“There’s a term, ‘Once a marine, always a marine,’” Jon Michael Turner of Burlington, Vermont, told a crowd at the Winter Soldier II hearings in Maryland last weekend. “But there’s also the term, ‘Eat the apple, F the corps. I don’t work for you no more,’” he continued, ripping a handful of colorful medals from his shirt. The crowd cheered.
Turner was one of 55 veterans of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan who testified at the National Labor College from March 13-16. More than 300 veterans were present at the event, which was sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) as an echo of the 1971 Vietnam-related Winter Soldier testimonies. The organization’s threefold goal is to end the occupation of Iraq, ensure proper benefits for returning American soldiers, and offer reparations to Iraqis.
While the event attracted more attendees than Winter Soldier I (where a little more than 100 veterans and civilians were present), the impact beyond the expected liberal-dove realm seems unfortunately inadequate.
Veterans spoke of unnecessary Iraqi civilian deaths, perpetrated by Americans, as well as wanton property destruction (of mosques, and residential buildings). A handful of female veterans offered their accounts of institutional treatment of women (both service members and civilians). Former combat medic Wendy Barranco called tacit military sexism “the big pink elephant in the room.”
Some of this testimony is available to view on YouTube.com; all of it should be watchable from the IVAW’s Web site (ivaq.org/wintersoldier), but both the video testimony and the blog at that site are experiencing technical difficulties.
Last time around, some Winter Soldier testimony was ultimately debunked — which significantly diluted the pacifist message. To avoid such a fate this time, IVAW member Jose Vasquez led a verification team that collected corroborating evidence, including eyewitness accounts and video verification (in some cases, the group is also filing Freedom of Information Act requests for backup). Vasquez claims that IVAW will eventually make some of that primary-source documentation available on its Web site.
Although the event didn’t garner much mainstream media coverage (nor did any of the major presidential candidates offer comment), it did incite predictable counter-protests by members of Eagles Up, an organization comprised primarily of Vietnam War vets that demonstrates at anti-war events.
“We are very concerned about the IVAW’s motives,” one Eagles protester told the Real News network (therealnews.com). “We know what happened in 1971 when John Kerry conducted the first winter soldier investigation, and all of those who testified were false, were proven false ... Congress smeared an entire generation of warriors by surrendering Vietnam.”
It remains to be seen what effect, if any, this second incarnation of Winter Soldier will have on national war politics and policy. On Slate.com last week, University of Minnesota professor Ronald Krebs posited that “[i]n general, veterans are a vanishing force in American politics.” The limited splash of the weekend’s events seems to back up that claim; was anyone listening who hasn’t already heard?