads. "The plight of human suffering consumed me and I dedicated much to trying to find the ideas that might lead humankind toward alleviating it for all. It was a quest which was inextricably intertwined with my quest for freedom. If you know anything about me you know that. Understand it and come to understand how the suffering of others tormented my soul. Then seek to honor my memory by trying to achieve what I could not."

Chris Strohm is a freelance reporter and volunteer with the DC Independent Media Center. Ingrid Drake is a correspondent for Pacifica Radio's Peacewatch program.

Andrew Korfhage provided additional reporting for this article.

2003 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

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