During the last four days, more than 100 Iraq Veterans Against the War combat veterans, academics, and international guests shared their experiences with the world through Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations. They offered their accounts in the hopes that they would induce a bit of accountability in the halls of Congress, and detailed the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the occupations of the few who profit, whose profession it is to ensure the longevity of this and other violent conflicts.
My own involvement was in the form of bearing witness [click here to watch the video] to the intricacies and fallibilities of the Rules of Engagement I encountered in my 14 months in combat. Many other panelists offered corroborating evidence and shared similar stories of inadequate training in the use of deadly force, and some explained the troubling, but verifiable, cases in which such restrictions were utterly ignored or outright rejected. In other panels, testifiers shared their experience with the failure of the VA system, outlined the presence of gender discrimination and racism in the military, and described corporate pillaging and war profiteering. The entire event was streamed live to the Web via IVAW's Web site and blogged live via KPFA Radio. Many news articles were written as a result, and the Department of Defense even issued a statement.
I was in the minority as a professed Christian, and I cannot blame my fellow compatriots for their occasional discomfort with the oft-misrepresented ideologies (Religious Right) of the Christian tradition. To my surprise, it was difficult to even blurt out in my own testimony that it was my faith, and not a reaction to the political, economic, or social reality of these conflicts, that inspired me to lay my weapon down. Furthermore, there was no shortage of personal courage displayed throughout the entire event: testifiers ripping off or tearing up the burdensome medals they wore, tears shed in bitter remorse and agony, and (unfortunately) failure to control one's language in frustration and angst. Our critics (whom we invited beforehand, and whom politely agreed to a rigorous code of conduct-to which they submitted faithfully and respectfully) even had some constructive, informative observations to share.
The weekend was never cast as a protest; there were no picket signs or chanting, no march or formation, and it was closed to the public (making the "Gathering of Eagles" just off campus the only actual protesters in attendance). The members and guests who gave "testimony" (a term with which we in the church are well-versed) did so only in the sense that it was an "account" of their experience.
There was one interruption, during the first panel on Friday, where an older gentleman trespassed onto the campus and shouted that people "lied and good men died." He also speculated that those testifying were betraying good men. Interestingly enough, he was NOT talking about our current commander in chief, who is not only directly responsible (according to military tradition and the UCMJ) for the 4,468 American lives lost under his watch, but also for 935 "false statements" (isn't that the same as a "lie?") his administration made in the months leading up to the invasion of a nation we ourselves armed and financed. Besides, the gospels remind us to be wary of any king of men who would reap what he does not sow, or burden his subjects with a yoke he would not carry himself.
Finally, as carefully as I chose to tread with my own faith background, the immense healing properties of confession were hard to ignore. Tears flowed and men of the highest caliber embraced unashamed and readily admitted their reliance on one another. It was an awesome experience that I will forever be proud to have been part of. These honest and humble accounts are a much-needed and too often overlooked offering that has been laid before the American people, a heavy yoke broken by the power of confession and repentance by contrite hearts.
Will America answer the call to metanoia and turn from its destructive, exploitative ways? Will we lay the idols of oil and nationalism and greed upon the altar, and seek a more firm and lasting peace with our neighbors in the global community?
Insha'allah; God willing.
Logan Laituri is a six-year Army veteran with combatant service in Iraq during OIF II and experience with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Israel and the West Bank. He is an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and has co-founded a faith-based veterans assistance initiative called Centurion's Purse, which seeks to provide financial and spiritual relief to fellow service members in need. He blogs at courageouscoward.blogspot.com.