Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

David Swanson

David Swanson is a longtime peace and justice activist and author of 'War Is a Lie'

August 9th, 2012 11:43 PM

Soldiers Who Refuse to Kill

One of the most inspiring events thus far at the Veterans For Peace National Convention underway in Miami was a presentation on Thursday by several veterans who have refused to participate in war. Typically, they have done this at the risk of significant time in prison, or worse. In most cases these resisters avoided doing any time. Even when they did go behind bars, they did so with a feeling of liberation.

Gerry Condon refused to deploy to Vietnam, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, escaped from Fort Bragg, left the country, and came back campaigning for amnesty. President Jimmy Carter pardoned resisters as his first act in office. Condon never "served" a day, in either the military "service" or prison.

Jeff Paterson of Courage to Resist refused to fly to Iraq, choosing instead to sit down on the tarmac. Ben Griffin from VFP's new chapter in the U.K. refused to participate in our nations' wars and has been issued a gag order. He's not permitted to speak, and yet he speaks so well. Mike Prysner of March Forward and Camilo Mejia of VFP here in Miami described their acts of resistance.

Mejia did us all the enormous favor some years back of putting his story down in a book -- an extreme rarity, sadly, for peace activists with great stories to tell. Mejia's book "Road From Ar Ramadi" is a terrific introduction for anyone wondering why someone would sign up for the military and then refuse to kill people. Mejia, who now works on domestic civil rights issues in Miami while remaining part of the antiwar movement (another rarity), is a co-convenor of the VFP convention.

In October 2003, Mejia was the first U.S. soldier to publicly refuse to fight in Iraq. At that time only 22 members of the U.S. military had gone AWOL from that war, a number that would quickly climb into the thousands as the war worsened and as belief in the various rationales offered for the war evaporated. Soldiers also began to refuse particular missions that would be likely to kill civilians or to put themselves at risk for no purpose other than the advancement of a commander's career -- a commander safely giving orders from a base. Veterans of the Iraq War would soon work with Veterans For Peace to form a new organization, Iraq Veterans Against the War. But at the time of Mejia's refusal to fight he stood virtually alone.

Mejia joined the military largely for the very same reason most Americans do: the lack of other options. He had worked his way through high school and community college. But the government cut off his financial aid, and he couldn't afford the college bills. The Army offered him college tuition and financial security. That was enough. This son of Sandinista revolutionaries headed off to Fort Benning, the home of the School of the Americas, where he would train to kill for U.S. empire.

Mejia learned to dislike the military. His commitment was due to end in May 2003. But in January 2003, the Florida National Guard shipped off to begin the invasion of Iraq that President Bush was publicly pretending to try to avoid and privately concocting harebrained schemes to get started. Mejia's contract was extended to 2031 (not a typo), and he was sent to Jordan. He was neither for nor against the military or the war in any simple sense. He was aware of the massive peace demonstrations around the world. He disliked many things about the military and about this particular war, which he believed was a war for oil. But he was loyal and obedient, not yet convinced of the extreme immorality of the operation in which he was playing a part.

Mejia's first experience in Iraq involved the abuse of prisoners. He disliked these practices but did not resist. Mentally he tried to brush them aside as the work of "a few bad apples." Or he tried to justify doing what he was doing out of loyalty to the soldiers around him.

Mejia gradually became aware of Iraqis' desire that the occupation end, but he believed it would end very quickly. During an Iraqi protest, a young Iraqi man was about to toss a grenade, and Mejia aimed and fired -- as did others around him. The young man died instantly, but the trouble the incident aroused in Mejia's soul did not.

Mejia was troubled by his fellow soldiers' racist hatred of all Iraqis. Innocent Iraqis were imprisoned and interrogated, when they weren't shot. Their dead bodies were mistreated by joking soldiers snapping photos with their prize pieces of flesh. "It occurred to me," Mejia writes of some Iraqis who observed such actions, "how upsetting it must have been for them to see their relative in the dirt, half naked and covered in blood, being laughed at and humiliated even in death."

The beginnings of resistance among the troops arose out of their growing awareness that their commanders were using them in a competition for the most fire fights, the most kills, and the most prisoners. The needs of this competition outweighed justice or even strategy. Returning to base with innocent prisoners was far preferable to returning empty-handed. There was no grander goal driving any operations, as far as the soldiers could see. They went on patrols the entire purpose of which was to guard themselves as they patrolled.

As Iraqi resistance grew, so did U.S. fear, to the point where troops would fire even on unarmed children if the soldiers couldn't be certain that the children posed no danger. Mejia understood both points of view, and came to realize that in war the choices are bad or horrendous. The only good choice, he began to see, is to not cooperate with war at all.

At one point Mejia tried to explain to some Iraqis something he barely believed any longer himself, that the war was aimed at bringing "freedom" to the people of Iraq. One of the Iraqis who knew something about Mejia's situation pointed out that Mejia wished to leave the military and could not. "So how," this Iraqi asked, "can you bring freedom to us, when you don't have freedom for yourselves?" When Mejia took part in raids of Iraqi houses, he viewed the terror the Iraqis showed of U.S. capture and "detention" as misguided. Surely prisoners would all be fairly tried and released if innocent, he told himself. "As it turned out," Mejia admits, "the families . . . knew my own army much better than I did."

Yet the troops that left the bases knew more than the commanders who didn't. The latter, falsely believing that resistance was coming from outside the local area, ordered all the wrong roads blockaded to no purpose. The soldiers who knew such decisions were wrong dared not say anything for fear of what challenging a "superior" can do to your career.

Mejia was able to return to the United States for two weeks' leave. He went AWOL with assistance from peace groups, and turned himself in to face possible imprisonment. He'd "served" more than the eight years he'd agreed to. And he believed the war was killing human beings for no useful purpose whatsoever.

A mockery of a charade of a pretense of a trial convicted Mejia and sentenced him to 1 year in jail. "That day," as he went to jail, Mejia recalls, "I was free, in a way I had never been before."

Creative Commons License This content is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

If you have a moment today, I hope you can read the obituary for my father Francis (Frank) Moore, who died this past Saturday at the age of 92: Francis...

Apr 22nd
6:33 PM
Read More

My father, Francis (Frank) Moore, passed away this morning a few months shy if his 93rd birthday. He was a great dad I am blessed to have had him in my life. I...

Apr 20th
2:58 AM
Read More

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law Donna Smith Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? Donna Smith We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa Nick Turse Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch Donna Smith The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles