Revolution #72, December 10, 2006
Active Duty Soldiers Call for U.S. to Leave Iraq
Interview with Navy Seaman Jonathan Hutto and Sgt. Liam Madden-USMC
Among the deep problems for the U.S. imperialists in Iraq is the broad and growing dissension and even outright opposition to the war and occupation within the U.S. armed forces. The Pentagon itself estimates that 8,000 soldiers have gone AWOL since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. There have been some high-profile cases of GI resistance to the war. The Army recently announced it was court-martialing Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq.
And a group of active-duty GIs have launched a public campaign -- Appeal for Redress -- calling for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq and an end to U.S. occupation. The Appeal states:
“As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq . Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.”
Articles on the Appeal have been printed in the Navy, Army and Marine Times and it has been circulated on the internet. As of Nov. 20, organizers have been able to verify 700 signers of the appeal who are military members.
Revolution recently interviewed co-founders and organizers of the Appeal effort. Jonathan Hutto is a Seaman in the United States Navy, stationed at Norfolk, VA. Liam Madden is a Sgt in the United States Marine Corps stationed at Quantico, VA. He is an Iraq war veteran who was deployed in Haditha, Iraq.
In Revolution newspaper, this interview is being published in two parts. Part 1 appears in issue #74. Part 2 appears in issue #75. The entire interview is here online.
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Sgt. Liam Madden
Revolution: Can you first of all describe the purpose of the Appeal for Redress and what you hope to accomplish with it?
Jonathan Hutto: The purpose of the Appeal for Redress is to give active duty, reserve, and guard personnel the opportunity to voice any reservations or misgivings about the current Iraq occupation. What the Appeal asserts is that the current status quo policy in Iraq is not going to work. And that ultimately we have to win our political leadership to the principle of withdrawal. That’s what the Appeal for Redress seeks to do. So for those service members who agree with us, they can send in an appeal through this process. What we hope to achieve in the short term is to add our weight to the dialogue, debate, and discussion, in the hopes that it can affect the outcome of policy decisions. That’s in the short term. In the long term, we hope to build an actual active duty service member organization that can potentially serve as an advocacy arm on behalf of active duty members of the military, especially the enlisted.
Liam Madden: The ultimate goal is to end the occupation of Iraq. That seems lofty, but shoot for the stars and you won’t end up with a handful of mud, right? Short term goal is to get several thousand appeals sent to Congress to kind of set the tone for the next Congress. Hopefully prioritize the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq as one of their biggest missions.
Revolution: Can you talk a little about some of your own experiences, in terms of why you joined the military and what has been the process that you’ve gone through to come to the position you’re taking now?
Madden: A lot of people ask me that, and they’re kind of looking for the answer that there’s something specifically traumatic that happened to me in Iraq and it’s not true. I went to Iraq opposing the war and I left Iraq opposing the war. I always opposed the war so there was really no development in that or any specific development only I could have gotten from my vantage. It was really something that any American could get, just by staying abreast of the situation, like, ‘where are these WMDs, what threat did Iraq pose,’ just critically looking at the situation. Numerous other things: Why are we ignoring the will of the Iraqi people? Why are we insisting on staying in a situation that aggravates the violence? Things that any American could see. It’s really just a coincidence that I’m a Marine and it’s a great opportunity to have a platform.
I see American history, what you get fed growing up, in American schools and the standard curriculum and furthermore what the news tells you is news, it basically paints America as the knight in shining armor, maybe occasionally misguided, but basically the good guy. A big influence on me was reading Howard Zinn. I’m basically an independent enough minded person to acknowledge that that’s just not so, we’re not always the knight in shining armor and lots of times there’s an agenda to our foreign policy that’s not on the surface. It’s just obvious to me that WMDs, it’s obvious to everyone, that WMDs—although they were on the surface, there was an agenda beneath that. Then they made the surface the terrorist link, but there was something beneath that. And now they’re kind of relying on, ‘it’s democracy, we need to spread it.’ That’s a very valid thing to say we want there to be. Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant and it’s good that he’s gone. But there’s another agenda, other than these righteous-sounding things and that’s one of the big reasons I oppose the war.
Liam Madden wrote to a Revolution correspondent about the holiday care packages being delivered by Appeal for Redress to troops in the U.S. This project is undertaken by a few dozen volunteers, a coalition of active service members who have submitted appeals for redress, veterans and veterans organizations, military families, and concerned citizens. Care packages contain an appeal for redress in a pre-addressed envelope, baked goods and other treats, and DVDs of Sir No Sir , (a documentary about GI resistance during the Vietnam War) and The Ground Truth (which documents the experience of GIs in Iraq), and informational fliers. Madden said, “We saw the holidays as a great opportunity to reach out to the troops and simultaneously show our support and deliver our message to the active duty.” Packages have been delivered around Christmas and New Years to Fort Carson, Colorado; Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona; Dover Air Force Base, Delaware; Groton Naval Base, Connecticut; Norfolk Naval Base, Virginia; the DC area; and the cluster of bases in Southern California.
Hutto: In terms of my personal experiences. It’s interesting because oftentimes I get questions from reporters asking me if I had some sort of personal revelation, was there some kind of event that took place. That’s not the question you’re asking, but it’s kind of a naïve question, in the sense that it seems to propose that people who join the military are staunch defenders of the status quo. That’s not true. The majority of the people who join the military primarily join for economic reasons. Those reservations and misgivings I have about the Iraq war are those that I had when I joined, and that many of us have when we joined. Many of us joined for all sorts of reasons, to straighten out their personal lives, pay off some debts, get some degree or educational opportunity or what have you.
In terms of my own personal beliefs, my personal political background starts in Atlanta, Georgia post civil-rights era, being raised in a family and in a community, by institutions in my community—whether it was my school, whether it was my church, whether it was the YMCA in downtown Atlanta right there where the King center is…where the history and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King is. Growing up in that city we were reinforced with the principle of peace and justice and ensuring equality and fairness in society. This is something that’s just part of me as a person, whether or not I’m in the military or teaching school or working in corporate America I would totally have it in mind, peace and justice in society.
I definitely had experiences since I’ve been in. I’ve been the recipient of racial harassment, xenophobia on behalf of shipmates and dealing with those within the chain of command who pretty much were intolerant to the type of person that I am. But we definitely handled those situations appropriately. When I was off the coast of Iraq, we had one shipmate pull out a hangman’s noose in front of me and in fact make a mockery of lynching, a very brutal history, a very brutal time in history of this country…. But the petty officer is no longer a petty officer. He had his rank taken from him and also he was restricted to boat for 30 days. This type of stuff is the culture of what goes on in the military. Unfortunately it’s an institution that is laced with a lot of racists, a lot of sexists, a lot of xenophobic behavior.
So just in my own personal life in the military, it’s coming up on three years now, but because of my own background, having been born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, having gone to the historic black college Howard University where I was very politically active, having also worked with two nonprofit organizations—the ACLU and Amnesty International, I knew how to fight, I knew how to get my issues across if I needed to. I’m not someone who was trained to be obedient or subservient in the face of so-called authority. We come out of a tradition where Dr. King taught us there is such a thing as moral law and immoral law and you have an obligation to break immoral law. If order seems to affirm somebody putting a hangman’s noose in your face then you have to break that law, so that’s the tradition that I come out of.
Revolution: How did you get to the position where you felt you should organize this Appeal?
Madden: I don’t know if you know how Jonathan and I met, but we met…I was talking at an event down in Norfolk, VA and Jonathan got my e-mail address. And he e-mailed me maybe a month after that and said “do you want to get more involved in creating a movement, letting our voice be heard regarding military personnel who disagree with this war?” And there was no question in my mind that I wanted to. I already opposed the war. I was already the type of person that believed that you can’t just feel something and not act upon it. It’s kind of your civic obligation to act and move and do these things. So we started brainstorming, and Jonathan did a lot of the leaps and bounds in the research part, and legally, and it kind of just grew from there.
Hutto: When I was overseas, an old friend of mine sent me a book. The book is called Soldiers in Revolt, written by David Cortwright. David Cortwright at the time was enlisted in the United States Army, from 1968 to 1971. In 1975 he wrote this book, which is the definitive chronicle of that history, the history of the GI movement. The history of active duty soldiers, sailors and marines during the Vietnam era who were active within the armed forces back then, raising these issues.
Reading this history I thought to myself, “How could active duty soldiers, sailors, and marines get active in today’s context? How could they legally, in a constructive way do so?” We began doing our research. We began pulling up the documentation and doing research and we found the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, which said any and all military members without prior command approval, can communicate with a member of Congress, and cannot have any reprisal against themselves for having done so.
So that’s what they say the law is, then we want to test the law and see if the law works. Now unfortunately, some believe military members should be separate from the political process, which to us would actually be military members existing within a fascist order. They say this is a democracy, so they call it, so let’s participate. That’s what a democracy is. It’s a government of, for, and by the people, and the military members are people and citizens of the government. So let’s find out if it works
Revolution: You mentioned, Jonathan, and I noticed an article where you were quoted talking about a similar appeal during the Vietnam War and that there was this widespread opposition within the military then—some of it is documented in the movie Sir No Sir…
Hutto: I have seen that.
Revolution: But given that experience, how do you look at the opposition within the military right now and also looking at that, how do you see the role of GIs today in ending the Iraq war, etc.
Hutto: There is no comparison. At that time, you had essentially what became a mass movement, a movement that was spontaneous in nature, but a movement that was mass. Because at that time it got to that point, particularly in the late 1960s, where dissent and resistance became a culture within the United States. You couldn’t go anywhere in the U.S. and not be touched by this culture of dissent, whether you were going into the military, whether you were going into college, or just going into the workforce. You were going to be touched by the movement. The hot summer of ‘67, right? You got urban cities burning all over America. You got the summer of ‘68, you got the Democratic convention. The spring of ‘68 you got the assassination of Dr. King and America in flames. Robert Kennedy, whether you love or dislike Robert Kennedy, his assassination also sparked much upheaval. So you couldn’t go anywhere, 1969 you got Woodstock, you couldn’t go anywhere and not be touched by it.
I think today, even though there’s been a lot of mass protest, I mean the ANSWER coalition and others have been very active. But we haven’t been able to create that culture of dissent within the country. On top of that, one of the things that was different was that back in the ‘60s you had a draft that touched every element of society. You had people like the current president—I can’t say anything slanderous about him, DOD regulation—but the point is you had people like our current president who went into the Texas national guard. I mean the draft was touching every element. Today you don’t have a draft, you have a volunteer army. A volunteer army of men and women who primarily come from the margins of society. They come from that part of the society that people don’t care about. And it’s by design. Because people don’t value that which they feel has no value. So that’s the difference, that’s the basic difference.
I think, what would it take for there to begin to be a mass movement? I think the longer and longer we stay in Iraq, people on their third and fourth tours, the more frustrated people get, the more people see their lives are not being improved and the more people see their loved ones taken away. Between what’s happening in Iraq and the degradation of their communities at home, the frustration level rises, the misery rises, and people will begin to take action.
What we’re doing is a legal and constructive way to get active. But I’m reminded that when legal, constructive means do not bring about what the masses of people are looking for, people do look to other alternatives. But this here is a legal, constructive way for people to get involved.
Revolution: Where do you think soldiers and others are at in terms of developing that kind of a movement or that kind of a mood?
Hutto: I think the mood is there actually. I haven’t talked to too many people that I work with who are overwhelmingly supporters of the Iraq war. The question is not so much the mood, the question is having the spark and the catalyst that can set the mood in motion. Sometimes that takes a particular case, takes a particular issue. But I think that powderkeg is already there. It’s going to take something to really, really set it in motion. I think the election two weeks ago is a case in point about what I mean about the mood being there. But the mood being there and who captures the mood are two different things. You got a mood throughout the country that what’s taking place in Iraq is not good and it’s not in the best benefit of the citizenry. But who captures the mood, is it the people or the Democratic Party, that’s the question.
Revolution: It seems like people are voting to both end the war and stop the whole direction of things in many ways, at least that’s what they hope happens, there’s a big sentiment for that, but that’s not what the Democrats are planning to do.
Hutto: I think people should get that. I mean, our initiative is not partisan, it’s not partisan for a reason. We know the occupation of Iraq was not a Republican occupation. This is an occupation that was agreed upon, it was a bipartisan agreement. And we’re not going to allow those who voted for the Iraq war to now position themselves as all of a sudden being anti-occupation. These are people who affirmed it. Even John Murtha, who has come out as the anti-war hero in the House of Representatives, he supported the initial invasion of Iraq. We have to keep that in mind.
Revolution: Can you talk about the extent and the character of the opposition to the Iraq war among active duty GIs?
Madden: I think within the Marine Corps, which is definitely one of the more conservative branches, it would be a pretty fair estimate to say one-third oppose the war and want us to leave, one-third support the war and want us to stay, and another third are in the middle and they have feelings like, well I don’t want to be there but if we left things would go to hell. Or they don’t really have an opinion either way, they just see it as a job. There’s a third in the middle that could really go either way.
Hutto: I think it’s pretty broad actually. There’s not mass support for what’s taking place in Iraq. People are not going to Iraq because they are really gung-ho and ready to go over there and kick some butt. People are going to Iraq because they have to go, because they are legally obliged to go. They have families, wives and children, bills to pay. So this is their way of life. They’re protecting what they perceive to be their way of life and their way of living. And if getting back to their families means staying out of trouble and fulfilling their obligation, they’re going to fulfill that obligation. I think it’s more of an obligation and an economic basis than it has to do with any sort of ideology.
Revolution: There is opposition within the military, like the Lt. Watada case and many thousands who have gone AWOL.
Hutto: I think right now, like I said earlier, the mood is there. People have to see some way in which they can voice their concern. First they have to be won to see their concern even matters. They definitely have concerns, they definitely have views, they have reservations, they have misgivings, as shown by our initiative and things you mention in terms of AWOL and desertion, even though we’re not advocating people do that. But I think people have to know they have a way in which they can channel that energy and we have a responsibility to organize that energy. But in terms of the sentiment and the level of sentiment, I think it’s already there. I just think it has to be organized. People have to be shown they can participate and have their voices heard and that their political leadership will take them seriously.
Revolution: In terms of the sentiments of people in the military, and your own personal sentiment too about, in particular, the domestic situation, what the Bush regime is doing in this country—there’s been the Military Commissions Act which has basically legalized torture, the stripping of habeas corpus, there’s been this whole NSA wiretapping and spying on people and so forth, there’s a whole direction of things with this administration, so I’m just wondering your sentiments or if you could comment on that and also is this a topic among active duty GIs, in terms of what they’re thinking about.
Hutto: DOD regulations doesn’t allow me to make any slanders about the Commander-in-Chief, but I will say this, that all the issues you mentioned are issues of serious concern to myself. I’m definitely very much concerned about the eroding of civil liberties and civil rights in this country, eroding of the Bill of Rights. I think the Patriot Act should definitely be one of the first major agenda items to be addressed by the Judiciary Committee of the House when they come back to session the first of the year. I think all of the issues you listed are definitely top priority for myself, and I think many military members as well. I can’t say for sure, I haven’t polled on any of those topics. But I will say I think those topics are of prime concern.
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