Two days after President Bush announced his plan to send 21,000 additional troops to Iraq, 150 Portlanders packed into the Multnomah Friends Meeting House on Southeast Stark Street to listen to Iraq vet Darrell Anderson talk about acts of resistance.
Specialist Anderson, 25, recently returned from an 18-month stint in Canada after going AWOL from his unit in the 1st Armored Division in January 2005. Dressed in a camouflage vest with an upside-down American flag sewn over the pocket, he told the rapt crowd how he served one tour in Iraq, where he was wounded by a roadside bomb, earning a Purple Heart. He also related tales of war crimes committed by soldiers he says were coerced by military procedure.
Anderson, who returned to the U.S. in October 2006, faced a less than honorable discharge at Ft. Knox, but got off without a court martial or prison time. He says he's no longer welcome in his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky, and has been traveling to rallies and protests aboard a bus with Iraq Veterans Against the War, stopping in places such as Ft. Benning, Georgia and Ft. Lewis, Washington, where Lt. Ehren Watada is facing court martial for his refusal to go to Iraq.
Unlike Watada, Anderson has been to Iraq and been wounded, which boosts his credibility with some. But like Watada and Suzanne Swift (who also went AWOL after fighting in Iraq), Anderson is left without benefits like VA healthcare and the GI bill. In other words, he has nothing to lose, and this makes him an avid leader in what he calls “the resistance.”
The response to Anderson's blunt but charismatic presentation Friday night was overwhelming. The question and answer session felt more like an organizational meeting and several people swarmed the bearded young veteran afterward to tell him how much they appreciate him speaking out, to slip donation money into his palm and, in the case of one Atkinson Elementary student, to ask for his autograph. Hot Action could barely get a word in edgewise, but Anderson did find time to answer a few questions for us.
WW: Do you think that Bush's troop surge is going to cause more people to resist the way you did?
Oh yeah. Soldiers are mad. All the troop surge is going to do is [create] more bodies. More people are going to die. So, they're upset. Even if they're pro-war, they're upset.
WW: A lot of people say that there won't be a real anti-war movement until there's a draft. What do you think about that?
I think it's going to take that because people don't care until it hurts them, it hits them, and that's what the draft does—makes it resonate in everybody.
WW: Did you commit what you would consider war crimes, when you were in Iraq?
Yeah, I would say they were war crimes, but I was ordered. I didn't act on my own when we committed war crimes. It was military procedure and orders to commit these war crimes.
WW: Is that an excuse?
Um, no. Because if you resist an order in Iraq, they can literally shoot you in the head for resisting orders.
WW: Did you fear for your life?
Oh yeah. I wouldn't never question [orders]. I wouldn't fire in combat, and the one time they told me to, I didn't. They got really mad, but yeah, I was afraid that they were going to recognize that I'm not shooting when we get in fire fights. I'm not doing it. I was worried about that, but I was such a good guy that no one ever thought twice about me.
WW: What about when you first got there and, as you say, you heard other soldiers using racial slurs while talking about Iraqis and bragging about beating prisoners. Did you judge them?
Yeah. I was upset. I was mad. I didn't understand what was going on, but after a while I understood that this isn't who they are. It's not their fault. You succumb to war and you react to war. You put a gun to anybody's head, they're going to do what ever it takes to stay alive and that's what you face in Iraq. You could die at any second of any day and you'll do whatever it takes to make it home to see your family, you know.
WW: You said during your talk that the military can't make you do anything that you don't want to do. How does that apply to what you just said?
That's in ranks. In Iraq, it's a whole different story. But when you're here in the United States, they can't make you do anything you don't want to do. In Iraq, they can make you do whatever they want and that's the scary part between war and the military. Things change when you get to a war.
WW: You said you were “other than honorably” discharged. What does that mean?
Less than honorable, yeah. It's not as bad [as dishonorable], but still I don't get benefits. So, that's still bad in my eyes. It sucks, but I've got my freedom and that's the most important thing. JULIE SABATIER
Check out Hot Action, WWire's weekly post about activists, demonstrations and other hot political action in and around Portland every week.
UPCOMING HOT ACTION EVENTS:
Ongoing: Camp Resistance
Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War set up “Camp Resistance” across the road from a side gate to Fort Lewis, where Lt. Ehren Watada is awaiting court martial for refusing to go to the war in Iraq, which he contends is an illegal war. The camp will be there until the end of Lt. Watada's court martial in February and anyone is welcome to join. Near Ft. Lewis, Washington, off ramp 119. For more information go to www.thankyoult.org
Thursday, January 18
Reading: Bettina Aptheker
Bettina Aptheker will read from her book, Intimate Politics: How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech
, and Became a Feminist Rebel. Born into one of the most influential U.S. Communist families, Aptheker witnessed first-hand one of the most dramatic upheavals in American history. She also lived with a terrible secret: incest at the hands of her famous father and a frightening and lonely life lived inside a home wrought with family tensions. 7:30pm at Powell's Books on Hawthorne. Free.
Sunday, January 21
34th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade
NARAL Pro-Choice of Oregon is organizing a rally to celebrate the 34th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that gave women the legal right to an abortion. Speakers include pro-choice state representative, Tina Kotek, No On 43 Campaign Manager, Carol Butler, and activist/author/professor, Melody Rose. Rally from 4:30 to 5:00 pm at Shemanski Fountain (SW Park and Salmon Ave). Celebrate afterwards from 5:00 to 7:00 pm at the First Unitarian Church downtown at 1101 SW 12th Ave. RSVP to Nora at 503-223-4510 x13 or firstname.lastname@example.org.