Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

An Iraqi Veteran Against the War

I had a conversation with an ex-soldier who served in Iraq at my local coffee shop last week. I saw a sticker on his laptop, which said “Iraq Veterans Against The War” and struck up a conversation.

The first thing that hit me was his suspicion about why I was asking. It took a while to establish that I am a caffeine-addicted blogger and not an undercover MP or a reporter, despite wearing a necktie (I did score points for it being a Jerry Garcia tie). A number of times throughout the conversation I needed to confirm that I would not reveal his name or anything that might identify who he is. At first I felt he was being a trifle paranoid, but by the end, I found I have checked this article a number of times to see if I possibly left a trail.

I do not know this person, his views, experiences or anything else about him. He told me that, like so many of his peers, he saw the army as a porthole to learning a profession or getting a degree, an alternative more attractive than flipping burgers. But there was more that attracted him – a sense of belonging and pride and the opportunity to make a close group of friends. ‘I felt it would make me a better person as well – more confident, more perspective, more worldly.’

I asked him why he had the sticker and he shared two points. The first is that he felt America is dabbling in a region and culture that we have no connection to or understanding of. The people there generally don’t want us there and feel that our presence is just an obstruction to their country standing up on its own feet. I asked him if all Iraqis that he met felt this way and he replied no. There are many who see the US army as the only things standing against religious extremism.

But it is the second reason that he mentioned that has stayed with me: the feeling that the reason the US was so involved in Iraq had to do with oil. He mentioned other countries that are suffering from violence and oppressive regimes to whom we are giving little more than lip service. Guarding the interests of those who make fortunes from an energy source that is destroying the world is no reason to employ the US army, he told me.

War Vets focus their protest on the petrochemical industry's connection to the war.

While these are his thoughts and beliefs written in my words, he spoke calmly and intelligently. I felt considerable respect for this young man.

Where are the boundaries of war? Having read Khaled Hosseini’s ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns,’ I feel justified ‘freeing’ the Afghan people from Taliban oppression. I want a world where people have the freedom to choose their government, their religion, and to express their political beliefs without fear. I believe in freedom and desire to eradicate its antonym: oppression. I believe our perfect world cannot evolve without the use of force when oppressive powers refuse to listen to the needs of their people. But this is a far cry from justifying military actions to protect energy sources.

One more thing that this young war vet wanted me to make clear: He is a patriotic and proud American and would have no hesitation donning his uniform again to defend our freedom.

I believe him. He is just another Accidental Activist.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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6 thoughts on “An Iraqi Veteran Against the War

  1. Pingback: This ain't Hell, but you can see it from here » Blog Archive » Spotting phonies is easy if you try

  2. John on said:

    Taliban in Iraq huh? That’s pretty interesting. Another thing I find interesting is his in depth knowledge of the local Iraqis. Just how many Council meetings did this soldier sit in? How many Tribal Leaders did he meet with? How many meeting with other officials and citizens alike did he meet with and discuss the current situation in Iraq? I ask because last time I checked Commanders are the ones that are meeting with leaders and citizens discussing these things, not some joe. What else I find interesting is the reasoning that we went into Iraq. Oil huh? Yep, those Iraqis sure are some huge exporters of petroleum, let me tell you. And we control it! So much so that I am paying $3.50 a gallon for the stuff.

  3. John – believe or not. I cannot prove this soldier’s motivation behind what he said or the government’s motivation behind the war, only the Jerry Garcia tie.

    What I do wonder is why we go into certain countries and not others. Will President Assad’s brutal regime survive in Syria because there is no oil there? How about Dafur and too many other places, especially in Africa?

    Furthermore, I suspect that controlling the oil supply has no connection to what the consumer pays. Between the oil fields and your car are a lot of people making huge amounts of money.

    One correction – the soldier didn’t mention the Taliban. That was my mistake as you will see later in the post that I refer to them.

    Thank you for your comments. I respect your opinion.
    Alon – the short-haired hippie!

  4. RandyB on said:

    Iraq wasn’t for oil: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1948787,00.html

    But more than important that, back in 2002, while we were preparing for the war, Saddam Hussein was fully prepared to give more contracts to U.S. oil companies if only we’d not invade. From the perspective of money and oil, peace was always better. We went to war for other reasons.

    As for Syria, let’s not forget that prominent leftists like Hugo Chavez, George Galloway, and many others, were all close to the Syrian and Iranian regimes. If they cared about peace and human rights, they should have made a few phone calls to their friends and allies.

    • Thank you, Randy. Alliances made between political opposites seem to happen quite often and I have to admit that it mystifies me. I remember a political science teacher saying that we shouldn’t view the political spectrum from far left to far right, but a circle with the moderates at one point and the extreme left and right meeting at the opposite point. I’m not sure if I am making myself clear here, but he claimed that extremists have more in common with each other than with moderates and that moderate on the left and right share more in common than they do with their extreme wings.
      Is it just political expediency?
      Thanks for your comments,

  5. RandyB on said:

    Yes, I do think it’s political expediency on the part of the Chavez and radical Islamist crowds. The isolationist right (Buchanan, etc.) hasn’t been doing anything remotely like that, but some elements of the far right have. David Duke made several trips to the Middle East. (No clue whether they’ve ever met CodePink over there.)

    The far left peace movement did the same thing during the Hitler-Stalin pact in the early days of WWII. Just about everything they’ve said about Bush had also been said about FDR, although they didn’t blame it on oil. They did say FDR wanted to get into that war to benefit his friends on Wall Street. It was so bad that Churchill had to close down London’s version of the Daily Worker. But, as I’m sure you know, everything changed when Stalin was forced to change sides.

    Reason touched on this here:

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