The Socjournal» William Hathaway

    November 3rd, 2010

    From the Book
    RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War
    By William T. Hathaway, author of Summer Snow
    Published by Trine Day 2010

    Merna al-Marjan (not her real name) is a young Iraqi who is currently in Germany studying European history. We talked in her dormitory room, a spartan but functional cubicle in a building that embodies a hopeful change in European history: it was constructed in the nineteenth century as an army barracks but now houses university students. That’s progress.

    On Merna’s small table sat a pot of peppermint tea and a plate of baklava. She’s short and plump with smooth skin the color of clover honey and deep anthracite eyes; she was wearing a long skirt of light cotton, a long-sleeved blouse, and a green paisley headscarf. We spoke in German, then later reworked the interview from my English translation.

    Hathaway: “Headscarves have become a controversial item of clothing here in Germany.”

    Women and the Hijab

    Al-Marjan: “Yes, you can’t teach in the schools if you wear one. It’s OK for a teacher to wear a Christian crucifix but not a Muslim headscarf. I didn’t wear a hijab in Iraq, but I’ve started doing it here to show solidarity. It’s ridiculous to ban an article of clothing, a simple piece of cloth. What sort of freedom is that?

    “The West has such a distorted view of Arab women. Well, of men too, but since I’m a woman, I notice that more.

    “What really makes me mad is when Westerners use the way women live in the Muslim world as a justification for invading it — either with their armies or their ideas. They’re convinced we should be like them. If they were happy, that would be one thing. They could say, ‘Here, follow our example.’ But they’re much unhappier than most of us are. Their marriages and families fall apart, their children commit terrible crimes, commit suicide. Their society is fragmented into these isolated individuals who have to compete against one another. It’s a wreck, but they’re trying to force it onto us.

    “Western women are convinced they need a career to be fulfilled, as if that’s some magic thing, much better than being just a mother. But if you look at the things people actually do in their careers, most of them aren’t very fulfilling. The work gets routine, then boring. I may get to be a professor, but I’ve been around enough of them to know that’s no big deal. They just juggle ideas in the air. What people do in their jobs is trivial compared to raising a family.

    “The work of being a mother is devalued here, but to be the emotional center of a family, to keep everyone in balance, to know what they need on so many different levels and to give them some of that, well, that requires a much subtler intelligence than business does. It’s a deep knowledge of human beings, far more important than a job. Mothers are the real CEOs of civilization, and we need to give that power back to them, including the power to have a career, if that’s what they want.

    “A family needs money, but the getting of it is dominating our lives. People are either unemployed and terribly poor or they have a job and are totally exhausted. But if we took the work that needs to be done and spread it around so everyone could work a few hours a day, then we’d have time for our families and also make some money. Life would be more balanced. Some people might end up less rich, but they’d enjoy life more. They think they need so much now only because their jobs have fixated them on that. Money has become a substitute for life. There’s never enough of it, because the things it can buy aren’t really satisfying. They just distract us from the emptiness of our lives spent chasing money. We’ve become shrunken down to coins.”

    “It’s unusual to hear a young person say things like this. Where did you learn this?”

    “From my mother, of course, from talking to her and watching her. Women in my country, and probably most non-western women, understand this.

    “That doesn’t mean we’re content with our situation. We want to change it, but by strengthening the family. Family should be the power center of the society, rather than business. In the West, home life is subservient to the outer world of work, but that’s destructive. Work should serve the needs of the family, not the other way around.

    “We definitely have to change the power between men and women. It has to be more equal. We need to make sure men don’t harm women. But we don’t need help from the all-wise Westerners to do that. Their model doesn’t work even for them, so it sure won’t work for us.”

    “How did you come to be studying in Germany?”

    “I won a scholarship with an essay I wrote comparing King Faisal I and Marshal Pétain. Both of them came to power by serving imperialist conquerors. Faisal helped the British take over Iraq, and Pétain helped the Germans rule France. Both were hated by their people as traitors. The current puppet president of Iraq — he’s not worth naming — is playing the same role for the Americans. But I didn’t mention this last part in my essay.”

    “Why not?”

    “Because I wanted to win the scholarship. The Germans don’t mind if you criticize them, but they’re very nervous about offending the Americans. They’re still an occupied country. Plus they’re not about to give a scholarship to someone they think might be a ‘Muslim extremist.’”

    “Are you a Muslim extremist?”

    “No, but that doesn’t matter. The Germans are running on fear now. They try to pretend they’re independent of the Americans, but they’re helping them in all sorts of ways to kill Iraqis and Afghans. And they know that’s going to lead to revenge attacks in their country, so they’re wary now about letting Muslims into Germany. To them, we’re all potential terrorists.”

    “How is Germany helping the USA in the war?”

    “One example came out in the news recently, although it happened before the war started. Back then the Germans had spies in the Iraqi Defense Ministry, and they managed to steal a copy of the plans for defending against the US invasion — where our troops were going to be stationed, where anti-aircraft batteries would be placed, where supplies would be stored. The Germans gave those plans to the Americans, so they knew exactly where to bomb. That caused the death of tens of thousands of our soldiers. Now their families need to avenge them.

    “The Germans are also helping train this new army and police in suppressing the people. And they’re sending military equipment to fight the insurgency. Iraqis are being killed with weapons made in Germany. German politicians call that peace keeping, but it’s actually war making. We don’t forget things like that.”

    “Do you know people in the insurgency?”

    “Of course … some of them very well. In the West all resistance fighters are portrayed as fanatics, but many of them aren’t even religious. They just want to throw the invaders out.

    “Even fanatics like al-Qaeda aren’t really aggressors. They’re fighting a defensive war. Have you read al-Qaeda’s demands?”


    “I’m not surprised. The Western media never publish them because the demands are so reasonable. They basically come down to, ‘Go home and leave us alone. Pull your soldiers, your CIA agents, your missionaries, your corporations out of Muslim territory. If you do that, we’ll stop attacking you.’ Nothing about destroying the West or forcing it to become Islamic. Just that the West should stay in the West.

    “If people knew this — knew how easy it would be to stop terrorism — they wouldn’t want to fight this crazy war. That’s why the media ignore al-Qaeda’s demands. Western leaders don’t want people to see that the war’s real purpose isn’t to stop terrorism but to control this part of the world — my home. They actually want the terrorism because that gives them the excuse they need — the threat of an evil enemy.”

    “But how about Israel? Is that Muslim territory?”

    “It’s been Muslim since the time of the Prophet and continues to be, despite invasions by the Crusaders, the colonialists, and now the Zionists and Americans. We drove out the first two, and we’ll drive out the second two. None of them have the right to take what belongs to the Arab people. The barbarians keep descending on us from the north, and we keep throwing them out. It’s an old story.

    “Just because the ancestors of the Jews might have lived there two thousand years ago doesn’t give them any claim to that land today. It’s absurd for them to say it belongs to them after all this time. We’re not going to let them get away with it.”

    “Would you consider yourself a resistance fighter?”

    “To the extent that one can fight with ideas, yes. I don’t believe in setting bombs, though. But my brother does. He didn’t start out that way, though. He used to be pro-American. He got his PhD in physics there. He likes the people and still has friends there. But he’s come to hate the government.”

    “What happened to him?”

    “Well … it happened to our whole family.”

    “Tell me about it.”

    Merna glanced away, grimaced, and chewed on her cheek for a moment. “One night very late I woke up to a huge crash. The house was shaking. I thought it was an earthquake, then I thought it was a bomb. I heard shouts downstairs. Someone was in our home. All I could think was, ‘They’ll kill us! I don’t want to die in my pajamas.’

    “Then I thought, ‘Better in pajamas than naked.’ I was afraid whoever it was would rape me and then kill me. I wanted to jump out the window, but it was the second floor and I was too afraid. Then I thought, ‘Jumping is my only chance. If I don’t break my leg, maybe I can run away. Where, though? Anywhere, just away.’

    “I put on a robe and shoes and went to the window. Men with guns were standing in our yard, soldiers with little American flags sewn on their sleeves. Their truck was parked in front of our house. I couldn’t run away.

    “Inside the house men were stamping up our stairs, shouting something I didn’t understand. One of them kicked my door open, and another one shined a flashlight on me. The flashlight was on his rifle, which was pointed at me. I screamed and prayed ‘Allahu Akbar.’

    “The door kicker ran at me, grabbed my hand, and dragged me downstairs. I fell onto the stairs, but he just kept dragging. My father, mother and brother were in the living room, all of them in pajamas. My mother was shaking and crying. The door to our house wasn’t there anymore. They’d blown it off. The air was smoky.

    “While two soldiers pointed their rifles at us, the others searched us. They made us raise our arms and spread our legs, then they patted all over our bodies. One of them stuck his hand between my legs and smirked. Another squeezed my mother’s breasts.

    “My brother shouted and lunged at the man, but the Americans grabbed him. I heard a shot — so close it hurt my ears — and thought they’d killed him, but then pieces of the ceiling fell down — one of them had shot into the air. They pushed my brother to the floor and kicked him in the head and stomach and between his legs. He tried to kick back until one of them put the barrel of his gun to his head. My brother stopped, and they punched him in the face, yanked his arms behind his back, snapped handcuffs on him, and kicked him again, calling him a sand nigger. Then they handcuffed my father to keep him from defending us.

    “‘Now they’re going to rape mom and me and make my father and brother watch, then kill us all,’ I thought.

    “My father is a gentle man. He’s a professor of Arabic literature, retired now. Seeing him so helpless and humiliated … it broke my heart. And I’d never seen hatred on his face until that moment.

    “After they searched us, they demanded to see our identity papers. Imagine — they break into our house and demand to see our identity papers, as if we don’t belong here. When we gave them the papers, they compared our names to a list they had. ‘Where is Ahmad al-Marjan?’ one of them shouted at us. ‘I am Ahmed al-Marjan. I don’t know any Ahmad,’ my father answered. ‘You’ve got the same last name, you must know him. Where is he?’ the American demanded. ‘There are thousands of al-Marjans. I do not know them all. You have the wrong house. You have attacked the wrong family. You have ruined our home for nothing,’ my father said.

    “In fact Ahmad was our cousin, and he was in the resistance. We knew where his parents lived, but he’d gone underground, sleeping in different houses, striking at the Americans and their puppet police whenever he could find the opportunity. I was terrified the Americans would torture us into giving information on him. How much did they already know? If they knew he was our cousin, then they would know we were lying to them, and they would torture us more. What would the torture be? Whatever it was, I didn’t think I could take it. But if I told about him, and they arrested him or killed him, how could I live with myself? I’m sure our whole family was having similar thoughts.

    “‘Are any of you in the resistance?’ the American demanded. “No,’ my father answered. ‘Who do you know in the resistance?’ ‘No one that I know of. People do not tell such things.’ ‘Do you have any weapons or explosives or information about the resistance?’ ‘No.’ ‘If you have any, and you tell us now, we’ll let you go. But if you say no and we find it, we’ll take you to prison.’ ‘We have nothing.’

    “They made us lie on the floor, then searched the house — dumping out drawers, knocking books off shelves. They pulled up the rug, I guess to see if we had a trap door, turned over furniture and cut open the cushions on the divan. All the while one of them was pointing his rifle at us.

    “These men stank. Their bodies were dirty, their clothes were dirty. They were disgusting. Muslims are very clean people, and it was an insult just to have these filthy soldiers in our home, let alone that they were destroying it. You could tell they were afraid, but they covered it up by being mean. They threw cigarette butts on our rug and smeared them out with their boots. They spat on the floor.

    “Some of them went into my parents’ bedroom and started tearing it apart. They threw clothes out of the closets and ripped off the boards joined to the wall. Threw their mattress onto the floor. I could hear others tearing up the kitchen and my brother’s and my rooms upstairs.

    “When they didn’t find anything, they tied bags over my father’s and brother’s heads and took them with them. Outside, the neighbor’s dog, a big German shepherd, came running up, barking. The Americans shouted at the dog to shut up, and when it started snarling at them, one of them shot it. But didn’t kill it. The dog was squealing and writhing on the ground as they drove away.

    “My father told me later the soldiers drove for about twenty minutes, then unloaded him and my brother into a group of other men they’d rounded up. He couldn’t tell where they were. The men had to sit on the ground for five hours with the bags on their heads, no water, no food, no toilets. When some of them finally had to go to the toilet in their pants, the Americans called them stinking Arabs. Then they loaded them onto another truck and drove them to a prison, not Abu Ghraib, but somewhere on an American base.

    “My father was put in a big cell with twenty other older men and one broken toilet, only the floor to sleep on. Every couple of days they would interrogate him again, asking who he knew in the insurgency, where weapons were stored. Sometimes they would try to scare him into thinking he’d be tortured if he didn’t give names. They tied his hands and blindfolded him and turned on an electric saw next to his ear. The sound was terrifying, he said, but they didn’t actually cut him. He kept insisting he didn’t know anything and the raid on our house was a mistake because of the mix-up of names.

    “After two weeks they let him go and offered him a job as an interpreter because his English was so good. He wanted to scream at them, ‘Get out of my life, get out of my country,’ but was afraid to. He just said no.

    “The Americans tortured my brother, maybe because he’d fought back at the house. They stripped him naked, tied wires to his toes, and sent electric shocks through him, then asked him for names of people in the resistance. When he didn’t give them, they stepped up the current. He said it was a kind of pain he’d never experienced before. It took over his body like an invading force and sent his legs and arms wild, making him thrash around the floor while the Americans laughed at him. He felt as if his blood was boiling and his skin would explode. Then they threw buckets of ice-cold water on him. That almost gave him a heart attack. When he still wouldn’t talk, they told him would tie the wires to his penis. But they didn’t. They just sent him back to this big crowded cell and brought in the next man.

    “My brother was actually expecting to be tortured more, but there were so many prisoners, and the Americans had to concentrate on the ones they most suspected. Those poor guys really got it — attacked with dogs when they were naked, no sleep, almost drowned, hung from hooks on the wall, beaten, drugged. He saw some of them afterwards — shattered, half crazy, the only things holding them together were hatred of the Americans and love of Allah.

    “After a month they let my brother go. He came back different, much more quiet and distant. A tenderness he’d had before was gone. In its place was a bitter determination and a hard-earned pride that he hadn’t given in, they hadn’t broken him, he hadn’t told about our cousin. He was harsh, and I didn’t feel as close to him. But I loved and respected him.

    “I could tell the humiliation our family had suffered was weighing on him. In our culture such things demand retaliation. That is how their effect is undone. Otherwise they remain a stain on the soul. My brother knew it was his duty to restore the family’s honor as well as his own. My father is old and my mother and I are women. We cannot be expected to make the reprisals ourselves.

    “A few days after he was released, he went searching for our cousin, to join him in the resistance. Ahmad had heard he was in prison, and he said as soon as he saw my brother, he knew that he hadn’t betrayed him. Ahmad had seen many men come back from torture. The ones who didn’t break were proud and wanted to become long-term fighters. The ones who had talked were crushed and wanted to become suicide bombers to redeem themselves. The insurgency needs and honors both men. The ones who talked under torture are accepted back without accusation because everyone knows it could be them next time. Their desire for martyrdom is respected.

    “My brother had no military training. I don’t think he’d ever fired a gun. Ours isn’t that sort of family. But firing a gun is a simple thing, and he got good at it. Baghdad now has so many gutted buildings, and those give good cover for snipers. But it’s very boring work, he said. You have to wait and watch for hours before you get a target — some days you never get one. The best targets are the convoys, but they’re always changing their routes for protection. Because of their fear, they tear through the streets at top speed, forcing other cars off the road, running over pedestrians, never stopping. He talked about how good it feels to spray the trucks with your Kalashnikov and see the invaders falling over. You have to shoot and run, though, because they sometimes have helicopters with them, and they’ll blow up your building with a rocket.

    “When he’s out on the street, he carries a hidden pistol. A couple of times he’s been able to follow an American patrol and shoot into their backs, then disappear into the crowd. The Americans open fire in all directions. He’s sorry about the killed civilians, but this is the only way to drive out the invaders.

    “The other reason he carries the pistol is to keep from being taken prisoner. If he’s ever surrounded, he’ll kill as many soldiers as he can and save the last shot for himself. He’s determined not to be captured and tortured again because he knows next time will be worse, and he’s not sure he can take it.

    “He doesn’t know how many he’s killed and wounded, but it’s enough so that the family’s honor is again intact. But he wants to continue the battle. He’s now fighting the Americans on a larger scale where he can use his education. He’s in Iran working as a physicist. They are developing smaller, cheaper heat-seeking missiles to shoot down US aircraft.

    “He says the main advantage the Americans have is their air force. Their soldiers don’t really believe in what they’re doing and don’t want to take risks in battle. Their main motivation is just to survive and go home, and you can’t win wars that way.

    “But the USA controls the air. Their planes and helicopters can destroy a whole area, and they don’t mind killing everybody in it.

    “Heat-seeking missiles are now bulky and expensive, but he and the other scientists are researching ways to micro-miniaturize the sensors and mass produce them in guidance systems. He says being able to shoot down their planes will totally change the balance of power. They’ll have to fight us face to face, and they’ll lose that way.

    “I haven’t seen my brother in a year and a half. When we said good-bye, he seemed like someone else. His gentleness had been replaced by hatred and the need for vengeance. I love him and feel sorry for what he’s been through and worry he’ll be killed, but I don’t feel very comfortable with him. Violence warps people.

    “He calls his project SAMs for Uncle Sam and thinks it’s a great idea. But I call it the ongoing insanity of the arms race and think it’s a terrible idea. It’ll just force the Americans to develop some new kind of horrible weapon that will kill even more people.

    “We somehow have to get out of this whole way of thinking. We have to realize that war doesn’t solve problems, just creates new ones. It generates more rage that then breaks out again in violence. With all the atomic weapons, we’ll end up turning this lovely planet into a mass graveyard, not just for humans but for everyone except radiation-resistant insects.”

    “Some people say fighting these small wars is a way to prevent a nuclear war. Or attacking another country is necessary to prevent them from attacking us.”

    “Those are murderous lies. Every war is sold to us as a preventive war. That’s a favorite claim of tyrants, and I think some of them really believe it, that we’re being threatened by savages and have to strike against them. It’s a projection of their own personality. Hitler said he was protecting Western civilization from the Russian hordes. Saddam demonized the Iranians to scare us into war with them, just as Bush demonized the Iraqis. I’ve been reading about the Vietnam War. The hawks kept saying, ‘If we don’t fight the communists in Vietnam, we’ll have to fight them in California. They’re trying to destroy us any way they can.’ But it wasn’t true. The opposite was true. The communists were trying to build a different economic system, so the capitalists wanted to destroy them any way they could. Warmongers have always portrayed themselves as the only alternative to the brutal beasts out there. They generate fear to stay in power.

    “One favorite trick of the USA is to secretly support the reactionary side in a civil war with arms and money. If their side starts to lose, they suddenly get upset about this awful war and all the people who are dying. They say they need to intervene for humanitarian reasons, to bring peace and prevent a holocaust. Then they jump in openly and try to crush the other side.”

    “The war that’s going on now, how do you see that ending?”

    “Disaster for the Americans. They started this war, and they deserve to lose it. They think they can win with all their money and weapons, but our people are stronger than that. We will continue to fight and resist for as long as it takes to defeat the invaders and their figurehead government.

    “These so-called Iraqi Security Forces are only there for the money. They don’t believe in the cause. They won’t fight and die for the Americans, they’ll just take their money and run.

    “The more people the Americans kill, they more enemies they create. They can’t kill all the people. The people are stronger. We have them surrounded, and they’re afraid to come out of their bases, just like in Vietnam. We’re going to drive them out of the country, get rid of their Arab pawns, and take back our land — oil and all. We are a patient people, and the Americans are impatient.

    “One reason they are impatient is because deep down they know what they’re doing in Iraq is wrong. They can ignore that for a while, but not forever. It eats away at them. They are human too. They know they would react to an invasion they same way we are. They don’t have the heart for this fight, but we do. This is our home. We will win.

    “But the tragic thing is that it won’t end there, either for Iraq or America. The violence the USA has unleashed will continue in both countries. That’s the way of barbarity. It doesn’t just stop, it keeps going on in different ways. The war may be over, but people on both sides have been infected with the disease of cruelty, and it spreads. It gets passed on, finding new victims who then turn into attackers and contaminate others with it. Violence really is a plague, and since the American inflicted it on us, they must bear the brunt of it — killings, crime, chaos in their society. They must suffer as much as the suffering they have caused. That is the divine justice.”

    “Do you see any cure to this disease?”

    “Sure. Give the UN the power to keep the peace. For instance, the American invasion of Iraq is a clear violation of the UN Charter, but the UN can’t do anything about it. They need enough power to outlaw invasions and other acts of war and to enforce that with economic and political sanctions strong enough to work. They could outlaw the manufacture and possession of military weapons — from assault rifles to nuclear bombs. Governments could take some of the money they spend on the military and put it into an international peace fund that would inspect world-wide for weapons and destroy them. No more military training. Send the soldiers home.

    “I’m not saying there wouldn’t be problems and conflicts, but they would end up killing far fewer people. We would need to expand the World Court and give it jurisdiction to settle disputes between countries and groups of people. Conflicts would be decided by laws, not force. That’s called civilization, and it works pretty well within countries. Now we need to make it work between countries. That’ll be difficult, but we can do it … we have to.”

    “Would you make people give up their personal weapons?”

    “With a license they could have a pistol for protection and a simple rifle for hunting. You can’t kill huge numbers of people with those.”

    “Your idea sounds definitely worth trying.”

    “Think of the lives and money that would save. But the politicians and corporate executives don’t want it. They want to use the military to build their empire and hold on to power. That’s more important to them than peace. Their children don’t die in the wars.

    “Governments and corporations have become enemies of the people. We need to take their power away. We can’t let them keep killing. All of us are their potential victims now. Having gone from being ruled by Saddam Hussein to George W. Bush, I can tell you we need a whole other approach to politics. There’s no real difference between those two men. They’re both murderers.

    “That’s why the USA helped Hussein into power in the first place. They knew he would control Iraq with an iron fist and would never nationalize the oil. They kept him in power with massive military aid. Hussein was just a marionette of the USA who had the audacity to cut his strings and act on his own, so naturally the USA had to string him up.

    “This kind of interference is the main reason America and Britain are so hated in the world. That’s why there’s terrorism. People are sick and tired of being abused, of having their politics manipulated and their economies controlled from the outside. Arabs have had it up to here with this new colonialism that the West is using to control our oil. We refuse to be dominated anymore, and we’re resisting with the only weapons we have — guerrilla warfare.”

    “What about the Arab leaders who are on the US side?”

    “These so-called leaders represent only the comprador elite in their countries. They serve Western interests and are hated by the people. They stay in office only with their Western arms.

    “But it can’t last. The USA and the rich Arabs are doomed. Bush blew the whole show by creating too many enemies. Billions of people now oppose the USA. The USA can’t kill them all. Before Bush, the American goal of a world empire was camouflaged with diplomacy, harder to see. But his stupidity turned out to be a boon to humanity. He made the plans obvious to everyone, so mass resistance coalesced. Obama’s job is to restore the camouflage, but it’s too late.

    “I’m proud to be an Arab because we’re at the forefront of this opposition. We’re standing up to the most powerful military machine the world has ever seen … and defeating it. Forty years ago the Vietnamese did it, and now we’re doing it.

    “Maybe finally the Americans will learn not to try to rule over other countries. That would be a big step towards peace.”

    RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War presents the first-person experiences of war resisters, deserters, and peace activists in the USA, Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Just released by Trine Day, it’s a journey along diverse paths of nonviolence, the true stories of people working for peace in unconventional ways.

    William T. Hathaway is a former Special Forces officer turned peace writer and activist. His other books include A WORLD OF HURT (Rinehart Foundation Award), CD-RING, and SUMMER SNOW. He is an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany. A selection of his work is available at

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    Comrades in Arms – Rape and Abuse in the U.S. Army

    October 4th, 2010

    From the Book
    RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War
    By William T. Hathaway, author of Summer Snow
    Published by Trine Day 2010

    Hi Mr. Hathaway,

    I got your letter (forwarded) asking for information for your book. To answer your first question, Yes, I’m enjoying living in Holland. I’m becoming the little Dutch girl — the little black Dutch girl, but that doesn’t bother people here. They’re very tolerant and internationally minded.

    As for the rest of your questions, at first I didn’t think I could answer them. They reminded me too much of an essay test in school. Plus it’s not exactly pleasant to remember back on all this stuff, you know. I’m trying to leave it behind and start a new life.

    But I kept thinking about it and finally decided I would forget the questions and just write about what happened. Like you said, people should know about this. Don’t give anybody my address, though. The army still wants to put me in prison.

    Compared to a lot of people, I had it easy in Iraq — on a huge base with a Burger King, cold beer, video games, movies, air conditioned trailers, baseball games. About once a month we got mortared or rocketed and had to dive into the bunkers and maybe every other time somebody got killed, but there were thousands of us, so usually you didn’t know them even though you felt bad for them.

    Although it wasn’t very dangerous, we had to work our tails off, shifts of twelve on, twelve off, seven days a week — you felt like a zombie. I was a data entry clerk, sitting in front of a computer typing stuff in. My eyes were fried, and I was on meds for migraines. When you weren’t working, all you wanted to do was forget everything. When you were working, you wanted to forget it even more.

    We had a big mental health clinic, and they sent combat troops there for evaluation and therapy. These guys were a wreck. I know because I had to type up some of the reports. The shrinks would try to get them on the right mix of tranks and anti-depressants, and they’d run therapy groups where the GIs would talk about what they’d been through, and then the docs would send them back, unless they thought they might kill themselves or another American, in which case they’d cycle them through again.

    One of our cooks hung out with these guys, and he’d tell us their stories. Mostly it was about how much they hated the hajis because you could never tell who was a terrorist and who wasn’t. An IED would go off beside the road and kill your buddy, and you didn’t know who set it. Maybe it was one of those people watching. You wanted to kill them all. A haji would fire some shots into your patrol, then disappear into the crowd. They were hiding him. You wanted to kill them all.

    As the spoon was telling the stories, you could tell how mad he was about it. He had a safe job, but he really identified with the combat guys and what they were going through. He said the Arabs were cowards, they were afraid to stand up and fight fair, so they sneak around. They use car bombs and kidnap people for hostages. They’re chicken-shit wimps. They know they’d lose a fair fight, he’d say, and his mouth would twist around.

    I told him, What’s so fair about the way we fight? Flying way up above someone where they can’t shoot back and dropping a bomb on them. Blowing up a whole apartment building to get one sniper, who’s probably already left. I said it seems to me taking a hostage is better than just killing somebody. It gives the other side a chance to save his life.

    He asked me whose side I was on and gave me a look like he wanted to shoot me. I said I was on the side of going home and giving these people their country back.

    He got really pissed then, called me a haji whore, said I was probably blowing them all. He was shaking, he was so mad at me.

    I just left. No point talking to somebody like that.

    Couple of days later I had to go to the latrine in the middle of the night. The latrine was two sections of Porta-Potties between the women’s and men’s shower rooms and next to the mortar bunkers. It was all pretty ugly, but the flies loved it, so we had electric bug zappers mounted around the area — whenever you went out there you had to listen to the crackle and pop of bugs being fried.

    The cook came out of one of the men’s potties, zipping up. I looked the other way, hoping he wouldn’t notice me, but he walked up to me. I figured he was going to call me another name. Or just maybe he might apologize for the ones he’d called me. Instead he looked around to make sure no one else was there, then grabbed me with one hand over my mouth, the other on my throat.

    He shoved me into one of the women’s potties, said he’d kill me if I screamed, and locked the door from the inside. He was squeezing my throat so hard I was afraid he was going to kill me anyway. He pushed me down and made me sit on the toilet. As soon as I did, I peed on myself, I was so scared. He unzipped and said, “You’re going to give me some of what you’ve been giving the hajis.” He pulled my hair real hard, yanked my head down, and stuck his thing in my mouth. Disgusting. I won’t say what he said he’d do to me if I bit it.

    He called me more names while he was squirting, then he twisted my hair, stuck his fist in my eye, and told me to swallow. I swallowed and he laughed. I won’t say what he said he’d do to me if I told anyone.

    After he left, I was shaking and couldn’t get my breath. I’ve never felt worse in my life — helpless, worthless, little, like one of the bugs sizzling in the traps. I needed to throw up. I grabbed a plastic bag from the dispenser on the wall and got most of the puke into that. The bag was small, for used tampons, so a lot of it went over my hands. I knotted the bag and stuffed it into another bag.

    I felt so filthy I wanted to die. The only thing that kept me going was rage. I knew if I killed myself, the guy would get away with this. To get back at him, I had to stay alive.

    Crying all the while, I washed my hands, brushed my teeth for ten minutes, took a shower, washed my hair. Heart pounding, body twitching, I lay in my bunk trying to blank my mind until reveille finally played over the loudspeakers.

    I wasn’t hungry, and I knew if I went into the mess hall, he’d be there, asking me if I wanted my eggs scrambled or sunny-side up. I went to the office, and as soon as first sergeant came in from breakfast, I told him what the guy did and what he threatened to do to me if I told. The first sergeant told me to go see the medics and come back when I was done.

    The medics asked me if I wanted an exam. I said no, I wanted them to examine what was in the bag for DNA evidence that the guy had raped me. They said they didn’t have a forensic lab, but they could store the specimen in the refrigerator until the CID told them what to do with it. They gave me a receipt marked “stomach contents.”

    When I went back to the first sergeant, he said I was being transferred to another base for my protection. I got mad. I said I didn’t want to be transferred, I wanted to file a rape complaint and have the guy transferred to jail. He said that since the guy threatened me, the top priority had to be my safety. I said I’ll be safe when he’s in jail. The first sergeant said they can’t put him in jail until after they investigate, and that’ll take awhile, and in the meantime my protection is more important. The guy won’t know where you are.

    I said let me file the complaint first. He went to the file cabinet, took out a form, and handed it to me: Sexual Harassment Report. I told him this wasn’t harassment, it was rape. He said this was the only form he had for that sort of thing. The CID could change it to rape later.

    I didn’t want to fill out that form. I went to the CID, but they wouldn’t listen to me at all. They said all reports have to come through the chain of command — they don’t accept what they called “wildcat reports.”

    By now it was clear I was getting the bureaucratic run-around. I was afraid if I got transferred out before the report got to the CID, it would never get there. So I went back and raised hell with the first sergeant. That helped. He could tell I wasn’t lying and he knew the cook, so he said he’d make a deal with me. If I went ahead with the transfer today, he’d make sure the company commander forwarded the report to the brigade commander, and then he’d check with CID to make sure they got it.

    I thought about it. I really didn’t want to see that slimy spoon again. The thought of being totally away from him was very appealing. I needed a change. So I filled out the form, said a few good-byes, packed my duffel bag, and rode the convoy to the next base.

    It was only about ten miles away, but this was one of the few times I’d really seen Iraq since I came in country. The place was a wreck — blown up houses, boarded up stores with bullet holes in the walls, twisted metal that used to be cars, men looking at you with hate in their eyes, women looking away. I wondered if any of the women had been raped by GIs or their own men. I would’ve liked to have talked to them, but they’d probably hate me for what I’m a part of.

    The bay of the truck I was riding in had sandbags on the floor to protect from mines. A Blackwater shooter stood behind a machine gun mounted on the cab. I held my rifle pointed out but didn’t think I could shoot anybody. I remembered back to when I’d joined the army for college tuition help. I thought about what had happened to me and what my country was doing to the people here. I just cried.

    My new company was pretty much like my old one, and my job was the same. After two weeks I got a report saying the specimen had been examined and no sperm was found, so the complaint was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

    I wrote a letter to CID asking how many samples had been taken in the specimen and got a reply back saying they didn’t comment on criminal investigations. I went to the Judge Advocate trying to get a lawyer to file an appeal and order a new lab test, but they said there weren’t legal grounds for an appeal.

    It filled me with fury that the guy was going to get away with this … and probably do it again. I went to my new first sergeant and raised hell. This time it didn’t help. He said all the procedures had been followed and I had to accept the result. If I didn’t stop making trouble, he would have the company commander flag my personnel file so I wouldn’t get promoted.

    I fell apart, crying and shaking like after the rape. I didn’t care about getting promoted, I told him, but I did care that I was being raped by the army bureaucracy. He called the company clerk and told her to take me to Mental Health.

    They gave me tranks and put me in a woman’s therapy group. The group was quite an experience. It was run by a psychiatric nurse and had about twenty members, all of them had been abused by men they worked with. My story was actually one of the milder ones. I hadn’t been pounded with fists or tied up and raped by three guys. I hadn’t been burned with cigarettes or scarred on the face with a bayonet. But what happened to me was worse than some of the other cases — the woman who’d been mentally pressured into sex by her sergeant major and the one who’d had her hair cut off by her jealous boyfriend. All in all, we were quite a crew — the walking wounded. And most of the guys had got away with it.

    During single therapy with the nurse I pleaded with her to help me get out of the army. She said she had been able to get some people discharged, but only when their work record was terrible and their attitude was affecting others, in other words, when the army knew it would be better off without them. It would take many very unpleasant months for me to build that kind of record, she said. In the meantime the army would punish me in all sorts of ways for screwing up, and she didn’t think I could take that kind of pressure. But she might be able to get me transferred out of country for mental health reasons. To do that, though, she’d have to write a report that made me seem like a total basket case, and that would mean no promotions or privileges.

    No problem with that, I said, as long as I get out of here. I started crying then, and to my surprise she started crying too.

    She told me that seeing what was going on here had totally turned her against the military. She said that abuse here is worse than stateside because the soldiers are part of a machinery of destruction, and that brings out the worst in people. Especially since we know deep down that this is an immoral war, our own morals tend to get lost too.

    She wanted to just quit, but she had only sixteen months left until early retirement, and she needed to stick it out. In the meantime she was glad to help others get out.

    Two weeks later I was in Germany and incredibly relieved. The atmosphere was very different. There wasn’t this ghoulish backdrop of violence to everything, and I felt safe from both terrorists and rapists.

    But I couldn’t fit in. I just wasn’t a soldier anymore. Everything we were doing seemed totally stupid, and I couldn’t ignore that it was all helping the military do its basic job — killing people. I couldn’t kowtow to these lames anymore, salute and say Sir and Ma’am. I sort of did it, but they could tell I didn’t mean it, that I was dissing them. I started getting into trouble. I got an Article 15 for talking back to a captain and got restricted to barracks for coming back late from a weekend pass. I got demoted to Pfc for insubordination — I had refused to shine my shoes and polish my brass for a brigade inspection, and our platoon got gigged because of it. I still had twenty months to go on my enlistment, and I knew I had to get out now or I’d end up spending the rest of that time in jail. I didn’t want to give the army any more of my life but didn’t have any idea how to escape.

    I remembered hearing about an underground group that helps people get out, but I didn’t know how to get in touch with them. I remembered seeing a peace sign and a PACE banner in a window in Ramstein, so I went there on my next pass.

    It turned out to be a little radical office, two friendly, scruffy people sitting on scruffy furniture with anti-war posters on the wall and lots of books. They were German pacifists, but they told me they couldn’t help me desert because they’d get arrested. They’d already been busted once for helping someone who turned out to be an agent. They said their phones and e-mail were tapped, they weren’t sure if by the Germans or Americans. There was a good chance their office was bugged, so they couldn’t even talk about doing anything illegal. About all they could do was picket and put up posters.

    I told them what it was like in Iraq and what had happened to me and how it was with me now. They looked at me carefully and listened carefully, like the nurse had. When I finished, one of them stood up and motioned me to come outside. Out on the street, she scribbled something on a piece of paper and gave it to me, told me I should call this number, but only from a public phone and not on the base. She squeezed my hand and kissed me on the cheek.

    It turned out to be your phone number, Mr. Hathaway. You know what happened after that, but I’ll say it anyway because you asked me to. Then I’ll bring you up to date on what I’ve been doing since we last saw each other.

    First I met with you and some other people. I had to tell my story again and answer lots of questions. I had to bring copies of my rape report and my disciplinary write-ups. I guess the group was trying to see if I was an agent. At first I thought that was dumb — if I was an agent, I could fake those. But then I thought maybe if they’re faked and the group gets arrested, you could get the case thrown out for entrapment.

    I was very relieved when the group decided I was for real. I could tell you all really cared about me.

    My actual desertion was so simple. You gave me a train ticket to Holland and the way to contact the safe house. You gave me money (that was very nice!) and a big good-bye hug (also nice!).

    I was scared on the train. I felt totally alone and at the same time afraid everyone could tell just by looking at me that I was deserting. I was riding off into a whole new life and had no idea what it would be — happiness, prison, poverty, another rape?

    The people in the safe house were wonderful. They took me right in and made me feel at home. They were risking jail to help me, and the group in Germany had been too, and I’m really grateful to you all for the good new life I have now.

    First I got new clothes, a place to live, then a job — data entry again, but better pay, shorter hours, and a lot nicer people. I still have this background worry that the army will catch me and lock me up, but at this point it’s not very likely. If they knew which town I was living in, they could probably track me down, but the army doesn’t have enough soldiers to really search for all the deserters. They need the ones they’ve still got for Iraq and Afghanistan. As long as I don’t get into trouble here (I’m very careful!), I’m probably safe until my passport expires. That’s in eight years, and by then I can apply for Dutch citizenship. As soon as I’m good at the language (it’s hard!), I can go to college here (it’s almost free!).

    I miss my family a lot, though. My sister got married last month, and it really hurt that I couldn’t go back for the wedding. The MPs would probably be waiting to greet me at the airport. I’m hoping my family will visit me here — I think they’d like it. They might not like some of the changes I’ve gone through here, though.

    I became friends with one of the women who works at the safe house. Then we became more than friends. This happened gradually. I’d never gone in that direction before, and it took some adjusting to.

    Some of this change was because I got to thinking about how armies and war really are a man thing. They let women in because they need the bodies, but we really don’t belong there. It hurts us to be part of such a thing. We try to cover up and forget the hurt, to prove we can take it, we’re good enough for the man’s world.

    But now I see it’s really the opposite — the man’s world isn’t good enough for us. But they have the power. They say how things are going to be, and we have to fit into that.

    Even the way people have to work — rush to a job in the morning, work all day, come home at night exhausted and brain-dead, all just to get enough money to live on. I’m sure that must’ve been invented by a man — the owner of the factory where the rest of us have to work. Working all day long is no way to live, especially if you have a family, children who need to be taken care of. But a woman either has to do that or give up her power to a man who does it. The whole thing fits together — wars, factories, families all run by men.

    And look where it’s got us. We’re killing each other, we’re killing Mother Earth, everybody’s miserable, nobody’s happy, but men are afraid to change. They’re terrified of losing their control. Power is everything to them — if it’s gone, they’re nothing, little boys again.

    The whole thing has made me kind of sick of men (please don’t take that personally — one of the reasons I like your novels so much is that they show you’re trying to change all this too). I really needed to get away from the male world. So I’m trying something different.

    And being with a woman is definitely different, we’re more tuned in to one another. I’ve discovered that men aren’t necessary to be happy in this world. Women are quite special, and I’m glad to be Nynke’s lover.

    I was raised to believe this was unnatural, but now that seems ridiculous. The whole idea that some things people do are natural and other things unnatural doesn’t really make sense — people are part of nature, and other animals sometimes do it that way. To say it’s unnatural is just a way of saying, “I don’t like it,” but hiding behind some big authority like God or Mother Nature.

    Going through this change made me see that other things we believe are also probably nonsense. Most people believe that war is natural — we’ve always had wars, humans are just warriors, that’s the way it has to be. They say the important thing is that we win. We need a strong military or another country will take us over. People are born violent, and we have to defend ourselves against that.

    But this may be just the way things are now. In the future things might not have to be this way. It could be that this argument that human nature is violent is being put out by people who want to keep us from changing.

    Our ancestors believed all sorts of bullshit was natural, made that way by God — kings had the right to rule over us, blacks were inferior to whites, women should obey men. When some people started to change those, conservatives screamed just like today that we can’t change them, don’t even try. But they were wrong.

    I admit that doesn’t mean they’d always be wrong. Some things might be built into humans, and maybe we can’t do anything about them. It’s hard to know for sure what those things are, but here’s a way to find out. Let’s start changing things. Let’s change our ideas of how women and men are supposed to be. Let’s change what it means to work. Let’s outlaw nuclear weapons, then all military weapons. Let’s make war illegal. How do we know it won’t work until we’ve tried it?

    Then after a long time of trying, at least a hundred years, what we haven’t been able to change, that might be hardwired into us. We might have to just accept that. But we won’t know until we’ve really tried to change. No harm in trying. I think we’ll be surprised how much we can change.




    RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War presents the first-person experiences of war resisters, deserters, and peace activists in the USA, Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Just released by Trine Day, it’s a journey along diverse paths of nonviolence, the true stories of people working for peace in unconventional ways.

    William T. Hathaway is a former Special Forces officer turned peace writer and activist. His other books include A WORLD OF HURT (Rinehart Foundation Award), CD-RING, and SUMMER SNOW. He is an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany. A selection of his work is available at


    The Real War Heroes

    August 12th, 2010

    From the Book RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War
    By William T. Hathaway
    Published by Trine Day 2010

    “That must be them.” Petra took one hand off the steering wheel and pointed to a group of soldiers about two hundred meters away, standing along our road next to a high chainlink fence topped with barbed wire.

    War, what is it good for…

    Traffic was light, but Petra said, “I don’t want any other cars around.” She pulled off the road and stopped. “Get everything ready.”

    I crawled into the back of the car and opened the rear hatch to give access to the interior and to raise the license plate out of sight. We wore caps and sunglasses to be less recognizable.

    When the road was empty, she started driving again. We approached the soldiers, who were walking in the grass, stopping often to pick things off the ground and put them in sacks they were dragging.

    “There’s Rick.” Petra slowed and drove along the shoulder. A man turned his head at the sound of our car crunching gravel, dropped his bag, and ran towards us with a slight limp. While the guards shouted for him to stop, I thrust my arm out, grabbed Rick’s hand, and pulled. He lunged forward and dived into the open hatch, banging his leg on the edge. A guard was swearing and groping at the holster on his belt. Rick scrambled in, knocking off his glasses, and Petra floored the gas. Our spinning tires hurled gravel behind us then squealed over the pavement. The car slid halfway across the road before Petra brought it under control, and we sped away.

    One guard was waving his pistol at us but not aiming it, and the other was punching buttons on a cell phone. Some of the detention soldiers were clapping and shouting in envious congratulations, others just stood staring.

    I closed the hatch as Petra rounded a corner and headed for the autobahn. Rick lay on the floor trembling and gasping, holding his leg in pain. I gripped him on the shoulder to steady him. “Way to go! You’re on your way out of the army.”

    His tension exploded into laughter, then tears. “Thanks, thanks,” he spluttered.

    “It’s not over yet,” Petra said.

    Rick breathed deeply, scrinched his eyes to block the tears, and clenched his fists. “Not going back.”

    I tried to calm my own tremors.

    Petra drove away from the base through a section of fast-food franchises and striptease bars that bordered it. Rick put his glasses back on; bent at the bow, they sat crookedly on his nose. We put up the rear seat so we could sit without attracting attention, then waited at the stoplight by the autobahn entrance for thirty seconds that seemed like ten minutes, surrounded by other cars full of American soldiers and German civilians, none of whom noticed us. Finally Petra roared up the onramp. German autobahns have no speed limits, and soon the Volkswagen was going flat out at 160 kilometers per hour.

    From a small suitcase I pulled out civilian clothes for Rick, and he started stripping off his uniform. “Last time I’ll ever wear this thing.”

    As he took off his shirt, I got a whiff of the sour stench of fear, which I knew well from my own time in the military. He stuffed the fatigues into a trash bag, then put on corduroy pants and a cotton sweater. Now he looked like a young German, but with the buzz cut hair, almost like a neo-Nazi. I set my cap on his head.

    At the first rest stop we pulled in and parked beside a van. I gave him the suitcase and a wallet with a thousand euros in it. We shook hands, then hugged. I clapped him on the back. He got out of the car and kissed Petra on the cheek, crying again as he thanked us. With a combination of a glare and a grin, he pushed the bag with his uniform into a garbage can. I got into the front seat of the VW; Rick got into the back of the van, giving us a V sign. The van pulled away, headed for Sweden, where Rick would apply for asylum.

    Petra re-entered the autobahn, much slower now because she too was crying, quietly, on a resolute face. “He’s out of the war,” she said in her throaty German accent. “No one’s going to kill him, and he’s not going to kill anybody.” She took the next exit, then wended back over country roads towards her home. “Now I’m exhausted.”

    “Me too, all of a sudden,” I said. “This one was hairy. We broke more laws than usual.”

    “Good. Such laws need to be broken. I’ll make us some coffee.”

    Petra had been the first of our group to meet with Rick. She worked in Caritas, the German Catholic social agency, and a priest had brought him to her office. Rick was absent without leave, AWOL, from the army, determined not to go back, but didn’t know what to do. He’d heard from another soldier that the Catholic Church sometimes helped, so he went there.

    The priest was in too public a position to personally do much, but he introduced him to Petra because she was active in Pax Christi, the Catholic peace movement. The priest and the social worker had a tacit “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreement about her counseling work with soldiers. She didn’t volunteer information, and he didn’t pry.

    Petra had various approaches to freeing soldiers. She could help them apply for conscientious objector status, but these days CO applications were usually turned down by the military. She had a degree in clinical psychology and was skilled at teaching GIs how to get psychological discharges, to act the right amount of crazy and handle the trick questions the military shrinks would throw at them. But now those too were usually denied. The military needed bodies — didn’t care if they were crazy.

    If neither of these methods worked, and if the soldiers were desperate to get out, she would help them desert, a drastic step because it risked years in prison for them and major hassles for her.

    Petra has never been arrested, but based on experiences of others in our group, she could expect to be charged with accessory to military desertion and with aiding and abetting a fugitive. The court process would be a severe drain on the energy and finances of both her and our group, but it was unlikely that she’d actually go to prison. With public opinion already so opposed to this war, the German government wouldn’t want to risk the protests. But she’d probably get a year on probation, lose her job, and have trouble finding another one.

    Why did she take the risk? Petra’s grandfather had been an SS trooper, the kind of Christian who unquestioningly supports authority. His children reacted by becoming atheists. Petra became the kind of Christian who opposed authority, including the church hierarchy. She felt stopping war was more important than her personal security.

    When she met Rick, she was impressed by his sincerity and also his desperation. He told her he’d got married after high school to a co-worker at a restaurant, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who was a few years older. They wanted to have children but couldn’t raise them on minimum wage. He wanted to become an electrical engineer but couldn’t afford college. The army’s offer of tuition aid and electronics training was better than life at Pizza Hut, so he enlisted in 2001.

    The plan was that she’d work in the towns where he was stationed. After his four-year hitch, he’d go to college while she continued to work, and after college when he had a good job, they’d have kids. Eight years seemed like a long time to get started in life, but by then he’d have a real career.

    After 9-11, the army needed infantry troops more than electronic specialists, so they took away his needle-nosed pliers, gave him an M-16, and flew him to Afghanistan. First they made him excavate corpses from the collapsed caves of Tora Bora, full of the reek of rotting meat, hoping to find bin Laden’s. Then they sent him on night ambush missions along the Pakistan border: staring out from a machine gun bunker with goggles that made everything glow green and yellow, shooting anything that moved after dark, shipping the bodies out in the morning on the supply helicopter, still hoping to find bin Laden. Finally he was assigned to round up men from the villages around Kandahar and send them to interrogation camps. But there weren’t many men in the villages. They were either dead or in the mountains, and the army didn’t have enough troops to comb the mountains.

    After eight months his wife divorced him.

    In one of the villages an old woman walked by them with her goat. The goat wore a pack basket. The woman reached down, patted the goat, and blew them all up.

    Rick woke up lying in a helicopter surrounded by dead and wounded friends. He felt he’d become one of his ambush victims being shipped out. The army would be disappointed to find out he wasn’t bin Laden.

    It turned out later the woman was the mother of two sons who had been killed by the Americans.

    With shrapnel wounds, a fractured leg, and a twisted spine, Rick was evacuated to the US hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where after five months of treatment he was pronounced fit for active duty and given orders for Iraq. By then he’d heard about Iraq from other patients. He panicked, went AWOL, then met Petra.

    She helped him clarify his options. He could apply for conscientious objector status or a psychological discharge, but with orders into a combat zone, his chances of success were nil. But if he deserted, there was a good chance that Sweden would accept his application for asylum.

    Rick told Petra later that what finally settled his decision to desert was learning that in Sweden the state helps pay college expenses. You don’t have to join the military and kill people just to get an education.

    But before our group could make arrangements, Rick got arrested for AWOL and assigned to the detention barracks. If they’d known he was planning to desert, they would’ve locked him in the stockade, but simple AWOL has become too widespread for that. He was busted down two ranks and assigned to sixty days hard labor, at the end of which he’d be sent to Iraq still under detention.

    After visiting him in the detention barracks, Petra told us he seemed like a man on death row. His psychological condition was deteriorating so rapidly that she was afraid he would kill himself rather than go back to war. He begged her to try to get him out.

    The current work detail for the detention soldiers was twelve hours a day of picking up trash along the fence at the boundary of the base. They’d finished inside the base and had just started working on the outside, a group of ten detainees with two guards.

    Petra and I wouldn’t have risked the snatch inside the base, but we were pretty sure the guards wouldn’t fire their pistols outside the base for fear of “collateral damage.” Shooting the local population is bad for public relations.

    I alerted our sanctuary network in Germany and Sweden and arranged the logistics to get Rick into a new life.

    Since I’m a US citizen, if I got arrested for helping soldiers desert, I’d be sent back to the homeland for trial and probably to prison. It’s worth the risk to me, though.

    I do this work because my past is similar to Petra’s grandfather’s. I was in the Special Forces in Panama and Vietnam. I’d joined the Green Berets to write a book about war. During our search and destroy operations, I kept telling myself, “I’m just here gathering material for a novel.” But our deeds have consequences that affect us and others regardless of why we do them. I’m still dealing with the repercussions from my involvement, and my work in the military resistance movement is a way of atoning for it.

    I’ve met many veterans who never saw combat but still feel a burden of guilt. Just being part of an invading force and abusing another country pollutes the soul. Under the hyperbole, there’s some truth in Kurt Tucholsky’s statement, “All soldiers are murderers.” The military exists to kill people, and everyone in it contributes to that. Even as civilians, we finance it.

    Having got medals for combat, I know that the real heroes are the people like Rick who refuse to go, who stand up to the military and say no. If they’re caught, the government punishes them viciously because they’re such a threat to its power. Deserters and refusers are choosing peace at great danger to themselves. I wish I’d been that morally aware and that brave.

    When this book is published, I’ll have to stop actively participating in desertions and will have to break off direct contact with our group. Once I go public, my e-mails and phone calls will probably be routed through Langley, Virginia, and that would endanger our whole operation.

    Ironically enough, when I left the Special Forces, the CIA offered me a job. If I had accepted it, I could now be that G-13 civil servant who is perusing the messages of dissidents, trying to find ways to neutralize us. The road not taken.

    Now living in Germany, I can see how important it is to resist such things in their early stages. In the 1930s many Germans were afraid to oppose their government as it became increasingly vicious, hoping it wouldn’t get too bad, hoping they’d be spared, hoping it would end soon, but then bitterly regretted their passivity after it was too late.

    Better to go down resisting. Better yet to change it while we still can. It’s clear now that Obama isn’t really going to change things, so we have to do it ourselves.


    RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War presents the first-person experiences of war resisters, deserters, and peace activists in the USA, Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Just released by Trine Day, it’s a journey along diverse paths of nonviolence, the true stories of people working for peace in unconventional ways.

    William T. Hathaway is a former Special Forces officer turned peace writer and activist. His other books include A WORLD OF HURT (Rinehart Foundation Award), CD-RING, and SUMMER SNOW. He is an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany. A selection of his work is available at

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    The Tenor Of Our Times

    July 29th, 2010

    The tenor of our times

    What the hell happened? How did we get to this? Who would’ve thought that this country we’ve been working so hard for so many years to change would still be invading other nations, building new nuclear bombs, forcing its financial will around the world, and jailing dissenters at home? Now the walls of Fortress America extend globally as prison, sweatshop, and fire base.

    Rather than falling into despair or self-destructive rage, it might help if we review the history of the age in which we live. Despite tendencies toward revolution and reform, what has shaped our times most strongly is revanchism. Rolling back change and reinstating the old order has been the dominant current.

    This began immediately after the Russian Revolution, when the United States, Britain, France, and Japan sent in soldiers to try to reverse it. Although they failed, this marked the beginning of seventy years of military and economic warfare. The capitalist powers were so threatened by communism that they pulled out all the stops to overthrow it, unleashing an offensive of sabotage, espionage, and armed conflict that killed millions in Korea and Vietnam, brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation, and eventually brought the Soviet government to its knees. If communism hadn’t been under this relentless attack, it might have developed into a much different system.

    The anti-communist campaign helped fuel the second revanchist movement, fascism. In a Germany impoverished by territorial losses and the injustices of the Versailles Treaty, the Nazis portrayed communists and Jews as actively destroying what was left of the country. They used them as scapegoats to mobilize the Germans into a war of reconquest, to restore the Reich.

    The cataclysmic results of this for the Jewish people — one out of every three of them in the world murdered — increased Zionist demands for an independent nation. They became determined to retake the territory from which the Romans had expelled their ancestors two thousand years ago. Their historic chronicles and centuries of vowing, “Next year in Jerusalem,” convinced the Zionists the land actually belonged to them and they had the God-given right to take it back.

    Their attempts to do so enraged the current residents, whose ancestors weren’t involved in the expulsion. For centuries Arabs had lived peacefully with Jewish minorities in their midst, but the proclamation of a Jewish state, seizures of land, and the influx of millions of Europeans was to them an invasion. The Arabs saw the creation of Israel as an effort to maintain European-US power in their region after the retreat of colonialism.

    Their bitterness over this gave rise to the fourth revanchist movement, Islamic fundamentalism intent on revenging defeats, driving out the infidels, and reestablishing the grandeur of their ancient empire.

    The fifth revanchist movement is the right-wing assault on the cultural changes of the 1960s and ’70s. Deeply threatened by the creative chaos that erupted then, conservatives have launched a crusade to stamp it out and restore their version of virtue. From sexuality to religion to politics, liberating trends are being beaten back into conventionality.

    It’s become clear that we live in a reactionary era. The conservatives have far more power than the progressives and are determined to use it with as much brutality as necessary to maintain control.

    As radicals we’re defying the zeitgeist. We’re opposing not just the Republicans and the Baptists but the tenor of our times. The tide is against us.

    But tides change and zeitgeists change. Taking a farther look back in history, we should remember that none of the radicals of the mid 19th century lived to see their ideas put into practice. The reactionaries of their day squashed their efforts, and most of them died thinking they’d failed. But their work caused some cracks in the power structure, and they’re recognized now as revolutionaries. Their writings and actions helped form our efforts, as ours will for the next wave.

    So we must persist. Patiently. Perseveringly. After all, Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day.

    The unpleasant truth is that Fortress America has to fall. It’s too destructive of people and the planet and too resistant of reform. It’s willing to change only in ways that shore it up, so before anything truly different can be built, we have to bring it down.

    Its rulers portray our alternatives as either them, Arab terrorists, or Chinese commissars, but that’s just a scare tactic. Our choices are far greater, and we can forge a future better than this.

    To defend itself, this system wields a revanchist club in its right hand while waving the promise of democracy in its left. Its liberals play on our hopes of seeing a decent society in our lifetime. They claim to be open to substantive change, a mirage always glimmering four years away but never arriving. Their illusion of reform camouflages the fact that working people around the world are under attack and the conditions of their lives will continue to worsen until we all dismantle this colossus.

    Given its power and resilience, that’s going to take a long time, a work of generations. We won’t live to see the new era, but historically that’s not important. What matters is widening the cracks, opening up possibilities for change that others can expand. This is our moment, with its own ragged glory. Overthrowing the corporate dominance of our world and its peoples is a task nothing short of heroic. All else is collaboration.

    Now onward! Plenty of cracks are already showing on the structural weak spots, and light is gleaming through them from the other side of these dungeon walls. Bring more wedges and hammers, bring levers and pickaxes. We’ll break out.

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