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My real heroes are those soldiers who stood up to the war before they went.
These are the people I look up to. To stand up at that time and say, no, I’m not gonna do it, to be accused of cowardice, is amazingly brave.
I disagreed with the war. I was already reading about the Black Panthers and Huey P Newton and Malcolm X, I was already beginning to radicalise, but I still went because I thought that’s what soldiers do. I went into the military because of, well, a big ball of different things. And that ball just totally unravelled when I was in Iraq.
I always grew up thinking if it was America fighting, then we were fighting for good. I thought America was the greatest country on earth and that we fight for freedom and democracy. I came to realise that Iraq is a war of genocide, a war of racism. When I went to Iraq, it all became real.
It had been October at Fort Drum when we took off. A cold October. We had snow on the ground. I got off the plane in Kuwait, and I had a duffel bag in each hand, and a rucksack and my weapons on my back and I was so tired and then that heat hits you.
You’re hot and you’re sore and they put you on a bus. We drove for a few hours until we got to a base where they gave us a briefing. And they told us, ‘You can’t trust these fucking hajis. Every one of these fucking hajis just wants to kill you! They’re all gonna stab you in the back. And when one of these fucking haji kids is out in the middle of the road and you’re out with your convoy, you run them over!’
I really thought, ‘Wow, I can’t believe they’re using such a racist term like this.’ At the time I didn’t know what haji meant, or its significance. I just thought, ‘Wow.’
In a film about the GI resistance in Vietnam, Sir! No sir!, there is a scene where a black GI, Greg Paton, says one day he realised, ‘Wow, a gook is just like a nigger!’ This light went on. And now I watch a film like this and I think what I realised in Iraq was, ‘Wow – a haji is a gook!’ Make that connection!
All this became crystal clear for me one day when in my division there was a traffic control point – a TCP – and this 18-yearold kid is on a 50-calibre machine gun atop an armoured humvee and this car’s coming at it really fast and he makes a split-second decision. He presses butterfly trigger on his 50-cal and he puts 200 rounds into a vehicle in less than a minute. A few minutes later, they drag out the results of his decision: it’s a dead father, a dead mother and two dead kids. The son was four. The daughter was three.
That night, I sat in on a briefing, as I did most nights, and this colonel turns around to the entire division-level staff and he says, ‘If these fucking hajis just fucking learnt to drive, this shit wouldn’t happen!’ And I looked around and thought, he never stopped to think that this 18-year-old kid for the rest of his life is going to be fucked up. He never stopped to think that we killed an entire bloodline that day, of how many more insurgents we created, of how many more service members are going to die as a result of this. There were so many things that he could have thought of.
The left, the anti-war movement, really needs to come up with alternatives, with solutions. We’ve essentially won the argument that the war is wrong, that the occupation is wrong. The mid-term elections show that. We should now be aiming for popularising concrete solutions. There are quite a few plans out there, but they need to be developed and they also need to take into account what the Iraqi people want.
We have to make sure America never ever does this again. Because after Vietnam, we thought we had learnt our lesson, but people forgot. We have to make sure that in ten years time, 20 years time, 50 years time, we never, never do this again.
I feel I’m becoming a warrior, fighting this fight, whereas before I felt I was just a soldier. Now I get to fight from my heart, for what I believe in, not what someone orders me to.Iraq Veterans Against the War can be found at www.ivaw.net
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Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
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A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
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A very social economist
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Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
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Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
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Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
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The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
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Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
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Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
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Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
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Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
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To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
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With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
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Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook